Sami Lopakka (ex-Sentenced, Northern Tribe)
Interview By EvilG
All Live Photos By Arto Lehtinen
Former Sentenced guitarist and current "Chief Of Creation & Inter-Tribal Relations" with his company Northern Tribe, Sami Lopakka, spoke to us about his recent activities. Also discussed was the final Sentenced show which was recently released on DVD, what his former Sentenced bandmates have been up to, and of course the details on his own business and musical pursuits.
Was everyone on the same page with the decision to put the band to rest? Did anyone not want it to end?
Yes, eventually everyone was on the same page. The decision was not something we rushed into, it took us almost 2 years to go through the whole process before recording the last album. Obviously it wasn’t an easy decision, but I’m still 100 % sure it was the right call. Continuing would have meant a lot of compromises, and Sentenced was always a band that hated any kind of compromises. Doing it the way we did – with a conceptual funeral album and a farewell tour – actually fits us better than anything else. This is the way it was supposed to be.
Did you all have the same reasons for deciding to go out on a high note? What were your reasons?
More or less, yes. We were never a band that enjoyed touring, and there was just going to be more and more of it. On the other hand a couple of us already had families and going away all the time was becoming harder and harder. There comes a time when you just have to decide what is more important, and family of course comes first when it comes to that. You can double-check that with the Corleone family… At the same time we also had the opportunity to make a difference with our ending, to do something that wasn’t really done before, and something that still fitted to everything we had done before. And writing our own swan song, that was probably the most challenging and interesting task we ever had. We were all thrilled about it. And still are.
Can you give give us a run down on what each of the Sentenced members are doing now? (Well this interview will let people know what you're up to, and most know Ville has a band called Poison Black).
Ville has Poisonblack, they released their second album “Lust Stained Despair” last year and toured for it quite a bit. Check it out if you yet haven’t, it’s a great band. Sami K. also has a band, in which he plays guitar, but for the moment they are more or less just jamming together. I haven’t heard any specific plans on recording or anything like that yet.
Miika and Vesa have been planning on putting together a new band for quite some time now. That will certainly be worth checking out when they get things going, I guarantee it. Vesa is also a professional photographer and puts a lot of his time to that these days, and recently he also opened a bar in Oulu with a couple of his friends. The bar is called PSK Kaupunni. The Sentenced coffin is in that bar, by the way…
Do you stay in contact, and hang out, with the former Sentenced dudes?
Sure, all the time. Including Taneli Jarva. There was never any bad blood between any of us, so naturally we are still in contact.
Do you expect to do a reunion show in say 5 to 10 years? Or maybe someday reunite to do a new album? Sentenced pioneered a lot of new ground for bands and for metal in Finland, I expect your legacy and cries for some kind of a reunion will be heard loudly and for a long time!
No, there won’t be anything like that. The band is buried and there will be no afterlife for Sentenced. The stupidest thing after an ending like that would be to reunite. Comebacks are for scumbags.
Would you once again like to start a band and take it to the levels Sentenced attained; tour the world, release albums, etc.? OR...do you view performing music more as a hobby now?
No, at least what comes touring the world, and by this I mean heavy 4-6 weeks tours 2-3 times per year. Doing shows here and there is good fun though. Releasing albums with another (new) band is in plans already, and taking everything up from zero is interesting and inspiring as hell. But yes, the plan is to keep the stuff more or less on the hobby-level. That doesn’t of course mean that I’d write new stuff half-heartedly or something. It’s always all or nothing with that.
What do you miss the most AND the least with regards to Sentenced? Do you miss the spotlight, touring, and the attention?
I don’t really miss any of those things. I was never that comfortable in the “spotlight” or in the midst of attention anyway. What I miss is writing music with those 4 other bastards. All of them are very talented and during the years we found a writing method that was working 100 %. I think we also managed to create a style of our own, and that still feels great. We had some glorious moments on tour as well, but they always came in the same bag with a huge chunk of shit, you know – the other stuff that’s related to touring… But anyway: the good memories remain and can never be taken away, whatever happens.
How long of a break was it after the last show before you played guitar again and what was that like?
It was more than a year. That was weird, I surprised even myself with that. I kept the guitar home under the bed, and just never felt an obsession to drag it out of there until recently. Then again, I’ve played drums once a week all the way through. Maybe that was enough to let the steam out. Until recently…
Are you now playing guitar daily or how often?
At the moment 3-4 times in a week. I’m writing new stuff which is always an on-going process and even forces me to grab the thing all the time.
