INTERVIEW WITH JAN “ÖRKKI” YRLUND
Interview by Arto Lehtinen
The name of this artist may not ring any bells to most readers. Instead, his artworks are more than well-known as several bands such as Battle Beast, Korpiklaani, Tyr, and even Manowar (among others) have used his art on covers of albums and dvds and websites. Besides his art, he has been involved in several bands during the past 3o years, including Finnish speed metal squad Prestige, the Swiss gothic Lacrimosa, the Belgian black metallers Ancient, Rites and so on. Jan Örkki Yrlund enlightens us on how he became an artist tells more about the years spent in those bands.
Good day Sir, how’s it going there in the land of Darkgrove ?
All going well – thanks for asking! Can’t say it’s boring at least, some days are pretty hectic and some multitasking skills are needed. But that’s how I like it actually to be honest. When working I like to keep myself busy and when not, then I like to relax and do absolutely nothing. But indeed can’ t complain, lot of projects going on over here …
BECOMING AN ARTIST
I don’ t know from where you start to count actually, but I was a huge comic fan already as a kid and pretty early I started drawing comics for myself. I know that the first “published” picture was when I was seven or eight and one of my drawings was published as a postcard in some drawing competition. I still have that postcard. But more seriously, I guess I was twelve or so when I started to draw comics more and more on a regular basis. Having a vivid imagination helped no doubt. At school I had a good friend who was also into comics and we started to draw together. And it didn’t take long before we decided to “publish” our comics by creating our own comic magazine for them. It would have short stories mainly, of a few pages. The mag was called “Tsürps” and the first issues were just xeroxed copies and sold or given to friends at school. After ten issues or so we were already more serious and got the mags printed at the offset printer, got advertisers and sold the mags in 2nd hand bookstores and alternative shops. And the team had grown into five different artists. When we both got more into bands, the drawing got less as other things became more important. Guitars, girls and booze I guess. But our co-operation continued. The friend was called Niko and he was the guitarist / vocalist of the Tampere based thrashers Dethrone. The first album-cover of my band Prestige was actually an example of such co-operation. It was sketched by Niko, drawn and inked by me and air-brushed by our label’s graphic guy Kari. That was the first published album cover, drawn in 1988.
Which artists have influenced you to become artist ?
At those days I liked comic artists like Mézières, Moebius, Bilal, Milo Manara etc. I was really into science fiction, horror and fantasy comics. Back then I didn’t care too much of the fine art actually. Neither did I care about the national comic associations. We wanted to do it our way. I did visit the comic fairs every time I had a change though. I was a bit of a fanboy of Moebius especially. So you cannot imagine how happy I was when I got his autograph on one of his albums at the comic fair in Helsinki.
At what point in your career and life did you decide album art is what you wanted to do ?
It started together with playing in bands I guess. The bands I played in needed logos, demo-covers etc so I started drawing them. We did it all by ourselves or with help of our friends. Perhaps there was some young rebellion involved as well. I was at the art-oriented senior high school (taidelukio), so we had some fancy equipment there for creating art, like silkscreen printing room and equipment. So the first Prestige and Dethrone band shirts were actually handmade by me at our school, one by one. Ending up doing music related art was kind of co-incidence in that way, but a lot of fun. Later on other bands started asking for covers too …
When did you realize and decide that you could make a decent living off with your art ?
By the end of the 90’s I was doing covers already more or less regularly for labels and bands. I did play a lot live so the main income was in the gigs, but the art was also a part of the income. I got my Masters degree from the University of Amsterdam in 1998, but I never really got too much in the Academic life as a carrier. I did wrote some essays and helped with some exhibitions, but more I wanted to create art with my own hands. Not that I didn’t find Art History interesting and important, quite the opposite actually. One day I would really much like to work on that field more too. Let’s just say that the opportunity to work with bands just represented itself so I continued with that. I think around 2003 I was mainly doing art already full-time as a free lancer and in 2007 I started my company Darkgrove. Since then I only do this …
When drawing the art for an album cover of some band, how do you usually start working on it ?
Well first of all we decide together what to do as that is essential and saves time. Then I either make a mock-up or start on it directly. Often the first draft is already the final cover. I hardly ever do any sketches.
Do you receive some pieces of information on how they are supposed to look like and what a band is willing to have on the cover ?
That depends a lot. Sometimes yes, sometimes then again I figure it all out on my own. There are some bands who send in detailed drawings how they want it to be and then again bands who just say “make something cool”. Let’s say, most often I have completely free hands on the style, colors etc, but often they have at least the main theme and what it is about. It’s only very seldom that we need to alter my first version. Usually it’s about the logo placement, general colors etc. I often make a few color versions to choose from.
