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Amoral (III)
Interview mit Ben Varon [Amoral], 19.01.2016, Skype

Ein junger Musiker, der in einer psychiatrischen Einrichtung in Finnland Selbstmord begeht – diese wahre Geschichte bildet die Basis des neuen Konzept-Albums von Amoral: „In Sequence“. Musikalisch widmet sich das finnische Sextett – nunmehr bereichert um „Rückkehrer“ Niko Kalliojärvi – wieder melodischen, epischen Prog-Metal-Songs. Bandkopf und Gitarrist Ben Varon gewährte mir im Interview einen Einblick in seinen Songwriting-Prozess sowie die Philosophie der Synchronizität.

How did the New Year 2016 start for you, Ben? How did you celebrate?

Ben: I didn’t really celebrate New Year’s Eve this year. We were just taking it easy, chilling at home, babysitting. I’m not a big “New Year’s guy”. I don’t like going to the center as there are too many people and everybody is going crazy with fireworks. I prefer the next day when everything is quiet and nobody is around.

Having a New Year’s walk?

Ben: Exactly. But now it’s cold as hell here in Helsinki…

Yeah, I’ve heard that winter has finally arrived over there and soon your band Amoral will release its new album “In Sequence”. It was mainly you who wrote the songs and lyrics. How much time did you spend in your basement all in all?

Ben: I think, all together we spent about three months recording this album. Of course we were not working on it every single day, therefore it was a long process. Usually we do an album in six weeks or two months, but this time it just seemed to go on and on. One reason was that we had a lot of guest musicians working with us. Stuff like that took a bit of time to organize: getting everybody on board, checking their schedules like which time would fit best for them to come here for recording or which time would fit for me to visit their home studios. But after three months everything was done…

Who are the guests on the album?

Ben: There are a lot of them: Teho Majamäki is one of Finland’s leading percussionists and we liked to get him playing in two of the songs. Then there is Amine, my friend from the band Acyl that we toured with in 2014. He played percussions and also sang on the new album. But probably my favorite guest part on the album is that we got our ex guitar player Silver to play bass. He is actually a bass player in these days. He left Amoral after “Show Your Colors” in 2009, I think, to do other things. But he came over to play one song – he is a super bass player nowadays. And then there is also…

…a woman.

Ben: Yes, of course. It’s Jonsu from the band Indica. Hers are those angelic voices on the intro song “In Sequence”. She did an amazing job. It sounds so good.

To what extent did your bandmates have the chance to contribute own ideas to the album “In Sequence”?

Ben: Me and Masi wrote one song together – half and half. But for some reason this time it was mainly me who wrote the songs. I guess, the other guys just didn’t come up with any ideas which would have been suitable for Amoral. But the doors are always open! If they have songs, riffs or ideas they should please present them. Just this time it was only me with a bunch of music and we turned it all into Amoral songs.

To what extent did Masi help you in the producing process?

Ben: Masi was a great help. He was here a lot of the time during these three months, helping me with the recordings, making sure that the signal was clean and everything was wired properly. While he was recording guitar, I was producing him. And while I was recording guitar, he was there telling me what I could do a bit better. He was definitely my co-pilot. It was fun working with him, he is such a musical guy, playing lots of different instruments.

But did you also have to discuss a lot?

Ben: Not really, no. I’m actually surprised how little fighting there usually is in this band. I present a song and find out if the other guys like it or not. Usually they have enjoyed the songs, so it’s not about fighting what is good and what is not. It’s just about figuring out who plays what, figuring out the right sounds and textures for the songs.

Which instruments did you record at home and which ones in another studio?

Ben: Well, we did drums in a commercial studio, Sound Supreme in Hämeenlinna, which we love to use whenever it is possible. It has a big drum room that sounds great for drums. So me and Juffi went there and did the drums in two or three days. Then we went over to my home studio and recorded guitars, bass, all the vocals, some percussions, Masi’s saxophone, all the keyboards – pretty much everything else.

And what did your neighbors say?

Ben: Nothing. I don’t think they heard a single note while we were recording the album, because it’s a house, it’s an old wooden building and the studio is in the basement. It’s amazing, you can’t hear anything outside. We tried it out, turned the amplifiers to full volume and went outside, but we couldn’t hear anything there. And in general we only worked during the day with the loud amplifiers and stopped it around 9 in the evening.

What have been the challenges during the recording process?

