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Omnium Gatherum (II)
Interview mit Markus Vanhala [Omnium Gatherum], 28.01.2016, Skype

Ende Februar werden die finnischen Melodic-Death-Metaller Omnium Gatherum ihr neues Werk „Grey Heavens“ veröffentlichen, das laut Markus Vanhala mit „Leib und Seele“ kreiert wurde. Den Bandchef und OG-Gitarristen ans Telefon zu bekommen, ist gar nicht so einfach, da er recht häufig „im Namen der Musik“ unterwegs ist und nebenbei auch noch Gitarrenunterricht gibt. In dieser Woche hatte ich Markus dann doch endlich mal an der Strippe und führte mit ihm ein Gespräch über Star Wars, Bikinis, Nackenschmerzen und natürlich das siebte Studio-Album „Grey Heavens“.

Markus, you just came home from “vacation”. How was it in Dubai’s desert?

Markus: It was a different desert than here in Finland. Finland is having a white desert at the moment. But it was a good working trip in Dubai. We only played one gig with Insomnium and then we had eight days off. It was awesome! Now I’m just for one week in Finland and on Monday we’re heading to Miami for “70.000 Tons Of Metal”. Me, the other Markus [drummer of Insomnium] and Olli [light engineer] are having three free days in Miami, while the boat trip is for five days and we have two gigs with the band. So the whole week is mainly a vacation. [laughs]

So you have to pack your swimming trunks…

Markus: Definitely my Bikinis for the hot tub.

Lots of drinks included, I guess…

Markus: Cocktails, Pina Coladas and Mojitos… We’re going to Jamaica and the boat is full of friendly bands and working partners from the label, so it’s gonna be fun.

But now we have to talk about Omnium Gatherum and your new album “Grey Heavens”…

Markus: …which you gave a really nice review, thanks for that!

You’re welcome. It’s a good album, so 10 points out of 10 was more than deserved. I was just wondering, because last year you also travelled a lot, did that big European tour with Ensiferum, Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum, then the North America tour in summer with Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum… When did you find the time to write songs for the new album?

Markus: [laughs] I don’t know. My last year was insane. But gladly we started to write “Grey Heavens” after the US tour in 2014, so basically I did all the songs back then. Since the beginning of last year we were first touring with Insomnium in the USA, then we had this double trouble European tour, after that we went to Australia and Japan with Insomnium, so basically I didn’t have any days off. I’ve been touring the first half of the year 2015. Then immediately after the Australia/Asia tour we went to the rehearsal camp with Omnium Gatherum and had only one long rehearsal weekend before we went to the studio to record the new album. So it was kind of gambling, but it went well.

Do you write also on the road or only when you’re home in Kotka?

Markus: I cannot write at all when I’m on the road. I am always too nervous and caring too much about sightseeing and social relationships on the tours. I really need that time being alone when I’m writing.

Sitting in your “cellar”?

Markus: Yeah, basically. I need to be alone, usually in the nighttime, because then nobody is bothering you, no one is calling you. So you have the complete relaxation.

You’re a night owl?

Markus: [laughs] Yes. It’s “pöllö” in Finnish.

What have been your inspiration sources for “Grey Heavens”?

Markus: That’s a hard question. We’re an old band, it’s been 20 years since the reincarnation of OG, so we’re old enough to inspire ourselves. We already know how this band should sound, what is like the band’s trademark, so it’s not anymore like getting influenced by other bands so much. Of course music is always a big inspiration, but not like back in the old days, when we found this band and wanted to sound like In Flames and Death… Now we’re just doing our own thing. Maybe one inspiration for the musical album concept was that I wanted to have this “Empire Strikes Back” kind of vibe – which means: I’m a Star Wars nerd. [laughter] The “Beyond” album and “New World Shadows” build up slowly, they both have long intros. This time I wanted to go straight into the battle, the album should start with a hit in your face and then end up the conflict instead of fading away.

How did you like the new Star Wars movie?

Markus: A lot.

I’ve heard different opinions about it…

Markus: I don’t know how you can hate it if you’re a Star Wars freak. It was so much better than the three previous ones. I love the three first ones, of course, but those three previous ones were a little bit not so good. [laughs] But the new movie was again like old school.

To what extent did the other band guys contribute own ideas to the new OG album?

Markus: Well, Jukka does all the lyrics and almost all the vocal arrangements. All people in the band do arrange the music a bit – we’re not any kind of dictatorship. I always play all the stuff to the other boys and if they don’t like it, it will be buried. So we’re still acting and working like a band.

How does OG’s Melodic Death Metal sound like in 2016?

