November 5, 2013 Interview – Mathias Nygård of Turisas
Finland has been a hot spot for unique sounding metal bands for a long time now. From underground black metal to symphonic metal and death metal. In an ever evolving genre, a new form of metal was born within the past decade known and folk metal. Starting as a primarily small underground scene, it has grown into a widely known and recognized form of metal music. Hämeenlinna, Finland band Turisas is one such band which is responsible for breaking down walls and starting a revolution within the scene. Never complacent in their sound Turisas has progressed with each release since their debut Battle Metal (2004). Unwilling to comprise their artist visions for the sake of comfort Turisas test new waters with their newest album Turisas2013 . Recently we sat down with vocalist Mathias Nygård for a personal look at the beginnings of the band, their quest to evolve musically, and much more.
Crypticrock.com – Turisas was formed in 1997. Then you first released Battle Metal back in 2004. Over the years the band has built a very strong international following could you have imagined nearly a decade after the release of Battle Metal the band would be where it is in 2013?
Mathias Nygård – No I don’t think anyone could. The most interesting thing to see was when the debut came out, the type of music that we were doing few other bands were doing. Especially in Finland there was a scene everyone was working on their own. It was very underground. Ensiferum and us used to play the same clubs. It was super tiny and so marginal that no one ever thought that type of music could make it as far as it has or even half way to that. Now we find ourselves playing big festivals across the world. The tours are pretty big now a days as well. Proper big venues on all continents. It’s been pretty amazing how something like the Folk Metal scene has grown from nothing to as big as it is in about 10 years. It’s pretty great to be a part of that and a player in the story of that scene.
Crypticrock.com – It really has grown in the past 10 years. The band has evolved over the years but the same basic theme has remained. What inspired the band to incorporate folk, metal, symphonic elements, and Finnish folklore together?
Mathias Nygård – I think when we started out there were a few sort of pioneering bands that were pretty small. It’s kind of funny now, but back then we felt like we were coming from more of a black metal background. It was the later half of the 90’s when the second wave of black metal got really big and a lot of attention as well. We kind of felt ourselves coming from that scene even if now a days we are pretty far apart. The thing was there wasn’t really anything like a folk metal scene. The early influence we got were from bands like Amorphis which had sort of blended Finnish folklore and death metal in the early 90’s. That band was a huge influence to us. It’s been a big influence to Finnish bands that got involved in the folk metal scene. I guess it’s all those pioneering bands to thank that we got so excited about it that we wanted to make something similar even if we had a totally different background. Our pool of influences were otherwise very different than Amorphis had. We just started doing our own thing with a handful of other bands. That is pretty much something called the folk metal scene got started. Us and 5 or 6 other bands kind of made it from scratch. It grew around us, it wasn’t any kind of conscious decision of lets go into that scene. The audience for that kind of music grew from zero to where it is now in this decade. That’s been pretty amazing to follow.
Crypticrock.com – Yourself and Jussi have been working together since the beginning and are the only 2 original members of the band. The line-up has had a few changes over the years. Was it difficult for the band to weather the changes in the line-up?
Mathias Nygård – Yes when you change the line-up the vibe always changes. It also comes with a lot of extra headache and work of finding the new members to learn how we roll, learn the new songs again, and how we arrange stuff. Of course it would have been great to been one of those bands that kept the same line-up since the very beginning. That was never the case for us. Every album we have released there has been some change in the line-up. In some way I guess we’ve even grown used to it. Most of all I guess we’ve learned to accept it that this really isn’t the band where we stick together since the very beginning. Jussi and I are the ones who formed the band, we are still in the band, and we have that anchor to the very beginning of the band. If we were to disappear, it would lose the roots of the band, and then it would be pretty impossible to see the band continue. As long as we are around it’s part of how things go I guess, that we have these line-up changes. There has never really been any sort of fights or anything like that. It’s just been sort of life happening and people getting different motivations and feelings they want to do different things in their life. Jussi and I still, after 10 years, enjoy the touring and studio work and everything. We can’t really think of quitting right now.
Crypticrock.com – Yourselves are the focal point of the band and as long as you are part of the band it will be strong. The newest record Turisas2013 was released in August here in America. What was the writing and recording process like for this new record?
