Heart of Steel: Interviews

The Crown: Interview With
Drummer Janne Saarenpää

Interview By Lord of the Wasteland
Promo pics courtesy of thecrownonline.com

The last time Metal Rules spoke with The Crown, the band was in rehearsals to begin recording their sixth album called POSSESSED 13. With original vocalist Johan Lindstrand back in the band, The Crown release POSSESSED 13 on October 23rd. I spoke with drummer Janne Saarenpää on the day of the album's release and addressed the return of Lindstrand, the rumored re-recording of the band's last album, CROWNED IN TERROR with Lindstrand on vocals and a few other things.

Metal Rules interviewed you back in April when the album was being recorded but we were hoping to get some thoughts from you now that the album is completed.

Janne SaarenpääSounds good!


It's only been 18 months since CROWNED IN TERROR was released. Why is POSSESSED 13 out so soon after?

Mainly because we had the whole "singer issue" sorted out, so we all got back together and had lots of time for the rehearsal instead of touring. Most of the songs were already written more or less.



How long did it actually take to record the album?

Four weeks of recording and one week of mixing.

That seems pretty quick!

Yeah. We worked hard in the rehearsal room because the budget is always limited so we were very prepared.



Do you play around with the songs in the studio at all or do you have them pretty much the way you want them beforehand?

We were ready to go before we got in the studio.



What is the significance of the number "13" in the album title?

It's based on the fact that, first of all, we are back together and this is the lineup that started the band 13 years ago. We missed out celebrating ten years together because we were too busy coming up with ideas but 13 years seemed to be a good opportunity now that Johan was back on the vocals. POSSESSED 13 is based on that we have been more or less possessed to keep this band alive and making this kind of music.



Can you explain the breakup of the album into 3 parts: "Initiation", "Exaltation" and "Annihilation"?

It's a part of the whole packaging thing, with the movie concept. Magnus (Olsfeldt, bass) also had this view of it that you could see the first 5 songs as a symbol of our first 5 years together before we had a record deal and the next 5 songs are symbolizing the 5 albums that were released before this album and the last 3 songs are about what's going on now. But it's mostly about a part of the cool packaging concept.

It's a great package. It looks really good!

Thanks! We worked really hard on it.

Who designed it?

It was an idea by Magnus at first. He started working with Locust Constructions (locustconstructions.com) who are friends of his. He wanted to make the idea look as good as possible before he presented it to us. He pretty much blew us all away because it looks very good. We have never been this happy with an album's cover work.


The pictures on the inside of the booklet look really good, too.

There were hours and hours of work put into it. We are 100% satisfied with the concept.


How did you end up using Snowy Shaw as the band's photographer? I mean he is the DRUMMER for King Diamond and Dream Evil?!

We were recording in Studio Fredman and the people there are very good friends with him. We showed the studio people what we were working on for a cover concept and we didn't know that Snowy Shaw was actually shooting pictures. We know that he is from Notre Dame so we thought that we would give him a call right away when we found out. He told us that he was the right guy if we want a horror theme or any pictures that match up with the rest of the album. It came out really good, so we're very happy.



You have a co-writer on the song "Deliverance" by the name of Andreas Bergh. Who is he?

Andreas was a singer from a band called Swordmaster. They quit playing and started playing in a different vein with the name of The Death Stars. Andreas was someone that Magnus got to know from singing pop songs. We were actually looking at him and asking him if he wanted to join the band and he was very interested but his band, The Death Stars, was starting to gain some attention so he didn't want to do anything half-hearted. He wanted to do it full out, so he said no thank you. He missed writing death metal lyrics so he asked if he could contribute and Magnus was jumping through the roof with excitement because he is always doing everything alone! It's hard to do lyrics for 10 or 11 songs on an album in a year so he was very happy to get some help.



Will there ever be a song written by yourself that will show up on an album by The Crown?

I think so. The door has always been open for the rest of the band. I do my drumming almost every day and especially now that I'm unemployed, I might also get some time to sit and play with a guitar. If I write one riff and it's good, I'll take it to rehearsal and it could end up in a song.



POSSESSED 13 seems a LOT heavier than CROWNED IN TERROR was. Was that intentional?

CROWNED IN TERROR was very much influenced by touring with bands like Morbid Angel, Krisiun, Cannibal Corpse and Nile…very fast bands. On this album, we got Johan back but we didn't do very much touring, so I guess we "found ourselves", so to speak. The only thing we planned for this album was to do more straightforward music and not as many advanced parts. We just wanted the songs to be to the point and not have things going on all the time. It came out pretty heavy because we were more relaxed this time.