Almost everything is done these days with the help of the computer. That said, I do use my Wacom drawing tablet as my main tool, so it is hand drawn and painted, but with these handy tools. Sometimes the artist wants a digital photo-manipulation, so I’m completely ok with those too, but I’m not too much of a fan of multilayered digital abstract images. I like the cover to have a story and something to tell. I do quite a bit of 3d scenes and renders too, so that is obviously all digital. I often find myself these days doing “sketches” in 3D environment instead of paper. It just pretty handy and you can easily turn things around, look for different angles, adjust the lightning etc. If needed I still do have my oils and brushes, but hardly ever find time to paint on a canvas. The downside of this line of work is that you basically don’ t paint or draw anything for the fun of it. I don’ t have any stock or ready made pictures. If there is an unused picture, pretty soon that ends up somewhere.
You have a huge amount of bands on your roster, but one of them pop up quite easily – How did you start working with Manowar ?
True, as I only do this for years there have been a lot of bands through the years. I came in contact with Manowar when I was living in Amsterdam. Their Dutch Fan Club representative had found me online and asked if I would be interested in making a new website for Magic Circle Music. I did that and after that they asked me to do some layouts and covers for other artists on the labels roster. At a certain point I also made a new website for Manowar. I think this all was in 2004 or so. After that I became a permanent member of the team and have been working with them ever since. The nicest assignment was to do the cover art for the re-issue of Battle Hymns, as that is an album that certainly brings back memories. It’s a great album, a classic and the re-issue is certainly way cool too. And it was cool to get into the Ken Kelly world a little bit too, he’s one of my all time favorites as an album artist. Last thing I did for them were the Final Battle tourposter and merch layouts. I do have a very close relationship with the team and they’ve been very fair to me …
In general, how do bands usually approach you, asking you to do art for them ?!
Through my website usually. They send in requests and I try to answer their needs. I do work with several labels on a monthly basis too, so the labels forward their their artists to me sometimes too. And of course the good old jungle drum works too. I don’ t need to advertise myself or my company anywhere. I never have paid a cent for any advertisement. And I have my hands pretty full. By the way, unlike many artists, I don’t work under my own name but under the company Darkgrove. This is because I find that it’s not important who did the artwork, but the release itself. I’m there for the artist, not the other way around and I find self-promoting very unpleasant. I actually hate that. Also, that has kinda lost it’s essence as you have so many “art of this and this guy” sites around. Maybe a typical Finnish quality in a way, we don’ t make too much fuzz about ourselves. I let the art do the talking.
Yeah, I do actually a bit of everything that is creative and has to do with graphics. I make logos, merchandise designs and stage designs. I also make websites and online promotional stuff like banners and flyers. Actually anything in print basically. Also sometimes I make screen content for stage etc. The biggest assignment in 2017 was the screen stuff for Raskasta Joulua arena tour for example, which was huge. I even did screen content for the Eurovision song Festival in Helsinki. These are things that hardly get any credit, but are really fun jobs to do. And yeah not to forget I make also animations, 3D renderings and video stuff like lyric videos. It was a great honor to make one for Testament for ex, one of my favorite bands! The last years I’ve been quite much into photography and I try to get better in that. I shoot gigs on a regularly basis as I find that very relaxing. That is more of a hobby though, but I have also done some photoshoots for bands in location as for Metalite in Stockholm and for Trail Of Tears in Norway. These were obviously then used in their releases. So my work is not always just sitting behind the computer luckily 🙂
PRESTIGE – ATTACK AGAINST GNOMES – NOT TROLLS
Besides being an artist, you have played in several bands. Back in the day you used to be in a speed/thrash combo Prestige apparently being the part of the whole speed/thrash movement was an exciting time for a young heavy metal banger, could you recall how you got into the thrash thing and what made you play in Prestige ?
I was into speed metal from the moment I heard Metal Militia on the radio. It was love at the first sight and there was no return. Before that there were obviously heavy metal bands I liked a lot, but this one blew my mind. I had played with friends in bands already a few years and after my band Claymore kinda fell apart, Ari (the other guitar player of Prestige) asked me to come jamming with his band. He was in the same school as I was. They had a rehearsal room in a bomb shelter and and some tunes ready and they liked speed metal so there we go. We started rehearsing like there’s no tomorrow, wrote new tunes, jammed and partied and took the monicker Prestige as a name for the band. In less than 4 months we already had played our first gig and were recording our demo in a studio and in 8 months from the start we had a record deal in our pocket. Everything went down very fast.
Prestige released three albums in a row, how do you look back those three albums after 30 years later ?
It was a very hectic period in many ways. Of course we were young kids, just coming out of our teenager years so everything was new and fun. And things weren’t too serious at all most of the time. Of course by getting the record deal the things got more professional, there was a famous producer involved and all, real booking agency and more and more shows. I remember we were doing a lot all the time. Pretty soon we played in other countries too. And yes, a demo, three albums, single, EP etc all done in 4 years. Lot of stuff happened along the road. I look back to those days with pride and with a smile. We were doing our thing I guess and it was a lot of fun, at least so I like to remember those days. I met a tons of cool people too, many of whom still are very good friends with me today. The albums themselves are a bit funny sometimes when listening to them these days, but that is what they were so you place them in their time. At it’s best it was cool and fast thrash and it sure was fun to play, still is actually. Sometimes I think what we could have done music wise if we would have just continued as in the best days we played very well together.