Mathias Nygård – It was pretty different than what we have done in the past. The last two albums were historical concept albums that had this sort of fictional story line that runs through the album from start to finish. When we started working on an album, for me it was research and looking into developing a storyline. Then it sort of developed into a track list and it’s been almost like writing a soundtrack to a story. It’s been a super inspirational help. I think by the time we wrapped up Stand Up And Fight (2011) a few years back we realized we worked this way and we sort of did this concept approach for 6 years including writing and recording two albums. It felt like it was definitely time for something different, closing that chapter, and moving on. With this album that’s exactly what we did and we wanted to kind of change the sound of the band a bit. Taking the production approach to it, we have never done that before, we experimented more. Just to have that sort of blank canvas and start writing music and see what comes out of it before planning too much ahead. That is how we got started this time.
Crypticrock.com – The record sounds great and seems to be some of the band’s most complete work. The songs appear to be more straight forward in their approach. Are you satisfied with the album and the direction?
Mathias Nygård – Yes absolutely. It is everything we were looking for. Our previous album was very heavily orchestrated. That was part of that sound and was even sort of influenced by this light heartedness of musicals like Broadway or West End in London. It had that sort of feel to it. With this album we wanted to kind of tone down that sort of approach to the band. Things like the orchestra was taking up so much space. It was more of the band itself. It was not like we completely dumped this style or anything we just wanted to see if maybe we could find some more interesting ways of incorporating an orchestra in rock music other than what seems to be the norm right now. We wanted to avoid that huge cinematic trailer sound in the orchestra, not go for that, but try to maybe go a bit dryer. We wanted to try and get more of the individual instruments in the orchestra to stand out. The record has horns more like Beatles albums, or some 70’s funk or Motown (laughs). We attached a sort of dry studio sound to them that is very different than that massive cinema reverb. That was kind of what we wanted to experiment with. The orchestra is still present in about half of the songs; we have a string section, a brass section, trumpets and all sorts of stuff going on. It was stepping back a bit and it’s not the lead in the way as Stand Up and Fight anymore, it’s accompanying the band now. We felt there would be no point to go for a bigger and bigger sound and to focus on a different side of the band with a different approach. It started with everything from the song writing to how we approached the production and how we recorded it. Instead of using a studio, we rented a big house that we lived in and recorded. We did a lot of analog stuff and mixed in London with Jaime Gomez Arellano who is a producer who has a lot of vintage gear. We mastered on old school tape. All that stuff that we wanted to make this album sound organic and more like a live human band playing it rather than a sort of piece of laboratory work where everything is sort of over polished and all sense of danger has kind of disappeared. I guess that was kind of the risk where the direction we had was going and kind of take a curve out of that and see what would happen.
Crypticrock.com – That is a risk and a great thing that you stepped back to make the music more organic. Did you at all feel as if you were going to upset your fan base by doing this or was it just something you felt needed to be done.
Mathias Nygård – Of course anytime you change, even subtle changes, it is a risk. I think the key to our success in the past was we just did our own thing. If we started this band with some sort of meeting where we tried to come up with what would work best for the current fan base than we could never had done an album like Battle Metal (2004) or come up with an idea with all the face paint, that would have been totally absurd. It’s all result from doing things our own way and what is interesting to ourselves. I think that is a model we’ve tried to stay true to album by album. I think on every album we have done the same thing. Even after the debut; our second album came out and balances shifted, the band was more mature, but on the same front there were people that swear they liked the first album much better. That’s fine and completely ok, but I think it’s part of this band’s style. In some way it’s sort of all a necessary thing we need to keep moving and exploring new territories to keep things interesting. I don’t see us as a band that kind of settle and there are a lot of bands that do that and that’s fine too. We are not a band that can after 3 or 4 albums settle in and say we’ve been doing this for a while now, we’ve achieved a stable fan base, we are doing good shows and tours so let’s try and not upset anyone and keep things the way they are. That is exactly the same as getting any day job and working for money basically. It’s definitely a conscious risk we are aware of. Everything from the album title, artwork, sound, the songs, was completely knowing it would upset some fans. It’s not that we are looking to find a new fan base, but I think it would get boring for us to restrict ourselves to not have the balls to take a new artistic chance. I think to be truly creative and come up with something you have to take risks. Sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you don’t realize until later on how it worked out. It’s exciting. I think that is what keeps us going; to put us out of that comfort zone, to not know where things are going, and we are fine with that.