Is the song "Kill 'Em All" a reference to old Metallica at all?

It's actually based on a dream that Magnus had. He was on tour with some band and a band member showed him this riff backstage. When Magnus woke up from the dream, he picked up his guitar and wrote it down.

(In spooky voice) Riffs from beyond…(Laughs)

(Laughs) Then he built a whole song around it and it was so obvious sounding to Metallica. After coming up with the lyrics, it was too hard to even try to hide it that we kept the working title of "Kill 'Em All" as a tribute to Metallica.



How about "Are You Morbid?" Is that also a tribute to Morbid Angel?

(Laughs) Actually no. The title is something else but we see "Dawn of Emptiness" as our tribute to Morbid Angel because they wrote that song…

"God of Emptiness"?

Right. "Are You Morbid?" is kind of funny in a way because the singer from Celtic Frost wrote a book called ARE YOU MORBID? So people have been asking a lot about that but it's actually just a coincidence.



At the beginning of the first track, "No Tomorrow", there's a bunch of feedback and weird sound effects. When I popped in the CD, I actually thought it was defective!

(Laughs) Well, the whole horror concept came out after the songs were written so there was no concept to the album but afterwards we wanted to add that as much as possible. We added sound effects to the instrumentals and here and there. I had also just seen the movie The Ring. I'm not a huge horror movie fan but that movie really influenced me so I was going through some old rehearsal tapes from 1990 and there was this door squeaking. I cut it out and made a loop around it and I thought it sounded weird. At the same time, it was pissing people off because they had to fast forward through it but it adds a certain atmosphere to the album because we want to build on the whole horror concept.



There are two instrumental tracks on the album, "Dream Bloody Hell" and "In Memoriam". Were they actually written as instrumentals or were they songs that the band just couldn't find the right lyrics to fit?

They were written as instrumentals. It was our guitarist, Marko, who came up with them and they sounded so good. We've always had this dream of having instrumentals, an intro and an outro, so it felt like a dream coming true to make a metal album with these ingredients.



A few of the songs that really stood out for me on my first listen to the promo were "Face of Destruction/Deep Hit of Death", "Morningstar Rising" and "Kill 'Em All". Do you have any favorites from the new album?

Well, my two favorites would be "Face of Destruction/Deep Hit of Death" and "Natashead Overdrive". "Natashead Overdrive" has that great party feeling to it when we're on tour playing live, having fun and meeting people. Then again, I do change favorites as the weeks go. We have never been this satisfied with an album of ours. That is of course a clichéd thing to say because all bands say that when they release a new album but we do feel that we can't top this one so we are actually biting our nails right now and wondering what we'll do on the next album. We won't even try to top this one.



Have you already written songs for the next album?

We had 2 songs that we started working on when we rehearsed for this album so we have those. Magnus and Marko are both very productive and I think Marcus and Johan both have some things also. Once we finish touring, then we'll worry about the next album.



How many songs from POSSESSED 13 will be played live on this tour? Do you have a setlist thought out yet?

The setlist for the Finland tour and the European tour in November will contain 8 songs from the new album and one of those will be played directly from the CD. It will be an instrumental so we can relax and have a breather for a minute.



Can you tell me which ones or would rather keep that a surprise?

I think "No Tomorrow", "Face of Destruction/Deep Hit of Death", "Deliverance", "Cold Is The Grave", "Bow To None", "Kill 'Em All", "Zombiefied!" and "Dawn of Emptiness".

Not "Natashead Overdrive"?

No! They haven't included it. It's my favorite song so we'll have to see if anyone else in the band wants it because if they do, then we'll include it.



I was reading the lyrics for "Natashead Overdrive" and I have to ask-what is a "natashead" and what is a "Dixie narco"?

A "Dixie narco"! Magnus actually saw it when we were on tour in the States in the middle of the night. Having the munchies, we found this vending machine and it was actually called "Dixie narco". I hope that helps you (laughs). I don't know what a "natashead" is. Magnus has a weird imagination. He probably doesn't know himself (laughs). He's a weirdo. We all are, I guess!



(Laughs) You chose to release POSSESSED 13 on vinyl as well as CD. Is this the first time that you've released an album in that format?

