Interview with Battlelore's Jyri Vahvanen
Momentous battles. Dragons. Epic journeys spanning across the Kingdom of Rhovanian and beyond. And no, we’re not talking about a certain Hollywood adaptation slated for a two-part release in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
This year’s Tolkien fix is from Battlelore on their latest full-length album, "The Last Alliance," their fifth through the Napalm Records label.
Hailing from Lappeenranta, Finland, Battlelore has stockpiled their own musical quest with lyrical imagery invoked by the many detailed works of a literary giant, while offering both a whistful and dramatic plain of fantasy metal.
Since their inception in 1999 and their 2002 major label debut "... Where the Shadows Lie," Battlelore has always been a band for the fans, whilst luring a steadily increasing number of would-be critics through sweeping soundscapes and atmospheric rhythms.
"We have always done everything fully from our hearts and never trying to follow any trends or hypes," says guitarist and Battlelore co-founder Jyri Vahvanen. "This is honest metal for the true metal fans, and that's the way how it should be. Of course, it has been nice to see that there are a lot of fans who likes our stuff and the number is rising with every gig and album. That's really something that keeps us going," he adds.
Pamela Porosky: Can you tell us what inspired the Battlelore name? Do you remember any of the early names you tossed around?
Jyri Vahvanen: As I remember right, Battlelore was first a title for one of my songs I wrote back in the days. Our former guitarist, Tommi Havo, read the lyrics and suggested that we could use the title for our band's name because we didn't have any permanent name for our group yet. I said "okay," and now we are Battlelore. I didn't have many options for the name, the only I remember was Wyvern, but there's quite many bands with that name already.
Porosky: When Battlelore was first founded, there were only two members. Why did you decide to bring in additional members and how did you find them?
Vahvanen: In the very beginning there were me and our former bassist, Miika Kokkola; but, we had in mind that there will be more band members in the near future to make it as a full group. It was quite easy to find proper musicians in Battlelore because we knew a lot of bands and musicians from our home town. Most of our members are our friends from the time before Battlelore.
Porosky: Seven members is a lot and, in spite of some early line-up changes, the group has been fairly consistent. That said, most marriages don't have that kind of longevity. What are some of the challenges in keeping that many people together and on the same page?
Vahvanen: I believe that it is our shared sense of humour. As I said, we all knew each other before we started to play together, so it definitely has affected into our spirit in our band. We do not have to argue about any stupid or small things and humour is the key!
Porosky: Battlelore's sound has evolved a great deal since your first Napalm release. How conscious has this been, and can you describe how the band approaches change and development?
Vahvanen: Usually we do not think about sound or style that much when we enter to studio. Every time it is a different kind of situation with the new songs and arrangements. We might have some new equipment to use or different producer or studio, and all that affects a lot to the final sound. Surely we try to learn from the mistakes and use the experience that comes with every recording session. The sound of the album shapes every time during the recordings, and that's something we all like.
Porosky: What do you think is the most distinct aspect of Battlelore's music?
Vahvanen: It is definitely our versatile male/female vocals and orchestrated keyboard melodies.
Porosky: You are the primary lyricist for Battlelore, so who is the primary instrumentalist in the band when it comes to song writing?
Vahvanen: We all write a lot with our instruments. Usually it is me or our lead guitarist Jussi who write the simple basic structures for most of the songs, and then all the others add their arrangements on those song-skeletons. There's a huge part with keyboard arrangements and also the vocalists write their own melodies and, if there's something we need to change or do differently, we discuss about it and try to find the best options for each song.
Porosky: You have a tendency to overwrite for your albums. What happens to the songs that aren't used? Do they eventually get re-worked or are they indefinitely placed on the back burner?
Vahvanen: Sometimes we re-make them later or cut them into pieces and use only the best parts. Sometimes those songs are total leftovers and we never play them again.
Porosky: When you start approaching a new album, what comes first?
Vahvanen: Usually the music comes first. The mood of the song is very important for the theme of the lyrics. I like to write phrases and lines in my notebook which I can use for my lyrics, but it is very rare that I have full lyrics ready before the music is done for the song.
Porosky: It's no secret what inspires the lyrics, but where do you draw the instrumental inspiration from?
Vahvanen: A lot comes from other bands, movies, nature and the things we are interested in. Mostly I like to listen metal music, but there's also a lot of softer stuff in my CD shelf.
