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29/06/2007 – Interview with BATTLELORE

Finnish Epic Metal band BATTLELORE (official website) released their fourth album, "Evernight", around the end of February via the Austrian label Napalm Records, just like they did with their previous releases. This fourth album showed the band has developed certain automatisms and did a small step forward. Or actually, sidewards, as it's a small evolution of "Third Age Of The Sun". You can check out the review of the album at this location.

As a result of this release I sent a couple of questions to the band to know more about this release, the video they made, the band itself, and other general things. Keyboardist Maria was extremely generous in her replies, for which I'm very grateful! It's always great to have detailed answers so you can form a better image of the band, the music, etc... Oh, and she likes NILE. Now that is enough reason for trying to have a chat with her about her Metal taste and this great Death Metal band. But we'll see about that a next time. Anyhow, enjoy the reading and if you haven't done so, go out and buy "Evernight".

Battlelore logo

Early in the band's history, even after the first album, you're faced with a change in the line-up. It didn't seem to stop as along the way you have to find new musicians. How do you deal with this and is there still any certainty in the band? In addition, did/does it affect the songwriting process significantly?

We've definitely endured our share of line-up changes in the past, but I think that those days are over now. I guess we've been both lucky and unlucky with the people we've been involved with - they've been in different phases in their lives and have had to make difficult choices to ensure their livelihood or happiness. The basis of BATTLELORE, however, has stayed the same through the years; meaning Jyri Vahvanen, who created BATTLELORE, has made most of our songs and is in charge of all our lyrics; Kaisa Jouhki, whose vocals are extremely unique and who gives us a face (a beautiful one, I might add) and a recognizable sound; me with my weird way of playing the keyboards and last but not least, our groove machine and Jyri's brother Henri Vahvanen with the drums... Also Jussi Rautio, our lead guitarist, joined us quite early on and actually before we even played any gigs, so he's been there too for the most meaningful times. The important thing is that the main idea and sound haven't changed during the years, although we've had people coming and going.

Right now we're at a very good place with our line-up. We all have a feeling that this line-up is steady and the atmosphere is great. Our newest additions (Timo Honkanen, bass and Tomi Mykkänen, vocals) have brought inspiration, enthusiasm, talent and creativity to BATTLELORE - and damn great personalities also! Now we have a really tight group of people, who truly enjoy making music together and get along perfectly, and that shows in everything we do. The atmosphere in the band makes it easy to show everyone's ideas and make better songs, so that's good, hehehe.

The song writing process hasn't really changed through the line-up changes - we just have more people making songs nowadays. Tomi and Timo are talented guitarists as well as bassist and vocalist, and they both make songs - actually "Ocean's Elysium" from "Evernight" is Tomi's song. I've made one or more instrumental songs on each album except for the very first one, so we have loads of composers in the band. We write our songs in a somewhat strange way, but it works for us. Usually Jyri, Jussi or someone else makes the skeleton for the song with the guitar. Then Henri makes the drums and after that the rest of us get the demo or hear the song at rehearsals. That's when we might make the first changes in the songs or riffs. Then we all just compose our own parts on the skeleton and give the song some meat on it, so to speak, hehe. Of course we make changes after everything's composed too - leave something out, add something, etc. The very final versions are born in the studio, although most things are already thought of earlier on. The fact that all of us can make songs our own way and still get them to sound like BATTLELORE is a very good thing.

For the first two albums you worked with producer Miitri Aaltonen. For "Third Age Of The Sun" however you chose Terje Refsnes. And now it was Miitri again who sat behind the desk. Personally I find this a good choice and he gave the album a better sound, particularly for the drums, whereas Terje's effort sounded too digital, in my opinion. Plus you also chose another graphical artist for "Third Age Of The Sun". A couple of questions regarding this change:
1) Is there a specific reason why Miitri was skipped for "Third Age Of The Sun"? And how did Terje get into the picture?
2) Who had the most influence on the songs, Miitri or Terje? Who gave you the best pointers, ideas, ...?
3) Here as well, why was Ville Pellikka chosen above Ted Nasmith?

Kaisa and Maria1) Well, the first two BATTLELORE albums didn't have the best possible sound and Napalm Records just wanted us to try out some other studio as well. They had cooperated with Terje before, so they suggested that we go to France and record "Third Age Of The Sun" with him. There was never anything against Miitri as a producer, the recording equipment just wasn't up-to-date at the time and we also wanted to try out something different. In many ways it was a great choice; we got to do a very different album - after "Sword's Song" we decided to leave out all the excess computer programming and strange sounds and just focus on natural sounds and groovy playing without too many corrections and stuff like that. It's funny that you say the sound is more digital as we did practically nothing to the drums - Henri played them so well, that there was no need to fix anything digitally! It's true though, that at the mastering the drums and guitars disappeared into the background and that is a pity. However, visiting Terje gave us all a lot of confidence and made us realize all the things we can do with our instruments. I'd be happy to work with him again!