Markus: I think, we’re getting old and angry. [laughs] So maybe the new album is more aggressive and angrier than the two previous ones – and not so epic. We tried to create a little bit shorter and “straight forward in your face” kind of songs.

That was also my impression. Especially the last song is quite heavy and hitting your face…

Markus: Yes, that was the plan. The “Beyond” album as well as “New World Shadows” were pretty epic – now we wanted to go a little bit back to “The Redshift” era.

And why do you call your music “adult oriented”?

Markus: [laughs] It’s an old joke that has started to live its own life. It seems like every magazine is now labelling us playing Adult Oriented Death Metal, even though it was really just a joke at first. Bands like Toto, Journey and Van Halen label themselves playing Adult Oriented Rock, AOR, and as we’re big Toto and Journey fans and there’s a lot of that 80ies cheesy guitars and melodic stuff in OG’s music, the old joke was born that we’re playing Adult Oriented Death Metal. Due to that often people think we’re playing some kind of Porn Death Metal which is completely wrong. [laughter]

How do you handle inspiration blocks?

Markus: One way is thinking that my days are over, that I cannot find music anymore and getting a nervous breakdown. Every now and then I’m really getting in the mood that I have the feeling all my songs are already written. If I would have a recipe for how to compose music, I think, I would be doing music all the time. But I don’t have any recipe, so I don’t know how the brain works. That artistic block is really horrible when it hits you. That’s why I haven’t been working all the time during the past years. I used to do songs all the time, but nowadays it’s more like working in periods. When it seems like there’s something coming out of me, then I do a lot. And then I also might have some months break from composing music.

So there are also days you’re not grabbing your guitar at all?

Markus: There are a lot of those days. For example that latest North America tour with Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum was really hard for me, because I had to play two gigs each night. And we had longer sets than in Europe – over 2.5 hours of Death Metal during one night with both bands. And it was summer time in the USA with temperatures up to 40 degrees. I was so exhausted and so over-fulfilled with Metal that I didn’t play guitar for one month after the tour. I really needed that kind of break.

Which are your personal guitar heroes? Do you have any?

Markus: Yes, of course! It all started with Edward Van Halen, Randy Rhoads and Adrian Smith of Iron Maiden. Those were my first heroes and still they are my big heroes. I don’t know so much about the newer stuff. I’m not much interested in these over-technical things…

How do you usually start writing a song?

Markus: It varies a lot. Sometimes it starts with a guitar riff, sometimes it starts with the keyboard and sometimes I create a drum beat with the computer. But like every guitarist I have my own marks and tricks. So it’s sometimes funny to hear the album later and realize: Oh, I did that solo again! [laughter] For example, when I heard this ending solo for “Frontiers”, I realized it’s pretty much like the ending of “While We Sleep” from Insomnium.

Do Jukka’s lyrics base on any concept?

Markus: That is always the hardest question for the guitar player. [laughs] But yeah, Jukka is not that kind of guy who does the lyrics fast. There are a lot of meanings and in general there is a continuum in every OG album where Jukka is involved. It’s always about some dualism of a human mind. It’s his favorite subject. You can also find this dualism in the album title “Grey Heavens” – when you mix black and white, then it’s grey – and the artwork: There’s this yin and yang kind of thing, two half-moon in black and white. And with this album, I think, Jukka is going even more inside of people’s heads. They have so many pressures from their pasts, so many pressures concerning their futures. If you’re a dog you don’t worry about yesterday or tomorrow, you’re just living the moment…

Where did you record “Grey Heavens”?

Markus: Like the last times Jarmo recorded drums in Vaasa where he is living, then everything else was recorded in Kotka with Teemu Aalto. We’ve been working with him for over ten years, so Teemu really knows what we want. He recorded and produced the new album while Dan Swanö mixed it in Sweden. He is also our guide, he knows exactly what we’re breeding here.

Is Dan Swanö back in Sweden? I thought he’s been living in Germany…

Markus: Oh, you’re right. I’m always mixing it up, because he used to live in Sweden and now he is living somewhere close to Oberhausen, I think. He said that he is coming to our gig in Oberhausen.

What have been the challenges during the recording process?

Markus: There have been a lot, [laughs] especially the time pressures as we were quite limited mainly because of my schedules with Insomnium. I was basically doing Metal every day. When I had my day offs from the studio, I had to go to festival gigs with Insomnium. So at the end of the recording session I was really fed up and burned out with all the Melodic Death Metal bands I’m playing. [laughs] And then I had to join this double trouble US tour, so last year was pretty “Metal” for me. But well, concerning the album recordings we had a lot of time troubles and also all kinds of pressures, among other things in personal life…

That doesn’t sound good…

Markus: Yeah, that wasn’t good at all back then, BUT we did a good record and everything is good again. This record has a lot of feelings inside, it was really made with blood and soul.

