Korpiklaani, one of the leading folk metal bands out of Finland, just played an awesome gig at the Marquis Theater in downtown Denver, CO.
We had the opportunity to talk to newly acquired violinist Tuomas Rounakari about the bands resent release Manala, the importance of the Kalevala meter, and touring in North America among other things.
Birgit: You are the newest member of the "Wilderness Clan" and rumor has it that they found you on the internet. Is that correct or did the band know you prior because of your skills?
Tuomas: Well, this is pretty much correct. Jonne [Järvelä] found me because of my Shamanviolin solo and was very impressed about it. I guess he was considering asking me to join Korpiklaani already for a couple of years, but the time wasn't right until last January.
B: And since you already had other commitments, Tero Hyväluoma will fill in for you, correct?
Tuomas: Correct, he is still substituting for me every now and then. Korpiklaani has around 100 gigs a year, which is a lot. And since I am still involved with other projects, it's not that easy to clear your calendar for that many shows. Time will tell how we will mange to do this in the future but right now Tero will play on 10 gigs in Europe; I will do all the shows here in the states.
B: So, is this your first time in the states?
Tuomas: No, I actually lived in New York City for three years, but I haven't talked about this in interviews.
B: I see. Now with this being your first North America tour with Korpiklaani; how has the tour been going so far?
Tuomas: This is really a good tour. The crowds have been great and the venues have been a bit better than we were expecting them to be. What I've heard from the guys, the previous tour was mostly in crappy venues. But this time we are playing in some really nice places.
Jonne and his broken finger
B: Did you guys change your set list since Jonne broke his finger early on this tour?
Tuomas: No, not really. There are some songs that do suffer from the lack of his guitar, but my personal opinion is that Jonne sings a lot better without his guitar. I see this as a positive change for him to grow as a vocalist and to perform even stronger. I think he is a much better singer than guitar player.
B: Folks, you heard it here first!
Tuomas: Well - but I do miss his playing on the more thrashier songs. This is where the two guitars really add to the volume and to the feel.
B: Manala is your highest charted album in Germany thus far. And with the Paganfest, Heidenfest and so forth, do you think the folk metal scene is more popular in Europe than it is here in the states?
Tuomas: Yes it is, and for a good reason. I think folk metal is in a strong uplift all over the world in the moment. I believe it's going to be the next big metal genre. The biggest different in folk metal, compared to other metal, is that it's joyful. Korpiklaani, out of all the folk metal bands, throws in the party element. And not just because of the boozing anthems, since there is a lot more to our music than just that.
I believe Korpiklaani is just joyful and I see this as a future for the metal music; where people stop associating metal with something gory. And this will also expand the genre to a wider public and I think in the future we [the folk genre] are going to have a very different metal audience than we have today.
B: I believe that most songs were already written by the time you joined the band. Were you able to do your own arrangements?
Tuomas: Yes, and I was surprised how trusted I was; even before I played one note in the band. I was a bit skeptical and told Jonne that before I make any decisions to join the band that we should have a rehearsal and see how things go. Well, we tried to find time but I ended up playing the first notes in the studio. And even at that point, Jonne was telling me: "you can rearrange all of the songs if you want to", and I was like "gee, I must really be wanted" ; and it felt really good.
I do believe people will hear on the new album that there is an influence that came through my playing and my way of playing. My favorite song on the album is "Ruumiinmultaa" [engl. "Soil Of The Corpse"] and I really felt as if Jonne had written that one for me, because the violin part was really tricky and really up my alley; my style of playing. It's a great song to play live and we have it on our set list.
B: The production on Manala is also better, even though you didn't change anything as far as producer or studio.
Tuomas: It was maybe a natural progression of the band, but I think it was also our producer [Aksu Hanttu]. This is his fourth album with the band and you can clearly hear when he came on board. Before we really didn't have a professional production and the production in the first albums were kinda like: "let's get it done". Once Aksu came in, the drums, guitars, and bass started to sound good.
But then it took time for him to really understand the folk elements in our music. Even while we were doing the Manala album we were having a lot of discussions and trying out different things. In the mix, you can hear that all of the folk instruments become more and more prominent toward the end of the album. And this was also kind of a learning curve in the production.
I also think that the latter years with "Hittavainen" [Jaakko Lemmetty] being in the band … he had to stop being in this band for mental reasons; he became depressed. And this also affected the albums, since there is not that flair or uplifting vibe to it because that guy didn't have that vibe.
B: Do you know him in person or have you meet him before?
Tuomas: Sadly, I haven't really met him. He is becoming kind of a mythical figure to me. I heard so much about him and I do hope to meet him one day.
B: Tuomas Keskimäki wrote the lyrics for Manala; how did the band get in contact with him?
Tuomas: What happened was; in the making of the Manala album it became clear that this time we wanted to stick with the Kalevala metre or the old ruin singing; the metric system in the lyrics. And therefore, Tuomas is really an expert on the Kalevala meter, not just the traditional way, but he is very capable and talented of reinventing things in a meter.
