December 14, 2016 Interview – Alexi Laiho of Children of Bodom
The appeal of blistering lead guitar licks are often impossible to resist. A skill that takes years to learn, and many more to hone, Alexi Laiho set his sights on doing just that while still young, chopping away hours of practice in his bedroom. A road many kids take, few ever grab the brass ring, but Laiho has gone on to be one of the greatest Metal guitarists of the past two decades. Famously known as the frontman and lead guitarist of Finnish import Children of Bodom, the band has built a reputation on menacing melodic Death Metal twisted with Neo-Classical styling that is second to none. Now together for over two decades, Children of Bodom remain one of modern Metal’s biggest international acts as they continue to tear up stages. Amidst their latest North American tour, Laiho took the time to chat about the craziness of the years gone by, never taking it for granted, the work behind I Worship Chaos, plans for the future, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Children of Bodom have been established now for over two decades. In that time, the band has become one of the international Metal world’s most recognized acts with nine studio albums and extensive touring. Through it all, what has this incredible journey been like?
Alexi Laiho – There’s no words to describe it really, it’s been a wild fucking ride. You don’t really think when you are constantly doing something like touring, making albums, touring, and making albums. It’s a cycle, when you don’t stop, you don’t really have time to sit back and think about the whole thing. Every once and awhile, I would do it and it kind of shocks me how far we have got. When we were recording our first album, our aspirations were pretty far from what we have reached now. We would have been happy selling 1,000 copies and getting one tour in Finland and that’s it. It’s pretty crazy, we all love it, we live it. We all basically grew up on the road. It kind of sounds like a cliché, but it’s really the only way for me to live. I am lost when I am off the road and in the studio. It’s definitely awesome that it’s still going on.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, when you are constantly working like you have been, four or five years at a pop could go by in the blink of an eye and you will not even realize it.
Alexi Laiho – Right, exactly. At the same time, I think it’s kind of a sign that you have been working, you have been full on concentrating, and that’s a good thing actually.
CrypticRock.com – Definately. The signature of Children of Bodom has always been the mix of styles ranging from Black to Death Metal and Symphonic elements. Bottom-line, the band has certainly developed their own style. Tell us a little bit about how the band has developed this identity.
Alexi Laiho – It’s been mostly just natural development. We never sat down and talked about it. We never talked about what we should sound like, we never planned it, not even in the very beginning. Everything that came out just came out naturally. It’s many little things put together, such as certain keyboard sounds. Not only the sounds, but also the way the keyboards are played, and the same applies to the guitars. I do have a pretty recognizable sound, but it’s not just the amp or the actual sound, it’s also the way it’s played.
Then there is the vocals, and of course the music. All those things combined, that’s what Children of Bodom is. Like I said, it was never planned or engineered that way to happen. I think how it shaped up into the form that it’s in right now, we just grew up with all the different styles of music. We are still very open-minded. For example, with Metal, I still love Poison, but I still love Darkthrone, I love Fleetwood Mac, and I fucking love Mayhem and everything in between. That helped us a whole lot, all of us have been musically open-minded.
CrypticRock.com – Right, and that shows in the music for sure. What is really interesting about Children of Bodom is the band had a ton of success in the European region through such albums as 1997’s Something Wild, 1999’s Hatebreeder, and 2000’s Follow the Reaper, but it was not until 2003’s Hate Crew Deathroll that the band really took off in the USA. How exciting was it for the band when you started to see more Americans paying attention?
Alexi Laiho – It was amazing really. It was just another dream come true. By that time, we had already toured in Europe several times and we played in Japan, which for us was like the biggest deal to get to play there. We had done that a couple of times already, so we were anxious to even get a shot to play in America. When we finally got that first tour opening up for Dimmu Borgir, we were so stoked. We could tell when the tour was moving along the word must have gotten out that we were a pretty good live band. The crowds were amazing, I would have never thought that we would have been even recognized, let alone get a crowd response. That was fucking great, we had a lot of fun. Pretty soon after that, we came back and opened up for Lamb of God in 2004. We just kept coming back. A lot of fun for sure. Touring in America is a little different due to the distances and whatnot. It’s a little longer than the European tours, but good times.
CrypticRock.com – Through it all, the band has continued to progress album to album. You just came out with a new record last year, this record was a little different than your previous records as far as the writing and recording process. What was it like putting I Worship Chaos together?
Alexis Laiho – Up until the point where we had to let the other guitar player go, it was pretty much the normal process. I would write the music, and that’s something I do at home usually with my four track and my guitar. I play with a riff for a melody. We would basically practice every single day, 5 days a week for about 4 months. Then I would share the riff or part of a song to the others guys and we would jam on it for a little bit, then it becomes something. I would go back and write more, show it to the guys, and that’s basically how the process goes.
Then something happened with the other guitar player and we had to let him go. This happened one day before we were supposed to go to the studio. There was no time to even think about replacing him or getting somebody new. I was like, “You know what, fuck it, I’ll play all the guitars. I don’t care, I’ll work a double shift, but as long as we just get this album done.” That drove me to do a better job than I usually do to be honest. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I think I did a pretty damn good job with the rhythm guitars. I got them down pretty quickly, and the rhythm part sounds, I think way tighter than anything we have done in the last 5 years.
