June 18, 2015 Interview – Jarkko Aaltonen of Korpiklaani
Hailing from Lahti, a city on a bay at the southern end of Lake Vesijärvi of Finland, Korpiklaani is a band whose story began some two decades ago. Initially known as the Folk band called Shamaani Duo created by vocalist Jonne Järvelä, the transformation continued in 1996 when they would change their name again to Shaman. Following some member changes, it was not until 2003 where Korpiklaani officially gave birth and quickly began to create a buzz with their debut album Spirit of the Forest. Picking up more attention with each of their releases to follow, by the time 2008’s Korven Kuningas was released they were internationally a hit. Combining catchy melodies, fun lyrically content, and, most of all, a festive live performance, Korpiklaani are now leaders in the Folk Metal genre they helped create. Recently we caught up with bassist Jarkko Aaltonen for a look into the history of the band, their first experience in North America, creating music, and more.
CrypticRock.com – Korpiklaani have built a name for themselves as a premier international Folk Metal band. You joined the band back in 2005. What has your experience been like with the band over the past decade?
Jarkko Aaltonen – My experience with the band has been brilliant. I have done things and been to places that I would have never otherwise. We have really built the band from the bottom, but I really like how we have worked our way up the ladder, so to speak. Remembering the first tours we did in Europe in a crappy old van, and then slowly creeping our way up the old school way, I have really enjoyed all of the stuff that we have done. Also, the business has shown its backside, and business-wise I have definitely become more of a cynic. I realized how crappy the business actually is for the artist, for the actual musician, but I still would not be able change this. Every day you learn something, and what you learn is not always nice.
CrypticRock.com – The music business can certainly be very ugly and discouraging. Seeing the band had history and had two studio albums prior to your joining, when it came time to record 2006’s Tales Along This Road, did you feel comfortable going into the studio for the first time with the band?
Jarkko Aaltonen – Yes, in the sense that the songs were rehearsed, and I knew what I was going to do, but then I was not really that comfortable. In the end I did not know what it was going be like working with the actual producer. I had recorded before, but it was always something minor. It was sort of good for me that the band had not grown up yet at that point, even if there were two albums prior to me joining. I was sort of joining a new band at the time. The actual success, especially the international success, started later, so it was an easy time to go in because the band was not that huge at that point yet.
CrypticRock.com – Right, that is true. In your time with the band, Korpiklaani really has become well-respected in North America with appearances at Paganfest. How does it feel to see American audiences embracing the band’s style of music the way they have?
Jarkko Aaltonen –It is brilliant. In this business, you are nothing unless you make it in the US and the UK. I remember the first time coming here, we were scared. We thought, “What is it going to be like? What will they think of us?” There had been some demand for us before, and the record label kept pushing us here and we kept saying, “No, we do not really like the conditions here. We cannot work under those conditions.” Then when we finally got the offer that we could accept, then that started the other worries of, “What the fuck are we going to do there ? Are they going to like us, or are they going to boo us off of the stage?” That is always the same with us when we go to a new area.
We have been fortunate enough, in the US and other parts of the world as well, that we have never really had a bad reception. The US was one of those things that we were sort of afraid of what it was going to be like. As you can see now, it has been really nice, but we were really scared in the beginning. No one else was putting pressure on us, but you feel it and create it yourself, especially when you come from a weird country that has never exported much music before that. There were some bands before us, of course, but the huge international successes were few and far apart. Also, singing mostly in Finnish, it was not that easy. Then again, we sort of knew that we had some kind of fan base in the US as well because of the messages and responses from the Internet.
CrypticRock.com – It has to be frightening going into the unknown. It did seem to work out very well though. The band’s latest album Noita was released May 5th in North America. This record features new accordionist Sami Perttula and it really seems to balance Folk and Metal like the band has never done before. What was the writing and recording process like?
