INTERVIEWS

Interview with Euge Valovirta — “Easy does it: Don’t stress, just take life easy.”

Euge Valovirta is one of the most prominent guitarists Finland has to offer. Recognized as one of the most talented guitarists of his generation in the heavy metal scene, he has had the opportunity to play with many renowned bands such as Godsplague and Drive. His first international breakthrough was as a part of Suburban Tribe, he is known from his work with Swedish masters of darkness Shining and nowadays is manning the lead guitar of the upcoming Swedish melodic metal band Cyhra.

On 24th of August, Euge Valovirta released his first solo album “Easy Does It”. There literally is no way of stopping him. I had the opportunity to meet up with Euge to discuss his latest work. Here’s what we talked about.

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Hi Euge! Thank you so much for making the time for this interview. How have you been during the summer? Has it been a busy time for you?

Yes and no, I have been doing a couple of festivals with Cyhra. I had the chance to have a little holiday with my wife as well. Then, we have been mostly writing and demoing songs for the next Cyhra album. We are actually going to the studio next week in Denmark!

That sounds like a busy summer to me, luckily you had some time for a little break. Can you tell me a bit more of what we can expect of the new Cyhra album?

The first album was written by Jesper and Jake. This time around, I’ve been involved in the songwriting as well. The three of us have been writing by ourselves and also in Gothenburg together. In total, we’ve got like 20 tracks, but we are going to record probably 15 to 16 of those. The album is going to be a little bit faster and more riff-oriented. During touring we found out that those kinda songs worked the best, as well as the ballads. The songs in between, so the middle ground, isn’t really our focus on the forthcoming album, at least on the demos. But let’s see. Anything can happen in the studio when we decide to do go about things.

You have been really busy with Cyhra and your other endeavours, where did you find the time to write this solo album?

I started to write the album originally 10 years ago. A couple of the songs are even from that period. I was asked to join Shining in 2011 and we had a lot of tours all over the world and of course album releases. Then I also recorded Godsplague’s latest album in 2010 or something and did some touring for that too. And we also released Suburban Tribe’s last album and did the farewell tour & shows in 2011 and now I’ve been in Cyhra since 2017 when we formed the band.: So let’s say that I’ve been a bit busy (laughs). When we were touring in Japan with Shining in 2015, Raikku Tuomikanto, the Finnish drummer of the band at the time, asked me if I could play some of my demos for him. He knew that I had been writing material and demoing because nowadays it’s so easy to record things. He told me: “Wow that’s pretty good, you have good songs there, you should do a solo album and I will be the drummer,” I was like “Okay, let’s do it”. I called a good friend of mine, bass player and producer Lauri Hämäläinen to see if he would be interested in playing bass, producing and recording the album. He agreed. Whenever I was in Finland we would rehearse the songs and we would go through the arrangements. The drums were recorded at the beginning of 2016 if I remember correctly. When I was again in Finland, because I don’t live there anymore, we recorded a few tracks here and there, got the vocalists on board etc. The album was recorded by the end of 2016, early 2017. Earlier this year we decided it’s a good time, cause the Cyhra album was released last October, there was some space now to mix the album and get it released. So, now it will be released next Friday 24th. Three singles have been released now. The first one in January and now every couple of months we’ve been putting out one song.

Wow! Next Friday already, are you excited?

Yes! The goal of the album was to show who I am as a player. I have been playing in a lot of different bands, from suicidal black metal to Suburban Tribes’ poppy hard rock. So I’ve been doing so many things. I love to play country music and blues as well. I wanted to have those kinds of styles in there. The album is basically a mix of styles that I love to play and listen to. It’s ten different songs, ten different genres, there are different vocalists and a couple of instrumental tracks. I’m kind of excited, because well… It’s my solo album (laughs).

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© Lauri Hämäläinen

So as you said there are different vocalists on the album. How did you choose them? They’re all so different, but yet the whole album sounds coherent.

I wrote all the tracks inspired by my heroes. For example, I wrote “Southern Man” because I love Lynyrd Skynyrd and it became this typical kind of southern rock song. Micko Hell has that perfect Ronny Van Zant sound, you know… That Southern sound. I asked him about it and he was like sure. I told him the only requirement I have is that I would like to have him do that Ronny Van Zant thing in the chorus. He did that. It was perfect (laughs). It was the same with the other songs. The first single, “Feed The Fire” I wanted to have Nico Hartonen from Godsplague, because I wanted to have that kind of a Black Label Society, Pantera power groove thing going on. Niko’s style is also close to Mike Patton and Phil Anselmo. I just heard what I wanted the songs to be like in my head and the kind of vocals that I wanted so approached the vocalists and luckily they all said yes. (laughs)

How free were the vocalists with contributing with the vocal lines? Did they help you out?