No, actually there is only one album that we have NOT released on vinyl and that is HELL IS HERE, the first album with Metal Blade Records. We have released all of them on vinyl. The first two albums on the first record label were actually released as picture discs, so it's almost becoming a tradition for us.



What is going to be included on the second CD in the "deluxe edition" of POSSESSED 13?

Our first two demos. Actually the only two demos we released. It's pretty interesting because we are celebrating our 13 years together and we want to give people a look back in time. Many of the songs on the demos ended up on the first album but many songs actually got cut up in pieces and put into future songs, so we have songs on this album that are from the demos or even before the demos. There are using some really old riffs that we have picked for this album so people may notice that.



Can you give me some examples of that?

Well, "Natashead Overdrive" has two riffs that were written during our very first year together. It was a song called "Suicide" and it never got recorded on the demo. I think "Dawn of Emptiness" has something in it from…oh wait…the middle part of "Face of Destruction/Deep Hit of Death" has a riff from the first song on the bonus CD. You're gonna find bits and pieces everywhere.



What made you decide to release the demos as a bonus CD and not as a separate CD by itself?

It was actually the idea of the record label. They're trying to make the CDs more appealing to the fans because they cost a lot of money and they are having problems with Internet piracy. Plus we wanted to release this stuff with this CD because we felt that we were going through a kind of closure. We wanted to empty all our vaults and start totally fresh on the next album.


Has the band had any problem with Internet piracy in the past?

Yeah. I've heard that the earliest the new album was available was the 5th of last month, so it's been out there for about 6 weeks already. It's cool as long as people don't mail us and tell us it sucks before it's even released.



I'm calling from Canada and we'd love to see some Canadian dates on this tour. Is there any talk of coming here?

If we get over to North America, I'm pretty sure Canada will be included because you do have the loudest crowds over there.



So there hasn't been a North American tour planned yet?

Well it's an economical thing. We need working visas and usually our record label helps us with that. They pay and then they deduct that from our future royalties but this is our last album for this company and contract. They wanted us to sign a new one but we wanted to wait and they feel that they don't want to with cooperation if we won't sign a deal, which I guess is pretty natural.



Do you think you will sign with Metal Blade again or are you looking around at other labels?

We're looking around and having a chance to breathe but it's been great working with Metal Blade so there is a very good chance that we will be continuing to work with them.


How did Century Media end up picking up the rights to reissue your first two albums, THE BURNING and ETERNAL DEATH, instead of Metal Blade?

Well, a small label called Black Sun Records in Gothenburg, Sweden originally released the first two albums. It was a really small label. I guess Century Media found out and bought them cheap. They released them at the same time CROWNED IN TERROR was released, I think.



Have you done a video yet from POSSESSED 13?

Yes we just finished it a couple of days ago. It's for "Face of Destruction/Deep Hit of Death". We hope it will be played on as many TV shows as possible but we will also put a link on our website so that people can download it. It came out really good so we want everyone to see it.



Is it a concept video or a band performance video?

It's a performance video but we wanted to put the horror movie touch to it. I think it worked pretty well. We didn't expect it come out this well, so we're very happy with it.



Who are your own musical influences?

Two people mainly influence my drumming: Pete Sandoval of Morbid Angel and Tommy Lee of Motley Crue. Becoming a mixture of those two would be like a dream come true for me because they both play so right and they don't cheat. Some people do cheat a lot these days with the digital era going on but these guys really know their shit. They work hard and they play really well. Music wise, right now I'm totally going crazy about Strapping Young Lad's latest album.

They're from the city that I live in…Vancouver!

(Laughs) Really? That's great!

They're an amazing live band, too. SYL is one of my favorite bands and I think Devin Townsend is an incredible musician.

I wanted to see them actually. We were playing in the same town as them in Europe in March of this year but they had to cancel, I don't know why. When we recorded this album, I was taking the train to the studio and each and every morning and each and every evening, I listened to the new Strapping Young Lad album. It just keeps getting better and better.



Do you listen to any other bands that are similar in style to The Crown, like The Haunted?

The Haunted…I don't know. It doesn't really do anything for me. We did one tour with them actually when they released their second album. I can't actually think of any other bands. Strapping Young Lad, I would say, but the singing voice is so different sound-wise. It would be a dream for me to start sounding like that.



How did you begin working with Axis Percussion?

