Approximately 9 years ago, Niilo Sevänen wrote a short folklore/fantasy story called “Winter’s Gate,” which went on to get published and win a few awards. Now, in 2016, Winter’s Gate inspired an album by Sevänen‘s band, INSOMNIUM, that has elevated them to a new level and landed them at #1 on the Finnish charts on the week of its release. With their first gig already behind them, we thought we should grab a few minutes of Sevänen‘s time to ask him about his feelings on the album and its success.
First of all, how did it feel to do something that was so different from any other INSOMNIUM album, or most albums for that matter?
It’s been interesting and a bit challenging of course, but those were the reasons why we wanted to do it in the first place – to try something different. We’ve done normal albums six times already, so it was about time to try something a bit different. Actually, it all went pretty smoothly and naturally, without forcing anything. We just started making stuff with the idea that, let’s see how long it will be. It will be an EP or a full album, let’s see. Everything went pretty smoothly.
So you just went with the flow, seeing where the music took you?
Has this album inspired you guys at all to venture even further away from the musical “normal” or do you think the next step will be a return to form?
It’s hard to say, but if I would take a guess now, the next album will be more of a “normal” album with several songs. But let’s see. I’m sure that we are even more confident now to try new things.
You were the original author of the short story – what inspired you to write the story? Where did the idea come from?
It’s already been like 9 years; I don’t fully remember what I was thinking back then, but I think I had a couple of themes that I wanted to connect. Without spoiling anything from the story, there was a historical background – Vikings, historical stuff, and then some fantasy elements, and I wanted to combine them and… it just happened. But I wrote it for a competition. That was the original reason.
What was it like to read the audiobook? Was it fun or was it weird?
Yeah… I was nervous – I’m not an actor, so I didn’t know what it was going to sound like, but it went pretty easily. I read it once through and then the sound engineer said, “Let’s take the first two chapters [again]. You were a bit nervous in the beginning.” Then I read them again and it was okay. It’s good enough.
At least for me, I enjoyed the reading, particularly with your slight Finnish accent – as a native English speaker, even though there weren’t any Vikings in Finland, it still feels more authentic than if it was read, for example, in an American accent by someone else.
Yeah, it doesn’t fit the story. I agree, I did it on purpose [laughs].
Now that the album is out, how does it feel to have topped the Finnish charts during the release week? Were you expecting that sort of a response?
Of course we were hoping, because the previous album was #2, so naturally we hoped that, okay, maybe we can now be #1. Beforehand we checked what other albums were coming out that week and do we have any chance. If some big popstar in Finland would release something, then we wouldn’t have any chance, but luckily we were #1. Of course, doing that with this kind of very special release feels even better. Naturally we are very happy about it.
Do you feel as though you really successfully captured the whole story, or was it tricky to fit the whole thing into one song?
You have to kind of make an adaptation of the story to transform it, the “dramatic arc,” the language of music first, then the lyrics… of course I had to erase the story a bit. I would say that in the story there are three narrators, three perspectives on what happened, and the lyrics are kind of the fourth perspective. It kind of gives maybe some additional information on what happened, especially the Asbjörn character and what he’s thinking, so it’s kind of a fourth perspective on the whole thing. They go together, the story and the lyrics.
Was there anything that you felt had to be cut to make it work, or was it pretty satisfactory as a whole?
Well, not every scene from the story could be put in the song. I don’t think it matters. It’s a different kind of adaptation, but right from the start I decided that this three-narrator tactic won’t work in lyrics, so it’s more from the perspective of one character, more of a general view.
Would you say the lyrics are more like an omnipotent narrator who is watching the scene, as opposed to the characters themselves?
I think it’s mostly written from Asbjörn’s view, but there are some times where it takes this higher perspective, like a general narrator, seeing everything. Especially in the end.
The idea was, according to your album trailers, that you wanted from the beginning to make it into one long song – was there any point when you were thinking that maybe you should break it into a couple songs, or was it just one song the whole time?
I think we were pretty sure all the time that we want to make one track. Of course when it was ready, we heard from iTunes and Spotify that they can’t release it like that. It has to be cut into pieces. We had to make a compromise that in Spotify and iTunes it will be it separated into seven tracks and better then than if it wouldn’t be there at all. Those are important mediums. But yeah, from the beginning the idea was to make one track and see how we can make it work.
Now that it is broken up a bit, is it weird to think that some people might be listening to one part of the song without the rest of it?
Yeah, it’s kind of “wrong” of course, because in one review it was said very nicely that, if you read a book or watch a movie, you don’t start from the middle. You take it as a whole. That’s how this is meant to be. Of course I understand if some people have some favorite part and they only want to listen to it and they find it convenient to do it like that, I don’t mind. People can enjoy it as they want, but it’s meant to be a whole thing.
After this tour, do you have any plans to integrate “Winter’s Gate” into future shows, or is it just too hard to find a way?
It’s hard to say, but of course it’s a 40 minute song, so on future tours, like with the next album, it’s hard to see us playing the whole thing. Maybe some parts, I don’t know yet. Let’s see what happens, but at least for this tour we naturally have to play it all. The fans expect to see it and hear it.
Now that you’ve played it once through in Turku, how did it feel to play for 40 minutes without a break?
I think we were just relieved that we survived and it went well [laughs] and we were of course happy. Then we played some older songs. The first part of the set is “Winter’s Gate” and then we played 40 minutes of older stuff. It was really relaxed, playing the old songs. We had a good time and it was a very good show and I’m pretty sure we will have a good show here tonight in Helsinki.
My last question then is, as the author of the story, did you consider the story to be “real” or did you intend it to be metaphorical in any way, for example, Vikings freezing over the winter?
It’s not a metaphor. It’s a historical fantasy hybrid story and it’s not written to be a metaphor for something else.
So it’s meant to be a proper fantasy tale.
Yes, that’s how I wrote it.
Great, that is all of my questions. Thank you for your time and have a great show!
Interview by Bear Wiseman