I usually do the demos and riffs on my own. I send them to the vocalists afterwards. Usually, I have an idea. But I don’t tell them anything, except that they are free to come up with something. With Nico for example, it was easy, because we have known each other for years and wrote four Godsplague albums. It basically was exactly what I had imagined it to be because I knew that he would deliver. I gave some basic ideas and guidelines to some vocalists, like what parts they could use a certain technique, but basically gave a carte blanche. Lauri also had a big input, when we recorded things in the studio, because he’s really good with vocal melodies and of course… I was there to say yes or no (laughs). If I wasn’t there they would send me the files. For instance, with Swamp Stomp they had four different versions and just asked me which one I liked the most. So that was the process.

Was there any point during the process that you were surprised by their input?

Only positive. They did all the demos and we discussed it, but when I heard the final results, of course, I was surprised. Lauri is a really good vocal producer too and the vocalists hit me as well. Micko said that these were the hardest and most demanding vocal sessions that he has ever done because Lauri was pushing him because he knew he could do better. When he heard the end result he was like really surprised and thought it was better than he had expected.

Just out of curiosity, I noticed Ben Varon’s name popping up as well, what was his part in the whole production?

He’s a great lyricist. So he wrote lyrics on a couple of tracks with some of the vocalists. He and Hannes, for example, did Liquid Lunch and then he did Swamp Stomp – where Tommy Tuovinen sings – mostly by himself from beginning to end. Perhaps Tommy had some input. I didn’t ask him, but the vocalists really wanted him to contribute, to help them out. Ben is a really good friend of mine and a great guitar player, so I of course agreed!

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© Lauri Hämäläinen

Talking about lyrics, how are your songwriting skills. Or are you not that interested in writing lyrics to songs?

I have written lyrics to only one song, for Godsplague, it’s called Supersatan. It’s a tongue in cheek song about the worship of Satan. Those are my lyrics (laughs). For some of the lyrics on “Easy Does It” I had an idea of what they should be about. “Feed The Fire” for instance, is about me, it’s about playing the guitar. Nico knows me, so I told him to write something about me (pauses) hopefully in a positive way (laughs). I’m not that good at writing lyrics. I’m not that interested either. To some people, lyrics are really important. Bruce Springsteen is my all time favourite and those lyrics I really listen to and I know them back and forth. But most of the lyrics out there… I only know Cyhra’s lyrics from the choruses because I sing backing vocals. Other than that… I don’t know any of them. (laughs)

So when your favourite track comes along. How do you sing along with it? (laughs)

I just mumble along. To be honest, when we first started touring with Cyhra, I was planning to learn all the lyrics. But then when we were playing I didn’t remember them at all and I just started to sing something random. Jake, our singer, was like “Dude! What the fuck are you singing there?” I was like “I dunno…” and then he told the sound technician “to turn off Euge’s mic from his in-ears because he’s doing some crazy shit” (laughs). Now I’ve actually learned the lyrics, so I do know them, but you know if you maybe sing the punchline along correctly, you can get away with it (laughs)…

Are you a good singer?

No! (laughs)

So, is that why you didn’t sing on the album? (laughs)

I mean (laughs), I have a good voice, but it’s ruined when it comes out of my mouth. Hah! I can do backing vocals and easy melody lines, but other than that, I’m really bad. (laughs)

Is that something you would like to develop?

I would actually love to. It would be really cool to play acoustic and sing, do gigs like that and maybe even write songs and demo them. I’ve demoed some of my songs for the next Cyhra album and when I did the vocals I wasn’t sure if I should play it to the other guys (laughs). They were like, you know Euge, we should do an album of your vocals, because this is hilarious. That wasn’t what I was going for (laughs) They were like laughing. But of course I wasn’t offended, I know that I suck. They suggested to maybe autotune them like a lot. But yeah, singing. That would be something I would like to do. I guess it’s just a matter of taking some lessons or actually doing it, because whenever we tour more, the USA tour for example, by the end of the tour I did hit the notes pretty well. Even our sound guy said that he put the levels a bit higher and that I was actually audible. (laughs) Sometimes he was like, okay, noooo, let’s turn it down. (laughs)

Well, that means the potential is there at least. How about playing the guitar, how do you get your main inspiration?

I play every day. I’m kind of addicted to it. It’s just something I love doing. I just noodle at home. If something comes up that sounds really cool, I record it. Often when I listen to bands or other guitar players, there are some licks that I want to learn and sometimes I realize I created something on my own. The “John 5” track for instance. John 5 is one of my favourite guitar players and I was actually trying to remember how one of his songs goes, but then when I heard the song, it didn’t quite go like that. I had created something on my own that was inspired by John 5. Of course, at first, it was just a working title, but since it’s a good story I decided to keep it.

