Niilo Sevänen & Ville Friman (Insomnium) interviewed

What do you think separates One for Sorrow from Across the Dark?Niilo Sevänen: The core of the music is still the same, but we don’t want to repeat ourselves and make the same album again and again. I think we’ve always managed to evolve and bring some new twists to our music. This time the biggest change must be that Ville Friman is singing all the clean parts and we’ve used them in five songs. With ATD, it was our first experiment with clean vocals and now we knew much better what to do and how to incorporate them to our songs.
Ville Friman: I think we also digged something from our first two albums for One for Sorrow. There’s more of the progressive shades reminiscent to Since the Day it All Came Down and aggression that was present on our first album, In the Halls of Awaiting.

What’s One for the Sorrow about?
Niilo Sevänen: Starting point for the lyrics was this old English nursery rhyme called “One for Sorrow”. It’s about counting crows in a tree: “One for sorrow, two for luck, three for a wedding, four for death…” It has a very brooding and eerie feeling which in our opinion fits our music perfectly. It has ten rhymes as we have ten songs on this album. It forms this loose frame or concept for the lyrics. The lyrical themes are pretty much the same as always: the universal topics love, death, sorrow, loneliness, heartbreak, regret, longing, finding your inner strength and so on. Each song is like a small tale. Naturally we all take something from our own lives when writing lyrics: it’s a lot easier to write about something that you have experienced yourself. Since we are in our thirties already we have seen the ups and downs in life. I also read a lot to find interesting themes for lyrics. This time I was inspired by a German poet Christian Morgenstern and Finnish poet Kaarlo Sarkia among others.

“Inertia” is the lead-in track. I gather you’re setting the tone for the album with this track.
Ville Friman: We have been using similar “intro” songs for the past three albums and decided to continue with this tradition. Like you said, we like the opening tune to set the mood for everything that will follow later on.

How do you feel the final sequencing of the album turned out? I know a lot of bands spend a lot of heartache on getting the right sequence of songs. Ups/downs. Fast/slow.
Niilo Sevänen: Finding the right order is something you do with intuition. Of course, you have one track which is made to be the intro and something which is written to be the ending and you need to spread the longest songs along the album, etc. But still it’s a process that is a bit hard to explain. It just has to feel like a right sequencing. Of course we talk this through together and search for the best solution.
Ville Friman: I agree with Niilo; you just know when it’s right. We try to keep the album entity interesting and ‘logical’. The song order is mainly based on the music but also some song names can play important role.

Now that you’ve had more time to explore the use of clean vocals, what have they brought to Insomnium’s sound, particularly in regards to new album One for Sorrow?
Niilo Sevänen: They give more variety to our sound. We have a lot of easy parts, lot of acoustic stuff so I think it’s natural that we have also some mellow vocals there.
Ville Friman: I think clean vocals definitely give even more contrast to our music. We try to use vocals in diverse way. Not only for choruses but also for some interlude parts and so on.

Jules Näveri did the cleans on Across the Dark. I gather it was time for Ville F. to step up. What was that like? A bit nervous or did all that singing in the shower finally pay off?
Ville Friman: Yes, I felt a bit nervous definitely. However, I did demo all the vocals at home so I knew what I was capable of and what to do in the studio. I think I just grew confident with singing on our last European tour with Dark Tranquillity when I delivered clean vocals for Jules’s parts every night for 5 weeks. I really don’t consider myself yet a proper singer and it’s about living and learning every day. However, I’m pleased with my performance on the album and hopefully will continue getting better in the future.

Favorite tune on One for Sorrow and why?
Niilo Sevänen: There are ten great tracks on the album, so it’s a tough choice. Maybe I would say “Only One Who Waits” and “Song of the Blackest Bird” – but next week I could think otherwise!
Ville Friman: I think the title song, “One for Sorrow”, is my favorite one.

Why did you opt to record the album in Finland and Sweden? Just curious why you went to Gothenburg for guitars and kept everything else in Finland proper.
Ville Friman: We got good friends with Daniel Antonsson (plays bass in Dark Tranquillity) on last tour and he actually approached us and offered his services. Daniel is a co-owner of Gothenburg Rock Studios. Basically we wanted to change some things on this album to just keep it bit more interesting for us. Daniel is also very good guitar player, owns remarkable collection of guitars and knows his studio stuff. As a result, it was natural choice for us to take advantage of his expertise and get a nice change for routine.