It was a guy named Jim Mills who worked for Metal Blade Records until the release of CROWNED IN TERROR. There are lots of drummers and it's pretty hard to make a package look professional and send to the drum manufacturers. He did that for me as a favor, which was very nice of him. I get a nice discount from them but I haven't actually got to use it yet (laughs)! I bought my Axis pedals before that but I hope to get to use it soon.



Does the band have any plans to do a DVD in the near future?

We would love to but we have to see how things go with the record labels. If one label wants to sign us for one thing and it's a big DVD, that would be great to have a big budget where it would be recorded properly and sound good. Too many bands make videos and they look and sound crappy. If we do it, we want to do it as good as possible. I guess it takes a lot of preparation but if we do anything, the earliest would be the summer but we are very interested in doing it.



On the band's website, you are very open and upfront about what is happening with the record, the band, etc.. Why is that when so many other bands keep quiet about things until the last minute?

That's part of our behavior. We're pretty honest people. Very trustworthy. I guess that's why it's been working so well with Metal Blade. Michael Trengert at the European office is a very honest, straightforward guy also. I guess were too open for our own good. When we feel good, we want to share it with other people. I think it's part of our personality.



I think it cuts down on the rumors as well. By coming out and stating the facts and telling the truth about what's happening, you avoid these out-of-control rumors that begin and circulate on the Internet.

It's hard when people start to make up their own judgments and then other people are like, "Yeah that must be true". Then people are misinformed. It's really hard to sit there with your mouth shut if you know that there is an easy possibility to write an explanation so that people can stop speculating.



Can you address the rumor that the band is going to be re-recording the CROWNED IN TERROR album with Johan's vocals replacing those of Tomas Lindberg on the original?

(Laughs) We are actually working on that right now! We are in the studio laying down the vocal tracks with Johan and there will also be a new bass track. The bass track tuned out really bad and the whole mix suffered from it. It was an idea from the label because we needed some more money from them for the recording budget of POSSESSED 13. They said that if we would redo the CROWNED IN TERROR album with Johan on vocals, they would help us. We see it as an opportunity to make the album sound right but at the same time, we've heard people say that it's a rip-off. The thing is that it's a collector's item. We aren't forcing anyone to buy it. If you don't like it, please don't buy it (laughs)! We just loved the chance to make the mix sound better for this one. When we look back and listen to CROWNED IN TERROR, the mix didn't come out well, so this is a really good opportunity to make it sound right once and for all.



Will you be re-recording any guitar or drum parts at all or will it just be the bass and vocals?

No. We decided to draw a line because we only have two weeks in the studio including the mix. If we start touching one guitar take, we will soon be re-recording the whole album. Just the bass and the vocals this time.



What are you going to do with the vocal track on "Death Metal Holocaust" since it was a duet with Johan and Tomas?

That's actually a question mark for us. It would be a perfect chance for us to do another vocal battle but we can't come up with anyone that we're interested in and a person that would be interested in doing it with us. If we don't come up with anyone, we'll probably keep the Tomas track.



Is the band self-producing the re-recording session or have you hired someone else to do it?

We are actually taking the opportunity to try a new studio near Gothenburg with a guy who hasn't done any metal production before, so it's going to be very interesting to hear what kind of a sound he can come up with. He does everything from Swedish popular music to some heavy metal bands that do covers of pop songs in a heavy metal style. He has never done anything this hard, so it's going to be very interesting to hear how this works.



Why did Johan leave the band in the first place? It seemed like he left the band and just a couple of months later was back in again.

When we released DEATHRACE KING, we starting to work really well as both a live act as well as in the studio. Everything was going very smoothly but touring for DEATHRACE KING, we did almost 70 shows, which is a lot for a band like us. We didn't get paid for ANY of those shows and that's an economical disaster coming home after a tour. We have to pay our bills and his economy was really suffering from this and I guess he had some issues with his family that had to be sorted out, so there was really no option. He didn't want to leave the band but he felt that he had to. Nowadays, he tells us that he did regret it almost the same evening because this is what he loves to do. When he came back, his personal life was all sorted out so he's back now with a newborn force!



It's great to have Johan back. The new album sounds great!




Do you have any final thoughts or anything you would like to say to the Metal Rules readers?

Well I do hope that we get to tour in Canada because we love the Canadian audiences. I hope that people check out the new album and like it.


Well, POSSESSED 13 is in stores today, actually, so good luck with it and thanks for taking the time out of recording to speak with us, Janne.

Thank you. See you soon.