Interview with Beast In Black — “As a composer, I’ve touched maybe 0.1% of all the things I want to do with music.”

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The time has come for another chapter in the BEAST IN BLACK history. The band is releasing their new album, “Dark Connection,” on October 29th, 2021, via Nuclear Blast. We had the opportunity to chat with mastermind Anton Kabanen about the upcoming release. Watch the complete interview here or read the full transcript below…

Hi Anton! Thanks for taking the time to sit down with me and talk about the new album, “Dark Connection.” It’s been a while since we talked last, how have you been?

All right, just working. Busy. My life is just BEAST IN BLACK. So, I’m always working on BEAST IN BLACK. It’s not boring, I like it that way.

Is that what you’ve been focused on during this lockdown mostly?

Yeah, all the time. Basically, working on the album and anything related to BEAST IN BLACK… the long-term future is always inside when planning things and working on things. You’ve always got to think a few steps ahead.

I remember that you were working on the new album already before the lockdown. What was the timeframe for this album?

Well, as always, when it comes to album making the songs, they are a selection of old material that I’ve done in the past and some new. So it’s a combination of that, and I think it was at the beginning of 2020 or so when the song list was kind of finalized, and I started to work on the lyrics. It took way too much time, and then in the summer, the recording started in 2020. There were all kinds of technical challenges to make it happen. So it was really, all-in-all until this day, it’s been 1 year and 8 months, roughly. If I would have to count in how much time it took to also compose the songs… well, it usually doesn’t take much, like few days per song, or sometimes less, sometimes a bit more. But we’re still working on some music videos and, to me, it’s connected to the album, so it’s still kind of not ready… the whole picture. Then there’s the stage production for the tour and all that stuff. To me, it’s one big continuum, so the album is still not finished, but the audio side is complete.

So, in the statement that I read, you mentioned, of course, that you have this huge back catalogue of songs that you just pick from and then you write some new stuff here and there, but you mentioned that those songs had to work acoustically as well, so I’m wondering how you pick out these songs. Can you give a little bit more info on what your process is usually like?

What I meant is that a good song to me is a song where you can already hear the main [idea], the essence of the song, in acoustic form. Basically, you grab a guitar, play the chords, and sing that main melody – the chorus melody, for example – on top of it. If it sounds good, if something resonates in you, there is something here, then you have good ingredients for a song. That’s what I meant. And that’s how I basically build most of my songs that… they have to work on that level, on that extremely simple level. Then you just put layers and layers on top of that, you add other instruments, keyboards, and some instrumental parts here and there sometimes. So it’s not just a vocal melody and the chords, but that’s the main thing because we’re doing music with vocals. Yeah, so that’s the element that has to work first and after that comes the instrumental parts. If you want to add some additional parts and songs… but usually there’s one main riff (guitar riff or synth riff) as the instrumental part. But songs like “Highway To Mars,” there is quite a long instrumental part in that song after the second chorus, and we think it still works, even though it’s quite a long song with instrumental things and so forth.

I guess during a show, it will be a nice little break for Yannis.

I think he wants more of these instrumental parts in the future. [laughter]

Now, talking about Yannis, I feel like the vocals are maybe done in a different way this time around; did you guys work differently while doing the vocals together?

I usually compose everything as completely as possible. That’s my way of working. After that, we just did it in the same way we record and, during the recording process, Yannis always has some additional ideas on how to make some chorus fatter sounding, adding some harmonies, or unisons, stuff like that. It’s been like that since the first album and it was no exception this time either. He did some additions here and there on how to strengthen the melody, but in choruses, usually, it’s the choruses, to add more meat around the bone so to speak.

Now, in the same statement, you also talk about simple melodies and how the essence should be simple enough to make them stand out. Then, you talked about old-school video game music, where you get these very creative, fantastic melodies with a lot of limitations, where composers are kind of pushed to the sound chips they are using, but I was wondering, have you ever thought about writing music in a similar way with similar limitations – I guess without the programming?