2) They have a rather different style and they focus on different things, so it's hard to say who gave the BEST pointers and ideas. They are both brilliant people and great to work with, so I couldn't possibly say who is better of those two! Terje was very demanding when it came to playing our instruments; we had to be good and precise enough without forgetting the artistic point of view. He didn't really do any new things himself, he just said that "try out something else here" and we tried different things with him encouraging us. So he just gave us the direction to go and let us do all the exploring, which was great about him. For me personally the trip to France was amazing, since Miitri doesn't really focus on keyboards and he lets me do my thing most of the time. Terje on the other hand was very interested in what kind of keyboard riffs I had done, and we perfected everything. He gave me good pointers and loads of confidence, since he believed in me and my ideas. Miitri on the other hand is great with guitars, and now that the studio is updated and perfect, it's easy to do anything we want there. Miitri also focuses a lot on the singing parts and gives great ideas there. On "Evernight" the guitar, bass and drum sounds are the best BATTLELORE has ever had, so we're really happy with that. They are different and brilliant in their own fields of expertise. I guess they both have their own way of influencing the songs without interfering too much, so to say. They both let us do our thing but as they aren't too close to the songs, they can give them boost and perfect the songs from a listener's point of view. Well, that's producer's job anyways, but it is something they're both very good at. I guess the best option would be combining those two, and work with a multi-personality Miitri-Terje, hehehe.

3) Again, no special reason here. We had been talking about the new cover and wanted a new painting for the album. And well, we have talented friends so we asked Ville to make some sketches for the album. We liked those a lot, so we decided to use his painting. I'm sure we'll use Ville's works in the future as well, if he still wants to paint for us, hehehe. On the fourth album we have Ted Nasmith's painting again - a bit changed though.

Is anyone in the band a fan of AMON AMARTH? I've noticed quite a similarity in the song "We Are The Legions". ;-)

Not that I know of. I guess that's just coincidence. They make their stuff and do it well too, but we haven't really been listening to their stuff and don't really know any of their songs.

One other song I'd like to comment on: "Longing Horizon", where calm parts are mixed with heavy interventions. Although this is a nice song, I would have preferred it to be completely accoustic, because the heavy parts come in a bit unexpected and - for me - disturb the flow of the accoustic ones. There's a probably a reason for that, right?

Hehe, I guess we disagree there. We think that the heavy parts lift the song since it was never meant to be a ballade. It is still a 'slow' song, but now there's some more spirit and life to it. It also shows Kaisa's beautiful voice at its best!

Battlelore - EvernightHow does "Evernight" connect with the previous three albums, story-wise? And how would you compare the four albums on a musical level (evolution?)?

Story-wise we've started out with obvious tales and events from Tolkien's world. Kind of to show people what BATTLELORE is all about, making it easier to find the themes from the lyrics. Later on we've developed the stories, and now we can make lyrics the way that people have to figure out themselves, where the stories come from. It also makes the songs easier to listen to all those people, who don't know their Tolkien - or don't care for his stories. I think that it also gives our Tolkien fans more reasons to explore Tolkien's world in order to find the tales behind our songs. And I guess we started out with joyous tales and nicer stories, ending up at the darker tales on the fourth album.

Musically, if I compare the newcomer to "Third Age Of The Sun", our third album, "Evernight" is musically more developed and a much darker album. It's the most mature and courageous BATTLELORE album, and lets us do things even more our way than before. The changing tempos and stronger guitar sound makes the album more interesting in a way than "Third Age Of The Sun", although I personally like that album also. On "Third Age Of The Sun" there are too many similar songs after another, which was not the best decision on our part. "Evernight" is also more progressive in song writing than the previous albums. It suits us great and the natural evolution of all of us both individually and as a group shows on the newest BATTLELORE. Then again, compared to "Sword's Song", the second album, the atmosphere is completely different since the songs are not based on the happy and joyous tales this time around. And well - there are those strange sounds that we tried on "Sword's Song", which I could never approve of, and it made the album sound very clinical and not natural at all. That's why we decided to go for a completely different approach on the next one. The natural sounds and classical instruments suit us much better, and I'm happy that we're allowed to play the songs with a groove. Other than that there's the same straightforward-approach and energy on "Evernight" as on "Sword's Song". And well, the first album, "Where the Shadows Lie", is always a bit of a try-out in some ways; loads of old and new songs mixed up, so there was no real 'story' behind it. Very different songs and different types of music as well - so it was kind of us trying to find our music. The basic elements have been there throughout the years, but now we've truly found our own style of making music and performing it the best we can. Natural evolution shows on each album, and I'm quite proud of that - we're truly not standing still, hehehe.

