Symphonic Metal band LOST IN GREY has finished an eventful 2019 and was quite busy during the first months of 2020 as well. They’ve released a new album, crossed Europe on the Female Metal Voices Tour, participated in the Austrialliance Project, and recently hinted at the beginning of work on their new album.
The ever-enthusiastic mastermind, main songwriter, keyboardist, and vocalist Harri Koskela has proved once again to be one of the nicest, most inspiring, and uplifting personalities of the scene. He didn’t hesitate to answer all of our questions, with some additional thoughts by fellow vocalist/lyricist Anne Lill. We can surely guarantee that after reading this interview, you won’t have any questions left either.
Hi Harri! First of all, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions! The last LOST IN GREY interview with Tuonela Magazine was over a year ago, so I figured we have plenty of recent things around the band to talk about. How would you describe the last year for the band and what was it like for you personally? Any favorite or memorable events or moments?
Harri: Hi, it’s a pleasure! It’s indeed been a rich and interesting ride during the last year. Many times, people forget that what you hear while listening to a song or an album or when you see the band performing on stage, it’s only 5% or so of all the work that goes on “behind the scenes,”, so I find it nice and interesting to discuss our process before the release.
With LOST IN GREY, we had the chance to do a few shows in Finland, as well as touring abroad in November and December on the “Female Metal Voices Tour 2019.” It was great to get to play songs from “The Waste Land” live and we were lucky to get to perform in new territories, such as the United Kingdom, Italy, Slovenia, and Romania.
During the tour, we also discovered that our tour session drummer Teppo Ristola is a great fellow and an excellent fit for the LOST IN GREY family, so after the tour, he became a permanent member of the band.
My personal life has been really well during the past year too. Of course, a lot of it has to do with LOST IN GREY, but I also had time to go hiking and adventuring in Lapland again last summer to gather some inspiration for composing the upcoming third album. Additionally, we renovated and started our new recording studio, “Grey Realm Studio” last autumn, which now has some nice “Laplandish” themes to inspire us while we are recording. I’ve also had the honor of working on some amazing projects as a producer and/or recording engineer during the past year. So, it’s been a busy year indeed with lots of personal highlights, but overall, maybe the last tour was something special and surely a memorable thing for me. We made lots of new friends and met awesome people along the way.
You recently teased a new album to be released this year. What’s the current situation? Are you in the middle of recording? Do you have an estimated release date? Where are you recording?
Harri: Well, we might have hinted that something is cooking behind the curtains. [winks] At the moment I’m still composing the material for our third album and the songs are taking shape quite nicely. Some songs are yet to be finished and I’ve got a strong vision in my head of what the record will sound like. Officially, the recordings will start after the summer but we might record some instruments already before that, as I’m working on the songs in our newly renovated studio and we’re able to record on the fly so to say. The plan is to finish the album this year and hopefully release it during the first half of 2021. However, as there’s a lot of planning to do for the release, I cannot promise anything but a rough idea for the schedule at the moment.
Are there going to be guests this time? Any well-known names?
Harri: As for guest vocalists, that depends mostly on Anne Lill and if she thinks guest vocalists are needed for some particular part or song. However, as we really love to cooperate with other people, we will probably include at least some musicians just for the fun of making art together. Whether “a name” is well known or not, is completely irrelevant. What counts is friendship and/or a feeling of connection. The more the merrier they say – and we definitely agree!
Tell us about that third album musically, please! What’s the difference between it and the first two records, “The Grey Realms” and “The Waste Land”?
Harri: At this point, this question is impossible to answer as I know the songs tend to grow and evolve over the period of composing and recording before becoming the final album.
Overall, it takes time to reflect on differences and similarities in one’s own work. Perhaps an outsider spots them more easily, then again, maybe the difference is too subtle for an outsider to see.
Of course, I constantly want to challenge myself and improve, and most likely there will always be that “Harri Koskela” touch or sound in it.
Yet Anne Lill hopes for a darker tone for this album in order to fit better with the overall storyline of the albums. If and how that works out remains to be seen (or heard), but that being said, there might indeed be some darker tunes on the album too.
Lyrics-wise, are you going to continue telling your story like before, or will there be individual songs that don’t fit into the concept?
Harri: For this question, I will have our dear lyricist Anne Lill answer as she is the grandmaster of the storyline for LOST IN GREY.