Are there some shows that you will always remember for some reason or the other? Could you share some memories from those days when you toured with Darkthrone, Invocator and played with Finnish thrash/speed bands ?
For some reason the earliest shows that we organized ourselves are the ones I remember the best. Renting some venue and fixing everything yourself. Usually with locals bands like Dethrone. The official clubs didn’t book any speed metal so you ended up renting the most unlikely venues yourself or played in the youth clubs and even at schools. There are many good memories. Of course one gig always stays in my memory and that was supporting Nuclear Assault in the legendary Lepakko venue in Helsinki. That was one of the coolest gigs ever. And funny enough I was touring later with Dan Lilker’s Brutal Truth and he remembered that gig and us very well. And I remember our last gig in 1992 at the Ruisrock festival with the headliner Nirvana very well. We did not know that this would be our last one, so in a way this one has a bit special feeling in my mind.
At a certain point we had played a bit everywhere you could with that kinda music in our home country so we wanted to tour abroad. I was very much into tape-trading and was writing with upcoming bands, traded CDs to their tapes etc. One of the bands I got in contact this way was Invocator. So we came up with the idea of trading gigs the same way as tapes. Invocator then invited us to play in Denmark first, so we packed our stuff and traveled to Copenhagen – of course with some extra friends to have a party. We played a gig in Aalborg the next day with Invocator and Hysteriah GBC – a Swedish band. And we had a lot off fun of course. When back home I started booking gigs for them to come over. So pretty soon Invocator played with us in Finland on three gigs I think. And later we went back to Denmark for a small tour, organized by Invocator. And our good friends from the North, Maple Cross came along as well. I’m still in contact with Invocator guys sometimes and the singer / guitarist Jacob Hansen is a master in mixing and mastering these days. Worked with him with my latest Imperia albums too so the co-operation still continues to this day.
Darkthrone was another band I met when exchanging mails. They were young guys and just had their “Soulside Journey” album out on Peaceville. I really liked their sound and style so I asked if they would be interested in coming over to Finland to play with us. I don’ t think they had played much live before, but they wanted to come. So we organized three gigs for them in Forssa, Riihimäki and Lahti. They traveled with us, stayed in our singer Aku’s place and used our amps and drums. They were really into black metal and pretty serious with their art I remember. They didn’t like people stage diving and even played some songs with their backs against the audience. It was kinda surprising to the audience, but I think they had success. We were kinda unlikely match as our style was pretty much everything else than theirs but we came along really fine. Later on they tried to fix some show for us in Norway, but it didn’t work out. Don’ t remember why actually. I think it was mainly because they didn’t wanna play there themselves at all or something. But good memories about Darkthrone too and we’ve talked later on too sometimes.
We also invited the Swedish thrash metal band Fallen Angel to Finland for four gigs and then again they invited us to play in Sweden and also the Swedish band Temperance (back then called No Remorse) invited us to Gotherburg and Växjo in Sweden. Unfortunately they couldn’t make it over to Finland for some reason.
There were a lot of other bands too – from Holland, Germany and Switzerland – that we had already pretty far going plans to tour with, but by then we already had other things in mind …
Prestige definitely tried to get opportunities of playing in other countries like in Denmark and Republic Czechia , how did you manage to arrange those gigs and tours ?!
Well most were that kind of contacts and just for fun like I described. There were also more “official” tour offers in Europe and we were definitely going for it, but it always got halted on financial matters. The opening slots for big bands were expensive and we just didn’t have the financial means to do it and our label did not have enough interest in supporting us with that. The album was exported and even released out there, but touring was another thing.
The Czechoslovakia tour (as it was back then called) was a normal booking and we got invited by a local booking agency which was searching for foreign bands. No idea how they had found us but there we went. In all honesty, we did get financial support from “Esek” for the flights – that is an organization that supports “cultural export” in Finland so obviously our thrash metal was “culture” at least for once. The tour itself was an true experiment and I could write a book about that. To start with the “Ikarus” tourbus which had hardly any floor in the wintertime. We zig zagged the country with that bus and played in such funny places. From a huge sportshall to the smallest rock-club ever, which was heated by a good old fire place. But we did get funny memories to share. And we did get a fee for every gig, only you could not really buy anything there except vodka and baseball bats (don’ t know why actually). On the last day we gave the money back to the bus driver and the booker as we just could not spend it all. And you could not chance the currency anyways to our currency and they needed it more than we did. The local band “Doga” was a cool one and we used their gear. And in a way it all made you humble as they really appreciated their gear and instruments and had worked hard for them. They were such warmhearted people. I remember that one night one of the organizers gave me and my girlfriend his own home to stay so that we could have time and peace for ourselves. And he went to some other place himself. Talking about hospitality here.
