We’ve been waiting for the opportunity to speak with the members of SMACKBOUND since their first single debuted in late 2019, “Drive it Like You Stole It.” With a healthy dose of empowerment, this new melodic rock band is taking center stage with their sharp, catchy melodies, emotive lyrics, and of course, Netta Laurenne‘s incredible vocals. The opportunity finally presented itself to us on March 9th, 2020, when we were invited to the pre-listening session for their debut album, “20/20.”
“So it’s by making myself vulnerable that I hope people will have the courage to do that in their own lives.”
It was a grim and rainy Monday morning when we arrived at Sonic Pump Studios. Arranged via Gingervine Management, the press day was a bit earlier than we are accustomed to, but it was not an unwelcome change. With the coronavirus outbreak on everyone’s minds, greetings were somewhat awkward and some preferred to bump elbows rather than shake hands or hug, but we nevertheless shared brunch around the same table, having pleasant conversation and wondering how many events were about to get cancelled. After everyone had eaten, we were able to listen to “20/20” in the mastering room, with interviews to follow.
Joking that the guys in the band were too shy to talk, and having an unusually free schedule thanks to people starting to self-quarantine, we let the gents off the hook and Netta Laurenne came into the recording space with us to tell us all sorts of things about the music and her philosophies on life.
First of all, thanks for inviting us to the pre-listening session. This was really cool!
Thanks for being here!
Getting right to things, the first thing I wanted to ask about is the title of the album, “20/20.” This is usually associated with the phrase, “hindsight 20-20” and the idea that you always understand things better after the fact; 2020 is also the release year. So how was the album title chosen in reality?
It was picked exactly as you described it [laughs].
Everything we’ve done has been picked, basically, by me not sleeping during the nights. I suddenly realized that I plan the videos and everything else happening, but instantly at some point, something is clear to me, how you do things, and then one day before the video shootings, I just tell the guys that, “By the way you’re naked,” [laughter] and it’s too late for them to run.
Basically, the name is the year, because it will never come back, so we know the date is always there, like a stamp.
In 20 years when you’re doing interviews, you’ll always remember the year the first album was released.
Yes, exactly! It’s not simply the year though, it’s more the 20-20 vision, because that’s the whole theme of the album. Really getting to the core of things and seeing your own flaws and seeing your own [positive traits] and seeing the points where you have to work harder on yourself, or seeing that in someone else also. It’s about truthfully looking back, as well as forward to the present. Then I started to Google “2020” and it also fits with whatever people are thinking, like numeric styles or angel numbers… all of those in this 2020, whatever I looked through, was true. So it was clear that this stands for the honesty.
It works on a lot of levels in modern life too. The album feels very personal, but you can take it metaphorically into the state of the world. It feels very relevant.
Yeah, I didn’t even know if would be this relevant to discuss [laughs] but yes, what I really thing is that you can’t tell anyone what to do or how to feel. People don’t take that kind of advice. It’s only by looking inside and honestly sharing that, that is how you get people open enough to start the same process in themselves. So it’s by making myself vulnerable that I hope people will have the courage to do that in their own lives. Start to listen to themselves and lead to a better life.
Do most of SMACKBOUND know each other from working at Sonic Pump Studios together?
Yeah, Teemu [Mäntysaari] and Tuomas [Yli-Jaskari] and I know one another from the studio. We’ve been here for years; I’ve been here for 10 years and they’ve been here almost as long as me. I’ve been here a lot longer, but I’ve really been here for the last 10 years. I’ve worked here already 15 years ago when it had just opened up in Helsinki center. We met here and how we first met Vili [Itäpelto] and Rolle [Rolf Pilve] was through Tuomas and Teemu.
I asked Teemu, “Do you want to be in a band?” and I had three demos. I played them all to the guys and asked if they liked it and were they in. Then we started to do our own songs, but one of the demo songs that I made with Nino for this band, before we actually had a band, made it to the album – “Those Who Burn.” So it’s one of the songs that Nino and I did.