I understand you've been doing a bit of jamming recently. Tell me about it and what the plans are.
Yeah, in the drums! I can’t really play, but I can play enough so to speak. We have this band called T. Mäkelä & Märäntynyt Hauki (which translates to T. Mäkelä & The Rotten Pike). The music is… well, some perverted rock with folk music influences, hard to describe in words really. The not-so-radio-friendly lyrics are in Finnish. I’m purely just the drummer in that band, I don’t write any of the music or the lyrics. It’s a great freedom to only go to the cellar once a week, beat the fucking things there for 90 minutes and then just fuck off. We have a lot of songs already and who knows, we might end up in the studio one of these days.
What happened to the Sentenced song "The Glow of the Thousands Suns" that was recorded for some rare 5-song promo did back in the day (the Taneli Jarva -era)? Why did it never get released officially, in one format or another?
There was another song as well from that session, work titled “Amok-Run”. The tape was recorded 1993 or 1994 I think. They weren’t released simply because it was just a demo. We still have the songs lying around though, and now when it’s all over we might as well throw them onto some release, for those who are interested to hear them. A lot of people certainly have been asking for them during the years.
At the end of your live performance on the DVD, Ville says something like 'and now we reach the hard part of the evening, the last song'. As a fan, that was quite an emotional moment to witness, even on DVD. I can only imagine what it was like for you. What kind of thoughts were in your mind at that time?
Yes, that was hard on stage. A variety of emotions went through us during the whole set, but especially with the last song. Personally I was in tears through the whole song, “End Of The Road”. Mostly out of being grateful for all those years and of course for the very last evening, being able to finish like that – in our hometown in front of an audience like that. I’ll never forget that. And if I do, I can now put on the DVD and go through our own funeral all over again…
Looking back over your time with Sentenced, do you hold any regrets or wish things might have gone down differently? Would you do it all over again?
I think regret is useless after you’ve learnt from your mistakes. Certainly there are things I’m not too proud of, but they are part of our history too and I accept it. We always did just what we felt like and I think that always pays off, even if you change your mind about some things later on. Work hard to please yourself, and in the long run you will please others as well. If I was 13 again, I’d probably do the whole thing again.
How long has the idea of Northern Tribe been kicking around and when did you officially open for business?
Northern Tribe was officially founded on December 1st 2006. The idea was around for about a year before we opened. We did a lot of background checking for it and very carefully studied everything related to it. Personally it was a surprise how much stuff you need to take care of before you can open anything. I know so many… well, morons, who have their companies up, and I wonder if they went through the same process or just ignored it. With Northern Tribe we want to run everything as it’s supposed to be run, and avoid unpleasant surprises what-so-ever. The company is something we are prepared to do for the rest of our lives.
Are you the owner, or is it a equal partnership?
There are three of us owners and we own Northern Tribe equally.
Introduce us to the 'kreators' behind this new venture!
I’m caught in the middle of 2 Mertanen brothers here. The infamous Mertanen brothers… They are both lifetime metal-heads and know exactly what they’re doing. Miku, in charge of sales, is known also from Sacred Crucifix, one of Finland’s first death metal bands. He also used to be the merchandise guy for Sentenced when we toured, and you can actually see him on the “Buried Alive” DVD extras as well. His brother Petri is our www-designer and also finalizes all art before it is sent to the print house.
How did you arrive at the name Northern Tribe?
Well, the first part is naturally because of our location – just below the Arctic Circle. I always thought that if you can’t hide something, it’s better to emphasize it. We are probably the northernmost merchandising company in the world, hah. When I started to design our logo I took a dive into Northern and especially Scandinavian history - the runes, the tribes, the way of life back then, and the name Northern Tribe just felt right. As we are here mostly to serve the needs of different musical subcultures, the word Tribe pulls it all together pretty well. Subcultures are like tribes, these days a tribe just can be spread to all over the world.
Who does your clothing designs and how involved are you with the process?
All three main fellows are involved in it, but I am the one who is most responsible of them in the end. One of my areas in the company is to come up with ideas for new full series. I also design most of the logos and labels for the stuff. On photo imagery we all work together.
- Samples of Northern Tribe clothing -
Is Northern Tribe your 'job' now or are you doing anything else?
Yes, it’s my job, although it doesn’t really feel like a job. We created a meaning for our own existence, hah… It’s always great when you manage to build up something from zero. To come up with a new idea, work on it, and then see it have a life of its own.
What has the transition been like from being in a full time band to returning to somewhat of a normal life and starting a business?
