Wed. Dec 2nd, 2020

Interview with Valkeat — “Doing what seems unimaginable is what we thrive on and love to do, that’s what being an artist should be all about.”

After the successful release of their self-titled debut album, the Finnish modern folk metal band VALKEAT is currently working on a new album. We sat down with the band and asked them a couple of questions about the process behind the upcoming album, the new music video, and future plans. Read the entire interview here.

© Petri Anttila

Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. First things first, would you mind telling our audience a little bit about your history and background? Who are you and when did you start playing together?

We are VALKEAT from Espoo and play what you could call modern folk metal. To be more exact, we make music with the idea of wanting to make the world of traditional music/instruments interesting again and aim to do new stuff within the realm of metal/rock genre at the same time. The debut album “Valkeat” was released in 2017 and currently, we are working on a new album that will see the light of day somewhere in 2020. The band started to form late 2014 when Miikka called his friend Eppu and told him that from that day on we are gonna start to create modern kantele music for future generations and have to figure out what it’s gonna be like. Aleksi and Juho soon joined the band to take the roles of guitar and bass player and our current drummer Vesa Laamanen joined the band in 2018.

From the day we started, we have evolved quite a lot from a rock’n’roll attitude folk metal band, that combines kantele with modern metal/rock sound in our first album, to a much more diverse, cinematic and experimental folk metal act, that will be heard on our new album when it will be released next year.

© Petri Anttila

Having a Kantele player in the band is a pretty rare (and badass) thing, so here’s a question directly to Eppu: How did you start playing it?

I started playing a 5-stringed kantele when I was three years old, though it’s a bit different at that age. Occasionally I would pick it up and play some easy stuff every now and then during the school years, but the spark for buying an electric kantele came later. I found Eeva Alkula‘s project called MEMNON and fell in love with the soundscapes they were creating. Being a piss poor student straight out from high school I couldn’t even dream about a big concert kantele. So I worked a couple of years and saved up a bit and ended up calling Koistinen Kantele for a custom kantele order in autumn of 2008. Actually learning to play the kantele was a bit different story again, since I had been learning piano and guitar in the between and kantele needs a whole different way of thinking.

We know you’re working on a new album, what is the concept behind it? Who takes care of writing the music and who the lyrics? What inspired you?

For us, it’s all about expanding the landscape of metal/rock by bringing together different styles of music and exploring creative ideas. We in a way are looking to take the culture of music forward into what is at this moment unknown to everyone. Doing what seems unimaginable is what we thrive on and love to do, that’s what being an artist should be all about. The inspiration for that has come from the attitude and mentality of great bands that do just that like WARDRUNA, GHOST, KVELERTAK, and SÓLSTAFIR to name a few. The new KORPIKLAANI album was also a great new folk metal album with a fresh feel to it and Jonne Järvelä from the band is actually making an appearance on our album as well. But if we had to come up with one name that has given the most inspiration for the new album we are doing, that would have to be Hans Zimmer with his music, approaches to making it and his genius creative mind.

Our philosophy, that you could call a concept, on this album has been that every song should be a story at its core and all the music played should be there only to tell that story. Big orchestras are great when appropriate, but if they have no relevance to the story of the song then it’s all empty notes. Sometimes a single drum can tell the story more accurately and be more epic than anything else. So it’s an album of musical storytelling in kind of a similar way that film music does it, but instead of a cinematic film story, we have a story with vocal parts and a band. For inspiration, we have gone deep into exploring Kalevala and old documented historical texts with a university folklorist who is assisting us with the folklore. But instead of making songs that just tell what happened in those stories, we are focusing more on finding the humanity and lessons in them, searching for what could be learned from those stories and how they relate to our lives. So in a way the themes are going to be about timeless meaning and the human experience itself, instead of all the nihilism you see around these days.

In VALKEAT Miikka is the creative mind behind the band who does the music, Eppu brings in lots of knowledge about history and tradition to that process, Aleksi takes care of many practical matters that are involved in having a band, Laamanen brings in godlike male beauty to facelift the current troll gallery in addition to his divine rhythmic expertise and Juho drinks a lot of beer. That’s how it works.

Can you tell us a little bit more about the creative process behind the album?

In the first album, we had this kind of “punk rock attitude” about making modern metal/rock music and made many things in the name of breaking the so-called “metal music rules”. This time the creative process has been much more thoughtful, mature and professional, as we have grown and learned so much as musicians and have much more knowledge and understanding about what we are doing. But still we try to stay reckless and keep in mind at all times that making music should not be about pleasing the purists out there and playing it safe within the rules and restrictions, even if it means that some rock polices will try to raise negativity against us as posers that have forsaken the holy spirit of SLAYER or whatever fucking box they want to young artists to fit into. The goal needs to be the complete opposite of that mentality: to create something new and inventive that hasn’t been done before by anyone else and with that music move the culture forward, like all the legends from BLACK SABBATH to NIGHTWISH have done.