Even though the three albums were released on the domestic market, however they got spread out out of Finland ?
Attack Against Gnomes was actually exported at least to Holland in some numbers. I know this because I was working in the record store owned by the label and was posting them to the distribution company Semaphore. If I’m not mistaken 1500 went for the distribution there. I think that was the number that the label boss mentioned, but I could be wrong. The album was also officially licenced to Spain and GBBS records released it as an CD / LP and tape over there. I guess they did good as there were interviews in Spanish Metal Hammer etc. Actually one time I had a gig in Barcelona years later with another band a fan came to ask an autograph on the vinyl of the Spanish version of the album. And I wanted to buy it from him for my personal collection but he refused hahhah 🙂 I found one copy later on the internet though …. I know Roadrunner distributed the other albums at least in some extent, as our label then again distributed Roadrunner in Finland in those days and the label tried to get license deals. But I don’ t know how far they got or not, we never really talked about these things with the label. Would be interesting to know.
As for the tour with Darkthrone, I guess you must have proud when telling you have toured with Darkthrone ?
Back then they were pretty unknown band, and nobody saw it coming how important and influential they would become in their scene. They were just cool guys that’s all. But of course, later on, I’ve told about it and many have found the story just a story until they’ve seen Fenriz going berserk on Tero’s white Pearls with Prestige logo on the bass drums. There are some bootleg videos of the gigs in circulation. They don’ t have much live stuff obviously out there so these tapes have been spreading all over. But yes, sure it’s a nice discussion subject sometimes, especially when I was playing in the black metal scene later on …
THE SWISS GOTHIC CALLING
When Prestige was dissolved, you relocated to Amsterdam because of studies as mentioned above, but at that time you teamed up with Tilo Wolff of the Swiss gothic outfit Lacrimosa – how did this come about ?
Yes, I moved to Holland in about 1992 and started my studies at the University of Amsterdam. I started studying Art History as I was interested in the golden age of Dutch art and the great masters. And obviously where else can you do that better than in Amsterdam. For a young student the city was just awesome. Before moving I shortly played with a Gothic Rock band called Two Witches in Finland. Well, basically I just helped them out with the releasing of their album because they were missing bass on some tunes so I played the bass and they asked also to join for a gig so I played one gig in Helsinki with them. Anne Nurmi who was then in the band was actually my upstairs neighbor too and I knew her already for years of course. Anne moved to Switzerland just before I moved to Holland. And then she joined Lacrimosa. Two Witches had been a support act for Lacrimosa on German tour so Anne knew Tilo from that. Anyways, a few years later they were about to record a new album and wanted it to be heavier and with metal guitars, so Anne remembered that I live close by and she knew my style and what I can play, so she invited me over. I travelled to Switzerland, we talked, listened to music and we got along really good. So I was in the band and in 1994 we started recording the album in Hamburg in Germany at the Impuls Studio. We basically lived a few months there at a rented apartment and when recording, we improvised, figured out songs in the studio etc. It was nice way to work and I could be creative with the guitars, which was really cool. The single “Schakal” was released in 1994 and the album Inferno in 1995. After that we shot some videos in Trier and went on “Inferno” tour. First we travelled to Basel to rehearse and later on we rehearsed in Hamburg in a WWII era flak-tower that was turned into a rehearsal bunkers. That was way cool actually. We had AC from Running Wild on the drums btw, cool guy.
Did you find somehow weird to play the gothic oriented stuff after thrashing with Prestige for some years ?
Actually not at all. I’ve listened to lot of different stuff always. And my band before Prestige was also not metal, more like Finnish rock or something. During Prestige years we had this crossover band going on with punk and rock songs with our vocalist. In the early 90’s I listened a lot “dark” stuff actually. And of course my brief visit with TW was also gothic rock. I always liked the image and the lifestyle in fact. And, the Lacrimosa album “Inferno” became a very heavy album. It has metal guitars and heavy drums. It was for many old Lacrimosa fans quite a shock as the early albums had programmed drums and hardly any or no guitars at all. Some even call “Inferno” as the first German Gothic Metal album. And in many ways it is one of the first in the way that it combines real orchestrations and heavy guitars and has also female singing.
Well do you still keep the contact to Tilo Wolff ?!
Yes sure, once and a while. More often to Anne actually, we write to each other sometimes. I still consider them as my dear friends.
How much were you influenced by the gothic genre in general ?