Do you guys write songs as a group or are they banged out individually and then fine tuned as group?
Niilo Sevänen: We compose riffs home and try to make complete songs. Some kind of demos are made so that everyone can hear the riffs and comment. Then in the rehearsals we mutilate the songs and usually several parts are discarded. Much of the arranging happens in rehearsals. We have four tough critics in the band so those riffs which end up on the album are approved by everyone – and that usually means that they are pretty damn good. Sometimes this method is frustrating but the results are very good and usually we are very happy with the final album.
Ville Friman: I try to finish songs fully at home and demo everything properly on Logic 9. “Some kind of demos” applies more to Niilo’s technique of using Fast Tracker or some other Stone Age shit to put melodies together. Of course, we make always some small adjustments in the rehearsals for all the songs, but for this album we only rehearsed for 3 times as a whole group. As a result, I did a big share of arrangements at home in the front of computer. I also use Guitar Pro 6 to tab the songs for our other guitarist in order to save time in rehearsals.

Looking back on the debut, how do you feel you’ve grown as songwriters?
Niilo Sevänen: We’ve gone a long way and hopefully we’ve learned something in the process. On the debut we were clearly a melodic death metal band and our influences were pretty obvious. From there we’ve developed with each album so that now I can say that no one else is making the same kind of music as we [are]. We’ve found our own sound. We’ve also learned a lot about songwriting and arranging.
Ville Friman: I think I’ve become bit braver in terms of using all kind of different influences in our songs. We still stick with the same basics we used on our first albums but have definitely diversified our expression. Some songs might sound post-rockish or folkish at time, but in the end we blend it all into one mix and sieve it through Scandinavian melodic death metal.

Do you feel kinship with bands like Dark Tranquillity, etc?
Niilo Sevänen: Dark Tranquillity is one of those bands that influenced our sound when we formed Insomnium. So definitely we feel that we are in the same genre more or less. For example, when we toured with DT it was an ideal situation for us since we could ‘steal’ their fans easily – if you like DT it is likely that you will like Insomnium as well. So this is what happened and we gained a lot of new fans.
Ville Friman: It was really an honor to share the stage with these guys every night. I think we got pretty good friends and had nice parties all the time. Definitely the best tour I’ve ever been on!

What’s the hardest part about being in a band, you think?
Niilo Sevänen: Finding enough time to do this all properly and still survive your ‘normal life’. We’ve chosen this very difficult path where we all have our careers and day jobs, so that we are not financially dependent on playing death metal. On the other hand, this is great but you are constantly being ripped in two. This is by far the hardest thing in all this.
Ville Friman: I agree with Niilo fully. It’s not just only playing but lot of time and effort goes into planning everything and taking care of promotion and social activities. Band needs to work like a team where everyone does his or her share for the bigger aim.

It seems like you guys don’t take yourselves too seriously. Do you think a little humor goes a long way? I mean, you write about sorrow, loss, and flying black birds.
Niilo Sevänen: You are certainly right about that. We have good time together and stupid humor is essential part of this all so why should we pretend something else. We make sorrowful and dreary music, but still we are pretty happy guys who enjoy life. We take our music very seriously and we are in many ways perfectionists, but that doesn’t mean we would take ourselves too seriously.
Ville Friman: I think I just pour most of the shit into music and then go and enjoy my life. Making music makes me definitely a happier person. You also have to acknowledge the irony of life and not take yourself too seriously all the time.

What keeps you writing music and releasing albums? It surely isn’t the limos, girls in skimpy bikinis, and private jets.
Niilo Sevänen: : No bikini girls and private jets in sight yet, but luckily we’ve been going forward and higher all the time. Lot of good things have been happening the last 5-6 years so things have stayed interesting and we’ve kept our motivation high. It’s still fun to create new music, go to rehearsals and find out that we have another great song in our hands. How can artist explain where the need to create is coming from? We just make the kind of music we truly love and that’s it. Of course, we have good time together and we like playing shows and touring and all that. We surely need to see how far we can get by making this kind of music before we call it a day.
Ville Friman: Making music is the key thing for me. It makes me happy and defines me as a person. Even though touring is tough at times I appreciate the fact that playing in a band takes me to places where I would never otherwise visit. Metal music made me who I am today. It’s important to carry the torch and keep the spirit alive for younger generations.

** Insomnium’s new album, One for Sorrow, is out now on Century Media Records. Order the slab of depressive melodic death metal perfection HERE.