Crypticrock.com – In the end you have to follow your artistic vision and the rest will fall into place. Metal as a music form has become very fragmented over the years. There are so many forms of heavy metal now a days whether it be black metal, death metal, gothic metal, doom metal, or straight ahead heavy metal. What is your opinion on the state of heavy metal music in 2013?
Mathias Nygård – That is a good question, personally I think there are so many different approaches to heavy metal. I think personally for me it’s a music I enjoy and grew up with, but I am not living and breathing the heavy metal. For me it’s a form of art and music among others. I listen to all sorts of music and enjoy all sorts of music, metal is one of them. I think it’s different in Finland because metal music is very mainstream. Our stuff gets played on the radio and it’s just very common to go see Slayer and see Lana Del Ray the next weekend, it’s no big deal. In some countries it’s much more kind of one thing or another and you don’t mix as much. For heavy metal I think the problem in some ways it leads itself as a rebellious thing and controversial. Many like to think of it as going against the grain and not really care about what others think. It gets very conservative in the end and I think sometimes metal fans can be very conservative. It would be nice to see metal be a bit more open minded at times. There are so many different styles of metal but still in some ways it feels like it would be interesting if metal as music would be a little more daring and experimental and live up to that controversial outsider feel and being daring to walk your own path of individualism that people that enjoy heavy metal would like to think of themselves. I still think there are a lot of great bands that are crossing borders and pushing limits more. A lot of heavy metal bands are pretty old, of course there is a newer generation coming in but that is because of it’s so fragmented that it doesn’t really cross over with the younger audience. There are a lot of bands that are pretty old, it would be nice to see some of the younger bands start to take over. We’ll see what happens.
Crypticrock.com – I completely understand what you are saying. It’s very important to keep an open mind with music. I’d like to know what some of your musical influences are?
Mathias Nygård – I think my background is definitely in more hard rock and metal. Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, and that kind of thing. Years later I got into more black metal and that kind of thing. I think for a very long time it’s so rare something pops out of the metal scene where it’s unique, cool, bold, and fresh. That’s why it’s not so often I listen to metal. I am not actively searching either, but I don’t come across that feeling so often that I’d hope to. When it comes to influences it’s all over the place. On the new album you hear a definite Queen influence, more a punk rock influence than our previous records. I like to also listen to ethnic cross over music. Even on some of our albums we flirt with more eastern sounds. That is also something I hoped more from folk metal, for it to genuinely explore more territories of what can be combined with tradition and modern music. Not settle for the most obvious sudo-celtic folk lick with a bagpipe and put distorted guitars on top of that. To explore more into folk and traditional music and beyond. I think we have that kind of eastern sound on a couple songs. Now a days I get more influenced by surreal art and creepy stuff. When we travel a lot I like to go to contemporary art museums. I like installations and all sorts of new art where you do not necessarily need to understand anything but just sort of enjoy the craziness of things.
Crypticrock.com – It’s great to take influence from all forms of art. My last question for you is regarding films. Crypticrock.com is a rock/metal and horror news site so we like to focus on all genres. Are you a fan of horror films and if so what are some of your favorite horror films?
Mathias Nygård – I don’t watch horror films much. I never really got into the genre at all of films. I do like more independent stuff than Hollywood blockbuster films. I love some of the old classics like The Omen and The Exorcist. I know when we are on tour we end up watching a movie someone else put on. I think I saw half of some of the Saw movies. They are the kind of movies I watch a bit, but it’s not the kind of stuff that I’d put on if I’d be choosing the movie.
Crypticrock.com – I agree with you and prefer the classic horror films. A good story, a good atmosphere, those are things that build the terror that a horror movie is suppose to be.
Mathias Nygård –The whole scene has completely kind of passed me. I like the kind of stuff that is so bad that it’s great, especially films made in the 70’s that turn into those B classics. Those can be pretty entertaining at times.