Swallow The Sun - 07/01/2010

SWALLOW THE SUN was formed in early 2000 by Juha Raivio and pretty soon Pasi Pasanen came along (both had played in Plutonium Orange) and joined him. In 2001 Markus Jämsen, whom Raivio and Pasanen already knew from their earlier bands, joined them as a second guitarist, and Mikko Kotamäki from Funeris Nocturnum became their singer. Finally Aleksi Munter (keyboards) and Matti Honkonen (bass), also of Funeris Nocturnum, joined the band. In the spring of 2002 they started arranging songs for their demo which was recorded in January 2003 at Sam's Workshop with Sami Kokko.

 

Swallow the Sun entered the studio late July 2003. During the following three weeks they recorded their debut album, ‘The Morning Never Came’. In February 2005, Swallow the Sun released their second album which was entitled ‘Ghosts of Loss’. During the year 2006 the band signed to Spinefarm Records and did a small European tour. In January 2007 they released their third album, ‘Hope’. In September 2008, they released an EP called ‘Plague of Butterflie’s. In May 2009 Swallow the Sun announced that Kai Hahto of Wintersun would be joining their ranks in order to fill the void left by former drummer Pasi Pasanen.

 

Swallow The Sun’s latest effort ‘New Moon", which was recently released, entered the official chart in the band's home country at position No. 10. The CD, which was released via Spinefarm Records, was recorded at Fascination Street studios in Örebro, Sweden with producer Jens Bogren, who has previously worked with such acts as Katatonia, Opeth, Paradise Lost and Amon Amarth.

 

 

It appears there is much to talk about, so we tracked down Juha Raivio (Guitars) to answer some questions. Here you can read what he had to say to the readers of Metal-Experience.com

 

First of all, how are you doing? Could you start this interview off with a short introduction of band, you’ve had some line-up changes so can you give us a quick update on Swallow the Sun?

 

Juha: Hello there, it’s been really cold weather lately and lots of snow, so I feel at home, haha. The band was formed in year 2000 when I had few songs that didn’t fit my other band’s style at the moment. It took a couple of years to find the right people to join the band. Finally when the line up was ready, we did the demo ‘Out of This Gloomy Light’ and we got signed right away. After that we did 4 albums and 1 EP and we toured lots in Europe and in North America. After our last American tour early 200, it started to feel like our drummer Pasi wasn’t 100% into touring and playing in the band, so we had new drummer Kai Hahto replace him in spring 2009.

 

How did you launch into writing material for ‘New Moon’ and how much time did you spend on the songs?

 

Juha: I started to do the songs for the new album in the fall of 2008 after the ‘Plague of Butterflies’ EP came out. I knew it was gonna be lots of work because there was still ‘Plague of Butterflies’ tours coming up, and I also had to finish the songs before the end of the year, but everything worked out fine and the songs came up very easily and naturally. I think doing the songs took about 2-3 months together. 

 

Which approach did you choose to create this album, did you go for a more raw exposition.. Or something more reminiscent of your previous other works, or something all together different?

 

Juha: I always just let the songs come out as they are and don’t think too much about what the new songs should sound like, or if I should do something different than last time. When you let the songs come out from your heart, then you will like the music yourself, and that is all that matters in the end. I usually get an idea for a new album pretty quick after the last one and just go with the flow when writing it.

 

Did ideas come easily so that you just had to write them down or was it more of a careful composing thing?

 

Juha: Yes, music came really easy this time, I think the only time it’s been really hard to write an album was with ‘Ghosts of Loss’, even though I love that album most of all our releases. After I write the music on my small 4-track machine, I go to our second guitarist’s home and we finish the songs in his home studio and give the demos of the songs to the rest of the boys, this has worked the best for the last 3 releases.


What comes first, lyrics or melodies?

 

Juha: It changes from song to song, but most of the time the name of the song comes first, and that already gives a pretty clear direction for the music in my head.

 

 

What were the goals you had in mind when you started to record ‘New Moon’, any elements you definitely wanted to include on the album?

 

Juha: When we went into the studio we wanted to get a warm, natural sound, but still keep the coldness of our music and to get the album to sound huge without going over the top. We knew that Jens Bogren could help us create a sound like that and that’s why we chose him to record and produce the album.

 

Was it a conscious decision to do it this way?