Yeah, of course. I mean, I think, as a composer, I’ve touched maybe 0.1% of all the things I want to do with music. It’s such a huge playground. But I can’t wait to try different approaches to composing. For instance, okay you have only four tracks, four instruments, you cannot use any anymore, and you have to work with that, that would be exciting to me. I love musical challenges, it’s never like a challenge that’s uncomfortable. It’s always, “Aha! A musical challenge!” and I’m so enthusiastic about that. There’s a drive that just becomes even harder, and drives me to do it, and until the song is complete, okay. When it’s done, I’m usually pretty happy that yes, okay, I did it. And then, I just want to repeat, another song with a different approach, maybe. That’s the best thing in life, to compose, write songs, and any creative activity is actually quite close to my heart, like writing, or in this album’s production, the music videos, we’ve had much more input in the music videos than ever before. And that’s been really exciting to put so much effort into those. It’s a huge creative process with a much bigger team than just making an album. So, that also kind of feeds the hunger.

I was told that last time you were really interested in the process of shooting these music videos and you’d even attend shoots you didn’t have to be present at. Do other art forms like this inspire you, in general?

I’m an observer basically, by nature. I’m just curious about these things in the artistic world, things that I don’t fully understand, but there’s a chance for me to be closer and to see how things are done. And just to be part of the creative process, look at it, that’s a curious nature.

Did you feel like you learned anything from attending these video shoots?

Well, it’s not like okay, I now remember this thing from that video, and we have to utilize this thing in this next one. It’s something that just goes into your system and then you have the ability when a situation comes when you need that ability, then you know that it’s inside of you. You remember the know-how inside you, and then you just start using that know-how in the future project or whatever you’re doing there, a video or a song or cover art or whatever creative process. So it’s not like I remember everything that I learned there. It’s just, it’s like school, you’ll learn many things in school, and you use them for the rest of your life. You don’t remember what was the date, what was the class, was it the third class in elementary school when I learned this thing. It’s just something that you learned along the way. And then you use those skills.

Now, talking more about the video, of course, I haven’t seen it, it’s not out yet. But is there anything you can share about the video and its shooting day?

We tried to make a video that’s more movie, kind of a short film. So it’s not a typical “band plays in the video.” So we don’t play at all, we don’t play the instruments nor sing, we just have our roles there. It was a huge process to make the script. Katri Koppanen wrote the script. I had a little bit of input there as well, in the script, and she directed it. It’s her first real direction, her debut as a director. That was something. We’re really excited about it’s, it was new for her, it was new for us to do something on this scale, this kind of a massive video, everyone. It’s so much work in this, especially Katri, she did the most, it started last year already like before summer, we started to work on writing the script. And it still follows the song, of course. The main thing was to make a story that correlates with the lyrics of the song, and it does perfectly. There’s something ’80s-’90s. Obviously, because it’s heavily influenced by Blade Runner, the [original] film, and Armitage III, an anime from 1995, and a little bit of Battle Angel Alita, that anime as well, so those three were the main kind of influences for the lyrics, and the story, and the visuals for the video. When it was ready, of course, everyone was so exhausted, especially Katri, she’s done the biggest work. It’s kind of a… well, let’s see what happens when it’s out. When you spend such a long time on something, just one thing, you start to kind of lose your objectivity. You don’t know, you cannot tell good from bad or anything, but it’s the same with making the album. I never listen to the albums that I’ve composed after they’re ready, I can’t. It’s just horrible.

Yeah, I often hear that you hate them.

I don’t hate the songs, but how they turned out to be. I just hear all the mistakes that I’ve done, but that’s a horrible way of doing promotion [laughs] about the album by telling the bad things about the album, but that’s honest-to-God, that’s the truth, but it doesn’t mean I’m not proud of it or I don’t stand behind the songs. No, no. I do stand 100% behind everything, every note that’s recorded there. It’s not an artist’s job to basically speak about it or tell what it is. It’s out of my hands, outside of the band’s [hands], it’s only for the public then to do the interpretation. What it gives them, that’s the purpose of any form of art.

Have you been surprised in the past by the audience’s reactions?

Yeah, many, many times. [laughs]

Now, the album is inspired by all of these different kinds of cyberpunk movies, anime, and manga, like for instance, Blade Runner. I guess these kinds of dystopian topics fit with the state of the world right now. How did you decide on the themes of the album?

It was already, I think, 2018 when I kind of had decided it’s going to be cyberpunk. So three years ago. Usually, at the end of whatever album is in the making, at the end of the particular album that we’re making, I start to kind of get a clear direction of what the next one is going to be, even if the one that you’re working on is not fully finished yet. It’s always happening like this for me, I don’t know why, it’s something like I said earlier, you’ve gotta always have the few steps forward to the future, and that happens automatically. Now I also kind of know what the fourth album, what the direction is going to be, even though the third one, “The Dark Connection,” isn’t even out yet. Yeah, but that’s how it goes. It’s when you give everything to what you’ve done and if you don’t have anything to wait for in the future, workwise, art-wise, then you lose some motivation, but this gives purpose to carry on, okay you have something new to achieve to do something good.