"Evernight" contains two bonus tracks. Whose choice was it to add those and how do they compare musically with the normal tracks?

Well, we've had bonus tracks on all our albums - the digipack-versions that is - and we didn't want to change that now. Neither did Napalm Records, so we decided to make bonus tracks as well. We decided together, which song (a 'normal' song with all the vocals etc.) we wanted to leave as a bonus track. It's musically very much BATTLELORE, a bit darker perhaps, but a good song, that we wanted all the digipack-buyers to get. Then the other bonus song was always supposed to be an outro, so it was obvious that we'd put it in as a bonus track. It's an instrumental song, which I did together with Tomi, who helped out with the different sounds and background noise. The instrumental song sums up the story of Akallabeth, and thus the theme of the album.

Were there left-overs of "Evernight", songs that didn't make it onto the album for whatever reason, but with some tweaking could be added to (one of) the next album(s)?

There was one song, for which we recorded everything else but vocals, but didn't think it was quite ready yet. So that one we didn't use on the album. There are some good riffs and ideas, but the song needs a lot of work to be used on any album, hehehe. So we'll see whether it'll end up anywhere... I guess we're anxious to make and play new songs for new albums, so it could be that this one was just a try-out song for us.

Which of the three first albums which is your bestseller at the moment (and do you have an overview per country or continent)? And how well do you think "Evernight" will do?

I guess from the first three albums, "Sword's Song" is the one that has sold the most. But "Evernight" is a very strong album, and I think it has almost reached "Sword's Song" already, so that will be even bigger. I think that our touring after "Sword's Song" and "Evernight" have made a big difference - people know the songs and want to buy the albums they know.

There's a video of "House Of Heroes", the first song on "Evernight". Could you tell a bit more about the making of it and why particularly "House Of Heroes" would do great for a video?

"House of Heroes" was chosen since it's a very strong song and shows the variety of BATTLELORE. It's also a good song to make story-wise. We started to plan the video with Markku Kirves, who also directed the previous video "Storm of the Blades". Markku's plans and ideas sounded so good that we decided to go with them and let him do what he does best. The basic idea is here: Our hero, an old man, walks to his death on an icy lake and sees some ghosts from his past on the way. Around him is also the band playing as we decided to let people see us with our live show gear and make-up on. There's some beautiful Finnish winter landscape and us with our instruments. Markku already shot some shots before the band started shooting our parts both in Sysmä and Helsinki, Finland. It was one of the coldest weekends this winter, the 24th and 25th of February, and it went all the way down to minus 30 Celsius degrees. So for the guys (Timo, Tomi and Henri) it was a freezing experience in all - they had to stay in the cold with nothing but their live gear on, hehehe. The rest of us shot our parts in the studio, so it was much warmer. Almost too warm...

The story is a mixture of Tolkien and Kalevala pretty much. "House of Heroes" can be seen as a death in a way. The video was supposed to be more story-telling about the old man's journey towards the house of heroes, his death, and his fight against the demons of the past on the way, but the director loved the energetic band playing so he used it more and the story-telling less. Well, I do think that the video is quite good and considering the budget it's excellent.

Related to the previous questions: how important are videos, in your opinion? Metal hardly gets any time on radio or television. Are videos a nice promotion tool or just something extra for the fans? Of course, it's always nice to see the band in a video, if you haven't seem them live yet, but shooting a video isn't that cheap, so wouldn't it be better to use that money for 'better' (what is better?) purposes?

Battlelore bandI do believe that videos are important - if not for anything else, those are great memories for ourselves of the times we've had, hehehe. But if I think of myself as the music listener, I really like watching music videos. It shows us the band and image as well as hearing their music. And yeah, I think it's good for promotion as well. I know that metal doesn't get aired that much, but it's always been like that. That's why there was first VHS and now DVD - the ones who want to see the videos and support the band can get the videos for themselves. And well - with the media being mostly on the Internet nowadays, everyone can see all the music videos they want. Money is of course always an issue, but well... It's possible to make videos with smaller budgets and people still enjoy watching them.