Talking about working titles. I listened to your track called “Helsinki Fried Chicken” and I was wondering if it’s loosely inspired on the chicken bucket place on Mannerheimintie, here in Helsinki?

That song basically is a country song with chicken picking. It’s a style of hybrid picking. It’s when you play with both a pick and your fingers in country style. I had two songs using that same style. The other one is called “Headless Chicken”. Because it’s kind of a crazy song. It’s chicken picking, but also like a headless chicken running (laughs). We were wondering what to call the other chicken song and decided to go for “Helsinki Fried Chicken”, it was a working title because we needed to separate those from one another. Eventually, I thought that Helsinki Fried Chicken was great because well Kentucky Fried Chicken, chicken picking and I have eaten there.

It’s kind of a place to go when you’re drunk and craving for a midnight snack.

Exactly. (laughs)

Is that a feeling you tried to express with the song? (laughs)

Yeah (laughs). That reminds me of the old days. It’s good to remember those times. There was always a hassle in Kentucky Fried Chicken because it was always open so late. My memories of it being drunk, with other drunk people, just eating chicken.

I guess it’s part of Helsinki culture, you’re from here right?

Yes, I was born here.

So you were born in Helsinki, but you’ve been working along with Swedish musicians and you live in Riga. Do you think that this multicultural environment somehow has influenced you musically?

I don’t know. My home is, quoting the Lynyrd Skynyrd song: “My Home is where my Heart is.”  Right now my home is in Riga where I live with my wife. But like you said, I’ve been playing a lot with international bands and Swedish musicians, German musicians. There will always be a Finnish part of me, I have a Finnish mentality, you know I say things straight. But I guess I feel more like an international rockstar (laughs). Of course, I’ll always be Finnish and I can’t get away from that. In general, I don’t think, in my music at least, I have that much Finnish melancholy going on. Even with Godsplague, sometimes people thought we were from the southern states of America. And now, playing in a Swedish band with melodies that are basically from ABBA, but with distorted guitars. The Swedes have that in their blood, their melodies are always like that. Finnish melodies are more melancholic and stuff, Swedish melodies, well it’s not only in the major keys, but there still is this Swedish ABBA thing going on.

Well, you’re totally right. It makes a lot of sense. Amaranthe, Sabaton and Ghost also have this going on. What would you say the Finnish ABBA is?

Battle Beast is really good, they have really catchy songs and that twinkle in the eye. But it’s not that melancholic. They have a good live sound and if you break down the songs it’s kind of (pauses) ABBA-ish. And that’s only in a positive way because ABBA has songs with such amazing ‘how the fuck did they come up with that’ melodies, an endless bucket where you can steal from, add some double bass lines and distorted guitar and some lyrics and there you go.

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© Lauri Hämäläinen

So, imagine if you hadn’t decided to play the guitar, was there any other instrument you wanted to play?

I actually started playing the drums when I was 11 or 12. I didn’t have my own drum kit, but my music teacher was kind enough to let me use the music classroom after school hours. I practised there for two days a week. After a while, my parents admitted to me that they were never planning to buy me a drum kit because we lived in an apartment building. I discussed it with my music teacher, because back in the day – in the eighties – there was no such thing as electric drums. I’m that old (laughs). Then, she asked me if I had tried out the guitar. She taught me a couple of chords and she thought I was learning quite easily so I started to play the guitar.

You were never angry at your parents?

Actually, no. Until I was twenty I played ice hockey. I played in the national young league and went to some national team camps. I never played in the national team though. But it was my thing. Ice hockey. Music was just something cool to play once in a while. After that, I went to the army. I did the mandatory army service and after that worked as a professional soldier. Imagine that (laughs). I’m a lieutenant in reserve now. When I was working in the army, I started to play the guitar a bit more. It was just a side thing. I was playing Metallica and other classics, I had no big goals, I just enjoyed doing it and I guess I had a talent because it wasn’t that hard for me. When I was 21 or 22 years old, this guy called Petteri Hirvanen heard me play and told me he could teach me so that I would become better and asked me if I had considered a career in music. I told him well, I’m in the army now… (laughs) Then, so many things started to happen: bands, record deals, I figured out that maybe music is my thing. So, I quit my job in the army, but of course, I did all kinds of jobs. In music business, honestly, you don’t really earn anything for several years, sometimes you never do. I’m fortunately lucky enough to have made it as a professional, being able to pay my rent and bills by touring and recording. That’s a story. (laughs).

You really did a lot of different things in your life that is so unrelated. (laughs)

I still play ice hockey once in a while. As I told you that I was pretty serious about that. But I had a lot of injuries. My shoulders have been operated, my back has been operated twice. My elbows, my fingers have been broken and the list goes on.

