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Amoral (I)
Interview mit Ben & Masi [Amoral], 23.11.2014, Köln/Tourbus

Als Technical-Death-Metal-Band 1997 gestartet, hat sich die finnische Band Amoral heutzutage progressiven Melodic-Metal-Riffs verschrieben. Und am Mikrofon steht Ari Koivunen, der seinerzeit mal die finnische Pop-Idol-Show gewann. Er löste 2008 Growler Niko ab – seitdem klingt die Band sehr viel melodischer als in den Anfangstagen. Zuletzt waren die fünf Finnen mit Dark Tranquillity auf Europa-Tournee, um ihr aktuelles Album „Fallen Leaves & Dead Sparrows“ live vorzustellen. Das letzte Konzert fand dabei am 23. November 2014 in Köln statt. Vor der Show traf ich Amoral-Gründer und -Gitarrist Ben Varon sowie Gitarrist Masi Hukari im Tourbus zum Interview.

How’s the tour been going for you guys? Still in mood or happy that everything’s coming to an end this eve?

Ben: The tour’s been really, really cool. Everybody’s getting along with each other – all four bands and the crew. It’s just been really good. But sometimes that’s not the case unfortunately. Sometimes there are some arguments between bands and crew members. But here everybody is been super cool. So in that way we could go on for a month, but I’m also looking forward to going home, ‘cos I have a three months old son waiting for me. So it’s time to go home! But the tour’s been just fantastic. The crowds have mostly been very good to us. We have 50 minutes shows as we’re the direct support for Dark Tranquillity. So we get to play a proper show instead of just 30 minutes. Yeah, just good times for us. Especially yesterday we were up till 9 in the morning, a little bit drunk and singing Michael Jackson…

Have you just been seeing the insides of the venues and tourbus during the last days or did you also use the time for some sightseeing and shopping?

Ben: You have the time if you take time for it. Some people just wanna sit in the backstage area and look at their iPad and others wanna go out. I love seeing places – when it’s not raining and we’re not in the middle of nowhere. That’s the first thing I do: cup of coffee and then I just head out to see the city.

Have you also been out here in Cologne?

Ben: Not today, ‘cos as I said at 9 in the morning I went to bed. [laughs] So today was a sleeping day.

There’s been a constant development in the band’s music over the years. Nowadays you define your sound as “Classic Rock Of The 21st Century”. How did it come to this point?

Ben: We’ve been a band for over ten years now. Our debut album just turned 10 in this year. We started when we were very young, like 15 years old, with Juffi the drummer. He’s still in the band with two original members left – last men standing so to say. We were more like a Technical Death Metal band for the first three albums – with technical riffs and screaming vocals. Then our singer left in 2008 and we found Ari to replace him. We got much more melodic as we really wanted to try something new. So we turned into direction of Melodic Rock and Hard Rock – anything we could do with melodic vocals. Then we kinda focused a bit more on finding an own niche which is more Prog Rock. I think you can call it “proggier” stuff. We have long songs, old school keyboard sounds, long guitar solos... Nowadays we have six albums out and the new own that we’re touring with is “Fallen Leaves & Dead Sparrows”. Right after this we gotta go back home to continue writing new stuff. Early next year we gonna start recording our 7th album.

Ari’s voice and way of singing differs a lot from the band’s former vocalist Niko Kalliojärvi. How did the fans react to the vocalist exchange at that time?

Ben: It was pretty hard. Our fans reacted strongly both ways – positive and negative. But for a while it felt like everybody hated us. It was really hard, ‘cos for some reason people took it really personally that we changed the singer and style. They were like: “How do you dare to do that? You’re a Death Metal band! Fuck you, especially as you took Ari! He’s from the Pop Idol competition – such a sellout.” So for a while we were not that popular and lost tons of fans. But I’m happy that some of them since that have joined us again after hearing a few albums, especially the new one. They realized: “You guys are actually still pretty okay. So I’ll give you another chance.” And of course we got a lot of new fans, a lot of people who cannot stand screaming vocals – because out of a sudden we were a melodic band.

But Ari also shouts a little bit…

Ben: Yes, he does. We still like to keep it as an element. But the main focus is on melodic vocals.

Amoral is a band consisting of five members. But is it also a democratic one?

Ben: [laughs] Masi’s sitting right over there. He can tell you!

Masi: Ben always has the last word.

So you’re the boss, Ben?

Ben: Yes, somebody has to be.

Masi: In band situations democracy never works. If you have a band that says, “we’re democratic”, they will break up in three or five years. It doesn’t work. I never works.

So you always have to have a person making decisions…

Ben: Yes, that’s how stuff gets done. Somebody has to make sure that things are moving forward, everything’s getting done in time, just looking at the overall picture. And I am that guy since I’ve been in the band from the very beginning…

What about the songwriting? Is everybody included?

Ben: There are no rules in the songwriting process, but it’s been mostly me – at least for this new album. But me and Masi did a lot of collaboration and even our bass player wrote some music for the first time. Referring to the next album I ended up writing most of the stuff. It’s always changing.

What have been the inspiration sources for the current album?

Ben: Musicwise it’s just whatever happened to come out. Actually we had certain guidelines set up for ourselves with the new album. In the past we just wrote whatever came to our heads and when we liked it, it ended up on an album. But this time we wanted to have a frame, doing a bit more streamlined album, writing only longer songs and staying on the prog side. We wanted to leave the Hard Rock in the 80ies and shouting choruses out of it. It was cool that we had certain guidelines and wrote within those. You can work best when you have deadlines.

