INTERVIEWS

INTERVIEW: Dyecrest — “When record sales were still huge, you had the labels who would guide you, but now you have to be the captain of your own ship.”

In 2004 hard rock act Dyecrest managed to surprise Finland with their debut album. The band, who had won the Young Metal Gods competition, got signed with Sanctuary Records as a result. When the group had a financial breakdown, they let go of the smaller bands, Dyecrest among those. After a second album, the band had decided to call quits, but not after surprising us with their comeback. Dyecrest will release their new album “Are You Not Entertained” with a new lineup on 25 May 2018 through Inverse Records.

We had the chance to sit down with Niko, founding member and proud drummer and Dyecrest’s newest asset vocalist Mikael Salo to talk about the past, the present and the future for the band. 

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Dyecrest was on the rise in early 2000s. After winning the competition, you guys gained a lot of attention there. You have had a break of quite some time during your second album and “Are You Entertained?”. Maybe people have lost touch with the band, or they’re not familiar (yet) with Dyecrest. Can you briefly introduce Dyecrest to our readers?

Niko: How brief? 10 or 15 seconds? (laughs) The band was formed more or less in the early 2000s. Actually, the founding members: me, Pirkka and Jukka, played together for the first time in 1993 already.

Mikael: 1993? When I was born! They decided to start playing together and I was born the same year. So the holy spirit of the music these guys created, I came to be from that energy in the universe. (smiles)

Niko: Yeah, it must have come from that. (laughs) Anyway, for a couple of years we played just for fun in our garage. Matti joined the band, then Henri joined the band. Our first real lead singer Janne, joined the band in 1999.

Mikael: He sung on the first album right?

Niko: Yeah! After that we had formed the lineup that actually could record the songs we had been trying to compose. In 2003 we participated in this band contest called Young Metal Gods. Very humble.

Mikael: Just how you were!

Niko: Now it’s just Metal Gods. Not young anymore. (laughs)

Mikael: Metal Gods and the Young Metal Gods. (laughs)

Niko: The competition was held by several European metal and rock magazines, together with the record company Sanctuary Records, we ended up second place. As a result, we won a record deal with Sanctuary Records. Our debut album “The Way of Pain” was released in January 2004. It got pretty well received by the audience and media! Of course we were not having a huge number of sales. But the company thought it was good as well, because they got us touring together with W.A.S.P. in the summer of 2004.  Everything looked good at that point. And then… Then comes the but. (laughs) The label went down. Sanctuary Group started to have some financial problems. They got rid of a lot of the smaller bands and just stuck with Megadeth and Kiss and for some reason Dyecrest wasn’t part of that group. (laughs)

Mikael: For some reason. It’s still a mystery. (laughs)

Niko: Yeah, it beats the hell out of me. (laughs) Then a couple of guys from the Sanctuary Group, that originally came from Noise Records, started a new record label and we started working with them. We ended up making our second album “This is My World”, which was released September 2005.  When we look back on it now, it was more or less a catastrophe in every aspect. Well, that’s how it went.

Mikael: The producer went crazy, right? Like… Actually literally crazy.

Niko: Well he wasn’t actually a producer! He was recording and engineering the album. Everything went well when we recorded for example drums, the bass, the rhythm guitar. The problems, however, started when we started recording the lead guitars and the vocals. Nonetheless, we were also to blame, because we could have said “Game over”, “Time out”. But we didn’t and the story went on. All went down from there. We at some point departed with the label, we were continuing writing songs, trying to find a new label. But the spark never fired up again.

Mikael: There were no opportunities around that time.

Niko: So in 2008, we decided to freeze the band so to say. A couple of years later, however, we got together again to do some cover gigs. We decided we could rehearse some Dyecrest songs as well, which lit up the spark again. The rest is history, we’re here now with a total new album and everything’s good!

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And you [Mikael Salo] appeared! How did that happen? Where did you find him?

Mikael: It’s like a hero’s journey, the Dyecrest tale, first young guys going on this journey. They become Young Metal Gods, go on tour with W.A.S.P., make a great record that gets good reception. Then things went downhill, but they retaliate and come back with full force! I’m happy to be part of this journey.

Niko: And we become modestly Young Metal God.

Mikael: Modestly Young (laughs). But it doesn’t have the same ring like Middle-Aged Metal Gods or something.

Niko: (laughs) That would be fair! Anyway well, the question was how we found him. Actually we already recorded “Are You Not Entertained?” with Janne, our first singer. At some point we just felt that even though he’s a great singer at his own style and range, it’s unfortunately a bit too narrow for the songs. You have listened to the new album, there’s quite a big spectrum in there.

Mikael: There’s big variety of what you have to do with the songs, which later I found out of course.