It sounds more brutal than heavy metal. (laughs)

I remember thinking to myself when I was 20 that if I would continue like that I wouldn’t be there to witness my 30th birthday. I played with a lot of passion, with the same feel as I play music. Even though I’m a big guy, there was always a bigger guy out there who would knock me out. One time a really big guy hit me and I broke my clavicle, a couple of ribs and my hand was basically completely torn apart. I still have some metal there to hold it together, they had to put it back. I was covered in blood. I remember thinking to myself that that was a serious hit. I got up, fell down and blood everywhere. The next thing I remember is waking up at the hospital asking them if they got a license plate from the truck that had run over me (laughs). They told me like hey dude, we need to operate you. I told them okay, I kind of figured it out. (laughs). I didn’t feel anything. Yeah, I wasn’t laughing then. It took me 6 months to recover. I still have the marks. So, kids… If you want to be healthy don’t do sports, or do sports like golf. Although, I guess that ice hockey equipment is a lot safer now when I played it was not that safe.

Music is supposed to be kind of safe. Although sometimes on stage accidents happen. Has anything ever happened to you?

I’ve hit a couple of singers with my guitar. I’ve been hit as well. I did a couple of shows with Michael Monroe, he swings his mic around a lot. He almost hit me a couple of times, it was very close. But nothing that bad, I haven’t broken my ribs or back or shoulders by playing music, so music is a lot safer than ice hockey, at least for me (laughs).

So, back to the album. Is there a reason why it’s called “Easy Does It”?

Let’s say that those involved, know what it is about. It’s related to my sobriety. Well you know, in general, it’s also, easy does it, don’t stress, just take life easy. You know, it also describes me as a person, I’m a positive guy and I live life that way.

It also kind of describes the whole process of the album to me.

Yes, it happens when it happens. If you can’t control it. There are some things you can’t do anything about, you just have to accept them.

So, the album… Was it a bucket list thing for you?

Yes, I always said I would have my own solo album out before I turn 40. Some people buy a Harley Davidson. I’m 42 now, so I’m actually two years late.

Is there still some other things on the list?

One of my friends has done a marathon, rowing and a 55 km skiing thing. He always teases me that I have been to the army, but haven’t done that. I only did half a marathon. So, that’s something I still want to do, the marathon, the rowing thing and the 55 km skiing thing. And then I can be like “Hey! I did it”. That’s one thing. There are probably other things on there as well, but nothing comes to my mind. One thing at the time. For now, the solo album is fine.

Even though it was a bucket list thing, have you ever considered making a second album?

Maybe. I have no idea. I funded this by myself. We recorded everything in a really good studio and Svante Försback mastered it. Of course, they’re my friends. Still, things cost. With that money, I could have easily bought a motorcycle. For now, I’m just gonna enjoy the results and hopefully the positive feedback and then we’ll see. We have the next Cyhra album out next year so my focus is on that one now.

Now that the album is almost out, are you planning to do some live shows as well?

There are some plans and even some requests, yes. I live abroad and if there would be shows, I would like to have all the singers and guys who are a part of it on board, so of course, there is a bit of scheduling issue. We’ll see. Hopefully later this year, early next year, before Cyhra’s tour. Because then I definitely won’t have the time.

So, the idea would be to have all the singers present?

Actually, all of the singers are also part of the Dimebag Beyond Forever community, which I and Nico Hartonen from Godsplague started. We did a lot of these Dimebag shows in Finland, we even used to do tours. There have been discussions to do more of these because we haven’t done them in a while. They were really popular. We sold out Nosturi, and all sorts of venues all across Finland. So, we have been talking about doing some Pantera shows combined with my own solo stuff.

Now that Vinnie Paul passed away it only makes sense.

Yeah, Vinnie Paul. That’s such a shame. I still have a letter from him on my wall. He wrote me a letter by hand. He had watched the Dimebag shows through YouTube. One day, I got a letter from FedEx that said “Hi Finland, I’m really happy about what you are doing for my brother. I’m really glad you’re keeping his spirit alive, great work dudes.” I couldn’t believe he had seen the shows and appreciated it. I showed it to the guys and we all thought that we must have done something right. We didn’t get any money out of it either, every penny went to this crime service, so those were actually a charity shows. Now that Vinnie Paul passed away, I guess we kinda have to do it again.

You should change the name as well.

Yeah, Dimebag and Vinnie Paul beyond forever. We need to do a new backdrop as well!

Alright! I’m running out of questions, I think we have covered quite much. Before we wrap this up, is there any thoughts you still want to share with our readers?

I usually like to address a general rule about how we should treat each other. We are one race, stuck on a small planet, which we don’t get out of at least not any time in the near future. No matter if you’re black or white, yellow or brown, Christian or a Muslim. We’re all the same race. We’re all human. Let’s try to treat each other as equals, which we are and love each other. Thank you!

 

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