Have you always mantained the same procedure when writing a new album or has it changed on certain occasions? Plus, what's your normal way of working?

Usually it starts with making new songs, hehehe. I think it's pretty much the same every time - except for the normal evolution and some exceptions. I guess I already told about the song writing process earlier on, but here it is again: Jyri, Jussi or someone else in the band makes the skeleton of the song, usually with the guitar. Then the rest of us get the songs on demo or at rehearsals and we compose our own parts on all the songs. Lyrics are done by Jyri; on "Evernight" Jussi and Tomi had some say with a few songs, but Jyri is the 'main man' in making of the lyrics. That's mainly it. On "Evernight" there are songs by Jyri, one song by Tomi, songs by Jussi, and an instrumental bonus track by me. So I guess with time, we've all become more comfortable to take more part in making songs and that's because of the good atmosphere within the band. Everyone has a say in composing the songs and everyone has a chance to make their own songs to be used for BATTLELORE. And to be honest, I think it's a great thing and brings loads of variation and almost limitless possibilities for us.

Since day one you've been under contract with Napalm Records. What makes them a good label for you (BATTLELORE) and did you consider signing elsewhere before collaborating with Napalm?

Napalm is a good label for us since it's not too big a label - they can focus on each of their bands. And well, it's good since it's in Central Europe and I think that our music and our visual appearance is more accepted and wanted there. We didn't really have that many offers back then; we were just starting out and didn't know about a lot of things. Luckily things have gone well and we've got a lot of experience on things with the help of Napalm Records. And well, I believe that Napalm Records does their best for all its bands. They're a small label, so they can't make miracles happen, but they do what they can.

Every album is LOTR-inspired and we all know how much you can still get out of Tolkien's works, but have you considered making one or more albums about another Fantasy series? If so, which do you have in mind? If not, why?

Actually, I have to correct something right now. We haven't made any albums that would be merely inspired by the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Our influences and inspirations (as well as most of our lyrics) are based on other tales by Tolkien, and books like Silmarillion. People attach us to "LotR" although that's not right - it's because of the huge media hassle around the movies. Anyhow; we focus on Tolkien's Middle-earth and the tales around it. Since BATTLELORE has been created to make music about Tolkien's world, I don't see BATTLELORE existing without the songs being linked to Middle-earth. So we will definitely keep our music based on Middle-earth and themes around Tolkien's literature. The lyrics, however, have evolved during the years and are nowadays written in a way that there are no Tolkien names or specific details in them. This takes the songs into a more universal direction and also gives the fans more to think about - they can to think for themselves, which tale is the basis of the song. We want to create music that is not chained only to our vision - the listeners' imagination can fly freely, we just give the atmosphere and inspiration of thought through our music.

Do you (or some of you) play LOTR-based games (board games, PC games, ...)?

Some of our guys play board games and PC games, not only LotR-based but also other fantasy games.

Last year there was a tour planned with Napalm-colleagues DRACONIAN, but in the last minute or so, everything got cancelled. What happened?

The organizer, Metallysee, cancelled everything and we had pretty much packed our bags and ready to go. I guess they had and have some problems which has lead to many cancellations of also other tours besides ours; FINNTROLL, MACHINE MEN etc. It really sucked since there was nothing we could do about it. We were really looking forward to touring, especially touring with DRACONIAN, and hopefully we'll be able to do that some day.

When you're on tour, there's usually not much time to visit the cities. Do you plan to change that or would rather visit certain cities on your own, in a private atmosphere?

Yeah, we usually have a few hours either before or after the sound check to visit the cities, but not enough time. I guess we'd rather visit them on our own later on. The great thing about touring is that we get to see cities we've never even heard of and would not know to go there if it wasn't for the tours and visits with the band. For example, we loved Thun, Switzerland, Marburg, Germany and Brno, Czech Republic, when we visited them on our previous tour - and none of us had heard of those cities before. Very nice places and all of us would like to visit them again later on.

Battlelore bandHow much influence do the fans have when you're thinking of writing a new album? Do you take the advices to heart or just follow your own ideas?

Of course we take into consideration the ideas or improvements people suggest, but we don't follow instructions like dogs on a leash. We do our thing with our own hearts as judges; whether the ideas would work or not. There's no point in making music you don't really enjoy it yourself. So, although we make music for others to listen to as well, the main idea is that we make music together because we enjoy making music together - if that changed, there would be no point in doing anything, now would there? And if other people like what we're doing too, that's a bonus, hehehee.

