Welcome to the Moonsorrow Interviews Compilation!
Here you will find more than one hundred Moonsorrow interviews, many of which have already disappeared from where they were originally posted. Check the Index and Contact pages above and the notes in the left column for more info.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Unfashionable Creatures / September 2008

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A couple of months back I made a very serious oath to a friend of mine. We were talking about interviewing bands, comparing experiences and being rather jaded about it all. This solemn oath of mine, however, broke the nonchalant mood of our chat and my friend was in fact a little bit taken aback by my sudden lack of cool detachment. We are supposed to be, erm, "music journalists", after all. For us, bands are nothing but subjects: some give interesting answers, some don't - some are nice, while others make Prince seem humble and rather likable in his modesty. We are serious journalists, remember. This has nothing to do with being a fan. Right?

Well, sometimes the act drops. Mine dropped quite spectacularly, and what happened was this: during this little conversation between two serious journalists, the subject of domestic bands came up. Considering the fact that both myself and the friend in question are Finnish ( you know: snow, beer, reindeers, sauna... - yes, sauna, do not let the Swedes confuse you with their fantasy of inventing it. It was us ), my friend did something perfectly natural.
He mentioned Moonsorrow.

I didn't stutter, I didn't blush - but I might have raised my voice a little too excitedly, as I declared: "I will never interview that band. Ever."
And why the hell not, you might ask. So did my friend. The answer is quite simple. Because I am such a bloody big fan, that's why. My friend shook his head in disbelief, as you are probably doing right now. But ask yourselves this: how can you interview someone on your knees?
And I don't mean a blowjob, you perverts. I mean the kind of respect that borders on worshipping. The kind of respect a pre-teen feels towards the bands on her bedroom wall. I'm 28 years old. It's embarrassing - but hell, I'm in love with Moonsorrow and I want to marry their music.

Perhaps an important aspect of my attitude stems from being a Finn abroad, who sometimes gives in to home sickness and national romanticism. Never mind the psychology, though - the point is, I overcame my fear of meeting my heroes and broke my promise at Bloodstock a couple of weeks back.
Guitarist Mitja Harvilahti spoke to me about Finland, pagans, Nazi allegations and - yes - the music of Moonsorrow. So let's be serious journalists and get to it already, shall we.

Following last years masterpiece of two 30 minute songs, "Chapter V:Ravaged", the band recently released a more "humble" work of art in the form of Tulimyrsky ( which translates as "firestorm" ), an EP including renditions of old demos, a Metallica cover and a couple of new tracks. Despite bearing the familiar Moonsorrow trademarks of cinematic quality and a flair for dramatics, the album is nevertheless much simpler and straight-down-the-line compared to its predecessor.

So, Mitja, did you guys feel pressure after "Ravaged", then?

If we had made another full length, then yes that would've been too much pressure. That album was so massive and multi-layered, and doing it all over again would have been too difficult. So we got excited about the idea to do an EP which has different kind of material, the kind to refresh ourselves with, in a way. So the most natural decision was to put out a package that we feel good about, that we find entertaining (...) So in a way, we did this for ourselves, simply because another full album would just have been too tricky, for both us and the fans as well. Because none of us wanted to hear another, too epic an album. To have made another "Ravaged" would not have served anybody.

Do you find the epicness of the music to be a challenge when performing live - do you find yourselves compromising a lot?

Not really. Well of course it can be tricky to play 30 minute songs live, which we did a lot around "Ravaged": But then again, there's so many different elements and parts in our material...you can always find the calmer bits in there which lets you follow the dramatic arch of the songs, upwards or downwards...so I guess at the end of the day that serves the performance, too. So it's not like some repetitive doom band which dwells on the same riff for half an hour, quite the opposite, the songs have so many dramatic turns. Which is not a problem when playing live, it's interesting. A challenge.

Have you ever considered just playing the whole of "Ravaged" one night, two massive songs in one set?

We thought about it. But the thing with us is that we don't rehearse a lot before recording albums. We work in our home studios and only rehearse so that by the time we enter the studio we keep it together and everyone knows what they're doing. Usually when we go out gigging we practice enough so that it all works, but we would need really a lot more time in order to do the whole of "Ravaged" live. Also, we felt a little bit like it would not work. The first song is too difficult. Although it is a solid piece of work, it's just that the execution of it felt too difficult (...) We felt that the audience would just suffer more from us actually playing it.

