Catching up with Amoral at Tuska Open Air: Interview with Ari Koivunen and Ben Varon
Band Photo: Amoral (?)
During the whirlwind of music and mayhem at this years Tuska Festival, Ari Koivunen and Ben Varon were kind enough to take a few minutes to talk to us at Metal Underground! Following their recent performance at SXSW, and an upcoming European tour with Ensiferum and and Profane Omen, these guys have been very busy this year! After the release of their last album "Beneath" this past October, in many ways the band has blown up, and its certainly exciting to hear and see what is next to come for the Helsinki based band! In the meantime, we had a chat about what's up in the world of Amoral, the real reason Ben wants to see Detroit again, and whats on the to do list next!
So, what can you tell me about the direction the music has taken from your last album; in the shift between the two albums, what has been different?
Ben: Well, between the three first ones and the fourth one, the difference was drastic. We switched singers and our sound turned into pretty much all melodic singing and more melodic music. But from the last album, Show Your Colors, to this one, Beneath, it’s not as drastic, I think. What can I say… it’s a bit more progressive, there are more longer songs, more intricate parts. Ari is doing some growling as well on this new album, which we didn’t do the last time. We were just going off his clean voice like, “yeah, just keep singing dude!”
It just feels a bit more mature, this album, and a lot of people have said the same. Even people who liked the three first ones and didn’t really go for Show Your Colors had said that Beneath was actually their favorite album, and that’s really cool to me.
With regard to the history, what has the band been about? What are your origins musically, and that sort of thing?
Ben: It started very boringly, like a typical metal band. We started as kids, 14-15 years old. Me and Jussi met up in school – he was playing drums and I was playing guitar and we thought, “maybe let’s jam;” Metallica, Pantera, Sepultura, then some black metal, death metal, then getting into the progressive side of things with Dream Theater, and just played together. We were just crappy players when we started and then like, “a week from now let’s play this song, this Pantera song,” so that way we got our chops together and started to write our own songs at one point. It’s a very usual story of a band getting started.
The only unusual thing about this was that this is our very first band and it’s still going. Usually people go through a bunch of bands when they’re kids and there are different lineups, and then they find their serious band, but me and Jussi are still in our first band.
What was it that created the change in tone from the heavier music on the first three albums to the more melodic sound on the later albums?
Ben: Just the need for a change, really. It was also, of course, the fact that Niko left, our ex-singer. We had no plans whatsoever to change singers. We had tried to keep pushing him towards more melodic, like, “dude, try to practice it so we can use it a little bit.” Then when he saw that, it was like yeah, “I think I’m gonna have to go, I don’t want to do this as professional as you guys are meaning to, like all the time, 24/7,” and we just decided that this was our chance to just do something totally new, all fresh, and we’re all fans of melodic singing and fans of Metallica and other stuff like that, so it’s all about the melodies. And after three death metal albums, it was like, yeah, something new please.
Then obviously with the change in singers, how do you think that has affected the band as a whole? Has it made any drastic changes, not just in the music but in other aspects as well?
Ben: The biggest difference was that, when we changed the sound, apparently our ex-guitar player wasn’t really feeling what we were doing, so he decided to step down. But when we’re talking about this lineup, everyone is behind the music style and the lineup 100%, so it’s just been a storm. Every lineup change hurts at first but it’s always for the best and there’s always a reason why somebody leaves or gets fired. It’s not just out of the blue. Either they’re not motivated or they’re not doing their job right, so it’s not a lie when I say that our lineup at the moment is by far the best one. Everybody wants to be there and work hard and knows what they’re supposed to be doing.
And with regard to the background of Ari, since you came from the Idols show, has that affected the band in any particular way?
Ari: Of course, at the beginning there were a lot of people who liked the old stuff and liked death metal, so when I went into the band, it was like, “oh, that’s the Idols singer,” and so they didn’t like the change.
Ben: Mostly in Finland, really, because here you can actually see all of the hullabaloo around Ari with the Idols thing and he became a huge thing over here. Like, [tabloids] are following him and everything he does ends up in the news or Youtube and thankfully now it has calmed down a bit. But of course it has had a big effect and some of his younger fans especially were not really happy about it. But what can you do? The fact is, we wanted a good singer and we got a good singer, and we don’t care what the background is.
