Ville Friman Discusses The Making Of "One For Sorrow"
As it's fifth studio album "One For Sorrow" drops in the U.S. today, melodic death metal band Insomnium has a lot to reflect upon. In the nine years since it's debut defined part of that classic soundscape Finland is known for, the band has consistently upped the bar in terms of technically heavy albums that have cemented it's place as a world class act. Insomnium's blueprint is immediately recognizable, and it's constant schedule of touring has finally vaulted the band to a place where success is within reach. We got a chance to sit down with guitarist Ville Friman, who talks about the work involved in "One For Sorrow" and other vagaries in his existence as a musician.
Sonictherapy: It must be incredible to look back at how young you were and how far you've come. You are at the point of worldwide success and may finally reap the rewards of doing what you love, which takes alot of work for a metal band. What is your perspective on all this?
Ville Friman: Thank you for your kind words. Yeah, you are right. It has been a long journey and it is really nice to see that all the work can carry you this far. Funny thing is that you don't really recognise it yourself as everything is happening bit by bit. I think it just shows that you need to believe in yourself and keep working hard. Of course there have been moments when you question the whole band but fortunately we have been always in the right place at right time and things have been progressing towards something new and exiting. I guess we are just born stubborn metal heads who cannot let it go, heh heh.
Sonic: You started so young from the band's early days. Some of you were even in elementary school together. How do you maintain good relations and tour with each other, staying on an even keel emotionally? Familiarity doesn't seem to breed contempt in the case of Insomnium, and your line-up has been pretty stable since the beginning of this decade.
Ville: I guess we are quite easy going persons in our own ways. I think we also share a very similar sense of humour which always helps to make everything easier on the road and in the studio. It is healthy to be able to laugh at yourself and foremost to your friends once in a while. I mean, in the end of it it's only about four non-musician guys trying to play metal music they love. Moreover, one thing is that we have not been living in the same cities or towns for a long time. As a result, we do not see each other every week, which is healthy balance from spending every waking hour with these dickheads on tour, hah hah.
Sonic: The songwriting on the new one, "One For Sorrow," sounds every bit the Niilo/Ville collaboration we have come to expect from the past. You have mentioned that you did not want to get too progressive with this one, (not too overzealous like maybe Opeth), but wanted to strike the right balance between technical, heavy and interludes. It's a logical progression, where you keep it heavy but yet keep it interesting. As you age, do you find yourself waxing more poetically?
Ville: I wrote 80% of the "One for Sorrow" album by myself, while Niilo did the rest. As a result, the composing was pretty much a solo effort this time even though we did arrange songs together at the rehearsal place. I think the music just came naturally this time. Nothing felt forced and to be honest, we did not think about the ending result or how to sound like at all. Basically you just start with some songs and take it from there and in the end you have an album. Of course you change when you get older but I reckon I am still pretty much the same person I was at my twenties. I still enjoy proper death metal but maybe my musical taste has developed a bit along with the metal and music scene in general during the years. Or maybe I have gotten soft without noticing it, hah hah.
Sonic: You have stated that you like to arrange an album in a way that makes sense in terms of intro, closing and not overloading the listener with too many acoustic interludes. "One For Sorrow" opens and closes well, and the variety between epic songs, melancholic songs and heavier tracks is very listenable. Tell us what it was like in striking the right balance once again.
Ville: Well first of all, I am really pleased to hear that and I think this is also something where the luck plays a role. I mean, you start from something and end up somewhere and the whole process is hard to plan before hand. Our method has often been to concentrate on the start and the finish and then think about the whole entity song by song once it gets finished. I am normally working on many songs simultaneously. If we have many fast songs we concentrate on composing for example slower songs to keep it more interesting and varied.
Sonic: You continue in the tradition of writing songs that strike close to anyone's mindset in terms of lyrics, especially now in terms of universal truths we all tend to relate to with age. You have songs about letting go of the past and disenchantment on the new album. What things influence you and fuel your creative fire? Are bands from the region the ones that influence you the most?
Ville: Musically I get mostly inspired by the music of other people, while lyrically, the inspiration can come practically from anywhere. Basically our lyrics are about people and the mortal coil of man. The message behind stories can be personal or relate to more universal themes. For example, the lyrics on "Through the Shadows" is about being tour sick and home sick at the same time and about things that tear you in different directions. "Inertia" then relates to global political situation and the recurring theme of how conservative opinions and right wing ideology tends to peak at times of economical insecurity. Of course the lyrics can be understood in many ways depending on the readers' own background and personal experiences.
Sonic: The bands that Insomnium has toured with are the ones you seem to collaborate the most with. Daniel Antonsson of Dark Tranquility once again appears with a guitar solo at the end of "Only One Who Waits," and Aleksi Munster of Swallow the Sun comes back again on "Every Hour Wounds." You also have said that you do much of your songwriting at rehearsals. Tell us a bit about working with them.