So in making of the album his texts just became a natural choice. We will be continuing this line and Tuomas will be doing the lyrics for the next album as well.
I hope, or wish that I could compose a song for the band that would go in five; that's the rhythm of the ruin singing. And I think it's just weird that Korpiklaani doesn't have any songs that go in five; that's the roots, you know.
B: Are any of the guys then heavily interested in or study Finnish mythology at all?
Tuomas: I am deeply involved and also have a [MA] degree in Ethnomusicology. I also traveled to Siberia to study the ancient way. They still have nomadic cultures, alive today, that live almost exactly the same kind of life that was lived in Finland in the Bronze Age. Traveling there has given me a window into the possibilities of what could have really happened in Finland about 3000 years ago.
B: Will you be somewhat involved with the lyrics for the next album then?
Tuomas: Well, it might happen; it's too early to tell. I had some good discussions with Tuomas [Keskimäki] about the ways to draw inspirations. But it's way too early; nothing has been written yet.
B: Ah, OK. You guys recorded the new album in Finnish and English; which version do you like better?
Tuomas: The Finnish version of course. But it's not a double album per se. It's the Finnish one, with a bonus album.
B: Do you think you will be doing this again?
Tuomas: No. Well not to that extent for sure. All in all, it was a lot of fun but it was surprisingly difficult to do. It was a lot of work; much more work than anyone anticipated. Juho [Kauppinen], our accordion player actually translated the texts into English. And the rhythm of the languages are so different.
But I think "Soil Of The Corpse" works fantastically in English. It brings a little bit more aggressiveness into the song and it really works well; as well as "Kunnia" [engl. "Honor"]. But then there are other songs, like "Ievan Polkka" [engl. "Ieva's Polka"] which is total nonsense. The original song is a Savonian dialect; it's already weird sounding in Finnish, and the whole point of the song is the weird sounding, so to translate it in English …
But judging from our live shows, there is definitely a great value in doing the songs in Finnish. People from all over the world have started to study Finnish because of the band; that is just amazing. It's our native tongue and there is absolutely no need to change.
But then again, the band has made English songs throughout its history. And on our live gigs, the crowd can relate to those songs much more easily. Even "Tequila", which is actually Finnish but has a few global words to it, the way people join in, it's just in a much higher level of energy.
I guess this was one of the motivations behind doing the whole Manala album in English. It wasn't really all that planned and our label [Nuclear Blast] gave the permission or encouragement to do it. And I think at the end we learned a lot and know now, for future projects, what or what not to do in English.
B: I might be alone with this opinion, but I really like that there is no "drinking" song on the new album ...
Tuomas: I am really glad to hear that.
B: With songs such as "Vodka" or "Beer Beer" the band is regarded as a "party band" even though Korpiklaani stands for so much more. With the lack of such songs on the new album, can we expect a shift toward the more "serious" side of the band?
Tuomas: That subject is very complicated. Once it's done [releasing the drinking songs], there is no way out of it. And our fans are actually divided on this. There are the ones who don't want us to play anything else other than "Vodka", "Tequila" and "Wooden Pints", and then there is the other half that thinks exactly like you do.
As a band, we are not divided and we enjoy both ways. We don't see it as a choice to go either this or that way; we have never seen the polarity of the two. And alcohol has a very prominent role in the Finnish culture, and drinking also has a prominent role inside Korpiklaani as well.
All in all, I think that we will be doing pretty much the same as we are doing now. Actually, people demand us to do more songs about alcohol; our Facebook is filled with those comments. But I think with Manala we did take a conscious step back and went with a more serious side of the band.
And also, this was the first time Korpiklaani went deeply into the Kalevala heritage and Kalevala world; and we ain't leaving.
B: Sounds good to me. Now to wrap this up, what's next for Korpiklaani after this tour?
Tuomas: After North America, we are on the Heidenfest Tour in October and after that, we will have just a couple of gigs in Russia. The rest of the plans are yet to be announced, since they are not confirmed yet. For now, we don't have plans for the next US tour, but we will come back, sooner or later.
B: Glad to hear that. And now the famous last words belong to you.
Tuomas: What should I say? All in all, it is very fun to be here and I really enjoy being here. As I lived in New York City for three years, I have a soft spot for this country and what I really like about the states is that the nature is pretty here.
In Europe, we hardly have any nature because it's so occupied. But here, you have a lot of nature, but also a lot of spaces that is hard to occupy. I just wish that, collectively, you will learn to respect that, because once it's gone, it's gone, it won't come back while we are alive.
I really respect the Native American Culture and one of the most beautiful sentences of them is: "We don't inherit the land from our ancestor's; we borrow it from our grandchildren"
Posted on 07.09.2012 by
Professional concertgoer, dangerously armed with a camera!
Enjoys quiet evenings at home, walks on the beach .... Wait, what? Nah, gimme a shot and a beer and call it a day.