Niko: (laughs) And well that lead us to the question if he could still be our singer. We had already mixed and mastered the whole album once. But we decided later on that he couldn’t be our singer anymore. We started looking for a new singer and we actually found Mikael on his YouTube channel, after which Henri emailed him.

Mikael: The guitar player Henri indeed sent me an email.

Niko: He asked Mikael if he would be interested in singing for Dyecrest. Of course he had never heard of the band. Henri sent him the songs though.

Mikael: Well you know the thing is… You don’t quite often get an email, which has a full album which has been produced by the guy who produces bands like Stam1na and mastered by Nightwish‘s mastering engineer. Because of the level of the production I was like “Wow, you’re considering me for this thing?!” I loved the album, it’s very varied, lots of different styles. There are singers on the album that I’ve been a fan of for a long time for instance Piet Sielck from Iron Saviour, and then you know Björn from Soilwork, which is of course like a huge band and everything. It was kind of a crazy opportunity. Singing covers on YouTube and then you get this email with this quality as an attachment there. So of course I said yes! It’s kind of funny because when we recorded the album, we only had met two times. First time I was going to the pizza place, where I was working. The bassist came to my door, with his kids in the backseat of his car and he was like “Hey! I can take you to work and we can talk like 20 minutes you know, because you gotta record the album soon.” We then got to talk for 20 minutes and I got to work. The second time was at the Helloween show in Helsingin Jäähalli. We were already all a bit tipsy before the show and we just enjoyed the show and were like “You’re the keeper of the seven keys” together (impersonates a drunk audience singing at a gig) just enjoying the show. So we never really had a chill, relaxed talk, to prepare for the album. The day itself, I woke up 5 am in the morning, first went to Järvenpää, from there I went to Lappeenranta, to Miitri’s home studio. We had a cup of coffee and then we started recording. Three songs in the first day. Two and a half days for the whole album, so it was quite intense as you can imagine, because I didn’t know the band that much and I didn’t know the producer and I had to do all this body of work while all these great singers already had laid their tracks on the album and they hadn’t even decided if they would use my tracks. So it was so much pressure from everywhere. It basically was like i you are better than those guys on the album, we’re going to use you.

Niko: It was both an audition and a recording session.

Mikael: And dealing with non-Helsinki people was also challenging. There were people coming from both Mikkeli and Lappeenranta. I was like asking like “What do you want? What should I do different? How was this take? What do you think?”. And they were sitting in the sofa and just like “Yeah”. (laughs)

Niko: We could see that he was struggling with the cultural differences. He would have really needed feedback and when there was a take that probably was like “Wow we’re going to use that!”, Mikael would come back from recording the take to the control room and ask us like “What do you think?” and we’d be like “Ihä hyvä” [roughly translated as: “It’s okay”].

Mikael: Sometimes I would hear from the studio side like “Yeah yeah, that’s great stuff” and then when I went to the control room to ask how it was, they would be like “Yeah, you’re trying”.

Niko: I’s useable. (laughs)

Mikael: That’s the problem when you go outside of the capital area you know. You can’t praise people too much, otherwise it goes to their heads.

Niko: And the question was? (laughs)

No worries! (laughs) I always appreciate it more, when bands just tell their stories and we can have a discussion, we covered quite much already. But talking about your hiatus. Do you feel like this long break has somehow helped you for “Are You Entertained”? 

Niko: Well there actually wasn’t this traditional writing process. At least half of the songs had been written already more or less 10 years ago. Though, those songs weren’t recorded properly at the time, so the main point for the whole time was that we would do an album that pleases us. Because we haven’t done that with our previous ones. Two of the songs were written just for this album. Now to answer your question, if this break helped us? I think that, other than him (points at Mikael), we’re a bit older and we’ve seen life from different sides. We’ve seen the shitty sides of life; very sad things and so on, it’s given a perspective to making music: you are allowed to just enjoy the music,  and it’s not the only thing you do. Back when we were doing our first two albums, we had been trying for almost ten years, very intensive, trying to break through. Everything depended on the music. Nowadays it’s a bit more laid back.

Mikael: You kinda made it for the art itself. Because you wanted to do this album, you weren’t thinking about the career and wanting to be a musician. Everyone has their own lives and you still wanted to create this piece that you never could create before.

Niko: Actually the ambition to do the album grew when the project went on, because when the final production started to take shape, we realized that it’s going to be quite good and there would probably be others who would want to listen to it too. As I said, it was just for ourselves, to be able to have an album that you can listen to with anyone and you wouldn’t get pressurized.

Mikael: Now you stand behind it and you’re proud of it!

Niko: And for us it’s quite funny, that in the past we had these record labels, a bit one even the first time, behind us. Now we did everything by ourselves. Production wise it’s far better than the first two albums. All of that because of Jussi and Teemu, who had a huge role, because they are professionals. They helped us with recording the album. Jussi, the producer, would also tell us which parts to “vitun” and which we should keep.