You also have a forum, like many other bands, and I've noticed you/the band helps moderating the topics. How often do you spend time on your forum?

We visit it when we have time - luckily most of our band members work with computers, so they visit the site pretty much every day. And of course we try to answer questions and talk to our fans whenever we have time and aren't too busy with our 'normal' lives; work, families etc. I guess there's at least one of us once a week, even on tour, if we get an Internet connection there.

As musicians, are you always trying to improve your skills or are you happy with the present state of your talent?

I think everyone who's working toward a goal has to have the need to improve in order to keep the enthusiasm and desire to do things better - and so do we. Everyone wants to make good songs, better songs than before, play better, be more precise, make better riffs. That's just natural, hehehe. We develop our skills as individual musicians as well as a group, and I think it honestly shows on all our albums. We change during time, and all the changes are somehow connected with the music we make. Natural, unconscious evolution as well as conscious effort to do things better.

With which music did you grow up and how has your taste evolved over the years?

When I first started with metal, I guess the bands were (well, not that much metal...) METALLICA, GUNS 'N' ROSES and stuff like that. The normal evolution there. Then came THEATRE OF TRAGEDY, THE GATHERING, and bands like AT THE GATES, EDGE OF SANITY, OLD MAN'S CHILD, some underground Black Metal bands, Death Metal etc. I kind of managed to skip all the heavy metal yelling like King Diamond, Stratovarius and stuff, they have never really been my thing. Nowadays my favourites include all kinds of metal - mostly Death Metal, e.g. NILE is one of my all-time favourites, and then some atmospheric bands like ANTIMATTER or TENHI. I guess my musical taste hasn't really changed that much. Maybe it's gone on one hand to heavier and darker direction and on the other to a more atmospheric and mood-creating direction.

Illegal downloading is a problem for many bands and CD sales have been decreasing the last couple of years. Do you still buy CDs? If so, how frequent and which was the last one you bought?

I buy the CD's of the bands I like and listen to. I listen to mp3's to get to know bands and see if they're to my taste, and if I like the band's music, I definitely will buy the CD. I want to show my respects and support the bands I like. I know it's hell trying to earn a living with music - especially within metal music genres - so I think that the bands deserve every cent they can get. BATTLELORE's members all have day jobs because it isn't possible to earn a living with music, at least not yet, so I know what I'm talking about. How frequently do I buy CD's? I guess it changes - sometimes I buy loads of CD's, and then there might be a long break before buying anything. But whenever I'll find something I like, I'll buy it. The latest bought was SLAYER's "Christ Illusion".

How easy/difficult is it to come together as BATTLELORE, when you're also active in other bands or when you have a daytime job? And would you consider giving up your jobs or other musical activities to focus on BATTLELORE or other musical activities?

It is quite hard, hehe... Especially since some of us live in a different part of Finland than the rest. But we manage - we go to rehearsals whenever we can. When we're touring, it's not that necessary to rehearse the songs - we play them so much at gigs. When we're making new albums, that's when the rehearsing is crucial. I think that all of us have agreed to keep BATTLELORE on the first place. It's our priority number 1. After that comes everything else. But quitting our jobs or other musical activities...? Well, maybe, if it would be possible to truly pay the rent and bills just by making music. I guess that's everyone's dream, just not a possible one at the moment, hehehe. And I think that having other musical activities is only a good thing - you can't always do the same thing, same kind of music, it's part of evolution to want to do other things as well - musically I mean. It pushes us all to develope ourselves and create new things and new kinds of solutions to BATTLELORE as well.

Which other interests besides music, Fantasy, ... do you have?

Well, all of us have our different hobbies besides music and fantasy-related things. I guess all of us do some sort of sports, watch movies and stuff like that. Most of us read a lot, all kinds of books. I'm interested in travelling, books, movies, nature... And I love the woods and forests; I go there pretty much every day with my man and my dog to enjoy nature at its best.

That's it for me. Thank you very much for taking the time to answer. All the best to you, on a personal and musical level and I'll try to come to Wieze, for the Metal Female Voices Fest. If I can't make it, then I hope you'll do a seperate gig somewhere in Belgium. Maybe you could restart that tour with DRACONIAN. ;-)

Thanks a lot for the interesting interview! It took a while to answer all these questions, but I hope I did good... Hehehe. Hope to see you in Wieze - and hell - we'd love to go on tour with DRACONIAN! Thanks to everyone for reading this novel and hope to see you all on our gigs or our message board... Visit and keep rocking!!

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