That actually gave me an idea that I should really just record all the rhythm guitars from now on, because it is a lot tighter when it is just one guy. Also, we dropped the tuning to half a step down, that actually does make a big difference too. The album definitely sounds heavier.
CrypticRock.com –Yes, it certainly does, and speaking of your guitar playing, you are quite an exceptional guitar player. Every musician is their own worst critic, but you really are and it shows in your playing. As a songwriter, how do you manage to keep things fresh?
Alexi Laiho – It’s not easy, I’ll tell you. It’s really just a matter of attitude. In my case, it’s pretty simple; do not think about what people want, do not think about what people like. Block all that out of your mind and do what you do. If it sounds like something that you’ve done before then fuck it, just do it. If it sounds weird but you like it, just do it. That’s the thing, there are no guaranties that people will like your shit. One thing that I can tell you, you can’t try to please everybody. That will never pan out.
Whatever I do, I really just go out of my way to make sure that I blocked all that shit out of my mind. That’s the only way for me to keep the music fresh. Do whatever you gotta do, just do it naturally. Hope and pray, if that’s your thing, and hopefully people will like it. There are no guarantees, that’s for sure.
CrypticRock.com – That is a good sound piece of advice for sure. You have to just what you do and everything will fall into place. The band is currently amidst a North American tour now through until right before Christmas. What has this run been like?
Alexi Laiho – This has been actually really good. We haven’t really done a headline tour here in The States for I Worship Chaos. We were opening up for Megadeth and we had headline shows on the side, so it doesn’t really count. This is actually the first headline tour for this album cycle, it’s been really good. We’ve had packed houses everywhere and like amazing fucking crowds, wild fucking crowds everywhere. It’s definitely been a lot of fun. In some cities, usually the turnout has not been as good as let’s say Los Angeles or whatever, even those cities, we have got fucking almost sold out shows. I’m definitely happy with it so far.
CrypticRock.com – That is great, it is a good line up, a really exciting lineup as well.
Alexi Laiho – Yeah, I think so. Abbath and everything, that’s something that you usually have to check out. That’s really cool that there’s the whole Norwegian Black Metal thing going on and Children of Bodom, which are two different things. Four bands all together, so, it’s a cool package, interesting for sure.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely. Speaking of your debut, Something Wild, next year marks the twentieth anniversary of the album. Do you have any special plans to celebrate the occasion?
Alexi Laiho – We do actually. We are planning on doing a European tour in March and April which is going to be a 20 year anniversary themed tour. It’s going to be pretty fucking cool. We are going to play a lot of songs from the first 4 albums, songs that we never played live. It’s going to be interesting for sure, not just for us, but for the audience to see us playing those songs. I was listening to the first album and the second album, some of that stuff, I don’t know if I’m able to keep a straight face when I’m on stage playing that stuff. That’s the whole point, it’s going to be a lot of fun. We are planning on production right now, trying to add as many cool things on stage as possible. Should be pretty rad.
CrypticRock.com – That is very cool, let’s hope that run eventually makes it to North America, perhaps later in the year or 2018.
Alexi Laiho – I would love to. Hopefully we will make it the year after or something.
CrypticRock.com – There are a few things in previous interviews you have said which is very interesting. One was about Children of Bodom, stating when people discover the band, they hear the vocals, they may be turned off. Although, if they actually listened to the music, they would be surprised and really enjoy what they hear. That is really interesting because the music may actually intrigue those not into Metal.
Alexi Laiho – Right, well yeah, that is how it seems. I’ve had a lot of people come up to me saying that they are normally not into Death Metal vocals or Black Metal vocals or Metal at all. They don’t like this screaming shit in their words but they appreciate the music so much, they like the melodic parts, the technicality of it, and all that. At first they tolerate the vocals and then they actually start liking the vocals, it’s pretty cool. A lot of people told me that Children of Bodom is the reason they got into Extreme Metal. Now they actually listen to a lot of bands with these kind of vocals.
CrypticRock.com – That is really cool to hear something like that. There is always a band that is a gateway band to the more extreme music for everybody. I am sure you had one when you were growing up, we all had one. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror/Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan of the genres, what are some of your all-time favorites?
Alexi Laiho – Horror yes, for sure, there’s a lot of good stuff out there. My favorites are always going to be the ’80s ones. That’s when I was a kid, that’s when shit was the scariest. I am going to have to say all A Nightmare on Elm Street movies are by far my favorite. Freddy Krueger is my favorite Horror character by far, that’s definitely my thing.
CrypticRock.com – Freddy Krueger is a classic character, they made so many sequels now, did you have a favorite?
Alexi Laiho – The fourth one was good, even the fifth one, but that I am not sure.
CrypticRock.com – Here is an idea, Children of Bodom always do interesting covers. Children of Bodom should cover Dokken’s “Dream Warriors.”
Alexi Laiho – Believe it or not, I have thought about that a couple of times actually. That is also the very first time I heard Dokken, in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987). I was a kid, and remember my parents said, “You can’t watch that shit,” but my friend and I found it on VHS and watched it. The end credits, I thought it was the coolest songs, and after the credits rolled and they mentioned who it was, I remember that. It is an awesome song, maybe one day we will cover it.