That’s interesting because the genres are so diverse on the album. “The Game” for starters is really emotionally intense. Is there a specific meaning to it?
Yes, but I don’t know if it’s useful to anyone to say it too straight. This way, people can find it in their own way. There is a theme of love – in the end, everything comes down to love. Even if you’re angry, you have to see that anger comes from sorrow and sorrow comes from love. So it is a story about every human being’s need to be loved and “the game” is the game of love, which means there are rules to it and we are trying to play it so that we don’t get broken, yet we still have to be brave enough to jump. It’s stating how it works: you are protecting yourself but you still have to be brave. In life a lot of times you have to be brave and push the fear somewhere back and go forward.
The A-parts are more of a statement about the general rules of love. Then we go to the bridge and we go to the chorus, and it becomes more personal. I tell a story about jumping in and being brutally broken, so it’s a specific story of how the heart breaks and how if you can’t see the game, then you get hurt. But it still says it is an example of being killed by love, yet holding onto it so you still can do it again, to be able to put yourself out there and fear of being broken again, but you have to do it because you have to do it for love.
Do you have any advice to anyone who is hurt and/or struggling to put themselves out there?
It’s like death, basically, if you’ve had your heart broken. It takes probably years to get out of it. The advice is to give yourself time to heal and let yourself feel as tired and… you don’t have to do anything. Lay down, just don’t really die. Wait it over day-by-day, minute-by-minute, and slowly it will become better. You will get stronger again and you will start to feel happier again. The most important advice is to not curse love.
Never give up on love?
Never give up and it’s always beautiful. Even the heartbreak is beautiful. Then you know that you’ve actually been able to love someone. For me, the most important thing in heartbreak is that, to understand that it’s actually not about someone loving you, it is about making that decision and a constant decision that you love someone. It’s actually giving love and not waiting to get love. When you are okay that you love someone and that you are giving it away, then you start to heal. That’s the way to self-love. You find the strength and the love in yourself and then you can just give it without waiting for anything in return. But, then it starts returning back to you. This is the game [laughter]. It’s a puzzle.
It’s a really strong message that pretty much everyone can definitely relate to.
It’s the core of life for us all. Whether we want it or not, it’s in the system. We want love. We’re searching for it and trying to find it. For me, the focus was… if you don’t truly love and understand yourself, you are looking for someone else to give you that love and understanding. For me, breaking my heart actually made me understand that I had it the wrong way around. I was selfish and love is not selfish. It’s not about getting love. But that way, I started to love myself.
Again, that’s such a strong and important message these days, with insecurity running rampant. Everyone feels like they need to be strong all the time, forgetting to take time to look inwards and accept that we’re flawed but it’s okay. We just need to try to better ourselves.
Yes, exactly. Look into the mirror all the time and understand that these are things I need to work on, these are beautiful things about me, these are… well, I don’t understand them just yet [laughter] but I will get to the bottom of it! It’s about behavior. However I behave in a situation, always, I analyze going back, why did I behave like this? What made me trigger? Usually it’s about insecurities. People find themselves behaving in a way that doesn’t… have grace. Then it’s basically your fears that are getting you mixed up in your head. So to be fully aware of all the behavioral things in yourself actually makes you a better person. But any time you see something that is not nice, you have to love it because it is you and you have to understand it and forgive it… and you have to change it.
Always try and be better every time.
Yes, but first you have to see it. That’s turning inwards.
We so rarely look inwards and ask what it was that triggered us, what caused us to be sad or angry.
Understanding that we shouldn’t be fighting against each other. I don’t care anymore. It really doesn’t hurt me anymore if someone is being mean to me or doing anything. It really doesn’t matter now that I’m okay with myself. It has nothing to do with me. They have something that they haven’t figured out in themselves and I’m triggering them but it’s not my fault. Earlier I was protecting myself. If someone was saying bad things about me, I was replying to the fight like if I was in a war. I don’t have a war anymore. I will let people say whatever they feel because I understand them better because I’ve fixed myself.
Once you accept the good and bad in yourself, no one can hurt you by telling you something you don’t want to accept about yourself. No one can use “you” against you.