As long as it makes you happy as artists, then that’s the main thing.
Ben: Exactly. The band sounds good. I wouldn’t care if he used to sing in church [laughs]. I’m not religious, but it wouldn’t bother me.
I guess you guys had recently gone to North America for a tour? How did that go?
Ben: It wasn’t a tour, it was just one gig. It was our first gig there but it was just one. It was called South By Southwest.
Was it a festival?
Ben: It’s a weeklong festival/event/fair.
Ari: It’s what, about 2000 and something–
Ben: A really big amount of bands playing in Austin that week. In every single club and venue, everywhere on the streets, and a lot of showcases from labels and people from the industry come to see the show, and hopefully that will help us set up a proper tour for the States pretty soon. We hope so.
So how did you get hooked up with the trip to the US for the first time?
Ben: Well, the label in the States helped. We’ve known about South By Southwest, it’s a very famous event. Our manager was pretty much talking with Music Export Finland, a company that helps talent from Finland get overseas or outside of the borders of Finland to play and get the music known and hopefully get some business going. They helped us financially as well.
Do you think the North American fans had any sort of expectations or preconceptions about Finnish bands coming over?
Ben: I don’t know.
Ari: I don’t think so. Also, there weren’t that many “fans” there. It was mostly media people and label people and the other artists that were there.
Ben: Yeah, you can’t really tell much about the North American metal audience from one show, but I’m sure they don’t care as much about the Idols thing as they do here, because they’ve never seen that side of everything.
Ari: Yeah, and of course Idols is a very different thing in America.
Ben: It’s so much bigger and there is no metal whatsoever in their series.
So you guys are doing a tour with Ensiferum now. How do you about that, in the sense that they are obviously really different styles of music? What kind of crowds do you expect to have there?
Ben: It is different, but it has worked out in the past before with Finntroll years ago. It was great for us, even though we sound nothing like Finntroll. I’m thinking that Ensiferum has melodic music, it has growling and clean vocals, it has a lot of melodies, so I think we’re gonna win a lot of fans over from that tour, and also, Profane Omen, some friends of ours. It’s again another genre of music so it’s a really great package.
Ari: Yeah there are three bands that are from different genres but they all have something in common, like the melodic stuff and melodic singing and growling mixed up and stuff like that, so I think it’s gonna be good.
Ben: Different enough to be interesting, but similar enough that it makes the package complete.
How do you feel about that whole folk metal genre in general?
Ben: Umm, it’s not my cup of tea, to be honest, at all. I’m not a big fan of that thing. I know they’re very talented and I have friends in those bands, but it’s not something I would put on. I prefer Winger and that sort of music.
Ari: I have listened to a lot of that kind of stuff, Ensiferum and Finntroll, and Korpiklaani, of course. Actually one of my old friends plays in Korpiklaani. I’m into that somehow but not 100%. I like listening to a lot of different music.
So what is the ultimate Amoral concert experience for concert-goers? Is it the instrumentation, the passion, or what is it that you want to leave in their memories that makes them want more?
Ben: It’s a package of different things. Definitely the passion and the instrumentation because we want to do cool stuff with it when we’re playing. Of course when there are two guitar players we are wailing really fast and we just showing off a bit as well, musically. It’s fun. I think rock music needs guitar solos. It’s what I like about it.
Ari: I think it’s good combination of playing well, like, sounding really good, and also the stuff that shows when we’re having a lot of fun.
Ben: Yeah, I think it shows that we’re enjoying playing live, having fun on stage, goofing around with each other, laughing at the other guys’ mistakes.
It looks like there is a lot of movement and you’re really getting into it and having fun and rocking out.
Ben: Yeah, it feels good. It shouldn’t feel like a job. And of course, it helps when we have pyro, like today.
Ari: [laughs] Yeah. It was awesome.
Ben: I was happy about it. I was so cold before the show. My fingers were like ice, I was just freezing. I couldn’t wait for the first fire to blow up and it was like, “oh yeah, that’s nice.” It actually served a purpose there.
So what’s the future going to look like for you guys? In a perfect world, where would you guys be in about 5 years or so?