The album’s title is “Dark Connection.” Is that some sort of a cyberpunk concept or did you pick this title because the songs are somehow interconnected?

It’s meant to kind of provoke thought. When you look at the album cover, there are different types of connections, it can be physical or metaphorical or emotional, whatever you come up with, that’s art’s point. That’s what I meant that there is no wrong interpretation. Every viewer and listener make their own interpretation and it’s right for them. If it gives them something, then art has done its job and its purpose. If it leaves no thought or leaves no impact for the viewer or listener, then it hasn’t worked. But if you read the lyrics and look at the picture and then you start to see, like, okay, it can be this type of a connection what the dark connection means, at least to me.

It felt so strong, the title, when I came up with it. I thought the connection was the kind of keyword, but then I thought, it’s not just connection I had to call it… I hate to use the word dark because it’s so cliché, all the Hollywood films are “dark this” and “dark that,” but I had to make an exception to myself to allow myself to use it. It just felt so right. And I checked that there haven’t been at least any well-known bands with that title for the album. So, I’m okay. We’ll use that and because it speaks. It gives the kind of right vibe. There’s the atmosphere from… it’s not just connection but the connection between the main song deal with humans, Androids, and Nanoids, the relationship between them in the future, and that’s the thing in cyberpunk as well, where do we draw the line in ethics. Ethics-wise, for example, how to treat the machines or are they machines, are they more humans than humans themselves. And if some humans and those Androids, if there are some connections between them, can they be treated in the same way or not. All these moral questions and whatnot. There’s a connection between that in those relations, and it’s becoming a reality. More and more. In Japan, robotics is really sophisticated and super high-tech, and they want to be the leaders in robotics in the world. And I think that’s the world, that’s the country, where we will first… I think that if for any country there would be a market for these kinds of really sophisticated actual Androids, robots, it’s that country where they will come from.

I actually read that Elon Musk is creating these human-like bots to do those chores that people don’t want to do, for instance, clean the house, do the laundry, or something. Do you think that is a good thing?

Well, it’s not so black and white. There are always these gray areas, it can be good, it can be bad. It depends on how you use that kind of asset. It’s all about how we use technology. For example, weapons and guns in themselves, are not evil or bad, but how we use them, makes them tools for good or for evil. But this is a topic that at least provokes thought, definitely, everything is starting to become so easy, especially in city life, you know. You just push a button here and there, and things are automatically done. I don’t want to get too deep into this, too many thoughts rush into my brain I cannot find the correct output for it. [laughs]

I can switch back to the music. [laughter] What I thought is, in that this album, all the songs are kind of interconnecting concerning the atmosphere. If you think about music in sci-fi, in general, there are a lot of synths. Now last time, you mentioned the previous album, From Hell With Love,” was more keyboard-driven. What do you think about “The Dark Connection?” And do you feel like you had to honor those iconic soundtracks like Blade Runner and Tron?

I just look at the songs, listen to the songs, and see what they need, in my opinion. Just put the keyboards. Like, where they were needed. Of course, that can be debated, [laughs] some might say that, man, you should just mute all the keyboards from this part and all that stuff. But yeah, I do love keyboards quite a lot, this Italo-disco and Eurobeats style from the late and mid-’90s and early 2000s.

In sci-fi music, there are a couple of iconic synth sounds used, like for instance, the AARP 2600 (the synth that voiced R2D2 in Star Wars). Did you use any specific samples of movie sounds for this album to give it more that sci-fi feel?

I don’t know. I didn’t have any moments where I must use this keyboard, it’s just when I hear a sound, hey, if the sound fits this part of that song and that’s it. So I didn’t have any decision beforehand to use certain tools. It’s just what the song needs.

Some of the songs also have a voiceover. I noticed that you use one quote from Armitage III, I think. Where did you take the rest of the quotes from, and did you know instantly when you heard those that you needed them?

Not immediately, not instantly, but they are from animes. All the voiceovers are from animes. “Highway To Mars” also has the a quote from Armitage III at the beginning, from the first episode. “Revengeance Machine” is from Cybercity Oedo 808, from the first episode. I think that’s my favorite dialogue from the whole series, at least one of the favorites, there are some really nice dialogues, but that was so spot-on, the guy’s blaming the machine, the whole city is out of control because of that, but then the machine responds well machines are built by humans. Therefore, they inherit humans’ faults. So the root, the source is still human beings, so we cannot blame the machines in that sense, so that was really kind of a good point, what they bring up there.

