December 11, 2019 Interview – Jarno Salomaa of Shape of Despair
Formed out the icy, lengthy winters of Finland, Shape of Despair has been at the forefront of Doom Metal for 20 years. The vision of former Rapture Guitarist Jarno Salomaa, Shape of Despair’s music is complete with dark, open melodies and haunting vocals from Natalie Koskinen. Painting a soundscape that takes formation from the inner most thoughts of a human soul, it is exemplified by albums such as 2000’s Shades of…, 2001’s Angel of Distress, as well as 2004’s Illusion’s Play and 2015’s Monotony Fields. Now, after some time away, Shape of Despair look to make a return in 2020 with some brand new music. An exciting time for their followers and the band themselves, Salomaa recently chatted about the history of the band, his time in Rapture, their new music, plus a lot more.
Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in music professionally for over two decades now. From your time with Raven, to Rapture, and of course Shape of Despair, you have certainly done a lot. What has the journey been like for you?
Jarno Salomaa – Well, all these bands are and have been that close to me, so everything’s been mostly very pleasant and have progressed on its own weight. There’s of course not so pleasant memories in some of my songs’ births. There’s still two bands which have been on hiatus from ’98, and that’s something I really should focus on when there’s more time. Twenty years doesn’t seem to be enough. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) Well, maybe the time will allow itself for you to do so. As alluded to, you have been a part of several projects through the years. Let’s briefly talk about Rapture. You spent three years with the band and were a part of their 1999 debut LP, Futile. What was that time like for you?
Jarno Salomaa – Yes, true. I remember Tomi (Ullgrén) had some stuff written already for that album and even I realized, I made some more for them and there I was, in the band and making the first album for them and first album for myself as well. I have only good memories from that period. We spent two weeks making the album and everything went more than well. After a couple of shows, before the guys were really starting to focus on the second album, I thought that my material and my focus wasn’t at the same level anymore, so I decided to step aside and not interfere with them in a bad way. When I heard their second album, I think I made a damn good decision: it’s a damn good album, and if I’d been on that one I think it wouldn’t have sounded the same. But, nowadays, Tomi and I are in a way, making that earlier period alive again in the form of Counting Hours. Still different, but musically it’s closer than any of our current works.
Cryptic Rock – Yes, let us not forget Counting Hours, yet another project for you! You would go on to form Shape of Despair back in 1998, and have since released four full-length albums. What inspired the direction of Shape of Despair?
Jarno Salomaa – Shape of Despair is pre-Raven, just the name changed during the first years. We’ve been creating this music since ’94, and after few years break the music did change a bit; mostly it reflected sound-wise and how I started to compose music. Back in ’94, I didn’t really use any keyboards until I bought one. Actually, I didn’t know much about keyboards and just noticed someone was selling one Ensoniq synth nearby so I decided to grab that one. That keyboard is still the same one that I use on every album, and I managed to tweak quite nice tones out of it.
To answer the question, it’s quite obvious that the core here is in misery, misanthropy, self-loathing and all these. Some of us have had pretty good and positive youth when growing up, but some of us didn’t. The mind is a tricky thing when it gets to a certain point whether your intentions are harmless or un-thought. Luckily there’s music which is a tool in a way, for example, to channel all the shit into something you enjoy after all.
Cryptic Rock – Exactly, it is a fantastic outlet for release. There certainly is a plethora of Metal acts out of Finland, especially when it comes to Death, Doom, and Black Metal. Do you feel the landscape and environment of the country influence you musically?
Jarno Salomaa – In a way, yes. I think environment, atmosphere (from music, people, or whatever) and how you flow in all this affects very much. It’s after all everything you handle in your mind and all this mixes up in your subconsciousness, which may pour into music in some way or not. It differs a lot how people make music, but this is what I think has had an affect on myself. Sometimes it’s as easy as hell, without thinking or giving too much of notice to anything and you’ve got a good song written.
Cryptic Rock – Right, you just never know: inspiration can come from anywhere. Through the years, Shape of Despair has sustained a stable lineup of yourself, Natalie Koskinen, Tomi Ullgrén, Sami Uusitalo, and since 2011, Henri Koivula. What is the creative process like for the band? Does everyone bring something different to the table?
Jarno Salomaa – Nowadays it’s more like that. Mostly it’s me who’s making the songs, and Henri writing all the lyrics, and along with Natalie arrangements for the vocals. On Monotony Fields, Tomi also assisted on some of the songs. Before, all this was more on my shoulders; I think all the work since is divided more onto the whole band instead of one person. We have more depth to the songs and variety – even this word is quite interesting on our music.
Cryptic Rock – Shape of Despair’s music has always been about atmosphere. The music breathes and paints vivid imagery with open spaces. That all said, what does Doom Metal mean to you? Do you think it is something that can be defined?
Jarno Salomaa – For me, this music is a lifestyle; it’s like a parasite growing inside, something you can’t get rid of even though this is a conscious choice. So, for me this music is a personification as a definition. But what comes to Doom Metal, in general, there’s only a couple of bands I truly listen to, but more from different genres though. I admire music where you can hear something different and unique most of all.
Cryptic Rock – Exactly, you want to be able to find something unique in music, it makes it much more interesting to listen to. Shape of Despair’s albums often flow from one song to another seamlessly. Is it a challenge to create a cohesive piece like that?
Jarno Salomaa – It’s not thought as like that. We mostly try to pick the order out after having the songs recorded, but nothing specific in that.
Cryptic Rock – Interesting. Shape of Despair last full-length album was Monotony Fields in 2015. Is there some new music in the works?
Jarno Salomaa – Yes, we already have an album full of songs but just have to make some finishing touches before starting to look some studio out. I’m very enthusiastic about this album!
Cryptic Rock – That is great news and something to look out for. You actually made a rare appearance on North American soil back in May. What was that experience like, and can we expect more North American shows in the future?
Jarno Salomaa – Oh yes, Nate from Eternal Warfare invited us over there for a couple of shows and we had very good time there. It was our first time with Sod, and we really hope there will be an opportunity later on as well. Nothing planned though, but we’re open for suggestions.
Cryptic Rock – Well let us hope someone invites you back real soon! Last question. If you are a fan of Horror and Sci-Fi movies, what are some of your favorites and why?
Jarno Salomaa – Sure, I like to watch all kinds of stuff, but couldn’t label myself as a fan. What comes straight to my mind at first would be The Evil Dead (1981) and Alien (1979) from those genres; for me those are classics. There’s lots of good ones but mostly repeating themselves. Sometimes there’s good Horror movies where you can’t define the source but then when this happens, it’s all too lame or just pure shit.