Metal has a vast expanse of space that it calls its popularity continuum, and I, admittedly, have no idea where Finland’s Re-Armed would be located along this stretch of real estate. I’ve been informed by the powers that be manning the information highway that the Kerava-based quintet has been around since 2001 with two full-lengths, an EP and a shit ton of demos to its name. However, I’d never heard of them – or, considering the sheer volume of new music I consume and the amount of time I spend with the classics, can’t recall ever hearing of them – until the fine folks at Clawhammer PR let it slip that the band had recently returned from a three-week tour of China. Given my ongoing fascination with metal hailing from and being performed in not-so-traditionally metal locales, it was a sure bet I was going to jump at the opportunity to quiz vocalist Jouni Matilainen and bassist Juhana ‘Bobo’ Heinonen about their latest adventure and maybe end up nudging them a little forward on the above-mentioned popularity line.
First off, how did you end up being asked and invited to do a Chinese tour? Did you know a promoter or someone there beforehand or did this come totally out of the blue?
Jouni Matilainen: We did know one agency in China who would organize shows/tours for bands. So, we decided to ask from that company whether they are interested in booking a tour for us to China. The same agency has done tours for other Finnish bands, so we kinda knew what to expect and how things would be handled. We have toured several times in Europe, the UK and Baltics, so our own Chinese tour sounded like a more interesting option instead of your typical warm-up slot in Europe with some bigger name/names.
Aside from half of what you own probably being made in China, did any of you have any previous experience or knowledge of the country? Had anyone travelled there before? Did you know anything about the nation’s music scene?
Jouni: We only heard rumours about the country. And yeah, basically EVERYTHING you use daily is made in China! Personally, I like to travel around the world and touring with the band is the best way to get to places you will never ever go otherwise. For example, we were the first European band to play in the middle of Mongolia. And everyone in the band was excited to visit China.
I noticed on the tour poster that you played a lot of places that weren’t Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin or other cities westerners are more familiar with (by name, anyway). Was this the case or were these actually sections of the these bigger cities?
Juhana ‘Bobo’ Heinonen: We didn`t know anything about the cities. All we knew was that there were a lot of people in some of these places (laughs). We actually did play in Tianjin, and Hefei and I think those were the biggest cities.
What sort of special visa/paperwork applications and paperwork did you have to go through in order to do this? What was it like showing up at customs/immigration in comparison to any border crossing you’ve dealt with on previous tours?
Jouni: Actually, nothing extraordinary. We didn’t have any problems with visas, or anything else like that.
Recently, there was some bullshit going around about Megadeth playing China and ending up doing certain songs instrumentally or not at all because of the lyrical content. Did you encounter any form of censorship, forced or otherwise, while you were there?
Juhana: The only censorship issues [we encountered] was that we were not allowed to say certain words in Chinese when we were on the stage or face-to-face with new people, because it could offend them badly. Otherwise, it wasn`t so critical as we imagined it could be. People in China, overall, are very nice and along the east-coast people do understand English way better than in the west. The funniest thing that happened to us with so-called censorship was when Juhana got a festival crowd to yell “fuck yeah!” Afterwards, we heard from festival organizer that our show was awesome, but that “fuck yeah thing” wasn’t a nice thing to do (laughs).
How were you getting around and travelling and were you able to get out and see parts of the cities and countryside when you weren’t playing? I’m assuming you stood out as foreigners, but were there any moments where you felt really out of place and did you end up feeling more and more comfortable as the trip went on?
Juhana: We did have a few days off on the tour which gave us time to see more things in different cities. Lots of nice people, warm welcomes, good food, awesome views, odd situations, different kind of trains, flights, luxury hotels, “shit holes,” group pictures, etc. And people did watch us like circus monkeys most of the time while we were on the road with our gear (laughs).
How would you characterize touring China compared to any of the other countries you’ve been able to tour?
Juhana: Touring in China is like swimming, if you don`t have a lot to carry, it is easier! The tour contained plenty of sleepless nights, sweatiness, locals who can`t speak English and many miles of walking with gear. Don’t take your amp heads with you! But, it was still been one of the best places we have toured in. And as far as the hospitality, the Chinese handled things way better than most European organizers.
Tell us about the shows you played, the reaction of the Chinese fans, the other bands and any other tour stories you’d like to add.
Juhana: It was the best experience ever; it was actually mind-blowing a few times. For example, there were a few big festival shows in the front of few thousand people. While we were in the middle of Mongolia the local organizer took us to restaurant where they slaughtered lamb for us as a meal.
How did the reality of your experience in China match up to your assumptions of what you thought it was going to be like?
Juhana: The food, people and the crowds were awesome. The trains, bathrooms and rice- liquor were all shit you just needed to deal with. In most of these kinds of “shitty” situations we just “medicated” ourselves with local herb-liquor..I’d say five out of five in terms of expectations.
Would you recommend other bands jump on the opportunity to tour China if they can? Would you do it again? How would you say this particular tour/trip has influenced or inspired you in ways other tours haven’t?
Jouni: We would recommend bands tour in China because the culture is one of a kind and playing there is different than in Europe. At the same time, you will see “touring life” through different kind of lens. Local organizers really care about you; in Europe it is not always like that. Our plan is to make a new album, our third, and see what will happen after that. But for sure we are heading on tour after that and China is definitely in our plans!
Facebook (where the band, understandably, have a million photos of their time in China)