I’ve heard that for example Niilo from your other band Insomnium did some screams for the new album. Are there any other guests on “Grey Heavens”?

Markus: [laughs] I have to remember. Well, no, there was only this boy choir with Niilo, Jari from a local Kotka band called Superdeathflame and then our producer Teemu and Aapo from Omnium Gatherum – they were like the four masters singing in the choir.

With the single “Skyline” and also the music video release of “Frontiers” you already gave a little foretaste for your fans. Are you satisfied with the feedback you got so far?

Markus: Yeah, we released “Skyline” already last year before the US tour – that was the Split 7” with Insomnium. We wanted to release “Skyline”, just because it’s a lot different from what we’ve done before. A lot of people said that now we’re sounding commercial. But as it was the US tour, it is a pretty US kind of song and we just wanted to see how people react during the gigs. And now we released “Frontiers” with a music video, because it is the best “Omnium Gatherum style hit song” from the album.

Is it your favorite?

Markus: It’s not my favorite of the album, but it’s a perfect video song to present the new album. The feedback has been really good. The video was released on Tuesday and within two days it had maybe 25.000 views which is pretty good for us.

Did you also contribute own ideas to the video content?

Markus: Yeah, we were checking out the shooting place with the director. The funny story with the music video was, that we found the perfect location just a few weeks before we shot the video. But when we came back to that place for doing the camera script, the place got demolished exactly in that moment. We really saw the house crashing down. That was a pretty funny moment and we were like: Oh yeah, maybe we have to find another place…

And where did you find that?

Markus: It was also at the harbor, maybe 500 meters away from the demolished place. We found it pretty easily.

In Kotka?

Markus: Yes, at Kotka’s old harbor. It’s a different perspective from the beautiful seaside of Kotka. For example the music video of “The Unknowing” from the album “Beyond” was also shot here in Kotka, but it’s a nature video showing the seaside, islands… And this time it’s an old oil tank, something completely different even though both sides are not far away from each other.

Is Kotka in general a nice place to live?

Markus: Yes, it’s a seaside town. The centrum is on an island and I’m living on that island, maybe 15 meters from the coast. A bridge is coming over here, it’s really a nice place. Especially in the summer it’s nice to go by boat.

Do you have an own boat?

Markus: Yeah, everyone in Kotka has a boat.

And sauna?

Markus: Yeah, of course. [laughs] Everyone in Finland has a sauna.

Next month you’ll be on tour once again, this time together with Draconian. Are you still tired or already hungry for new gigs?

Markus: Now it’s been a couple of months since the last tour, so I’m hungry again and longing for the road.

But isn’t it nowadays a different feeling entering the stage after these horrible happenings last year in Paris for example during the Eagles Of Death Metal gig?

Markus: Yeah, of course it was really bad especially during that day to hear about the attacks, because we played at Bataclan last year and we played there like three times before. So it felt pretty close. But then again you cannot stress about these kinds of things. It’s more likely that I slip on ice, crash my head and die here in the streets. You cannot live your life in fear. Then you have to be inside your house all the time and hope that the gas tank is not exploding. [laughs]

How do you prepare yourself for shows?

Markus: Just stretching my neck and all muscles and warming up with the guitar.

Do you sometimes have neck problems after shows?

Markus: Often. [laughs] When I was 25 years old, I never thought that I’m going to stretch my muscles before a show. I didn’t care about that kind of things. But now, ten years later, you have to… Headbanging is one of the stupidest things in the world, but…

…still you’re doing it!

Markus: Yeah, I don’t know why. [laughs] And sometimes it doesn’t even look good. But it’s just a way of feeling when you’re having a good time on stage.

What can we expect from your shows here in Germany next month?

Markus: I think we will play a bit over an hour, maybe 75 minutes, I’m not sure yet. But as it’s a co-headlining tour it’s a bit shorter set, but still longer than a usual support set. I’m really looking forward to this tour. For us it’s the first time that we’re playing a longer set in Germany’s club. But we’re not into doing big solar explosions and stuff [laughs] We’re just trying to deliver our energy and music, just honest stuff, no acting. We’re more like punk rockers in that way…

Interview: Lea S.
Fotos: Promo (c) Jari Heino / taken from omniumgatherum.org
Website Band: www.omniumgatherum.org

(c) NEGAtief / www.negatief.de
copyright: Aurora Borealis 2007-2015
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