It’s been surprisingly smooth. I had time to prepare for it, knowing well beforehand that the path of Sentenced would lead to the cemetery. Thankfully it didn’t mean that I’d have to stop being involved with music all together. I couldn’t throw it away completely even if I wanted to, and never even tried that. The music part of my life has now just come down to something “normal”, it doesn’t take all of my time anymore. Of course it was a big change, but not too big.
If you don't mind me asking - Has Sentenced left you financially independent?
No, not completely.
What is the deal with the Northern Tribe picture gallery called "Metallion Honorary Tribe Members". Where did the idea for that come from and I assume membership is by invite only?
That is where we greet our allies in the genre. Mostly our good friends from the past years. The whole gallery is more just good fun than something commercial. “The Tribe takes care of its own.” The membership is by invite only, yes, but the criteria to be inducted is not very strict or anything too official, hah.
Do you think there´s still space in the market left for this type of business and what would you say is your masterplan that will make all your efforts worthwhile in order to stand up from the masses of the same type of companies?
Yes, obviously we think there’s space for us as we’re going for it. Our plan is to make a difference with general, complete series and stuff you cannot find anywhere else. What you see in our catalogue at the moment is just the very beginning. We started with shirts and hoodies mainly for creating the basis, and also to show bands what type of shirts and what quality of prints they can have done by the Tribe. We already have added the pants to the Metallion Hardwear series now, and for example jackets will follow later on. Two new series with different kind of stuff will be introduced still this year. In a few years we plan to have 6-8 complete series, each of them directed to quite specific subcultures. We’ll keep the stuff mostly rock/metal-related, but there will be a series for example for bikers in the coming years.
I heard talk of a new clothing line + gallery during this spring called “Sinister...” something (cannot remember the name any longer). This will include some famous faces from more extreme types of Black/Death Metal bands as far as I have understood. What’s the story behind that and when will something be online for that theme?
You must mean the Citizen Of Sodom line, hah. That series will include famous Hell and apocalypse art printed in the clothing. I think we will introduce it in the autumn, we’re currently working on the designs. And yes, an honorary gallery will be put up for that one as well. They won’t necessarily all be extreme black/death metallists, we see the citizenship of Sodom more as a state of mind than a subgenre of metal, hah.
How crucial is it for you to go to all these summer festivals that will be held in Finland, and get stuff sold there?
The summer and its festivals are our busiest time of the year, as there were able to reach a lot of people at one time. So obviously they are important for us, we’ll do probably 9-10 of them in the summer. I have to admit I’m not a big fan of festivals, and after Sentenced was buried I was sort of relieved for a while that I’d never have to go to a festival again. But here I am, a year and a half later, and I’m going to fucking all of them. And the worst part is that this time I’m going there sober, hah. But as I described before I’m very committed to our thing and I’ll do whatever it takes for the Tribe.
Where is the biggest market for this so far ? Person to person or online orders and are most customers from Europe or from all over the world?
We have 3 main channels to get the stuff going: carefully selected retailers, festivals and of course Northern Tribe Home Camp at www.northern-tribe.com. The festivals are the main person to person events for us, and they are still to come. The retailer part and the Home Camp are running nicely already. So far the stuff has mainly been mailed to Europe, but we recently got our first overseas orders as well.
What other products will we see in the coming months from Northern Tribe?
For the summer the Metallion Hardwear series will be updated with new stuff, and we also have a new complete line of stuff coming up. It’s called Legion Of Doom and it’s going to include mostly Army type of pants, jackets, shirts, bags and so on. None of that L.O.D. stuff will be black; it’s all nightcamo, woodland and olive... Perfect stuff to go on a rampage on the festival camping sites!
Are there any other areas that you are planning to branch out into?
We always have our eyes open for fresh ideas. The merchandise service for bands, clubs, rock/metal-related media etc. is also growing all the time. In starting up with new things it always take its time, but we have the patience for that. We’re here for good.
Are there any other things going on with you musically or related to Northern Tribe that you'd like to let people know about?
Well, actually there is one thing. We put together a doom band in the winter with producer Hiili Hiilesmaa and a couple of other friends. The band is called KYPCK. That’s “Kursk” but with Cyrillic alphabet: the lyrics will be in Russian! “Fast Russian Doom Metal From Finland”, that’s our category… Our vocalist Erkki Seppänen speaks fluent Russian and has for example worked in the embassy in Moscow. We’ll record our debut in the summer. I can already make a promise that the band and the album will be “something else”.