You’ve been really busy working on the production of this album, have you experienced any challenges throughout the process? Do you already have an approximate release date in mind?

The amount of work and detail that goes into creating the kind of an album we want to make really is the biggest challenge. Some days it just feels like an impossible task to bring this thing into reality, as we aim to take our music to a NIGHTWISH-like production level but at this point in our career we don’t have anything close to the NIGHTWISH-like money to do it with. So it’s a constant struggle to realize the vision of what we want VALKEAT music to be like with the resources that we have. Luckily we have the greatest producer in the world: Mr. Tuomas Yli-Jaskari from Sonic Pump Studios. He is an absolute genius and feels like a band member and battle brother to us at this point. After all, Miikka and he have been close friends way longer than Miikka has been friends with any of the band members, so those two maniacs work together like magic.

Also, we are excited beyond any word that we got master Perttu Vänskä, who is perhaps best known for orchestrating the legendary TURISAS‘ albums “Varangian Way” and “Stand Up And Fight”, to work with us on the orchestrations in certain parts of the album. Those TURISAS albums came out when we were teenagers and we couldn’t stop listening to them back then, so it really is a dream come true to get to work with him. It’s also great that everybody involved in this album really wants to make it sound like what we feel VALKEAT should sound like, instead of what every other metal or rock band out there already sounds like. That itself is a huge mountain to climb since it’s a process that starts on such a low ground level from so little things. No release date has yet been discussed with anyone, as it is way too early to think about that at this point.

Your first album, “Valkeat” was sung entirely in Finnish. I heard that the upcoming album will be a mix of both English and Finnish, why this choice?

It wasn’t a conscious choice that was ever made, it just happened and we’ve never said that we’d stick to just one language. When we made the first album, Miikka started to feel that his creative output was severely restrained by the language and that’s the only reason we needed. Evolution is a natural part of life and it would be foolish to fight the new ventures your creativity is trying to take you. We actually also have some Sámi language influences on the album as well that came up when working with joiku singer star Hildá Länsman, who is appearing on the album. Making a full Sámi language song one day would be also super cool!

You already filmed a music video from one of the songs from the new album. How was it being back on the set? I noticed that you had a really particular cast for the video. Can you elaborate on that? Did any of you play a part in the music video as well?

It was rewarding, but also extremely tough and challenging to be honest. The video we are making is kinda our own Lord of the Rings adventure story that we based on Finnish mythology and folklore, so we had a rich cast of humans, shamans and maybe some other creatures as well. Creating, scripting and designing costumes for all the characters and creatures from scratch took us many creative meetings, collecting a library of +200 props. An insane amount of time and effort was spent working on all the details. Thanks to the great cast and music video team we really succeeded in bringing them to life in the end.

The preparation for every shoot took so much work because we had no set designer, no costume designer, no locations scouts or other assistants, but had to come up with everything ourselves from nothing. The cold weather and filming outside was another challenge, especially in the super-windy Lapland mountains. In the end, we made it through every obstacle, but it certainly was not easy and at the lowest points felt like everything was about to fall apart. Maybe next time we’ll smarten up and make a video where porn stars dance on our laps while we sip booze in a warm studio setting as rappers do. When it comes to telling you guys if any of us are playing any roles in the film, well, you’ll just have to wait and see it for yourselves!

Did you work with the same director/crew from “Aallot”?

Yes. During the summer of 2018 we called our dear friend Patrik Nuorteva and told him that we were going make the greatest music video ever made in this country or fucking die trying. When we were writing the story, it soon became pretty obvious that he was probably the only person in this country to make “these insane visions” work in a music video form, which our script was referred to as by some other people. Patrik absolutely loved the story and still even today after a year since we started filming we are still working on the cut, constantly chatting about how to tell the story the best possible way.

How long did it take to write the plot of the music video? Is it inspired by the lyrics of the song?

Writing the core of the story and script-writing the scenes took several months and we are still working on the presentation and nuances of it all. We ended up filming the video for a six month period in Espoo, Helsinki, Tampere, and Lapland. The film and the song work together as a combined story: the music you hear tells a much bigger story than the film itself.

As far as we remember your last concert has been in 2017. Are you planning of promoting this new album with a tour or can we expect you at summer festivals after its release?

Yes, we definitely do. But at this point, it is way too early to give out any public statements. Everyone’s focus is completely on the album and we can’t be getting ahead of ourselves.

Do you have any last thoughts you want to share with the readers of this interview?

You can follow our progress on the album on our Facebook and Instagram pages. And you have no idea what’s coming.

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