You might just be a bit too modest perhaps?

We are immodest.

Ok, perfectionists, then? You don't think you could pull it off...?

I believe we could, but we'd just need so much more time. We are pretty busy people in many other fields, just look at Henri (guitar, main composer of the songs), who works for Finntroll and who knows what other bands...We've always followed whatever comes naturally. It is incredibly hard for us to be pushed into certain timelines or norms. So the whole thing, what is it, an hour or 80 minutes, it would've been hard to manage it well enough. Because one must do things properly, not in some half-hearted attempt.

Ever thought about playing with a string orchestra?

Kind of, yes, but that's where the line is drawn. I like the fact that onstage Moonsorrow is a rock band, so it's not like a traditional so-called folk metal band with violins and accordions and such like, because I find that kind of stuff taking away the energy from the rock side of things. Even though we would have the means by which to do it. But, again, it should be done properly, so that there would be a string set and horns as well. But we've never felt the urge to...I mean, these folk music bands, we've wanted to stay away from that and just use a keyboard or guitar instead. You can easily play those parts with the guitar, and that way you also get to be that rocknrolling heavy band. Moonsorrow is a heavy band. And violins or flutes just do not fit into that "heavy" mould. Those are more for the folk metal bands.

This actually leads us to my next question: how do you feel about genre definitions? What I mean is that, for example, there are elements of black metal in Moonsorrow - but how do you perceive the relationship between the content and the form?

Yes, I understand exactly what you mean. This is the problem. Although we have elements of BM, folk, prog, heavy metal and so on, the only definition that sums us up is still "folk metal". You can't help it, the influence of folk music is so strong in there. So if you want to describe us to someone, the best thing to do is just call it folk metal.

But you are, in essence, a "pagan" band - so to come back to the issue of black metal...How do you perceive the contect of black metal and your own music...I'm going into a philosophical area here.

That's a good question and I've thought about this a lot. All of us know what BM sounds like. If you hear a band, you can instantly go "well that sounds like BM". We know what death metal sounds like. One can even say what folk metal sounds like. But no one can really describe "pagan metal" , can they. The content does not, in a way, fit with the context itself and the non-musical definition. It is easiest to define by means of the stronger recognisable elements, which are heavy music and traditional folk.
( pause )
I don't know whether I really answered your question.

Well what I meant was more the ideological side of things. As a band you have declared yourselves to be "anti-Christian". So let me put it this way: what does anti-Christianity mean to you personally and to Moonsorrow as a whole?

For me anti-Christianity means that a lot of evil things have been done in the name of Christianity. in past 1000 years or so, or as long as it has been a religion whose main thesis is, "go and convert the rest". Basically since it became the orthodox religion. Christians, and many other mainstream religions, have been responsible for forcing those with their own native faiths into a mould, threatening their lives and murdering them. And this is something I am not for. I want to remind people that in Finland, and in Scandinavia, there have existed cultures with their own unique identity and to destroy these is just utterly wrong.
I have nothing against someone who happens to be a Christian, if he or she believes in God, well let them, I don't have a bad word to say about that, that's their choice. But, I want to remind people that this is not the way things have always been. People are not born into a faith, they're not automatically born as Christians. Or any other religion, for that matter. It's always an outside factor which dictates these things. And the fact that you have crusades and you have people being killed, countries being invaded and people being converted in the name of one religion ( ... ), it's wrong, and it is something I want to fight against till the very end.
Moonsorrow is supposed to be a "pagan" band. We represent paganism in the ideological sense, but the world is still full of actual pagans, you can still find them in Siberia, Africa, South America...Basically anywhere where there are nature-based religions, who are still in that state where Finns were before the conversion. Nobody seems to remember these people. This is what's most unjust, in my opinion ( ... ).
Personally I am not a pagan as such, not in a religious sense. I want to remind people of what once was, but there are also proper pagans around the world...and to remember them, to protect them is hugely important. Cultural identity is one of those things that once you lose it, once it's destroyed, it can never be brought back. For example there's no point in pretending to be an ancient Finnish pagan, it just doesn't work.