Now, you obviously have some songs inspired by Berzerk this time around. Kentaro Miura passed away earlier this year – there was one person who compared his legacy and the impact of Berzerk to Blade Runner. He said that it’s difficult to imagine a world without it because it’s influenced so many forms of art. What do you think BEAST IN BLACK would look like without Berserk? Would there be a BEAST IN BLACK?

I’m sure the music would still be more or less the same and the overall feel from the lyrics, because it’s kind of the inner feel and energy that I just, again, as a composer try to lead out, and Berserk just happened to be… that’s what I found as a great output, it’s kind of connected to this theme that I had inside, but if there wasn’t Berserk, it would have meant something else and I would have found it. But I’m super happy that it was Berserk because it’s the best manga and my all-time favorite story overall, that I’ve read. Even our name, BEAST IN BLACK wouldn’t probably exist without Berzerk, because it came from Berserk. I just wanted to keep the word beast because of… I felt that after the BATTLE BEAST days for me were over, I wanted to continue the kind of the story of the beast. It was kind of a personal thing for me, and then I thought hey there’s a beast of darkness in Berserk and the black swordsman. I just thought “hey, beast of darkness, the black swordsman… BEAST IN BLACK, then I get all in one.” I get the “beast” word and a strong reference to Berserk as a tribute to, or paying homage to Berserk. And the first album was titled “Berserker” because of Berserk. So in that sense, there wouldn’t be the title BEAST IN BLACK, probably, without Berserk.

Now you also have two cover songs. I admit that I was not surprised about the MANOWAR cover, but I was somewhat surprised to see an MJ cover there. “They Don’t Really Care About Us” is also a song about police brutality. You didn’t slip a small political statement in the album, did you?

We wanted it, simply, because it’s one of the best songs of Michael Jackson and I have loved the song since I first heard it. I remember that when I got my first electric guitar, I was 12, and that riff in the middle part of the song was one of the first riffs I played on my first electric guitar. And the idea for that song, I think it came in 2019, to cover it. Me and Yannis were talking, I think it was in some backstage, somewhere. It’s simply a good song and there was no thought behind it to make it because of some political reasons.

No, I don’t really want to be too involved or to make BEAST IN BLACK involved in what’s going on in the world, because I notice that many bands, for example, this corona, when it started, immediately so many bands started to kind of use that as an asset. Okay, we have to be trendy and be aware of the situation. And I thought, we’re gonna do the exact opposite because we want to offer people escapism to forget about corona, to forget about the politics, but just give something that sounds good and colors the imagination when they listen to the songs and when they read the lyrics. Michael Jackson‘s lyrics, they are great no matter what decade or time you listen to the song. They are something… those lyrics are resonating definitely throughout time because they have so much meaning in them, it’s not connected to this time specifically. Good lyrics always resonate and melodically that chorus is just catchy as hell. Me and Yannis immediately agreed that, “Hey yeah, that’s going to be a BEAST IN BLACK-style chorus,” so it was a no brainer almost to choose that song.

Yeah, it sounds also really cool. I would not have thought that Yannis can sing like that, even though he can do many things. Now, in the beginning, you also mentioned that you’re already kind of thinking about your new stage production. I don’t really want to ask you when you are going to tour because that’s pointless. Instead, can you tell us more about how you are planning to pimp up your show and if it’s going to be in cyberpunk style?

Yeah, of course, that’s what we want to do and that’s what keeps us busy. Even now, when the album is done basically, but exactly, we want to make the stage look like it’s connected to these themes somehow, and let’s see what happens. As you said, who knows if the tours happen or not, we strongly hope so. Well, eventually the tours will have to happen, so anyway we will have to be ready when that happens. So, even if the tours won’t happen now when they happen, we are already ready for those, if we keep working now. If we’re ready much more in advance, it means okay then we have some months in between, and we can work on new music videos or on the next album, or the work never ends, which is a great thing.

Isn’t it? Anyway, that’s it for my questions. Do you have any last thoughts you want to share?

Well, thanks for all the questions. It was interesting and really thought-provoking, and I hope people will check this album out. Check out our music video, and come to our tour, if it happens, hopefully, it happens, fingers crossed. And thanks, everyone!

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