Yes, exactly. I believe the most important work a human being has to do is to truly work on themselves. Everything else comes after that. If that’s the only thing you’ve ever done in your life, you’ve done enough. You’ve done the most important thing. Because then the world changes into a better place. Not by trying to change the outside of things. It comes from everyone changing themselves.
It’s much more effective to lead by example, since no one wants to be “told” what to do or how to act.
You have to break before you’re strong. I don’t believe in telling people what to do. No one takes your advice, it always feels like “Who are you to tell me?” But if you tell your own inner feelings, if you show yourself, the vulnerable, broken side of you, whatever side is there truthfully, that helps. It might give people courage to do the same. That’s what the lyrics are about. I’m trying to put myself out there. I’m sure people are not interested in my feelings, but I’m putting my feelings there so they can listen to their own.
They can find something that they can connect with, that reminds them of their own experiences, baring your soul to show others how to connect and give people strength?
Yeah, that’s what we’re trying to do with the music. Every song has an energy and we truly tossed a lot of songs if I felt that the energy didn’t come through strongly enough, even if they were good songs. If I don’t feel what I’m trying to give then it’s not good enough.
That leads nicely into my next question, because I was wondering about all the different sounds on the album, as I mention before. It’s almost impossible to pin down a genre here. How did that come about?
It was about being free. It was intentional in that we didn’t want to calculate something. We just wanted to… because I’m a freedom fighter, so we wanted everything to be free. However the songwriting sessions went, we went for it. Of course we saw that some songs went better together than others and… what was this? [laughter] There were a few songs where we thought, “This is too weird.” Not the song but the genre was too far off. The thing was, we just wanted to have freedom, because now no one was telling us anything. No one was telling us what to do.
Freedom, even from genre?
Yeah! So we knew that we would do metal, but it wasn’t a sacred thing to us. We were not afraid of crossing the genre lines, so we listened to Leonard Cohen and started to write songs [laughter].
Was it hard to find a balance between what needed more and what needed to be reined in a bit, or was it easy to find your own groove?
It was actually quite easy for us to do the songs. We’d sit there until the song is ready, we do them all at once… I don’t know if you’ve seen pictures from when a couple of the guys from the band are sleeping on the chairs. Some of us are up, some are down [laughter]. We’ve been there. We believe that it’s the flow. Usually it’s Vili and I that are the last ones standing and it’s 5 a.m. thinking, “Should we take some… red wine, maybe?” because you have nothing left in you [laughter].
Next, we go and sleep a few hours, then wake up and listen to what we did, and then we might make some changes and fix little things, but basically we like to have the song there with one songwriting session. We go to the cabin the woods, like Finnish people do, and stay there for a few days and don’t sleep, we just make as much music as we can.
I’ve only just heard the album for the first time just now, but what was great was that everyone was so talented – we of course recognize Teemu and Rolf from other bands – but no one was outshining anyone else. The whole band seemed to be there to support one another.
That’s also what we discussed. This is not about ego or self-esteem, showing what you know. We said that we have to do this album solely because of the music. Even though we can do very technical things, it was a decision that we didn’t want them because we wanted to make music, songs that are solid and we were following the song, not the musicians. I believe that my voice is just one instrument and everybody has their own voice and every instrument has its own place and voice. It’s hopefully balanced.
Now, you guys were meant to have your first show on March 11th, 2020, but presumably all gatherings will be cancelled or postponed. Do you have a date yet to reschedule your show?
The first On the Rocks show will be on June 10th.
Do you have any summer festivals planned for this year?
Yeah, we’re in John Smith, Nummirock, and Tuska!
Great, that means we’ll hopefully see you all three times! I think that’s about it for my questions… at least for now, since we’re running out of time. Do you have any last words or comments?
I hope everybody will have time to listen to the album and I hope whatever people feel after it, they can be brave enough to let themselves feel whatever they feel. For us, we’re just giving it away now and hoping it will find the people who need it the most.
Thank you so much for taking the time to do this!
Interview by Bear Wiseman