Anne Lill: At this stage of the process, having heard only bits and pieces of the new compositions, I honestly do not know what the lyrics will be like in the end. That’s always the case – it’s impossible to predict the outcome or try to force something into the songs that “is not there” organically. That being said, after the first years of building the Grey Realm “world,” I often feel as if the story kind of “writes itself.” Nowadays I already “know” the characters (Lillian, Odessa, and Patrick) so well that I feel I’m merely a vehicle or tool for writing down their ongoing dialogue on paper.
Currently, I think that I will need at least one or two more albums to finish the “Grey Realm” saga before moving on to something else, and therefore a change of concept or in the ways of writing the lyrics for LOST IN GREY will probably not change any time soon.
Musically, LOST IN GREY has lots of elements like black metal, operatic/symphonic metal, Gothic metal, a little bit of folk metal, and on top of that there’s a theatrical side to the band. Where do you place yourselves genre-wise?
Harri: Well, when it comes down to mixing these different elements in our music, that’s just something that’s been in me or in my way of composing from the very beginning, when I first started making my own songs. I’ve always wanted to make something unique with my music, not just for it to be unique, but to express something that I haven’t experienced before. So I try to do my best with these things in my music. I like to think of every song and album as an adventure and just like every adventure, life has its ups and downs, twists and turns, and I think music should have those too.
Now, when it comes to placing our music in some kind of genre-box, it surely might be difficult. Anne Lill created the “theatrical metal” description back in 2013 as it was the best, if not only, description of what we were doing or striving for, and we also noticed that there wasn’t any other band using that kind of description back then. It has been interesting to notice that also other bands have started to use the “theatrical metal” label later on.
However for someone unfamiliar with our music, perhaps it’s easiest to describe it as a mixture of symphonic and folk metal spiced up with some progressive elements.
As you identify with the “theatrical metal” moniker, do you plan to add elements to your live performance to enhance the storytelling and acting in the future?
Harri: Well, adding elements to live shows is usually a matter of budget and how “big” of a show we can have, especially during tours. At this moment, with the current budget, we cannot add that many flashy elements or props. We hope that our stage presence in live situations may better introduce the listener to the characters in the story, or give another kind of access to the world of “The Grey Realms” than just by listening to the album. Most of the action and interpretations anyway happen in the listener’s head, be it any musical experience.
Of course, we wish to improve our shows on our own terms, but that too, is a creative process and certain things also require money and (more stage) time, which we usually do not have, so we do our best with what we have at the moment. However, as I mentioned, we are constantly striving to go forward with LOST IN GREY and to improve in various ways, so there are already some ideas for live shows to be executed when it is the right time for them.
Talking about theatrical metal, what do you think are the most defining characteristics of it?
Harri: For us, the “theatrical elements” or characteristics come from at least these aspects:
- The dynamics in music – the songs are seldom conforming to the regular pop-music ABC-structure (verse, chorus, C-part), but rather following a structure necessary for the storytelling and expression;
- the dialogue between the different characters in the stories, and especially, the aspect that there are different characters and points of view “negotiating” in the story and songs;
- the over-encompassing story and narrative of the past and present albums/songs, and everything between the lines;
- us being as “overly dramatic” as we naturally are or feel like being in a specific moment, not trying to tone ourselves down or our way of expression. If someone finds that “too much,” that is their problem. Nothing kills creativity and joy more than trying to restrain that one wants and needs to come out, not to mention the problems that may occur if one has to unnecessarily restrain oneself.
LOST IN GREY, having three vocalists in itself, isn’t unusual, but definitely adds a unique touch to the sound and appearance. Did you ever think about experimenting with the vocalists as individuals, like recording a song that only you sing, or only Anne or Emily for instance?
Harri: Well, all of us also work on other musical projects and for me, the magic in LOST IN GREY is the possibility for a collaboration of this kind – the combination of the various voices – so I do not [find] any “solo songs” within the LOST IN GREY formula that interesting; at least not for now. Also, live performances would be dull for us, for example, if we have a 30-minute playing slot and one song has a duration of approximately 7-8 minutes where only Emily would sing, then the show is almost 1/3 shorter for Anne Lill and vice versa. However, never say never, and thus maybe one day we might be trying something like that as well.
Is there any specific meaning behind the band’s name?
Harri: For this question, I will have to toss the ball to Anne Lill, as she is the mastermind behind not only the story and lyrics, but also the LOST IN GREY name.