Ben: In a perfect world, in 5 years, we’ll be headlining our own tour. I’m not sure about the size of the venues now, but I don’t care that much. Of course, bigger is better, but even club-wise, if we could just do our own tours that would be amazing. I hope to get there and I hope that this Ensiferum tour helps us out, and that we get something going on in the States as well.
Ari: What I’m looking for is everything being just as fun as it is today. That’s my main goal.
Ben: And we really need to feel that every time we come out of the studio that we’ve made a better album than anything we’ve ever done before. I’ve never had this feeling but I hear it from a lot of other bands. Of course they don’t admit it the second the album comes out, but 2 years later they’re like, “yeah, we knew already while doing that album that it wasn’t our best.” I would hate to have that feeling and I hope it never happens. So far we’ve been lucky enough to be so proud of every single one of our albums, feeling like, yeah, this is how it’s supposed to be done.
Have you guys been touring much so far? Have you been outside of Finland much or not at all?
Ben: Do you mean with this album or in general?
Ben: Yeah, we’ve pretty much been touring in Europe with every single album we’ve ever done, for a month or 6 weeks or something like that. We’ve had Europe covered pretty well.
Ari: We’ve been a couple times in Japan.
Ben: A couple times in Japan, first time in China, and our first time in Spain, and once in Russia as well. And of course, there could be more. You could go twice or three times through Europe per album. Hopefully we will pick up. But yeah, we’ve been abroad. We’ve done about 200-something shows so far.
What were some of your favorite places to visit?
Ari: Tokyo, yeah. I like Texas, actually, a lot. I like barbeque food and that stuff like that.
Ben: Food-wise there is great good there [laughs]. I’ve been to Detroit and I really liked it. I heard they’re building a Robocop statue and that is so cool. But in Europe, Spain has always been good. They’re very passionate about metal. And for some reason Poland is one of our, like, we get the most fan mail from there I think. And have an active street team there.
Ari: When we were in Sofia, that was one of our greatest shows ever, I think.
Ben: Yeah, Sofia in Bulgaria. That was crazy. We were sure they were thinking we were Amorphis. There were 800 people going crazy, like, oh no, they think we’re the headliner.
Ari: I was feeling sick before the gig. I was backstage thinking, “Oh God, I’m gonna throw up.” When I got to the stage everyone was screaming, “ARI ARI!” and I was like, “What the fuck is this?” There were almost 900 people. It was so cool.
If you could branch out from the places you’ve already been, where would you like to try and go in the future?
Ben: Other States than Texas.
Ari: Yeah, and South America too.
Ben: South America for sure. I’ve heard that a lot of good stuff about South America.
I’ve heard the Brazilians love metal.
Ari: Mexico also.
Ben: Yeah, and Mexico. Pretty much everywhere and anywhere. I will go anywhere. Just tell me where to go and I’m on the plane.
Ari: I’m a little bit afraid of Mexico. I went there when I was 6 years old and somebody tried to buy me from my mother.
Ben: [laughs] She should have sold you.
Ari: [laughs] I’ve told her that.
I guess that about wraps it up. Do you have any last words for the fans?
Ben: Last words? Let’s see… I should come up with something clever here [laughs].
Ari: Tell them a poem!
Ben: A poem? No. I’m not gonna go for a poem. If people from the States are reading this, hopefully we’re going to finally get to come anywhere near you. I know Texas isn’t exactly right next to everybody’s hometown. It’s like, yeah we went to the States… yeah… one state, one city. I don’t think everybody goes there.
Ari: People from Chicago weren’t there, I think. Or New York [laughs].
Ben: Yeah, a proper US tour is definitely on our to-do list. And once we’re there, we want to see the Robocop statue in Detroit!
Alright! Thank you very much!
Note: The above interview was conducted by my lovely friend, who quickly stepped up to the plate in record time when I completely lost my voice, and asked the questions I had written. This interview would not have been possible without Amy, so lets raise our glasses to her!
Rachel Roth has studied classical music and folk music at the University level, and enjoys studying Folklore in her spare time. She is an avid metal fan lucky enough to be living in Helsinki, Finland, where she now studies social work. Currently, she has expanded her love of music to include photography and freelance writing. You can see more of her photography here.
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