I think those years influenced about everything I’ve done music-wise ever after. The usage of the orchestra really opened my eyes for the symphonic approach. I think Tilo is a master in creating dreamy epic sounds and atmospheres and I learned a lot from him – not even realizing this at that time. Before that band the music was mainly fun for me, playing for the fun, beer, shredding your axe and going nuts on the stage. But years in that band brought in a completely different angle and that was the pure emotion in the music. I never though of music in such way. I can admit it easily now years later. At it’s best it rips your heart out. I think few of the songs from that era are coolest I’ve been involved in and they still sound cool to me.
Lacrimosa is known for having a tremendous following in the gothic genre, were you kind of surprised to realize how huge Lacrimosa actually is ?
Yes it kinda was. I did know they were big in the genre – and especially in Germany of course – and most of the shows were sold out. But what I didn’ t know or had seen from such a close distance was a real fan worship. I mean fans who really dress like you, color their hair like you do, wanna really look like you and wait for you all day outside the venue etc. And a lot of male fans too who followed Tilo’s dressing style. It was very surprising to see at first. The whole Inferno tour was actually an eye-opener for me. It was the first tour I did with a proper nightliner, tour manager, profi-roadies, timetable, clean towels and good catering. Everything just worked. The tours before were just more or less chaotic and Prestige’s old Scania bus wasn’t exactly the fanciest either. So it was a nice tour in many ways and very professional.
As far as I know you didn’t record anything with them, just playing gigs, right ? Why did you leave Lacrimosa after one year ?
No, I did record quite a bit actually with the band, album, singles, video clips 🙂 Inferno album is still the most selling album I’ve been on through the years. I’m also on “Copycat” video clip and on “Stolzes Herz” video clip. I played with the band some four years I think. I still played a gig with Lacrimosa in Leipzig in 1997. And I think Stolzes Herz video came out in 1997 too. That we filmed in Trier again. I started recording the “Stille” album in Hamburg. Maybe they kept some of the recordings on the album, not sure. Sounds like a cliché but I guess we just had grown apart a bit. The material didn’t speak to me like the Inferno material did, neither did I have free hands to create my on melodies or riffs like I had on the previous album. On Inferno I played all the guitars and wrote all the guitar parts, but on Stille most of the melodies were already written. Maybe I didn’t find that emotional connection to the songs like before and obviously that was not what we both wanted. I don’ t know, lot of little things I guess, but there were no bad feelings or anything like that, more like friends moving on with their lives. We visited each other often after that, they came to Amsterdam etc. And every-time I played later in Switzerland, they always came to hang out 🙂
JOINING THE ANCIENT HORDE
When did Ancient Rites come into the picture ?
That year, in 1997. I played the first gig with the guys in May 1997 in Belgium. I had joined the band a few months earlier. Actually in between I had all the time a band called Boobytap in Amsterdam. We made one EP and toured mainly in Holland since 1995 I guess. It was kinda industrial metal, heavy riffs and catchy. We played mainly with gothic bands. Anyways, the guys were very good friends and it was all fun and all but I decided to look for a heavier band too. So I did it the old fashioned way and put an add in the metal mag in Holland: guitarist looking for a band hahhah. Erik (the other guitar player who is Dutch) phoned me up and dropped by my house. We jammed the evening through in my basement and played music to each other. Next day I went to the local record store Boudisque to check out this black metal band he told me about. Actually he had joined the band just recently too, I guess six months earlier or something. Anyways at the record store I checked the “Total Misanthropia” album. Oh man, corpse paint and all. The music wasn’ t too bad though, some cool stuff and an old school vibe there so I decided to give it a go. So I learned a few songs, I think “Death Messiah” and a few other songs and travelled with Erik to Belgium. As we got along fine I decided to join the ranks.
You recorded a couple of albums with them Fatherland and Dim Carcosa and obviously you had an important part in the band as a designer, co-producer – were you in charge of how these albums turned out ?!
Well I guess I indeed was more or less – at least when it comes to the music. Obviously the previous albums had no real orchestra or double guitar melodies and stuff like that. I made all the demos with my PC and with my “Cakewalk” midi-editing program. Majority of the riffs and songs were mine, some ideas were from Erik or our keyboard player at that time on Fatherland – album. As I was the only one with some recording gear I did put the songs together. I remember “playing” all the riffs and melodies in with a midi keyboard and that was kinda hilarious of course, but it did the trick to get the songs in shape. In 1997 we already went to Germany to record Fatherland album at the Spacelab studio. It was obvious that as I had put down the demo’s I’d be there also to help with the production. So I stayed there for the whole recording sessions and the mix as I did with the future albums too. The album was released in 1998 on Mascot Records. I ended up doing the layout of the album too. After that we started touring, played some major festivals like Dynamo Open Air and Graspop in 1999.
In 2000 we started recording “Dim Carcosa” album in Germany. On that album I went further with all the melodic stuff and orchestras and keyboards. I think most of the songs were again mine, a few riffs were from our keyboard player and a few from Erik. That was the most ambitious album we ever made. I ended up actually co-producing it and once again did the album artwork.