Yes, well, to an extent the modern Finnish identity is based on lutherian Christianity...

Amongst other things, I won't deny that. And I don't have anything against that, either. The way it was brought to us was wrong, but it's pointless to blame history. It's the dumbest thing a person can do, to blame something which happened 800 years before they were born. It's just that we should remember that people are not told everything - there have been cultures that people don't even know about, they've been born into a country whose cultural heritage has been replaced by Christian traditions.
I myself am an atheist, I respect pagans and I do consider myself to be a pagan in the way Christians perceive it - that is, a "non-Christian", "faith-less" one who is doomed to hell. I am proud of the fact that I do not want to end up in the Christian idea of a heaven, or a hell. In that respect I am a pagan, just an atheist kind of pagan.

Let's talk a little more about identity. I think it's great that you sing in Finnish - what do language and lyrics mean to you in general?

Well that's precisely the very spirit of Moonsorrow. Our spiritual place, as a band, is undeniably in Finland. Even though it's not nationalistic as such; in a way it has nothing to do with Finland...But the spiritual home is still in Finland and in the Finnishness. It would be pretty damn stupid to sing in English, because if you want to be honest with yourself and to your own culture, then of course you have to sing in your own mother tongue. That way we can...I mean I think Finnish is a very poetic language, and we get considerably more out of this thing by singing in Finnish rather than in English.

Do you think you could get the same feelings across without any lyrics at all, purely on the basis of music itself?

Hmmm...maybe. Kind of, yeah. I do think that the kind of music we make is tightly connected to the country where we live. I don't mean in the political sense, but...well if you think about someone who does not understand a word of our lyrics, he couldn't care less what we sing about and all he can hear is some screeching, then it doesn't matter to him. But I do still believe that people perceive us as coming from Finland. They can hear a certain Finnishness in there. Compared to, say, the Swedes or something. So, yes, I do think we could even get away with not having any singing. Especially the more black metal-influenced singing, for sure. And anyway we do have a lot of completely instrumental bits in the music.

Do you read a lot of Finnish literature?

Not really. I'd say that the poetry that Ville ( Sorvali, vocals and bass ) comes up with, it kind of comes with the mother's milk ( ... ). It comes from the depths of his heart and the certain feelings and states of mind that he, as a Finnish man ( chuckles ), deals with: things like hangovers, hatred, even joy... It covers all emotional extremes.

Something ugly has started to rear its hypocritical little head during these politically turbulent times of anno domini 2008. Amidst international turmoil, war and ethnic cleansings, the little brother of social unrest demands attention and will stomp his foot to get some. The name of this cheeky little bugger is, of course, Political Correctness.
Germany, in particular, has proved to be rather unforgiving to a few bands recently. Self-acclaimed "ecofeminists" Wolves In The Throne Room made the mistake of talking candidly about their views on the history of paganism and found themselves being accused of glorifying Adolf Hitler.( simply for stating the brutal fact that the man happened to share their interest in ancient heathen mythologies - Hitler was also a vegetarian, does that make all vegetarians national socialists?... What a baffling dilemma ). During the aptly titled Paganfest tour ( with fellow heathens Tyr and Eluveitie ), Moonsorrow, too, got the bitter taste of paranoia and propaganda. Not for any "outrageous" or "dodgy" comments, though, but for something altogether more...well, abstract.

So what the hell happened in Germany? Do tell.

Well it was probably the most fucked up thing that has happened to me in the last 10 years. All my life I have been an antiracist, antifascist and
I've even been involved in projects that defend the rights of small peoples. And then I am branded as a racist. And it's all because of of one single guy. A German guy with a PhD in philosophy, who has founded a one man political organisation called BIFF. "The antifascist league of Berlin" or something like that - which does nothing but spread fascist propaganda ( chuckles ). And he's clearly not into heavy music. According to him, the Scandinavian S-rune that we have in our logo is an obvious sign of us being a Nazi band. This guy is so clever that he knows we are not, but he can refer to the runic symbol, because he wants more visibility in the whole of Europe for his ridiculous political agenda. So he picks us, blames us for being Nazis and makes up our lyrics, saying we have Nazi lyrics.
Not one of us is a Nazi, racist or a fascist and we have nothing to do with some old Nazi lullabies. He has come up with some words himself and claims they have been directly copied from our website. Now that is pretty fucking sad, shitty propaganda. But this thing spread to the whole of Germany, Austria and many other places in Europe, to people who hadn't heard of us before and who do not listen to heavy music. And these people read in their local paper that "a Nazi band is coming to play here". (...)
According to these people we use Nazi imagery with swasticas here and there...we do not have a single swastika anywhere, of course. We are not so stupid as to represent the swastika as a sun symbol, because people over there would not understand it. And, these claims...We tried to contact him, actually. I said "you're welcome to come to the gig, I can have a chat with you, come and see us play..." Of course he didn't show up because he knows he's a complete liar.