 

Juha: Well, we had always wanted our albums to sound natural, so you can hear that it’s people playing instruments and not machines. I think that’s the only thing we think of when recording a new album.

 

How can we imagine you work on new songs, what's the typical writing process like for Swallow the Sun? For example, is it a group process or did some people write more songs than others?

 

Juha: I have written 95% of the music and lyrics so far for this band because I have had a clear image in my head of how this band should sound. Maybe in the future there will be more songs from the other guys, but so far this has worked the best for us. Everyone in the band puts their own touch into the songs by playing their own instruments, and from time to time some of the songs change when we rehearse them.

 

After the release of your previous EP ‘Plague of Butterflies’, one of Swallow The Sun’s founding members, Pasi Pasanen, left and Kai Hahto stepped in. Did this line-up change have an influence on the new songs?

 

Juha: No. All the songs were ready before this line up change happened, so it didn’t have an effect on the writing process. Maybe for the next album there will be a bit of a different approach in the writing process when we have gotten to know Kai´s skills on the drums.

 

What is the utmost important ingredient for a song according to you?

 

Juha: Most important thing for a song is the right atmosphere. I get loads of images in my head when making music and if those images don’t come up then it’s not A Swallow the Sun song. I think that the right atmosphere and feeling of the whole song is more important than the lyrics or some riffs by themselves.

 

 

Your previous album ‘Hope’ was already a step forward, but ‘New Moon’ is actually the first album on which Swallow the Sun shows its full capabilities: What are your thoughts on this statement?

 

Juha: I still think we have only scratched the surface of our sound. There’s actually no limits as to where our music can go, but I guess it will always sound like us in the end. If I listen to ‘New Moon’ and ‘Morning Never Came’, I can clearly hear the same band playing. But I really think that the production and our playing has gone a huge step forward on the ‘New Moon’ album.

 

Could you please describe the implications of the title ‘New Moon’, what does it stand for and is there a special meaning behind it?

 

Juha: ‘New Moon’ ends the chapter that started on the ‘Hope’ album and actually ‘New Moon’ means the start of the new darker times. The ‘Hope’ album was about hanging on to the last light of hope, ‘Plague of Butterflies’ was moving towards the total loneliness of the human heart, and ‘New Moon’ is about finally losing the last hope and turning more “evil” through it, turning to stone.

 

Who was responsible for the lyrics on this album and where do you get your inspiration from?

 

Juha: I wrote 6 lyrics for this album and Mikko wrote 2. Our lyrics have always been inspired by Finnish nature a lot. I write most of the lyrics and music in the Finnish woods, even though it might sound like a big cliché. There’s lots of personal stuff in those lyrics, but most of the time they are just morbid tales about the darker side of humanity. We also have lots of lyrics about ghosts, dead women and woods, and of course Twin Peaks is one of the biggest inspirations! Some of the lyrics are so personal that they are even hard to read, but most of the time it’s about something else like murder stories or nature.

 

How did the recording process proceed this time, did you work differently than on previous albums? How much time did you spend in the studio?

 

Juha: We did the album in about 3 weeks like we usually do. This was the first time that we had a producer in the studio and that was quite different to have someone kick our asses to play better. Jens was really good in getting us to play with even more feeling and he spent lots of time on getting all the sounds perfected.

 

Your sound on ‘New Moon’ is excellent, the album was produced, mixed and mastered by Jens Bogren, what made him the perfect man for Swallow the Sun?

 

Juha: Well, we knew his work with bands like Opeth and Katatonia and we love how those albums sound. So we were sure that he would understand our sound perfectly, and he really did. Jens can get albums to sound huge but still get them sounding like real people are playing on them, that was the most important thing for us.

 

In which things/songs on the new album can one clearly hear his vision and ideas?

 

Juha: Jens didn’t touch the music that much, but he worked loads on the growling and clean vocals. Without him the album would sound quite different, that’s for sure.

 

 

Do you have any favourites on the album?

 

Juha: Yes, for me the songs “Sleepless Swans”, “Lights on the Lake” and “Weight of the Dead” are the ones that describe Swallow the Sun the best. If you listen to those songs you’ll know what this band is about.

 

Have you received any feedback on the album yet?

 

Juha: It’s getting really good reviews around the world at the moment, and the album has been really high on the charts for the best metal albums of last year. It’s even a bit surprising that our music has been going through so well when you think how un-easy listening stuff it is. Well, I guess that people are trying to find bands that have a bit of a deeper meaning than just singing about Vikings or swords, or that is just about playing fast drums or solos.