In 2003 we recorded a live CD and shot a live-DVD “And the Hordes Stood as One” at the Biebob venue in Belgium – a venue where we played the most often I guess. After that we toured some more and then we parted our ways.
With whom did you play and tour back then ?!
Oh we played with tons of bands actually. We did a few European tours with Deicide for ex.. In 1998 we played on Summer cash tour with Deicide, Six Feet Under, Brutal Truth, Amon Amarth, Naglfar and in 1999 we toured Europe with Deicide, Rotting Christ, Aeturnus and Behemoth. In 2001 we had the Dim Carcosa European tour with Mystic Circle, 2003 the European tour with Thyrfing, Primordial, Septic Flesh, Blood Red Throne. And I don’ t even remember all the bands we played with, at least Morbid Angel, Malevolent Creation, VItal Remains, Vader etc… In those years we had a lot of gigs …. The tours with Deicide I remember the best, lots of crowd everywhere. And we did play in Israel / Tel Aviv too, with Salem. That was a very interesting journey for sure.
Which elements in the music of Ancient Rites kind of fascinated you after all ?!
Well to be honest I was not too much of a fan of the old stuff, though there were a few nice metal tunes that we kept in the set. For me the best part was that the band was kind of a blank book you could make something of as the guys were open minded for development and progress. It might sound really rude as it was of course not my intention at all to come over and turn things upside down but that is a bit what happened musically at least. I think that is clear to everybody who knows the band. Fatherland was a very successful album, the most successful the band would ever make. The album resulted in tours, festivals etc. Dim Carcosa is in many ways even better album and has more of everything in it, but it might even go a bit too far for the musicianship involved in the band as it’s almost a progressive album in some ways. Obviously our producer had a huge role in all of this too. He played all the piano’s in and programmed the orchestra with me at the studio. Let’s say that this album was already pretty much on the edge of what the band actually could deliver.
But yes what I liked was that I could do pretty much any kinda metal music I liked. I had thrash riffs there, guitar melodies and loads of orchestral stuff too. And I did put my time and effort into it for the full hundred percent. It was at the same time very ambitious and progressive, but also traditional and old school. The demo’s I made too ages to make and no detail was spared. The creative part was the best, with songwriting and in the studio especially. We spent months and months in the studio. Unfortunately there were other non-music related things that were less fun in the end.
Was it somehow odd to run Danse Macabre and be in Ancient Rites as both the bands had some same members involved ?
Not really. And there were not all the same members involved at all actually, only me and the singer. Danse Macabre had it’s own musicians and was a different band. Actually Merijn from the Amsterdam based band Boobytrap I mentioned earlier and Milos, a good Serbian friend of mine on the bass. They were part of the band from the very first gig onwards. We had different keyboard players and female singers though Antoinette who sings on the first album played the most gigs with us. Only once we had a double booking with both bands. In 2000 we both were booked on a festival in Lissabon. So Danse Macabre supported Ancient Rites. After DM set, you just had to put quickly another shirt on and go back on stage. At Brutal Assault 2002 festival in Czech Republic the both bands were also booked, but we could fix it so that the bands played on different days.
But musically it must have been somewhat odd to AR fans as DM was kinda cheesy Gothic Rock band. I can imagine that the die hard black metal fans didn’t care too much for it. Or maybe even hated it. Somehow DM was always closer to my heart. Musically I could do whatever I wanted. Was it a rock song or even a song with a dance beat. Especially “EVA” album of 2001 turned out pretty cool I think and received great reviews too. And we did release a dance remixes from that album on an EP called Matters Of The Heart. We had recorded a third album in 2003 actually. But due to the split with AR things got a bit complicated. It was obvious that we could not continue with the singer and nobody in the band wanted that. He was completely out of the picture. But if we would have released the album, there would have been no promotion and all our months in the studio and all the songwriting and efforts of the band and producers would have been wasted. That would not have been fair to the band, the music, or the label. So we decided together with the label to make a radical decision and re-record all the vocals with new members. Or actually only one new member as the female vocalists Kemi (from the Dreamside) and Judith Stuber were already part of the team and on the album. So we found Roman from the German band Pyogenesis on the grunt / hard male vocals. In 2004 we returned back to the studio in Germany, re-recorded all the vocals with new lyrics, added some new orchestrations, edited the drums a bit and finally mixed everything. We had a tour booked in Finland, which we did with this line-up. Also our producer Oliver joined the tour on the piano. At that time we also changed our name from DM to Satyrian to take distance from the past and all the negativity involved. A fresh start if you like. The “Eternitas” album of Satyrian was released in 2006 through Lion Music.
Ancient Rites have been blamed and accused of being the right-wing nationalist, how many times did you face these accusations?!
