Interview with Temple Balls – “We’re doing songs that we never heard as kids.”

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With the release of “Pyromide” fast approaching, we caught up with TEMPLE BALLS guitarist Niko Vuorela to get the inside scoop about this album, from the interesting title to their musical approach, to the production value, all the way to the challenges of creating it. Read about all of these things, plus other interesting details, below.  

Picture by Teemu Halmetoja

Hello! How are you doing?

Hello! I’m great, thanks. I’m travelling from Helsinki to Oulu at the moment. We have a busy weekend ahead with the band, so probably needless to say, I’m excited.

Let’s talk a bit about the band’s history. What are some of your career highlights so far?

We’re very passionate about playing live. That’s when we thrive the most, so I’d say our highlights in general are about live shows. Nothing feels better than to unleash the beast from within on stage, but of course some shows stand out more than others. One of the greatest highlights was in 2017 when we got to play a show in Tokyo, Japan. It was our first time there and the venue was packed, people knew the lyrics and sang along, there were TEMPLE BALLS sheets/flags in the air, etc. We did some interviews, TV appearances, and got to meet a lot of our fans. I could go on forever but to wrap it up, nothing but good times in Japan.

Another huge thing for us was to tour several months with Finnish heavy metal legends SONATA ARCTICA. We toured 6 weeks across Europe and a couple of months across Finland. These trips made lifelong memories for all of us that we’ll always cherish. A more thorough list would take forever to write and read so let’s go with these couple examples for now.

As a follow-up, what are your goals going forward?

In all its simplicity, keep the train rolling as we’ve done so far. Write more songs, play more shows, meet more people, make more memories, and just keep doing what we love, but of course we aim to make it bigger and bigger. So far the course is set on point and the hunger grows all the time, so the world better prepare ‘cause we’re just getting started.

You recently signed a deal with Frontiers Music, with “Pyromide” being the label debut. How did it come to be and how has the collaboration been so far?

Originally Frontiers heard of us from our current label mate Jimmy Westerlund (ONE DESIRE). I guess they were quite interested in us ever since and we did negotiate back and forth. The timeline in this process was quite long after all. We toured across Europe and Elio Bordi from Frontiers came to see our show in Italy. We also sat down with him before the show to talk about us, them, and possible future plans and so on. The negotiations took a while but a couple of months later we decided to sign the deal they offered.

So far the collaboration has been amazing. We truly feel like they’re the right label for us and we’re looking forward to seeing what the future has in store for us.

In the press release, the band stated that “a huge amount of blood, sweat, and tears were poured into the magic pot of hard rock and heavy metal.” Now that the release of the new album is approaching, how are you feeling? Are you relieved, excited, exhausted …?

We’ve been through all the emotions mentioned above but now that everything’s done and ready to be released, we’re definitely EXCITED! We can’t wait to get this album out for you to hear!

Before talking about the music, I have to ask about the album title. What is “pyromide” and how did you come up with this word?

Whenever it comes to naming things, we always turn to our bass player and wordsmith, Jimi Välikangas. He has this very unique sense of messing with words. Usually, it’s just funny and we get some laughs out of it but sometimes he comes up with actually catchy phrases/titles. I do a lot of demos and whenever I’m saving these projects, I call him and ask for a demo-name and he just gives one like that. Of course, these demo-names have nothing to do with how the song will turn out lyric-wise eventually but it’s just easy (and funny) to let him name everything and keep the creative juices flowing without being stuck trying to figure out some name for a demo song.

Anyway, “pyromide” is basically a mix of pyro and pyramid. In all of our artwork, we like to feature these ancient themes, such as temples, as visual elements. If you look at the new album cover closely, you see the edges of pyramids on the sides. The pyro part should be quite obvious in it. I think it reflects our sense of visuality and high energy level in music.

Can you tell us a little bit about the songwriting process that went into the creation of this album? How do you usually write songs?

We quite traditionally start off with a guitar riff and move on to verses, pre-chorus, chorus… the normal structure of a song. We all have our own recording gear and we record our ideas individually (since we live in different parts of Finland) and share the results with the rest of the guys and bounce ideas back and forth. Whenever we feel like this song is done, we include our producer Jona Tee (H.E.A.T.) who almost always has some improvement ideas. They’re usually quite small changes but they matter a lot. He kind of polishes the product in its final shape and I gotta tell you, 99% of the times we’re immediately on board with his suggestions. Ultimately we work on these final results together but Jona plays a very important role in it.

When you start working on material, do you start from scratch or do you bring in ideas and songs that were still in somebody’s archive?

We do both. Some song part ideas are too good to stay in the archive forever. Mostly we write songs from scratch but there are few songs in which we used stuff from archives. We also easily write 20-30 songs per album so most of the stuff ends up in archives or even trash sometimes. “Pyromide” also contains some ideas that have been written years ago but weren’t finished at the time. I guess they were just waiting for the right time to find their purpose in our music.

While working on the album, do you limit your lyrical content to certain themes and topics you find appropriate for the particular release? How do you usually go about writing the lyrics?

I guess you could say that in a way. We don’t really write lyrics to fit the album, because we always focus on the song itself. Usually we do the instrumental foundation at first and write the lyrics to fit the overall feeling it delivers. We all participate in writing lyrics and I think we have different approaches on it which makes it more interesting. I usually leave some room for interpretation but keep it in certain frames or themes. I’d say that Jimi [Välikangas, bass] and Arde [Teronen, vocals] are more into the storyline and sometimes we combine these styles when writing together. Jona and Arde usually go through the lyrics in pre-production phase to make sure everything fits rhythmically and that the lyrics make sense, etc.