Porosky: Which artist or album would Metal Underground readers be most surprised to know is spinning in your CD or mp3 players right now?
Vahvanen: Hmm... it is probably this Finnish artist called *Vesa-Matti Loiri who has made three albums in a vein of Johnny Cash's cover albums.
Porosky: You were a huge fan of fantasy literature long before you picked up the guitar. What authors, aside from Tolkien, are you into and do you prefer reading or listening to music while on tour?
Vahvanen: I like to read a lot and I am also a huge music fan. Music is one of the finest ways to relax. I really enjoy authors like Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman, Robert Holdstock, Stephen King, Raymond Feist, R.A. Salvatore etc.
Porosky: Tell me about the decision to not use any specific place names from Tolkien's Middle Earth.
Vahvanen: In that way I challenge the listener a bit more than before. I don't want to write too difficult or cryptic text, but I think that you do not have to pin point every word you write. In this way, the listener have to think a little more that what the song is really about.
Porosky: Which song off of the latest album was the most difficult to write and why? Which song came most naturally?
Vahvanen: Song called "Awakening" was very easy and all of us hit it almost with the first try. Sometimes it just goes that way and there's really no explanation for that. I believe that the last song of the album "The Star of High Hope" was the most difficult. We had to make a lot of new arrangements in a studio and there was a moment when we almost dropped it from the album but I am happy we did not because it is actually one of my favourites.
Porosky: Can you choose a song off of "The Last Alliance" and give us a quick run down of how that song was written?
Vahvanen: Let's take "Exile the Daystar." I made the basic structure of the song with the guitar and in that point had some kind of clue how the lyrics could go and what would be the theme for them. Then we rehearsed it with bass and drums and made a demo from it which we gave to Maria, our keyboard player and to our vocalists. Maria made the keys for the song and recorded them on the demo. After that she made a few more new arrangements for the song and we choose the best of them and then the vocalists started to work with their parts. That's how it usually goes.
Porosky: How much do the songs evolve in the studio?
Vahvanen: Some times we had a great ideas in the studio and also there's a producer who has his own opinions and ideas for our songs so that really variates with each song.
Porosky: How do you try to capture your studio sound live?
Vahvanen: Using the same equipment and effects as we used in studio and we also have our own sound technician who knows the sound we like to produce.
Porosky: Is writing something you're always thinking about or do you keep writing and touring separate?
Vahvanen: We like to do them separately. Some bands write a lot new stuff while they are on the road, but for me it just doesn't work.
Porosky: What level of importance do you place on live performances?
Vahvanen: Those are highly important for us. I would say that we are more live than a studio band.
Porosky: Do you remember the first time you played live?
Vahvanen: Yes, I do remember it, and it was quite horrible. It was a small open-air event in our home town and it started to snow when we played and the temperature was something like 0 Celsius.
Porosky: As a guitarist, what inspired you to start playing music in the first place?
Vahvanen: My brother started to play drums and my father asked if I'd like to play something also, and I got a bass guitar. I played bass a few years and then I changed to guitar.
Porosky: What types of music and/or bands were you listening to then?
Vahvanen: I listened metal and hard rock like Metallica, Def Leppard, Kiss, Uriah Heep etc.
Porosky: Did you take lessons?
Vahvanen: I took a few guitar lessons, but nothing more.
Porosky: Do you still practice and try to learn new skills, or do you rely on song writing and touring to keep your chops up?
Vahvanen: I try to keep my fingers fast and learn new things but, as you know, it is hard to teach new tricks for an old dog. hahaha!
Porosky: Artists have a tendency to be their own worst critics. What is the one thing in your musical career so far that you've had to just ride with and not over-think?
Vahvanen: I believe that it was the industrial experiments with our first two albums. Those are just awful and far from today's Battlelore sound.
Porosky: What's next for Battlelore?
Vahvanen: Finnish Fire Tour with Korpiklaani! We will blast the Europe!
Porosky: "The Last Alliance" was the last in your contractual obligations with Napalm Records. Any word on Battlelore's future yet?
Vahvanen: Nothing sure yet. Some negotiations are on but we have not made our minds yet.
*Note: Vesa-Matti Loiri is a popular Finnish actor, musician and comedian.
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