It’s something that evolved during the years. I did not realize it in the beginning or in the first years. I would even say I did not see it although some people close to me mentioned about it. Obviously the band itself is not one entity and in the band you have different people. It would not be fair to stamp the band as such. But I cannot deny it either that there were elements involved that started to worry me more and more. It’s not something that I would refuse to see if you know what I mean. Sometimes you see a change in person but refuse to see it as you cannot believe it. Or you don’t want to believe it. But that is the unfortunate part I referred to earlier. Little by little you started reading things here and there, comments on the internet or in the interviews. So the picture became clear for me. When it comes to the point that I need to read the new lyrics line by line and search for meanings and referrals to some political agenda, I’m done. That is not what making cool metal music is for me. Or playing in a band. I don’t regret the time in the band, I think we made way cool albums together and had fun touring and playing all over. But I’m really glad I don’t have to worry about these non-music related issues anymore.
DUTCH SYMPHONIC METAL
Imperia was formed in 2003 and operates in Holland, you have been involved in the band since its formation. How did this come about ?
Actually I joined right after the band had recorded their first album. It wasn’t released yet though. I think they had done one or two gigs together when the drummer and the guitarist left (Henri from God Dethroned and Arien from Epica). The bass player, Gerry Verstreken, had read somewhere that I had just left AR so he figured I’d be free and gave me a call. Then I talked with Helena and traveled to meet her in Groningen where she lived at that time. At her place we got along great, I played my demos to her, she played her music and ideas to me. She had tons of little recordings which were cool and her voice, that was amazing. I really fell in love with that voice. So I joined the ranks right away. Just about the same time Steve Wolz from the German metal band Bethlehem joined the band on the drums. With John Stam (from Mac-11) we had the line-up complete.
Was the band formed from the ashes of Angel ?
No, actually Angel is another project of Helena. It’s basically the same band though and we recorded an album together with the exactly same Imperia line-up. We released the album “A Woman’s Diary Part I” in 2006 on Black Lotus Records. The album consists of pop / rock songs, some based on Helena’s own ideas, some on my ideas and some on our producers ideas. It’s her “solo” project if you like and musically more mainstream. Although there are a few heavier songs too, which could have been on Imperia album too. We actually do have a deal for another album, just need to get it done…. some day 🙂
In 2005 I also was involved with another Dutch band by the way, called Delain. Or actually it was basically an “all star” project in the beginning. I made some guitar demos for it and co-wrote some bits. After we had the songs with Martijn (the mastermind and the founder of the project – ex Within Tempatation), I helped him out to contact some labels and people. So we ended up recording vocals and bass with Marco Hietala in Helsinki. Other parts were recorded in Germany. On the drums there was Arien (Epica, who played also on the first Imperia album), on the guitars me and Gus (Ophanage) and on the leads Ad (from Epica at that time). For the vocals we had Sharon from WT, Liv Kristine from Leave’s Eyes and the new vocalist Charlotte. The first album “Lucidity” was released through Roadrunner in 2006. After the release the project turned into a band with new fresh people and the rest is history. It was a very cool project to be involved in! And the “Lucidity” album was very successful ending up selling gold in the Netherlands…
Well actually back then we all lived in Holland or close to each other so in 2004-2007 we toured a lot. At that time we were part of the the “Dutch Female Metal boom” – the style was pretty popular over there. We were on a bigger booking agency and so on. We played on festivals in Germany and played all over the Benelux, even supported Nightwish in Amsterdam etc. But in 2007 I moved back to Finland and Helena had a child and moved back to her home country Norway. So after that we have only played some gigs here and there, few festivals and so on. But we have made three more albums meanwhile. We are signed to Massacre and are busy with the next one right now. These days it’s just so easy to send ideas around, you don’ t have to sit next to each other. The “Secret Passion” album from 2011 we recorded without even meeting each other. Everybody recorded their parts alone in their home-studios (well only Steve recorded the drums in Spacelab in Germany). And it was mixed by Jacob Hansen in Denmark. We met for the first time after the CD was already released in London and played the songs the first time together for a gig at a rehearsal place in Soho. That was very weird. We were listening to the CD and trying to learn the songs. In a way we were a cover band covering our own CD! So that was too weird actually so the last time in 2015 with the latest album “Tears Of Silence” we did it the old fashioned way and we all travelled to Germany to record together. Only the guitars I recorded at my home studio. I do prefer to record together, it’s the most fun of course and the guys are good friends too so it’s always a pleasure!
How do you usually start working on new songs cos each member live in a different place ?
Well, I usually turn my chair about 90 degrees 🙂 Hahhah, just kidding but yes. I write all the songs and I write them in my home studio. I have everything hooked up here, just need to pick my guitar and go. I have a dedicated music setup next to my graphic computer and everything is always ready to go if the inspiration hits. The time is the only problem as when you have busy schedules it’s hard to find time for the music. Luckily we also have our Norwegian orchestra guru Audun Gronnestad involved and he sends in sometimes also songs and song ideas. I really dig his stuff so I gladly take whatever he can spare. When I finish with a new demo song I send it to Helena, she’ll write lyrics and figure out vocal lines. Our bass player Gerry and the drummer Steve Wolz get the demo too and start figuring out their parts. We do a lot a fine adjustments in the studio and arrange stuff there too. Sometimes we even write additional songs in the studio. I have always enjoyed spending time in the studio.