I feel like the album is well-balanced between classic hard rock anthems and songs with a more modern flair. How would you describe the album from a musical standpoint?

You’re absolutely right. Most of our original influences that made us grab our instruments in the first place are from decades ago. We all grew up listening to ’80s rock and heavy music so it’s always been quite a natural genre for us. But then again, we’re not here to invent the wheel again. I’d say we’re just continuing their legacy with modern style. People often compare us to SKID ROW and other ’80s-’90s rock bands but I like to think that we’re doing songs that we never heard as kids, you know. “Traded Dreams” was quite traditional hard rock but “Untamed” was a step towards a heavier and darker sound. “Pyromide” is a mix of both worlds but musically it’s even wider on both ends.

Production-wise, you’ve worked with Jona Tee (H.E.A.T). Did he understand your point of view and what you wanted?

He absolutely did. Our paths crossed for a reason and he’s a perfect fit for us. Jona is a very versatile musician and producer but you can tell that his musical roots match ours. He has also worked with us since the first album. Back then he played keyboard tracks and sang some backing vocals for the album, but since “Untamed,” he’s been our producer. I bet I can safely say that we all wish this collaboration to last as long as we live.

What was the most challenging aspect of the album’s production?

I would have to say the lack of time. We usually release an album every 2 years, which gives us 2 years to finish the next one. Sounds like a lot but still we end up being in a hurry. We’re all about the music and we would never release songs that we don’t like. I mentioned before that we write approximately 20-30 songs (plus countless riffs and other unfinished ideas that never make their way into the album). This process just takes time and when you tour and handle normal life on the side, it’s not like you can spend seven days a week doing music. The writing process lasts until we hit the studio and that’s when we can actually decide the songs that will be on the album. Of course most of the songs are already figured out when the deadline gets close but some last minute changes happen as well. Just as an example, “Pyromide” was already pretty much figured out until we finished songs “Heart of a Warrior” and “If Only I Could” a couple of weeks before studio and they ended up replacing a couple other songs.

The artwork is really interesting and intriguing. What can you tell us about the accompanying art for this album?

I think I answered this partially at least on question 6 about “Pyromide.” But I can add that the artwork is made by Jan Yrlund / Darkgrove Design. He’s an amazing artist and he has designed all of our album covers. The original idea comes from us, but we don’t do any visual sketches. When we’ve figured out the album title, we start bouncing ideas of how the cover should look. We’ve had that ancient visual theme since “Traded Dreams” and that’s the basic outline we want to keep. As you can see, all of our covers are quite aligned to a similar theme. After we’ve painted the mental image of how the cover should look, we explain it to Jan and he draws it. By the way, every one of these three covers are his first designs. There never was a need for another try. He shoots, he scores. Cool dude.

Did you learn anything new about yourself while making this album?

This might sound like a cliché but getting out of your comfort zone can accomplish great things. I think that was one of the keys of how this album turned out so great. I did listen to a lot of different music styles and got inspired by a lot of different elements. I fooled around with very different kind of ideas and some songs that ended up on the album were born.

So far you have released “Thunder from the North” and “T.O.T.C” as a preview of the album. Why did you pick those specific songs to become singles? Was it the label’s choice?

We tried to come up with mutual single choices but it was surprisingly hard. To quote our producer “How do you pick the singles from an album that contains 11 singles?” We also knew that our label will suggest singles anyway after they’ve listened to the album. They did and we were all on board. Simple as that.

What other plans do you have for the album as far as promotion goes? Any tours planned for later in the year?

Our hands are pretty much tied at the moment due to these ongoing restrictions. Social media and other music media releases are our only tools for now. A few shows have been cancelled or postponed. We are supposed to hit the road in October across Europe with H.E.A.T. and this other Swedish band, REACH. Let’s just hope for the best. We’re really looking forward to touring again.

As a hard rock band, how hard is it to make a name for yourselves in a county with such a rich melodic death metal tradition?

It ain’t easy, that’s for sure. When you’re consistent and keep moving forward doing what you do, eventually people will notice. Not many hard rock bands stand out here in Finland but I guess it’s also a good thing. We wouldn’t wanna be just one of the thousand similar bands, you know. There’s this weird charm about being an underdog genre wise. Hopefully bands like us will eventually raise the demand for more hard rock.

What do you think is so specific about the Scandinavian music scene – Finnish metal scene in particular – that makes it so prolific?

Northern countries overall have a huge metal scene. I guess it somehow relates to our climate, which is really cold and dark in general. You can’t really relate to a happy summer vibe-ish songs when you’ve crawled your way home through a snowstorm. Also there are many internationally successful metal bands (such as NIGHTWISH, CHILDREN OF BODOM, SONATA ARCTICA, HIM, THE 69 EYES) who inspire a lot of young musicians and bands to make metal music.

Rock and metal bands generally have lengthy careers, some with more than 20 years doing this. Why do you think that is?

I would say that heavy rockers usually have many years of experience playing this particular genre. They find the right people for the band and work towards their mutual goals as a team. It’s not a product machined by labels. The whole thing is built on friendship and usually heavy metal bands write their own songs together. Who can imagine? I guess these factors have a lot to do with their lengthy careers.

Do you have any last thoughts you want to share with our fans and our readers?

Even this pandemic can’t stop heavy music. Our new album “Pyromide” will be released on April 16th, so mark your calendars. Remember to pre-order/buy it, stream it like hell and see you at the gigs!

Interview by Andrea Crow