We went behind the scenes with Mathias “Warlord” Nygård of TURISAS in Helsinki back in 2011 to discuss TURISAS’ direction after “Stand Up and Fight.” With a fairly big shift in style and a whole lot of new band members, it seemed fitting to check in again, at the same venue no less, to see how things have changed since we last spoke to them!
You’re starting up a Finnish tour right now, but not in support of any album. How did this whole thing get organized?
Up until now, Finnish shows for us have always been squeezed in – a club show here, a festival there – when we had time off from the bigger full-length tours. Now we knew that the rest of the year would be off, so we decided once and for all to do a full Finnish tour. It’s the most extensive one we’ve done, with eleven dates. We’ve played most of the places before but there’s also some cities we haven’t played at all. It’s going to be cool!
Where haven’t you played before?
Kouvola… we haven’t played Järvenpää. I think those are the ones.
I’m curious about your artwork for the tour – the saintly images. Where did that idea come from?
It was earlier this year when we did a European tour in the spring. We thought that maybe it’s time to upgrade or redo our visuals a bit and realized that we hadn’t really utilized the theme of the “Stand Up and Fight” album at all, so that was the direct source of inspiration: The Byzantine Empire and that whole setting from “Stand Up and Fight,” to bring that into the visuals and use it on the stage.
The last time we spoke to you, you had just finished up “Stand Up and Fight” and since then you’ve had “Turisas2013.” Are there any plans to hit the studio anytime soon?
We are slowly getting into the mode of working on something new, but the recording is still miles away. Even songwriting is in very early steps at this stage. Up until now it’s been more like working on the background research and that kind of thing to build a pretty solid concept for the next album.
Do you have any idea at all at this point what the album will be like? Will it be a huge change sort of like “Turisas2013” was, or back to your origins, or do you have absolutely no idea?
I have an idea of course, but it’s very hard to know what will come out of it in the end. I don’t feel like anything would be stepping back to what we did in the past. Everything is moving forward in a way. Of course, I think we took some time off now to also reflect on what we’ve done so far and have also maybe seen that where I feel most comfortable is working with pretty big concepts and themes… trying to make the album as a whole interesting, not only on the level of individual 2½ minute songs, but as a full concept. Maybe even exploring beyond the medium of only the album. For those who are expecting to have a “Varangian Way“ part 3, that’s probably not going to happen. I think there’s going to be a strong conceptual idea behind it but it’s not going to be going back to make a sequel to what we’ve done in the past.
You’ve had traditionally pretty long gaps between your albums with the exception of “Turisas2013,” which was only 2 years after “Stand Up and Fight.” It looks like we’re going to get a fairly long break between albums again. How did “Turisas2013” end up coming out so quickly?
I think that the whole charm and way we made that album was that, up until that point we had always taken ages in the studio and we took ages to work on everything and we wanted to limit our options as much as possible – kind of like if you’re a painter, you decide to make a painting using only four colors or whatever – to try what that would give us creatively, and we made that album pretty fast. It was also because we didn’t tour that much on “Stand Up and Fight.” We did tour, but everything was squeezed into one year. Then we had some lineup changes, so after after “Stand Up and Fight” we decided that it’s maybe better to focus on the new album rather than keep touring and touring.
“Turisas2013” was pretty different, stylistically, from the previous albums and we’ve gotten the impression that you don’t like the specific “Viking metal” label on the band. Was that album an intentional step away from that really “Viking” style?
I think it felt like on our previous albums, everything got covered over by the whole “Vikings” and “swords” and “drinking beer” themes and that kind of thing and it was sometimes a bit frustrating that we felt that we were writing… I don’t know, somehow with a bit more insight than just songs about unicorns and dragons and that kind of thing, but it always got overruled by the fact that we had our visual image and we had everything like this. I don’t feel that we really stepped away from that, but we just changed the emphasis around it a bit. Toned down the whole historical side to the thing and focused more on the here and now part. It’s something that’s been present on all the albums before as well, but maybe a bit overlooked.
It definitely still feels like you guys, but also the overarching feeling is a bit different in that sense. Now that it’s been 2 years since it’s been released, how do you feel it compares to the other ones?
