An Interview With Korpiklaani Bass Player Jarkko Aalto
Korpiklaani recently dropped their sixth full-length album "Karkelo," which includes the trademark beer drinking anthems that the metal world has come to expect from the Finnish folk metallers. Korpiklaani's bassist Jarkko Aaltonen spoke with me about the recording of the new album and the band's festival and tour schedule.
xFiruath: Let’s start back at the beginning. When did you first get started in music and why did you want to play bass?
Jarkko: I was around 13 or 14 at the time. It was the 1980’s or something. At that time the reason for playing bass was that a friend of mine had a band. He needed a bass player. They had a bass, they had the amps and I said “Well, OK, maybe I’m your bass player then.” So that was quite an easy selection. Then off course all of the coolest people in the music business were always bass players. People like
xFiruath: Can you give me a brief history of Korpiklaani and how you joined the band?
Jarkko: Well the band’s history isn’t really brief. It goes quite a ways back to the early ‘90s with the traditional folk music duo that our lead singer was a part of. Then through twists and turns it turned into this more metal or rock oriented band called Shaman. Shaman released two albums and in 2003 or 2002 they were recording their third album. They got the word from the record label that there was another band called Shaman so they had to change their name. That’s how Korpiklaani was born. It is just Shaman, but with a different name. A couple of years after that I joined the band when the previous bass player had to go to do his military service. They needed a replacement for six months or something. I did one or two rehearsals with them and they told me that “well, you can be the permanent bass player if you want.” So that was quite easy for me.
xFiruath: Are you involved with any other projects right now or is it just Korpiklaani?
Jarkko: Well I do play in another band as well but that is really nothing to write home about. It’s just the old farts having fun with some strange, obscure stuff from the ‘70s. But that’s nothing really worth mentioning or anything.
xFiruath: So you guys just got done with two festivals and you’re about to go off on a European tour soon?
Jarkko: Yeah we have been doing festivals throughout the whole summer. It’s like a heavy summer. Most of the weekends we have had three or four shows, which means that we are out of the country for four days, at home for three days, and then we head back to the festivals. It’s not really getting drunk but just like constantly having some form of alcohol in your blood when you are on tour. You actually end up spending more time drunk than sober. It’s been quite hard, physically, this summer. It’s not getting easier but it’s getting different. We are playing a rehearsal show next Sunday in my home town, in a small club. We’re doing this acoustic set there. We have played this small to medium festival in Germany, I think three times now in a row. This time they wanted us to do something different. They asked if we could do this more acoustic or folk kind of show. We said OK yeah, we’ll do that. In the middle of all these festivals and everything we have been forced to find some time to actually rehearse this stuff, since we will play some songs we haven’t played live before. We have an extra violin player for that show. We have a lot to do and only like a week and a half before that show. Then the week after that we have a festival in Portugal I think and a week after that we have two shows in Finland. After that is the PaganFest in Europe again. We aren’t going to be home that much.
xFiruath: You came to the U.S. for the PaganFest not too long ago. Was that your first trip to the U.S. as a band?
Jarkko: Yeah it was the first time. We did one show like six months before that in Canada. The original plan was to go back to the U.S. after the upcoming European PaganFest now, but that plan has changed. As far as I know the next tour in the U.S. will be March or April of next year. Nothing has been confirmed though, that’s just the plan.
xFiruath: Tell me a bit about the new album “Karkelo.” How does it compare to the previous album?
Jarkko: For people who have our previous albums, the first that they will notice is that the album sounds different. We changed the producer for the album. We did many albums with the same producer and then for this new album we changed the producer and the studio and everything. The new producer had a totally different approach to producing music. The previous producer was more like a technical producer and the new one was actually producing the music and not just making a technical album. He had a lot of ideas and he made us work quite a lot harder. He was always pushing us further. Asking things like “Are you really happy with that?” and “was that what you wanted to play?” So he kept challenging us to a point where we were ready to punch him in the face. On the other hand he comes from a totally different musical background. He’s more metal than the traditional folk kind of guy. He was concentrating quite a lot on the guitar sounds, which are really good on the new album. It’s quite guitar driven and a lot heavier of an album as well, in a sense. It definitely sounds different production-wise.