Ville: All electric guitars were actually recorded in Gothenburg, Sweden by Daniel Antonsson, who is a co-owner of Gothenburg Rock Studios. Thus, his guest appearance came really naturally and I think he did a really great job with the solo. Aleksi worked again very hard with the keyboards and came up with really cool stuff. Actually, most of the song writing is done at home in front of the laptop. I use logic 9 and plugin based home "studio" to compose my music. However, most of Niilo's stuff is put together at a rehearsal room and of course all material is tweaked in terms of small arrangements, which can make all the difference in the end. This time we also discussed about arrangements with Niilo a lot through e-mail because I have been living the last one and half years in the UK. Even though I have been writing most of the material on the past three albums, every one contributes his share to the ending results through arrangements and as I said, all the small things can make a huge difference.
Sonic: When you have others doing clean vocals on your songs, you always rehearse them so that when you tour you see what's involved in doing the vocals. You also like to play the songs you're rehearsing live, so that you know you have all the elements in place when you must perform them live. Your take on this?
Ville: Well, even already on "Across the Dark," I did the clean vocal melodies and Jules Näveri from the band called Profane Omen performed them in the studio. So I knew that I could do the vocals live if needed but did not have the confidence to record them at that time. The following long tours however build my confidence up to a level where I was ready to put myself on the line for the "One for Sorrow" album. I know that I am far from being a singer and that this is all about the learning process for me still. However, it is nice that we can now deliver all the same elements that we have on albums live as well.
Sonic: I have read that in the Insomnium writing process, you basically come up with a good riff and then build a song around it. Is it easier to build a song around your bandmates' ideas or your own ideas? When it's your own idea, is it easier or more difficult since you are emotionally involved with it?
Ville: For me it is easier to work by myself and work with the songs as I please. However, all the other guys in Insomnium are a tough crowd to please. As a result, songs are tweaked as long as everyone is happy. Feedback from other people is really important because sometimes you get lost with your ideas or fall in love with something that might not fit perfectly with the song. Sometimes you just need to build the song from bits and pieces a few times before it starts to work out as planned.
Sonic: Insomnium is one band that likes to tour, although it must be difficult at times with all of you holding jobs and taking time off to do it. You have had a bit of a breather, but when do you expect to hit the road in support of this album and when can we expect to see you in the States?
Ville: We do like to tour but the truth is that it is getting harder and harder year by year. It is really difficult to get time off from work. For example, I have never had a normal holiday because most of the vacations goes to touring. So you need to make many compromises and have very understanding partners and families. So far everything has worked out though. We will be embarking on our first headliner European tour in November with two Finnish bands called Before the Dawn and Mygrain. We are also trying to get to North America during the first half of next year. We were there back in 2007 and it has been a while.
Sonic: When you toured America last, you mentioned being surprised at how different the people of this country were from how you expected them to be. It's sort of like a resident of this country might surmise when thinking of what Finland and it's people are like. What are some of the things that surprised you about Americans, and some of the things we might find surprising about your people and country?
Ville: Yeah, you are right. I think it was nice to see how different people were. And it was nice that we faced only very polite people. For example, if someone buys you a beer after a show in Finland you are likely to not be able to get rid off the guy ever. In the U.S., people respect artists more and understand better that you might be busy after the shows with load out or whatever. At least in the UK normal people do not know where Finland is located and associate it often with the former Soviet Union countries, poorness and underdevelopment even though the economics are strong and society technologically highly advanced. But Finland is a small country and, for example, my facts about African countries are far from perfect.
Sonic: You have so many fans spread throughout all the world, and many want to connect with you on the social media sites. Have you been allowing yourself more down time to correspond with the fans on your pages? If so, what feedback have you been getting from them?
Ville: We try to interact as much as possible but of course time is often limited. But we do reply to most of the e-mails and so on. You have to also draw line somewhere. For example, I keep my facebook profile private and do not add any people I do not know personally. But in general, we are a fan friendly band and enjoy meeting people after the shows and try to interact through the internet as much as possible as well.
Sonic: I have to ask you this - How were you able to find the time to attain a PhD in Evolutionary Biology? That is no small feat and the cumulation of many years of study. Take us through the whole dissertation process and what you went through.
Ville: Well, the PhD was my work for three years and I just worked it through. Of course it was tough at times but I do love doing Science which helps a lot naturally. I think you need to enjoy doing science in order to keep it up because it really isn't the best paid or easiest way to make your living. The dissertation in Finland is public so you need to defend your results and ideas in front of colleagues and family. Basically the PhD is about rehearsing the whole process of making science from planning and executing experiments to collecting and analyzing the data and writing a sound scientific story about it. You need to learn to see the big picture and all the small details at the same time.
Sonic: Any final thoughts you would like to leave with the listener as they delve into "One For Sorrow" and await you on tour?
Ville: Thanks for very interesting interview, hope you all had good time reading it. See you next year in North America!
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