Mikael: So the band was in charge, but you hand-pick the best people to work with and with their professionalism, they gave you insight in to what they think would be best for you. I think more and more bands are doing that nowadays. There is not such a thing as a support from a big label anymore. When record sales were still huge, you had the labels who would guide you, but now you have to be the captain of your own ship. Props for not just doing some album on a laptop, you actually got the best people to do it! That’s why I really felt like I needed to be the singer of this band, when I heard the sound and how huge it sounds like and how well it’s done, I was like “I wanna be the singer on this album!”. Even though I have many other bands, other than this one, I couldn’t say no to this, because it’s great.

So “Are You Entertained” offers a lot of different song. Is there an overarching theme or a concept behind the lyrics?

Mikael: We were talking about this a bit earlier on it’s a very varied album. There are songs from different points in life, first songs were written in 2006, something like that, so more than a decade ago. So that’s been quite a while since the songs have been composed. So there’s naturally a lot of different feelings and kind of themes in there, which makes it varied and interesting. In that way I don’t think it’s a concept album in any way. Not even a thematic album. I think Dyecrest has always been a bit melancholic in a sense, like there’s a lot of elements that are drawn from the real lives of the people who create the songs. It’s not just about fairy tales and dragons, even though that would be awesome as well. (laughs) The topics are very varied. Niko will continue further…

Niko: It’s definitely not a concept album. There are a couple of songs for example “Fading/Reaching” and “No Fear”, which are about accepting the inevitable and holding your head up, about being proud what you stand for, even if it would mean that you’re gonna die for it. Other than that there’s no clear concepts or themes about what the album is about. The DevilDance is the guy from the downstairs whispering in your ear, or perhaps shouting is more appropriate. (laughs)

Mikael: With the voice of Björn. (laughs)

Niko: Yeah. He shouts that you can come to hell, there’s nothing to be afraid of, it’s all good. On the other hand “Are You Entertained” is more or less about how we all are watching screens and about how people get shocked nowadays and why.

Mikael: It’s about why you get that adrenaline rush, about needing more and more, everything has to be grotesque and everything needs to be so extreme.

Niko: There’s this kind of story inside the song, how that kind of stuff can go totally wrong. Actually I wrote the lyrics to “Are You Entertained?” already in 2006. It was already up-to-date then, but it’s even more now.

Yeah, it’s really more relevant right now. Facebook wasn’t really a thing yet in 2006. 

Mikael: Yeah, so you’re clairvoyant! (laughs)

Niko: Uuuuuuh. (laughs)

Mikael: And Winterblood is based on a Finnish fantasy series. Very different kinds.

Niko: Yeah, it’s about the story is based on Helena Waris’ Pohjankantu Trilogy, which contains of three books. (laughs) Can you imagine? A trilogy that comes in three books (laughs).

Mikael: A trilogy with three books. (laughs)

Niko: The last book of the series is called Taliverinen [Winterblood]. So as you see, there’s something from here, something from there, but still no dragons and sorts.

Mikael: And still Dyecrest!

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So a little while ago you released the first single of “Are You Entertained?”. How have the reactions been?

Mikael: First Born Angel! Niko, what do you think? Old Dyecrest fans?

Niko: Old Dyecrest fans? Well, there came some comments from the people that we know of course. There was, however, actually someone from South America that commented somewhere like “Hey! I remember these guys from their “The Way of Pain” period. But not that you could say that there is a huge amount of people who remembered us.

Mikael: Yeah, all these years they have been waiting for Dyecrest! (laughs)

Niko: “Yeah, I’ve been waiting! Where is this new Dyecrest album?” (laughs). Actually, even though it’s our third album, it feels like it’s our first album again, because it’s been quite a while. But as far as it comes to the people we know, there are lots of people who have said that they can recognize the band with listening to these tracks. It’s hard to tell when you’re so much in the project, but probably there is a Dyecrest signature present in the music. I guess. Actually, at least big choirs and good melodies, hopefully. Don’t know, crappy drumming. (laughs) Good singing.

Mikael: Good drumming. (laughs)

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You mentioned before that you have worked together with many different vocalists on this album. How was it to work with so many different people? I’m guessing not everyone flew out to Finland to come and record. Was it a hassle? 

Niko: It wasn’t necessarily a hassle. It was just a couple of 1000 emails sent back and forth. Actually working together with Björn [Strid; Soilwork] was digital. We haven’t met him or anything. We basically just sent him the tracks and he sent us the tracks with vocals back. Asked if it’s okay and we would tell him what to fix and what not. He did new stuff and so on. With the backing vocals, Pirkka and Henri traveled to Hamburg, Germany to record the choirs with Piet Sielck and Jan Eckert. There wasn’t really any hassle there either, but of course just a lot of work to do. On the first version of the album there was also Kimmo Blom singing one song, for that we traveled to Tampere to record his vocals. Eventually we went to Lappeenranta to record the vocals again with Mikael.