Jarkko Aaltonen – The writing process was pretty simple since this time all the songs were written by our vocalist Jonne Järvelä. Basically, he was just sending the demo tracks to everyone else in MP3 files like we always do. The difference was, this time was the first time ever we actually had the perfect pair on the Folk instruments, the accordion and the violin. We have been lacking a bit in that department in the past, not that we even knew that we were missing something, but once we got those two together, we realized that we were lacking something. Way before the actual recording or even the pre-production was done for the album, the guys were going through the demo tracks, going through the arrangements, figuring who will play what.
Also, writing maybe feature a new harmony on some parts, so they really worked a lot on the album, and I think it really shows. When you hear it, you notice that the accordion and the violin are really prominent in the mix. They really dominate the sound, maybe for the first time ever on our albums. It really sounds now like what we always pictured that it should sound, but never really reached that. I think we have now. I should not call it a perfect mix because then you cannot improve on that, but it is really good. We have people that really contribute to the music, not just what the demo says, “Here is the melody. Play that.” They really did come up with lots of new stuff, melody wise and solo wise as well. We added some solo sections to some songs and things of that nature. It is different now than it was before. I really like the direction that we went in with this album, and I am fairly confident that the audience will also like what we did with this one.
CrypticRock.com – Agreed. It is a very complete record. One thing Korpiklaani always seems to bring with each release is a positive and lively energy. Is it the band’s objective to bring this fun sensibility to their music?
Jarkko Aaltonen – It is not really what we try to do, it is just what sort of happens naturally to us. We never really planned beforehand, “Let’s write this kind of song or that kind of song.” It is just our natural way of writing the stuff, a natural kind of sound, natural music for us. Then again, when it comes to live shows, we basically try to entertain ourselves, and when we entertain ourselves, that is what the result is. We try to have a good time ourselves, and we wish that the audience feels the same way.
CrypticRock.com – It is safe to say audiences always enjoy a Korpiklaani concert. You recently returned to North America with Ensiferium and TrollfesT. How did the tour go for the band?
Jarkko Aaltonen – The tour was really good. When we first met TrollfesT we immediately had a lot of beers and a lot of laughs, so they are always good company. We know Ensiferium and they will not be anything worse, so it was a really nice tour for all of us.
CrypticRock.com – Fans would agree on the other side of the stage that it was an excellent tour. Folk Metal is certainly a sub-genre of Metal that has grown in popularity through the years. To what do you attribute the international interest in this form of music?
Jarkko Aaltonen – It is catchy. I think the reason why, I for example, would listen to music is that it has to have good melodies and basic qualities of a good song. I think Folk music, Folk Metal, still has that sort of idea of writing good songs, which is sometimes lost in other genres of Heavy Metal where you try to get heavier all the time, or get faster all the time, and you sort of miss the actual good songs. I think Folk Metal still has the tradition of songwriting going. I think that is what people appreciate.
CrypticRock.com – The element of fun is probably one of the biggest draws in the genre. You are right, people love the catchy quality of the music. Speaking of music, what are some of your musical influences?
Jarkko Aaltonen – The reason why I originally thought that playing in a Rock band would be the greatest profession ever was watching and hearing Motörhead, like classic Motörhead from the ’80s. I think that was the reason, or the time, or the bands, that made me realize that Rock-n-Roll is a nice life style. Although musically there have been many different influences. Of course the earliest influences were 1980s Metal bands, like Iron Maiden, Wasp, that kind of stuff. Then later, of course, as a musician you realize that there are bands like Rush or Jethro Tull, and even now … later, even Country music. Originally, I would say that it was Motörhead and other ’80s Heavy Metal. That is where it all started from. Also Black Sabbath, of course, probably my favorite, but you cannot escape that.
CrypticRock.com – Those are some of Rock’s best bands for sure. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror films. If you are a fan of Horror films, what are some of your favorite Horror films?
Jarkko Aaltonen – Actually, you are talking to the wrong person. I rarely watch movies. I know nothing about movies. I really am the wrong kind of person for that, and Horror movies, I cannot even remember the last time I watched a Horror movie. The last time was probably a crappy B Horror movie that ended up being a Comedy or something like that.