Anne Lill: Well, “grey” can be interpreted as a sort of gloominess wherein we may get lost at times. Additionally, I used to think that the grey represents a sort of mental landscape in which there are many hidden things or structures we cannot see or understand because there’s a sort of grey veil that hides the true nature of how things are, and surely one may get lost whilst navigating that place.
Then again, grey may be used to describe all those shades and nuances between black and white – both concretely and in more abstract terms. Too often we might think in terms of two opposites or in binaries (e.g. warm or cold, good or bad, truth or lie, and so on), whereas there might be so many options or nuances in between. Nowadays, I think that by stepping into the greyness – or being better aware of it – we may actually see even more clearly. In that case, everyone should get a little bit “lost in grey” every now and then.
Just as there are many ways to interpret the band’s name, there are many ways to interpret “The Grey Realm” story.
You’ve participated in the Austrialliance project not so long ago. Tell me about it a little bit please, what was this experience like and how did you get into it?
Harri: We met Kevin Storm, the founder of the Australliance charity project, back in 2017 on the “Death Unleashed European” tour, and we became friends. We have stayed in contact ever since and when Kevin asked us to join this charity project to help the animals suffering from the bushfires in Australia, we did not hesitate.
The schedule for the project was tight, so only a few days after Kevin’s initial contact, we recorded our parts (which are the choirs in the very end of the song) and not too long afterwards, the final song and the amazing video were released.
We were happy we could do at least something to help and to make a small difference, because even if you do not have much, you can always try to do something and make the world a little bit better.
On 1 May 2020 there is going to be a special gig with AMORPHIS, LOST SOCIETY, and LEVERAGE in your home town of Hyvinkää. What can the audience expect on this show? Any special plans and surprises to look forward to?
Harri: Like so many other events, unfortunately, the show has been canceled due to the Finnish government’s ban of events with 500+ people in an effort to fight the spread of coronavirus. This show was, of course, something that we all were looking forward to a lot, but understandably the organizers had to cancel the whole event. The wellbeing and health of the people always come first, and there’s no doubt that we would never take any risks regarding that.
You’ve toured in Europe with KALMAH in 2017 and more recently with LEAVES’ EYES (and many others) on the Female Metal Voices Tour. Did this experience improve your live performance in any way? What was it like for you to be on the road for so long for the first time?
Harri: Well, of course – when you play for several nights in a row, the show starts to improve itself so to say, and playing together with the band gets tighter. Of course, this is a musician’s point of view on the matter, so I guess there’s a lot of evolution happening during the tours that the audience doesn’t notice, but the band members can feel it.
What comes to touring, in general – we absolutely love being on the road, performing our music to people, so every time and every night it’s a pleasure and one of the main reasons why making music is so awesome. Of course, it is also hard work, especially for the people who have families waiting back home, but in the end, it’s always totally worth it.
Now that you’re recording again, looking back to “The Grey Realms” and “The Waste Land,” how do you personally feel about them? Have you achieved what you wanted to, or is there anything you’d do differently today?
Harri: Every song and album is a creation from a moment and looking back one may feel tempted to think some things should perhaps have been done differently. But a creative process is just that – a process – and you always learn something from it. You cannot learn without also making some mistakes. Thus, I’m super proud of both of the albums and I’d say that I achieved my goals with both of them, and I am looking forward to continuing the musical growth with the third album.
Let’s talk a little bit about you now, if you don’t mind! Tell me about your past as a musician! How and when did you start playing your instrument? Did you have any classical training?
Harri: I’ve loved music for as long as I can remember and during my journey in this universe I’ve begun to love it even more, and everything around it.
To start from the very beginning, I think I was at the age of 10 when I first started doing something that could vaguely count as composing my own songs. I spent most of my time in elementary school in a music class in which we also had this Finnish folk music group with which we also did some shows in different events and folk music festivals. At the same time, I studied in a music conservatory for children, playing cornet and studying music theory for a little while. However, I hated it back then, so I told my parents that I don’t need that theory bullshit to make my own music – which is a decision that I’ve many times regretted after that. [laughter] Yet I think that gave me the spark to study music on my own and to do things my way, which has been a rough but enriching journey.
After elementary school, I got more into playing keyboard, guitar, and composing all kinds of different genres of music; however, mostly electronic stuff, like chiptunes and trance. I guess the electronic music era is also among the main reasons why I focused more on playing keyboards instead of guitar. I mean, I still play guitar and bass from time-to-time, but my main focus has been keyboards after that.