Mikael: Shirt off, Rambo, on the head, and two days of freaking out. It was intense. Really challenging for me as singer but I’m really glad I did it.  I think you can really hear the just-going-for-it-attitude from the tracks. A good kind of pressure!

Niko: Well, if we wouldn’t have had such a tight concept already, it would have never been possible to record the vocals for 6 tracks in only 2,5 days. If you’re not Kari Peitsamo, it just doesn’t work.

Mikael: The golden standard.

Niko: Of metal. (laughs)

Are you in the future planning to have again more singers on the album? Or is it just going to be Mikael?

Niko: It’s not that good to have five or six singers on the album! We won’t go in that direction again, Mikael is in the band for that reason. We won’t have to have more than just one singer on the album. Probably we’re doing the choirs again, this time with Mikael and another group of people probably, but when it comes to the lead vocals, het’s the man!

Mikael, you mentioned quite many times that the recording process and vocal styles have been a challenge for you. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

Mikael: Challenge? Like in the singing?

Whatever you saw as challenging in the process! 

Mikael: Yeah. There was the communication thing, because I’m from Helsinki. In Helsinki we talk. That was one thing.

Niko: You have the learn about the tone of the “tklfsklds”.

Mikael: The frequency. (laughs) So that was the communication aspect, but the songs are challenging as well. Which is lovely, I like it. I kind of like to do… (baby starts crying in the background) well that kind of stuff. That’s a very good one. (laughs) But I like to challenge myself, because singing feels good! When you do all the extremes and do different things, you’re body is vibrating and you’re doing all sorts of acrobatics with your vocal chords so I love that! It was really fun, but tiring and challenging as well.

Niko: That’s why we asked him, because we heard his talent when we listened to the YouTube tracks he had uploaded. In Dyecrest you need to be able to do both clean vocals for the tracks and more crunchy and edgy vocals.

Mikael: Yeah, more crunch (makes chewing sound). More Kellogg’s corn flakes. (laughs). Oh man.

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So the album is being released 25 May 2018, what are your plans after that? Are you going to do some shows? A new album? Another break?

Mikael: Two days from now, I’m going to get acquainted with Mikkeli for the first time! We’re gonna have band rehearsals and like a bonding camp. I’m gonna stay one night there and you know, we’re gonna play the songs, get ready for the release show which is the next month.

Niko: It’s June 16th, in Mikkeli. Just a release party, one gig then, but we’re working to have more gigs in the fall. It was a bit too late for the summer festival season. They were booked already. We’re working now to get gigs in the fall, at least here in Helsinki and nearby. As many cities as possible. Now we’re just focusing on the album release of course. Our third single “Fading/Reaching” will be released soon as well as Dyecrest’s first music video ever, which will be released following week, hopefully next week’s Thursday.

Mikael: So it’s probably out when this video comes out! (laughs)

Niko: It might be. (laughs) We’re definitely not going to go on a 13 year break. We’re quite eager to do the gigs and then starting new song writing as well.

Mikael: And there are a lot of new songs ready!

So you already have the material for an entire new album?

Mikael: Not an entire one, but a lot of material already and there are gonna be even more! So it shouldn’t take… 13 years. (laughs) We think it might take less than 13 years for the next album. (laughs)

Niko: That’s probably how it will go. (laughs)

 

So talking about that upcoming album release party! Which ones of the new songs are you most looking forward to play live?

Mikael: For me… Can i start? (laughs) “The Stage Is Set”, because it’s so hard, I’d love to see if I can actually pull it off!

Niko: Many of the songs we have actually played live already with our former lineups. But to pick up one of the totally new songs, I’d have to go for “Fading/Reaching” and “Are You Not Entertained?”. The latter one is more than just a song, it’s a piece of art. (laughs). There’s a lot of things in it, like the news intro and the other spoken parts.

Mikael: It’s kind of like an epic!

Niko: Yeah, and “Fading/Reaching” has some special meaning for me in the lyrics and it’s a good song. That’s why we’re releasing it as a single and a video. Probably those ones. The whole album as well, we’re very excited about the whole album, that’s the reason why we’ll play almost the whole album on the following gigs and only a couple of songs from the first two albums.

Mikael: So be there.

Niko: Or be square! (laughs)

Do you have any last words to the readers or your fans?

Mikael: Thanks for the years of support, you Dyecrest fans, since 2006! All your letters and emails and those moments you were shouting in Mikkeli. That’s what brought them back! Your continuous demand for new Dyecrest material! So thank you!

Niko: He said it. (laughs)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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