Ben: The previous album “Fallen Leaves & Dead Sparrows” was actually the first one that me and Masi recorded mainly by ourselves in our home studios. That was kind of a risk, because we were not sure if we were good enough as engineers to do that. But we figured it out, we learned from some mistakes that we did in the past, that made this session so much easier. We have now better equipment, we know what we’re doing, we’ve been studying Janne Saksa at his studio for so many years, so we kinda know how it works. But still it’s more challenging than just sitting in a normal studio with somebody else recording and producing you. Because then you can just focus on playing the guitar – and nothing else. When you produce yourself and especially doing the recording also, you don’t only have to take care about your performance, but also about the sound, all the technical things… But once you get used to it, it’s not that bad. I thought I would hate it more [laughs], but for the past few years I actually find myself enjoying the recording, producing and working with computers…

And let me guess: Now you’re a nerd?

Ben: [laughs] Yeah, exactly, I am a computer nerd, sitting in front of Pro Tools and figuring out which microphones suit best there for the marshall amplifier.

“In Sequence” is a concept album basing on a true story. Can you give us a little inside?

Ben: The concept bases on a true story about a young musician being in an institution due to alcohol, drug or mental problems – I’m not sure. I just know that he was locked in a mental institution with his guitar. And he didn’t make any real contacts with anybody else in there. He just stayed in his room and played the guitar. And what I’ve heard from a guy who worked there and told me the story is, that he was just an amazing guitar player. In summer time the sound came through the open window. But then for some reason – nobody knows why – the young guy committed suicide in the institution. This is the only thing I know about the story. So I just had the facts: young guy, talented musician, institution, suicide. Those facts really kept haunting me in the back of my head for a couple of years. Maybe I found some similarities to myself. I kept the story in mind all the time, so it just made sense to write about it. The more I started to think about it, the more I figured out it would be a good base for a concept album. I tried to build a whole world around this little piece of information that I had about this guy: Who was he? What was he thinking of? What could be the reasons for him to do what he did? What about his parents, his family? Did he have a family? Where were they? Did they even know that the guy was locked in? I started writing down ideas, different words and lines, mind mapping, just building a little universe around this guy. Then bit by bit I turned those words and lines into a whole story in form of songs. It was a long and kind of complicated process, but I really tried to get into this person’s head that I never met…

…imaging what could have made him do what he did in the end: committing suicide.

Ben: …what is never the right way. Obviously a lot of people commit suicide every year, so there must be a reason for it. What are those people thinking of and why are they feeling so terrible that they cannot go on in their lives? That’s the very basis for the story. At the same time I started studying synchronicity a bit. I just wanted to see what it’s all about, that everything is in sequence, that everything is there for a purpose and that everything happens for a reason, you know, the specific order of things. I started reading books about it and opened my mind for a while, because actually I’m not a big believer in higher beings or bigger forces in heaven. But then I thought: What if I just open my eyes for a few months to be very open-minded, no cynicism at all? Then it was actually pretty scary at some point how much I started to see synchronicity all around me. I was actually freaked out a few times [laughs], because everything started to make sense, wow! Maybe it’s no bullshit after all? So I was exploring synchronicity a bit and then I took parts of that into my story. Basically the guy in this story is a big believer and he lives his life by that philosophy of synchronicity. That’s his guidance in life. But one day the synchronicity just stops working for him and he gets totally lost and doesn’t know what to do…

Did the original story with that young musician happen in Finland or somewhere else in the world?

Ben: In Helsinki. A friend of our family was working there in the institution. So I heard the story by him.

Now I understand the connection between the new songs and the album title “In Sequence”. But where is the connection to the cover artwork done by Aki Siltala?

Ben: I invited Aki to my place one day, gave him a big cup of coffee and we went through the story – as I just told it to you. I started telling him all the ideas for the story, read different parts of text and threw ideas at him to see what happens. He came up with this cover idea! Basically for me – it might be different for Aki, it might be different for you – but what I see in the picture is a huge ray of light which represents information. And all this information from all around and the inside, all these bad news, bullshit and stuff just got too much for the sensitive guy in the picture and his sensitive life. The huge ray of light is flying over his head, so it looks like his head is exploding. That’s how I see the cover. But in the end it’s Aki’s interpretation of my story.

Did you just tell him the story or did you also give him some guidelines?

Ben: I told him the story and then we started bouncing ideas back and forth on the same evening.

In our last interview at Tuska Festival 2015 we already talked about Niko’s return to the band. How did you decide which of the lyric parts will be growled by him or sang clean by Ari?