 

Are third party opinions (press, fans, etc.) on your music important to you? Or are your music and band the only things that matter?

 

Juha: Of course there are some things that you can learn from the reviews and from what fans have to say, but to be honest it doesn’t have any effect on writing our music. If you start to listen to what other people want you to sound like, then that’s the day you start to go wrong with your music.

 

Overall, are you pleased with the outcome of the songs or would you have liked to have changed anything in retrospective? Which element on the CD are you most proud of?

 

Juha: I wouldn’t change anything on the album. I think the greatest thing on the album is the atmosphere it holds. This album feels just right.

 

How has the band's sound progressed from your first album ‘The Morning Never Came’ to ‘New Moon’ in your opinion?

 

Juha: Well it’s clearly the same band playing, but I think that the feeling of our playing has gotten deeper with every album. ‘Ghosts of Loss’ still has the deepest feeling of all our albums, but maybe that is because it was so hard to write and record.

 

Which song is your favourite one to play live? Which song do you find is the most challenging one to play live?

 

Juha: “These Woods Breathe Evil” is really great to play live and I think  that’s one of the hardest ones also.

 

Can you tell us a little about yourself and the kinds of things that motivate you in your writing, your poetry, and your lyrics?

 

Juha:  I guess life itself motivates most when writing, releasing those inner demons. But still I’m a bit of a hermit and don’t want to talk much about myself and my motives. I think it’s best for everyone to make up their own mind and truth about the lyrics by understanding them through their own lives. If you explain things too much it can take away many things for you.

 

With several albums under your belt, how far has Swallow The Sun surpassed your original dreams and what would you say is the most rewarding part of being in the band?

 

Juha: Basically everything that has happened after the first demo has just been a plus. I only had a dream to get those few songs away from my system when doing the demo so getting this far with the music has been just amazing. I really love the touring in different countries and we have been able to do a lot of that, so it’s been great to play different countries and meet so many great people and make new good friends at the same time.

 

 

What were the highlights and low points throughout your career?

 

Juha: I think that the greatest highlight has been seeing how much our music means to a lot of people, and getting mails saying that our music has saved peoples’ lives is just the greatest thing I could get with this band. I think the lowest point has been losing my home in order to be able to play music I love. Sometimes it takes big sacrifices to make music but it’s all worth it.

 

What is your opinion on the metal scene these days? What do you think about the overload of bands at the moment and is there anything missing in the scene?

 

Juha: Well, I haven’t found any new great bands in 15 years, so I guess that says something, or then I’m just old fart, haha. I think that the metal scene today is more about who is the best player in the scene, and who is the fastest band or who’s got the most tattoos. I’m still glad that it seems that metal people are willing to listen to a wider spectre of music these days and there’s lots of bands coming up now that want to have something deeper in their music, too.

 

You’re on tour right now, but what can we expect from Swallow The Sun in the near future?

 

Juha: Well, I hope we will tour in support of this album for the next 1,5 years and maybe do a DVD in the meanwhile. Hope there will be lots of summer festivals because the first European tour went just fantastically and there were lots of people coming to our gigs and we got loads of new fans. I guess I’ll start writing the next album after the summer, but you never know these things until they happen.

 

Where do you see the band going within the next 5 years and where do you see the band’s musical direction going for the next album?

 

 

Juha: We have done 5 albums and toured about 300 gigs around the world now in 7 years, so I guess we will need a break too at some point. But if music keeps coming up, and I think it will, then it’s just gonna be a new album and new tours. There’s no limit to what we should sound like, so there could be quite different music coming up too. It’s all about honesty and to be true to yourself and to music.

 

Any last statement?

 

Juha: Usually music you have to dig deeper into, is the music that matters at the end.

 

Thanks and see you.

 

 

Members:

Matti Honkonen - Bass

Markus Jämsen - Guitar

Mikko Kotamäki - Vocals

Aleksi Munter - Keyboards

Juha Raivio - Guitar

Kai Hahto - Drums

 

Former members:

Pasi Pasanen - drums

 

Albums:

(2003) The Morning Never Came

(2005) Ghosts of Loss

(2007) Hope

(2008) Plague of Butterflies (EP)

(2009)New Moon