Finnish Keyboardist Addresses Detractors: "Children Of Bodom Is Not A Religion; It's Our F**king Job."
Band Photo: Children of Bodom (?)
Meet Janne Wirman, virtuoso metal keyboardist; leader of Warmen, former collaborator with Masterplan and Kotipelto, and full-time melody man for Finnish heavyweights Children Of Bodom. As 2012 dawned, so too did the band's 15th anniversary, which - despite last year's acclaimed "Relentless Reckless Forever" - prompted a retrospective live setlist on a sweeping tour across North America, leaving no stone in the catalogue unturned. Thus it seemed only appropriate for Janne, near the tour's end in Montreal, Quebec, to reflect a bit on the past with me prior to the performance. Here's how it went down:
Mike Smith (OverkillExposure): This is a year between albums, as it were, focused exclusively on touring. Has any future music been envisioned or even written during this time?
Janne Wirman: Well, we don’t write on the road, and nothing is written yet, but we have plans to start writing right after this touring leg is over. After this, we go home for a little bit, and then we do a festival run in Europe, and straight after that, we’re gonna start writing new music.
Mike: How does a Children Of Bodom song come together? Is it a keyboard line, or a riff, or something else that comes first?
Janne: It all depends. [Frontman Alexi Laiho] writes at home with his guitar and his four-track, weird ass device. [Laughs] And it could sometimes be a keyboard line that comes up, though usually on his guitar. And then he just brings these ideas to the rehearsal room and we play them all together, and start arranging the song. Sometimes he might have just a couple riffs, and we start arranging it from there. Sometimes he might actually have the whole song already in his head, with all the keyboard parts and everything, so it actually varies a lot.
Mike: Over the years, do you feel that that dynamic has changed or evolved at all?
Janne: Yeah. The rest of the band nowadays is way more active in the songwriting process. It used to be, Alexi would just write everything by himself, and we’d just kind of follow that. But now, the whole band is way more active in arranging stuff.
Mike: I read a review of the latest album that described you as the band’s “secret weapon.” How do you assess such a characterization?
Janne: Well, a lot of metal bands don’t have keyboards at all, and that’s what adds to CoB, is that we have the presence of keyboards all the time. Well, not all the time, but on all the riffs. I guess that’s what people mean. Also, on the earlier albums, we had all these weird ass neoclassical things going on that we don’t do anymore nowadays. Some fans miss it, but we don’t at all! [Laughs] So the overall sound, as the band’s style has gotten a little bit more aggressive, has changed so that the use of keyboards is not really as flamboyant or right in your face. We evolved into a little bit more straight heavy metal, aggressive stuff, and we’ve developed the keyboards to be in there, but more in the background, just helping out with the riff. Or maybe sometimes there’s a melody on top, like with the old stuff, but yeah.
Mike: You mentioned fans missing the sound of your earlier albums. It seems “Blooddrunk”  was the first major leap into more aggressive, straightforward metal territory. Viewed in that way, did you perhaps consider the latest album – by comparison – an olive branch for those fans?
Janne: I think “Relentless” IS a step back to some of our older stuff. “Blooddrunk” was just how we felt at the moment, and it was also at the peak of the band’s alcohol problems and all that. Then all of a sudden we turned thirty and everybody kind of mellowed down a little bit, which is good, ‘cause somebody was gonna die, [Laughs] if we’d kept on drinking and partying like we did. So “Blooddrunk” was what we were at that moment, ‘cause we were feeling aggressive, and in a weird place. And now, “Relentless” continues the aggressive style, but there are way more melodies on the songs again, which is similar to the old stuff.
Mike: How bad did those alcohol problems get on a personal level?
Janne: It was pretty bad. It was public news that Alexi had to be hospitalized for a moment, ‘cause his body was just not in good shape anymore, ‘cause of all the drinking. And that’s when I realized that drinking daily, as much as we did, is really not very good for you. [Laughs] Not in the long term. So it was obvious that something had to happen for us to realize that we could just not keep drinking that much. It was just getting to be a little too much.
Mike: Obviously a good thing for your minds and bodies, but did you ever worry that toning it down would hurt the “happy, partying” spirit the band’s music seems to project?
Janne: No, I’m not worried about that at all. I mean, we still party and have a lot of fun. We just try to keep things in moderation. [Laughs]
Mike: I’m reminded of your cover of “Somebody Put Something In My Drink,” [Ramones] which leads me to thinking of all the covers you’ve done over the years. You could make an entire second living as a rock and roll cover band! Why so many? What’s made you pick certain songs?