Ben: We just let the music decide that for us. There were no guidelines, no rules that it would be 50 percent Niko and 50 percent Ari in the end. I just listened to the songs, the music, the riffs and when they called for something very aggressive, I knew it’s gonna be Niko growling there. But in general we wanted to keep the focus on clean vocals, even though Niko is back in the band. I think the melodic side of Amoral is such a big part of us nowadays. I didn’t wanna go all the way back to growling. Niko’s vocals are more a special effect that we use when it’s necessary and brings that “extra something” to the song. Then again Niko also came back as a guitar player. But to answer your question: It’s definitely each song that told us what to do with it.

Where do you see the musical development if you compare the new album with the previous one “Fallen Leaves & Dead Sparrows”?

Ben: I think “In Sequence” is definitely like a sister album to the previous one. Before “Fallen Leaves…” there was “Beneath” and “Show Your Colors” – and I think those were a lot more all over the place: just different kinds of music and styles. With the last one we really found our “new thing” which is long songs, epic songs, progressive songs. And it’s more moody and Metal instead of Hard Rock. We really liked the last album and so did the fans. For this reason we continued in that way, so you can put the new album in the same category. But still there is a lot of new stuff on it if you ask me: a lot of different instruments, for example. It’s obviously heavier because of Niko. And Ari sings super clean. There is no Rock’n’Roll in his sound at all on this new album. I really like that. Niko does all the aggressive parts and when Ari comes in it’s really smooth and deep…

It’s like an angel and demon battling with each other…

Ben: Ja. [laughs]

With “Rude Awakening” you already gave a little foretaste last year. How did especially Ari’s fans react?

Ben: Well, referring to the comments I read it seems that most of the people enjoyed it. Some of Ari’s fans think that his voice is mixed too low. I don’t know, I don’t think so. It’s supposed to sound like that. It’s more in the background and moody, not that much in the front. I’m sure there are people who think that Ari should be the only singer. Then again there are Niko fans who don’t wanna hear Ari on the album. So you can’t really please them all…

As there is this huge variety on the new album due to the different guest musicians and instruments – what do you see as the overall combining element in Amoral’s new songs that makes “In Sequence” still sounding like a unit?

Ben: That’s a good question. I don’t even know if there is such a thing. I hope there is kind of a red line throughout the whole album, so that you can hear it’s the same band. But it’s up to the listeners, please tell me if we succeeded with that or not. Of course Ari’s voice is such kind of an element, but hopefully also the composing style and lyrics…

For Finland there are already some tourdates announced. When will you present the new songs live in Germany?

Ben: There are plans, but nothing is confirmed yet. So unfortunately I can nothing announce yet.

How will you celebrate the release of the new album? Any plans for that?

Ben: Actually no. We haven’t even discussed it. I guess, the Helsinki show is always the album release party, cos it’s our hometown. But this time the Helsinki show will take place in the middle of the Finnish tour. So we don’t have any specific plans yet to celebrate the album release.

Are you already working on new songs now as “In Sequence” is done?

Ben: Yeah, there are always songs I’m working on. I don’t know if anything is ready, I don’t even know if it will be Amoral material.

You have a second band, haven’t you?

Ben: Yes, I have Alcyona Sky, but that’s a different kind of music. It’s more 90ies/70ies Rock and acoustic stuff. Then I also write stuff that doesn’t fit anywhere, so I don’t use it. But in general there are always new songs, new riffs, new lyrical ideas…

I’ve heard that you’re offering guitar lessons face to face and via Skype at the moment…

Ben: Yeah, online and also here in my home studio. I used to give guitar lessons many years ago, then I just got too busy with all the different works and jobs. But now I have some time again between Amoral and my day jobs. I really like giving lessons, it’s fun, especially for people who like that kind of music that I play. Then I feel I have something to offer for these young guys asking me about techniques or melodies. I’m just helping them out with riffs and solos.

Which other guitar players do you adore?

Ben: Oh, there are so many. My favorites in the world have to be Slash, Randy Rhoads, Dimebag Darrell…of those guys I stole more licks than I should even tell anybody. [laughter]

Are there actually any days in your life when you don’t grab the guitar?

Ben: I guess so, but not a lot of them. Just every now and then. When you get home very late after a show on a Saturday night in Helsinki, the next day I usually like to sleep long and spend the whole day with my family.

Interview: Lea S.
Fotos: Promo 2016 / Foto 2: taken by Valtteri Hirvonen
Website Band: www.amoralweb.com

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copyright: Aurora Borealis 2007-2015
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