Little pressure…

Ben: Exactly. That we set those guidelines, was actually really cool – a new thing for us, but it worked.

Is it actually a concept album?

Ben: Yes, it is. That kind of started accidentally. I started writing the music and we noticed: “Hei, this riff would be also cool in this song, this melodic part would be cool in that song” – just going back and forth. So we kind of put the whole album together musicwise. Then we started looking at the lyrics – I had already written lots of stuff down during the last year – and I noticed that I could make them work as a concept as well: taking those few themes I have and putting them together as one whole story.

What are the themes?

Ben: One of them was the constant need and search for nostalgia and the good old days. I think a lot of people have that. Everybody is always looking back to childhood or teenage years, when everything was better, the music sounded better, ice cream tasted better, the summers were longer and the sun was brighter. Of course that’s not true all of it, but it feels that way. So the character on the album doesn’t care about the future, he just wanna go back: an old relationship, a certain place, his hometown – it’s not specified on the album. But even though I’m the most nostalgic person in the world, I still think that you should be looking forward.

Seems like the album is quite personal…

Ben: Yeah, it is, especially lyricwise. There’s also a lot about getting older, ‘cos I turned 30 at that time…

Wasn’t it actually your birthday last week?

Ben: Yes, I turned 31 last week. But that’s nothing. 30 was like the end of the 20ies. I’m old now, everything’s over…

Masi: Well, I’m turning 40 in two years…

Ben: Oh, that’s gonna be a double album when you’re turning 40! [laughter] A box set with a DVD! But yeah, getting old was definitely a source of inspiration: Have I made the right choices? Am I at the point where I should be with 30? What could I have done differently?

What have been the challenges in the recording process? Didn’t you produce the album mainly by yourself?

Ben: Yes, that was the challenge of the last album we did, just working by ourselves which he had never done before. We’ve always been in the studio from start to finish. But this time we just recorded the drums in the studio for a couple of days. Then me and Masi continued in my guitar/music room, started recording guitars and bass on our own as well as the keyboards – and I think we did a pretty good job. Usually it takes around three weeks with all the guitars and stuff, but this time it took a couple of months, because we had to learn. You’re simply faster, when some professionals push the buttons. Nevertheless it worked fine, I think, and we gonna do the same with the next album.

At which point did Marco Hietala (Nightwish, Tarot) come onboard and how was it to work with him?

Ben: That’s been in the talks for many years. Since Ari joined Amoral, Marco said it would be fun to produce the singing, because they know each other from way back. But every time when we recorded an album, Marco was busy with Nightwish. This was the first time when he was at home and said: “Guys, when you wanna do it, you’re welcome!” So when the guitars were done, me and Ari jumped on a train to Kuopio where we lived for a week. And every day we went to Marco’s tiny home studio. Ari could focus on the singing, Marco was sharing ideas with me – that was pretty cool and intimately. He was super cool! And I think it’s totally shown on the album. Ari never sounded that good before.

Is Ari also still active with his solo project?

Ben: I don’t know what he’s doing. He’s always talking about something, but not about the solo project Ari Koivunen. I think, that’s not happening anymore. He has different musical project, for example he’s doing a musical now back in Finland, acoustic gigs as a duo in bars, etc. That’s what he does!

And what about yourself? Do you have hobbies or other jobs beside the music?

Ben: Yeah, we all have. Everybody except Ari is doing something else besides the music.

The business is hard…

Ben: Yes, there is really not much money for us. A few nights a week I’m a DJ in a rock club in Helsinki which is cool. I like it. We also all have other bands to keep the mind fresh.

What’s the first thing you gonna do when you’re back at home in Finland tomorrow?

Ben: I just can’t wait to see my family again. Then probably I have to do some laundry and if it’s still snowing in Finland I have to shovel snow tomorrow. [laughs]

There’s already snow in Helsinki?

Ben: There has already been snow in Helsinki when we left, but no idea how it looks like now. I hope there’s not… Would be cool if I could order snow, that it’s coming on the 23rd of December, so that we have a white Christmas, and then getting it out of my yard by the 27th.

Already thought about some Christmas presents?

Ben: Not yet, but I’m sure as soon as I’m back home I get in mood, because I am a Christmas person: I love the food, cookies, presents and those disgusting American Christmas movies. We have the tradition that we watch them over the whole December.

So you’re a traditional person?

Ben: Yeah, I am. We always gather together with the whole family on Christmas.

Did you also celebrate Halloween this year?

Ben: We did, because I love monsters and horror movies. If we have one party every year in our house, it’s on Halloween, because my place looks like a Halloween house anyway: lots of horror posters, a Jason Voorhees statue standing in the living room. This is how it looks all the time!

What can we expect from the show tonight?

Ben: The last two shows were the best shows of this whole tour, so I hope we’re not too hangover tonight. I think, the playing is getting pretty tight. Everybody is feeling really comfortable on stage at this point. We’re a weird band: It always takes us a few shows to warm up. Now we have 16 shows behind and I think we’re ready! [laughs] For 50 minutes we will play a lot of the new stuff, some guitar shredding and high vocals. It will be awesome! And also we have a few little surprises as this is the last show…

Interview & Fotos: Lea S.
Website Band: www.amoralweb.com

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