Some people have already been complaining, because the album was released in Europe already, that the band is getting darker and heavier all the time. I think there may be a small point in that. It is darker and heavier, but then again the album does have the lighter parts as well. There are still the drinking songs and songs about women. I like the new album myself. It is the first album that I’ve done with the band where I haven’t been completely bored when it’s finished. I’ve been able to actually listen to it at home and thinking “this turned out quite well.” The other albums I haven’t been listening to them since I’m so full of them after finishing at the studio.
xFiruath: I just saw the music video for “Vokda” and that’s a pretty catchy tune.
Jarkko: That’s on the more simple side of Korpiklaani from the album. That’s something that people expect from us, these catchy songs. There are so many songs about beer and so many songs about whiskey and wine. There haven’t been that many songs about vodka so we thought that maybe it should get its due as well. You have to sing about the things that you know.
xFiruath: Speaking of that, since a lot of your music is focused on alcohol, do you have any particular favorite drink you recommend to anyone?
Jarkko: Well that would be morally wrong to recommend alcohol to someone. In our band we have this reputation of heavy drinkers. One of us doesn’t drink alcohol at all. We all have our personal favorite and we actually spoke about this. When we’re out we all get a certain kind of food and certain kinds of drinks and we were just thinking that we should change the alcohol again. We had some stuff that was really popular among the band six months ago but now everybody is tired of that stuff. I’d say that the favorite drink keeps changing. I got totally fed up with beer at one point and stopped drinking it entirely. When we were in the U.S.A. the beer wasn’t anything special as far as good or bad, but you people seem to know how to keep your beer cold. That was when I started to drink beer again when it was really cold.
xFiruath: That’s the way we like it here, we don’t want our beer warm.
Jarkko: You go to Germany and all you get is this room temperature strong, dark beer and that is terrible. When you come out from the dressing room and all there is to drink is this warm, dark beer and that’s not even funny, that’s terrible.
xFiruath: A little bit more about the new album, I noticed that there seemed to be more of the Finnish lyrics on it. What’s the breakdown like between Finnish and English on “Karkelo?”
Jarkko: That is a good question. I think they are only like two or three songs in English. There is one instrumental at the ending. There’s not much English left. Actually the English songs are the drinking songs if I remember correctly. That’s the way it turned out. We never really planned beforehand if we’re going to do Finnish or English songs. The album comes from the songs we have at the time. Next time it may be different.
xFiruath: You were saying before that there is a little bit of a darker and heaver theme on the album. For the people who don’t speak Finnish can you tell us what the songs are about?
Jarkko: There’s quite a lot of folklore and Finnish folk stories about various things. We used to have this rule that we don’t take anything from the Finnish national epic the Kalevala. The idea was that because the Finnish band Amorphis had been using it quite a lot. We decided we wouldn’t do that. We decided we could do that now if we wanted to so we ended up writing two songs for the album about the master blacksmith Ilmarinen. But then a month before our album came out Amorphis releases their album which is entirely about the same character. We were not really that happy with that situation because it seems like we are following Amorphis, which wasn’t the case. That’s what it is, Finnish traditions and history. Not only the folklore, but also sometimes actual historical events. One of them is from the many wars between Finland and Russia. Of course then there was no current Finland or current Russia, there was whatever they used to be. It is basically on the same vein as the previous albums have been. Finnish traditions and folklore and then some songs about alcohol.
xFiruath: What albums are you listening to apart from “Karkelo?”
Jarkko: I’m an annoying listener at home I’ve heard. I get interested in one band or artist and then I listen to that only. I’ll go on for one or two weeks and then everybody else gets mad about that. Now I’m going through Neil Young. While we are on the tour bus everybody can pick one CD that we want to listen to and they are usually really varied. There are always some bands that everybody can listen to and enjoy. There’s so much stuff that I can’t stand or the others can’t stand. I like the variety. Except that nobody likes the stuff that our violin player likes. He has this really strange taste for everything that is obscure that no one has heard of.
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