Interview with IA — “Shamanism is the root of all spirituality in human evolution.”


The Helsinki-based shamanic metal outfit, IA, released their spectacular debut album, ”initIAtion,” just recently, in June 2020. We had the pleasure to have a word with the band about their unique metal aesthetic, a little bit of the band’s history, and their future plans. Here’s what the metal sages told us.

Hi! Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for Tuonela Magazine. How are you doing?

Yrjö: Thanks for having us! And thank you for a thorough and heartwarming review! We’re happy we got the album out and we’re enjoying the Finnish summer. We are also so inspired by the release of the album that we’re already making new material.

Your new album is pretty amazing. What made you pick the shamanic initiation for the concept of the album?

Antti: It was almost like the concept of the album picked us. The songs and lyrics revealed the concept to us piece by piece and at some point, we noticed that these songs actually create a story. The band itself was started when Ykä and Kirill – not knowing about the other – had the idea for a shamanic metal band simultaneously. So you could say shamanism was rooted in us from the very beginning. We were heavily influenced by shamanic stories and texts and the initiation theme is central and fundamental to shamanic traditions, so it was natural for us to make songs focused on that process. The initiation is the beginning of the practice of shamanism so it was naturally the theme of our debut album. Shamanism is the root of all spirituality in human evolution, so it is the perfect place to start, but we’re not going to leave it at that ultimately, because the world beyond is vast beyond belief.

It seems that you don’t have a drummer at the moment. Abbath’s Ukri Suvilehto performed the drum tracks on the album. How did that happen?

Antti: How it all started with Ukri is quite an interesting story involving strange synchronicities. Back in 2015, we were looking for a drummer as IA’s previous drummer, Viktor Gullichsen, wanted to concentrate fully on BRYMIR. One day our bassist, Ykä, showed us a YouTube video by a young and super talented drummer playing some NILE covers named Ukri Suvilehto and we instantly agreed that he would be an awesome drummer for us. His skill was at such a level that he could basically play any of our mad drum ideas, so we saw a potential for growth as a band. But of course, because he was living in Oulu and we in Helsinki and we wanted to practice weekly, we decided not to ask him and instead just wait for a drummer who lives nearby to come up.

However, our wish had been put into the hands of the universe and strangely enough, in 2015 our friend Anton Nisonen from VETTEN ÄPÄRÄT told us that he knows a good drummer who would suit IA well and who had just moved to Helsinki. When we asked about his name, we were totally astonished. During the same day, we contacted Ukri via Facebook and sent him some of our songs, which he loved, and we agreed to meet and discuss things. When we first met, Ukri instantly felt like a brother to us. He was so deeply on the same level with us. Actually we didn’t have any of the basic stuff people usually have when they first meet: no handshakes, no small talk – we went straight to the deep end talking about shamanism and spirituality. Ukri told us that Anton had tipped him about IA and that he had been following us for a while. At the time he was very much into shamanism and before he had even heard of us, he had an idea of making shamanistic metal. He even told us that he had dreamed about IA’s logo before he had seen it. We knew we had found our guy and we agreed for Ukri to join IA. During that time we were already working on the album and we started to practice and rearrange the drums with Ukri. In the summer of 2016, we tracked the drums at Suomenlinna Studio. We did some live shows as well, so one can say Ukri was an actual member of IA, but we didn’t really make a big number of us or him at that point – we were just doing our best to push the album out. Then life happened and Ukri got the wonderful opportunity to join the forces of ABBATH. It became clear that he wouldn’t have time for IA anymore. But no hard feelings there, we accept his choice and destiny thoroughly and cherish our journey together! So it is true that we don’t have a drummer at the moment – we are waiting for the next drummer that the universe has planned for us!

How long did it take to record the album? It is pretty impressive.

Yrjö: We did the first recordings for the album in late 2014 when we recorded the drums with Viktor, although some things that ended up on the album were part of the album demos and were recorded even earlier than that. After Viktor departed the band in 2015 and was replaced by Ukri, we decided to re-record the drums. Antti mixed (with the cooperation of Ukri) and recorded the rest of the tracks with the band outside a professional studio during the years and we got the final tracks from the mastering studio in late 2019. It took a bit more time than we had anticipated even though we knew that we are perfectionists. We had school, jobs, and other mundane tasks to take care of in the process. There were many unforeseen hindrances that delayed the album: death, depression, psychosis, and children. Actually, there were so many obstacles on our way that sometimes it felt like the album itself was cursed! All-in-all, the process taught us some very valuable lessons and we are very proud of the result and feel like there is nothing we would change.

How did you guys develop that unique psychedelic metal sound? What have been the most influential artists for you?

Yrjö: When we started playing together, we used to have long discussions to clarify what the idea behind our music was and then we’d jam for hours. Psychedelia, hypnosis, and otherworldly states of being is what we wanted to channel. We strived to forget all external influences and concentrate on producing something unique. Of course, there are bands that have inspired us, like MESHUGGAH, OPETH, AMORPHIS, KINGSTON WALL, DEVIN TOWNSEND, MORBID ANGEL, DEATH, PINK FLOYD, and DARK BUDDHA RISING to name a few, but our goal is definitely not to sound like them – rather be like them in the way they have created a personal sound of their own. The criteria for a song to end up an IA song is that it induces an altered state of mind to us. It has to resonate with our original idea and the otherworldliness by feeling. It has to sound like IA, nothing else. Keeping this in mind in our creative process, we’ve managed so far. 

Antti: This mindset was involved from the beginning of the creative process of this album. I’ve got a lot of musical ideas going on in my head all the time, coming through when I jam with an instrument, but sometimes some of those ideas distinguish from others by having this certain hypnotic quality that I recognize by feeling. When I start to work closely on those ideas and let myself loose with them, they might transcend me to this state of “mindless” creative flow. The majority of the arrangements and musical ideas in this album have been created in this state of mind. Later, when we have worked together on them, there has been a similar, shared elevated emotion present, even in the recording and mixing sessions. I think that this is in a way translated to the psychedelic feeling of the album.

I chanced to witness one of your shows in Club Liberte, a long time ago, circa 2011. It made quite an impact both musically and visually. Do you still use those UV decorations and face paints on gigs?

We’ll be taking the next step in our live appearance in future gigs. Something old, something new, just wait and see!

Now that the lockdown measures are being removed, is there any chance to see IA perform live in the near future?

Yes! If all goes accordingly, IA will have a record release gig in late September. Stay tuned for more information on our social media and be welcome in numbers!

Is there anything else you wish to say to your fans?

We are absolutely ecstatic about the amount and magnitude of the positive feedback we have got from everybody and that so many of our fans and friends were still waiting for the album after all those years when we were not so active gig-wise. IAternal thanks for your encouragement and support! We are planning to have some gigs in the near future where we wish to see you and we have some plans for the next release on our mind as well. There are some very interesting songs cooking in our cauldron that we can’t wait to share with you!

Interview by Jani Lehtinen