When it comes to singing, I used to sing a lot in choirs and solo during elementary school but after that, it stopped until my time in the Finnish military when I joined the army choir for a short period. I guess that gave me a little spark and I remembered why I liked singing back in the days. After that, it took only ten years to start singing again once we formed LOST IN GREY.
You’ve been quite active in the last decade, looking at your various bands and projects. What is the situation now with the others, for instance, EMBASSY OF SILENCE or THAUROROD?
Harri: I feel really honored to have been a part of so many great things in music over the past decade and more. Of course, you always learn something new from every band you work with, so I’ve grown a lot as a musician with these bands. EMBASSY OF SILENCE and THAUROROD are both wonderful bands and I still love the guys and gals I had the privilege of doing music and shows together with. However, time is a limited resource and I really wanted to focus on LOST IN GREY, so I had to leave EMBASSY OF SILENCE back in 2014. Currently, THAUROROD is not active either. I’m still friends with them all and e.g. Tero Kalliomäki from EMBASSY OF SILENCE played bowed lyre on “Drifting in the Universe” and Andi Kravljaca from THAUROROD did a guest appearance on the track “Far Beyond and Further.” Jarno Suodenjoki from EMBASSY OF SILENCE substituted for Miika Haavisto as our guitarist for almost half of the “Female Metal Voices” tour in 2019, so musical collaborations still continue.
So can we consider LOST IN GREY to be your main and most important band?
Harri: Yes – without a doubt.
Despite your diverse musical past, you performing lead vocals is a relatively new thing. How did being a singer start for you and why only now in LOST IN GREY?
Harri: Well, like I mentioned, I used to sing a lot during elementary school but I wanted to focus more on composing and playing keyboards after that. When we formed LOST IN GREY back in 2013, we knew that we wanted (at least) a three vocalist combination to tell the story through their own characters, and before I realized, I was in the recording booth doing demo vocals for the Patrick character and choir parts for the album. So, I guess it just happened and I realized that I enjoyed it a lot, just as I did when I was a kid. So I’d say that it just was the natural time to start singing again.
As a composer, what was the biggest challenge you faced while combining different musical elements, or creating an album? For instance, something you wanted to do, but thought would be “too much.” Do you limit yourself in any way?
Harri: I guess I don’t think of these things as a challenge. I just love the adventure that is behind every song – the journey that I go through while composing and the journey that the finished song has to offer me and the listener. I always try to evolve as a composer and to challenge myself. As I mentioned earlier, limiting oneself is the best way to kill creativity and enjoyment, so I guess I’ve never experienced something that would be “too much” for me. Of course, trial and error is a good approach as well – first you try out whatever that you want to do, then sleep on it, and then decide if it is good or not. Additionally, among the very reasons this band came to life was the necessity to create something that truly comes from the heart, without restrictions and without compromises.
Who are your biggest idols and inspirations in music, and what are the records that influenced you the most?
Harri: Well, there’s a huge bunch of music and composers that I find inspirational and from which I probably get influences from, but to name some, that’s difficult. I’ve always loved movie scores, especially the work of Hans Zimmer, as well as Ennio Morricone, and I find both of these gentlemen’s music highly inspirational. I also guess it doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone that I like the music of Mr. Tuomas Holopainen a lot too. The last few years I’ve also been enjoying a lot, and I mean A LOT, of Devin Townsend‘s music.
Overall, there’s a huge amount of music that I find inspirational, but I like to think that if music makes you cry, then it definitely is good music. Also, I don’t tend to idolize anyone within music, but anyone who does his/her thing purely from the heart is my idol. I salute you!
Are you interested in other styles besides metal?
Harri: I’m definitely omnivorous when it comes to music and I have always been like that. I’d like to think that if it’s good music, it’s good music despite the musical style. I’ve composed electronic music and done some hip-hop beats back in the days too, so it hasn’t always been about metal. In recent years, I’ve done a couple of movie scores for short films. However, regarding what kind of music I listen to in my free time, it could be anything from black metal, lounge jazz tune,s to movie scores – solely depending on the mood I’m in.
Thank you very much again, Harri! That’s it for my questions. Is there anything you want to share with our readers?
Harri: Thank you for the great questions, it was a huge pleasure! To everyone reading this, I’d like to say go and chase your dreams, be kind to others, and never lose your empathy. We all are here only for a brief moment in time, so make sure it’s well spent and you can be proud of it with a pure heart.
Written by Árpi Fejes