Did he reply?

Nope. Nothing, ever. We put a statement on YouTube where we, as honestly as possible, tried to explain what we are about. This guy knows we are not Nazis, but we had to make that statement for the people who think we are. And he commented on it, saying "well this sounds just like the counter-propaganda machinery of Goebbels." Even the background noise reminded the German bloke of the 40´s Germany. I don't know...Let's just say that one man managed to stir a lot of shit by the means of some internet messages, without having any grounds for them whatsoever.

Tell me more about the shit you had to deal with because of this.

The fact that the press articles were stating things like "a Nazi band is playing tonight." If one guy is part of an institution, I mean an organisation officially going by the name of an "institution" - and bear in mind, this is just one guy we're talking about -, he gets coverage in every newspaper and media outlet in Germany. So, naturally, a person reading this paper..."oh, Nazis." Nobody questions the printed word unless it's some tabloid paper. And that is such a shame, and it's very difficult to fight against something like that, apart from just by doing your best.
I hope it will not happen again, because I don't know where it would end up. In worst case scenario we could get banned from playing in Germany, we can't release albums because we have a runic symbol - an S which was designed about 1000 years before Hitler was born.
It's a very taboo symbol, which is why we couldn't sue this guy. That particular S shape is banned in Germany. This was the sole excuse with which he was able to pull this whole propaganda thing off: had we sued him, we would've ended up shooting ourselves in the foot because that symbol just happens to be forbidden, it's seen as a fascist symbol.

Hold on...so you could not sue this guy because this particular abstract shape happens to be a taboo in Germany...?

Yeah, it's forbidden over there. So the best thing to do was to make a statement of our own and leave it at that. And that's it, for now. Hopefully.
So, Peter Kratz, many greetings to you, you did well...

Have you had to deal with these kind of misunderstandings before, because of the national romanticism and mythology that Moonsorrow is largely based on?

Yes we have. With the right wing and the extreme right it happens pretty easily. We used to get messages from skinheads, and we made it very clear to them that we are not Nazis, we are not interested in your ideology, you just take advantage of other ideologies. This is what Hitler did - he took other people's symbols and turned them into his own. This is what fascists are still trying to do. And in Russia...well, it's interesting to play there, but I would like to know what percentage of the crowd is right wing. I also don't want to end up with such a reputation that we go there to play and end up being stabbed for something we are not. I hate the right wing and Nazis, and I see racism and fascism as the most idiotic phenomenon's that man has invented. They don't move things forward in any way.
But when you express stuff in your own language and in even with a slightly national romantic twinge, you get branded very easily. People have this reaction of "those guys must be on our side" and they try to get you to back up their viewpoints. I don't even consider myself to be much of a national romantic, or even patriotic. In a way I am but not in the most extreme sense. As if Finland would somehow be a better country or that Finns are a superior people...ha ha ha...definitely not.

But like you said before, Finland is the spiritual home.

Spiritual, yes. That's exactly what it is. We don't really draw borders in our songs, it's more about the spiritual home rather than the geographical one. We don't have anything against our neighbouring countries or anything like that. We don't deal with those kind of things - they don't even cross our minds.

After the interview I thanked, as I always do, the interviewee for his time and patience - but this time I must admit I meant it more so than usually. It's always uplifting to meet a person whose work you admire, and he/she turns out to be respectable not only as an artist, but as a human being, too. It is not often in life one can be proud of having broken yet another promise, but I left the press tent feeling quite happy that I had done just that.
What a stupid promise it had been anyway. What was I thinking, not wanting to speak to any of them? They're bloody Moonsorrow, after all.


Riita Itakyla

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