Janne: Well, we’ve done them over the years, always, with every release. But we started doing it ‘cause we were asked to do these tributes to bands. So we did Slayer, Iron Maiden, and Scorpions, and that’s how we got the idea of how much fun it is to do covers. Just pick out a song and turn it into a CoB version! Sometimes it works, great, and sometimes not. [Laughs] But still, we always had so much fun doing those. And then we started doing the less obvious ones, and then we went straight to shocking people, like, “Hey, let’s do something where people are gonna go, ‘What the fuck?’” And nowadays, we just try to keep it interesting. We try to do covers of songs that people would never think we’d do. We’ve done pretty much everything, from Slayer to Britney Spears. [Laughs]
Mike: Speaking of that last example, there seemed to be a lot of stuck-up purist metalheads who couldn’t take a joke. Do you ever deal with people like that on the road?
Janne: Not on the road, but I remember reading on the Internet stuff like, “Fuck! I’m gonna burn all my CoB shirts and CDs!” I’m like, “Ok, it’s a joke, man. If you’re that fucking stuck up, PLEASE DO burn all of our CDs and shirts, ‘cause I don’t give a fuck, personally!” [Laughs] We have fun doing those covers, and Britney Spears is all part of that. So if you’re THAT fucking “metal,” that you can’t take the joke as it is… I mean, nobody was serious with that; it was just fun! It’s not like we were trying to get on the radio or sell out; we knew only a small group of fans would ever hear it. But I was reading a lot on the Internet, “Fuck these guys,” and all that, and I’m like, “Ok, fuck you too!” If you don’t get it, then just don’t bother.
Mike: I know a person who last year, when “Relentless” was released, claimed to have deleted all your music from his computer. I asked him why, and he replied, “Because they market themselves like whores.” Have you ever gotten frustrated at that type of reaction to Children Of Bodom’s growing success recently?
Janne: [Laughs] No. I don’t give a fuck! It’s our job; we do our music as we see fit. And a part of our job is touring a lot in the States nowadays, which is great for us. And if people don’t understand that, then I don’t give a fuck. Please delete all CoB music from your computer – I don’t give a fuck! [Laughs] It’s our JOB. It’s not a religion; it’s our fucking job. We need to do it how we do it, whether that involves touring, interviews, marketing, or whatever bullshit. That’s what it is.
Mike: As a headlining act these days, are you seizing the opportunity to resurrect more older songs from your catalogue?
Janne: We actually did change the setlist for this tour, since it’s a 15th anniversary tour thingy. When we started, we got some criticism that there weren’t enough “old” songs on the setlist. So midway through, we did put three or four more of those songs in there. I hope people are happy with it now. Before, we were still kind of in the mentality of the “Relentless” cycle, but then as the tour was marketed as our 15th anniversary, people were expecting more of the older stuff. We didn’t fully realize that at first, but then we did, and we’ve changed it. Judging by the crowds, I think people have liked it!
Mike: Have you considered including “In The Shadows” off “Something Wild?”  That keyboard outro is the best!
Janne: Oh, I know. That’s actually a song we’ve never played live, ever. It’s weird!
Mike: It’s been four years since I’ve seen Children Of Bodom live, and I’ve never seen you headline. Have you incorporated anything new or special into your stage setup for this tour?
Janne: It’s always tight when you’re opening. There are all these limitations to your show, with the production and stage, and stuff like that. And tonight we have a big stage, we have our own production, we have lights, and all that stuff, so it should be good compared to the experience you’ve had. Headlining is different! I mean, it’s great to do those tours where you open up for bigger bands, ‘cause you get to reach new crowds and stuff, but this is different, ‘cause the whole thing is YOUR show.
Mike: Time really flies, and it feels like a blink of an eye since you were one of those openers, a newcomer tagging along with the bigger, major bands. Now, Children Of Bodom IS one of those bands. Of the bands that have filled your younger shoes, have any really stood out for you as a listener?
Janne: I’ve gotta be real honest, I’ve been real lazy checking out new music lately. [Laughs] I just can’t wait to go home and relax a little bit; we’ve been touring a lot. But there was this new Finnish band we had on tour, Medeia. They were really tight live, which is always good. [Laughs]
Mike: How about your other projects? What’s the latest on Warmen?
Janne: When I go home from this tour, I’m supposed to finish an album we started recording when I left on… some tour. [Laughs] So many already. Anyway, we did drums, and my brother Antti’s been doing guitars while I’m on the road. Then I go home and we’ll try to get all the singers together and finish that. So yeah, I have a Warmen album that I’m working on right now! It should come out this year, probably toward the end of the year.
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