Let’s be fair – for commercial success, it’s probably the least successful album we’ve done. Did we expect it? Yes and no. We knew that it’s not the fancy historical saga as such and that fan reactions would be split, definitely. For us, it just feels like it’s important to make music that feels interesting. To keep making another “Stand Up and Fight” or “Varangian Way” album at that point would’ve been probably very successful commercially but it would not have, as an artist, been interesting for us to do that. I think this album also now left us in a comfortable place that it broke the pattern enough that now we feel that we have a bit more space to breathe and can also pick up things from the past that we were happy with and enjoyed doing. Overall it feels creatively more open right now.
Your visual style has changed over the years, except for maybe the face paint. You started out with the really basic home-made furs and then in the documentary you said that you upgraded, you had more money to put into it, you had the stylist designing the new ones, and then around “Stand Up and Fight” you moved onto the Mad Max -style stuff. Have you actually changed the outfits since then or not?
We did change them between “Stand Up and Fight” and “Turisas2013,” but I think it’s still somewhere like the Mad Max thing, but also a bit more traditional heavy metal brought to it. The visual side to the band is something that I feel keeps evolving all the time, just like the music. As you said, on the very first album or two, we were known for the face paint and it has become a very iconic part of the band, but for us it never felt like, we started a band and it’s going to be about face paint and red and black. We started a band and that came in much later. For us it feels like we’re moving somewhere and keeping moving. Visually, I don’t really know where to go with the next album yet.
Just out of curiosity, you started out more or less bare-chested and now you have a lot of jackets and clothing – is that not extraordinarily uncomfortable on stage under all those lights with the heat?
It is. Maybe I’ve gotten used to it step-by-step, stepping it up. I don’t think what I have now is nearly as uncomfortable as something around “The Varangian Way.” There was so much paint involved. Now I get away with less sticky paint on my arms and upper chest and all that instead. It’s actually easier in many ways [laughs].
The last time we spoke to you, we had asked about how Lisko had left the band and now you’ve had another massive lineup change, with Netta gone, and you’ve got the keyboards in the band again. How did you decide to bring back the keyboards, leave out the accordions, and so on?
I think when we started to see what “Stand Up and Fight” was forming to be, we already had the discussion: is accordion – if you forget about the gimmick side to it – if we only think about it as musicians, is that really what gives us the most creativity or whatever, and it felt maybe like it isn’t, but let’s try to work with it. Of course there was a strong asset to having this weird instrument in the band, but already then we felt that maybe there’s not that much accordion happening on the “Stand Up and Fight” album anymore, that kind of thing. Then when Netta left the band, we didn’t really even consider getting an accordionist from somewhere. It was pretty obvious that we’d go for keyboards instead.
Do you have the same problem with the violin or have you been able to work it into its own place?
It is there. I think very early on, in “Battle Metal,” neither Olli nor the accordion weren’t really in the lineup, but then when the debut album was made, we felt that it would suck to just put all of this on backing tracks or be played by keyboards, so Olli joined the band and the accordion player, Lisko, joined the band, I think around that time. Since then, I think already on “The Varangian Way,” there’s not that much violin going on, as in folky fiddling, but rather trying to explore the music more as a lead guitar. So we have effects on it, but we can always go back to using it where we want it as a more acoustic violin instrument as well.
Do you think “Fuck the guitar solos” will ever come back?
I don’t think so. We’ve done some stuff that’s just been kind of… the vibe of the moment. I think it’s also important not to over-analyze your doings too far. Like, if I could go back now and change something, we probably never would have released that “Finnish Summer with Turisas” DVD, if we could decide now. On the other hand, it was something that we did in that time and it was tied to that time and that vibe in the band, so I’m kind of happy with that.
So the whole “fuck the guitar solos” was just a funny joke that Olli or everybody collectively came up with one summer and ran with it for a while, but I think it was more of a mistake really, that we were playing Download Festival and Olli just kind of improvised the whole thing and it stuck and all the fans got really excited about it.
I’ve got one last question for you now, since we’re talking about the old image and the new, and that was that last time we asked you about the difference between “Mathias” and “Warlord” – do you still get called by that nickname at all these days or no?
It seems to stick when they write my name in interviews or wherever. They always use this “nick” in between. I’m not sure if it’s actually been used on albums or anything for at least the last few. Do I get called by that? Yeah, but I think most know my first name and that feels a bit more comfortable maybe.
Well, that’s all of my questions, so thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us and have a great show!
Interview by Bear Wiseman