How would you describe the sound and music of Imperia for the people not familiar with the material ?
It’s basically what you would these days call female fronted symphonic metal. We have a lot of orchestrations, piano, melodies and such. It’s at times poppy, at times almost progressive. We like to mix elements so there can be folkish songs (on the last album we even had a folk song in Norwegian and another one called the Viking Song – featuring Hittavainen ex Korpiklaani on the flutes btw). Some songs then again have an oriental vibe, some can be really heavy and some even have thrash metal riffing. So it’s pretty much a mix of everything I like t listen these days myself. And we try to get most of the orchestra done for real, like with a real Cello player, violist and as last time with a real Russian choir. Our most obvious asset is Helena who has a very distinctive voice. I think the music is not easy to put in any specific category.
BACK TO THE ARTIST MOOD
Apparently you are working on some album cover right now, where do you draw all the inspiration and even motivation to come up such a cool looking album cover ?
I’ve never had any problem to come up with an idea for a picture, I guess I have a very vivid imagination! Actually that is also what I enjoy doing the most. Trying to tell a story, making research for the subject, starting to create. I really pay attention to the details and want everything to be correct.
Have you drawn lines for future plans ? Are you going to expand the Darkgrove company or are you rather pleased with the current on-going thing ?
Actually I can’ t complain, I’m running the company over 10 years now and I’m still here. Obviously being an entrepreneur isn’t always all fun and it’s definitely no gold mine either. You gotta work hard and try to live with the stress and the deadlines, but on the other hand you can do what you want and you are your own boss. That I like. You are free in that way. I could actually already expand, but I like to keep things simple. The less hassle there is the better. I try to take it more easy though as the working hours are sometimes completely nuts and killing me. You are basically always at work. I try to do at least something else in between and I’ve found mountain biking as a very relaxing way to get your mind fresh again.
And what sort of plans do you have for Imperia ?
Right now I’m writing new music again and have the half of the songs ready. The plan is to enter the studio in Germany late this summer and release the new album still in 2018. I’m also busy with the new Satyrian album finally and we wanna get it done this year too. We have some new people on board and I’m very much looking forward to this. And as last but not least, we might have some little Prestige surprise in 2018 as well.
If some band wants you to create the art for them, how should they approach you ?!
The easiest way is through my site www.darkgrove.net. There is a form to fill. But I don’t mind if somebody wants to contact with e-mail diectly at firstname.lastname@example.org, skype, messanger or whatever. I’m always online. I’ll check the ideas and give a fair quote.
Do you miss those times, and days in particular when you were a bit younger when people were into the metal and gigs were pure mayhem and chaos and out of control and the underground was huge ?
Yes sometimes I miss the do-it-yourself attitude. Maybe the years make you think the times were easier back then but at least in the metal scene in the late 80s there definitely was less business involved. The bands helped each other, people bought the real physical albums and came to see unsigned underground bands. If some foreign band came everybody went to see them. These days there is just a lot of things going on, too much in fact and therefore it’s harder for bands to stand out from the crowd. On the other hand there are many good ways to promote these days and for free. The role of the labels is getting less and you can get pretty far with crowdfunding. Of course that requires dedication and hard work, but it’s possible. In the old days such things obviously did not exist. Consuming music is different these days but it does not mean there would be less interest in music, it’s just different. But can’ t complain, I enjoy my work and listening to the music as much as back then. Also so far the general situation with the music sales has not had any effect on my work. Bands and artists still need art and wanna have their own visual identity. Even though the distribution ways of the music change, the need for art and photography does not go anywhere which is a good thing … You could even say there is some sort of revival going in the the scene, bands releasing their music on vinyl again which is awesome. That is the real format for the artwork.
How do you look at the past and career as a musician in several bands and an artist, is there any things you could have carried out in another way or do you view “done is done” is done ?
Well I guess there are always things that could have been done differently but who cares. Life’s too short to think about things too much. At least I’ve managed to do a bit of everything and more is to come. Sometimes there have been lucky days, sometimes also misfortune and many missed opportunities. Touring hasn’t always been as glamorous as you might have hoped for and once and a while you’ve been standing a moment still in some god forgotten place thinking like what the hell am I doing here. But the good days make up for those bad days fior sure. And as the saying goes if you haven’ t done mistakes or failed you haven’ t lived at all. So no regrets for anything.
All right Örkki I for one thank you for your time with this interview. The last words are yours …
Thanks a lot for taking time for this! Don’t hesitate to get in touch if I can help you guys with anything.