Ensiferum – Interview with Petri Lindroos and Sami Hinkka
@ O2 Islington Acadamy, London
1st May 2018
Interview by Thomas James Henry Saunders
Hot on the heels of their September 2017 full-album release Two Paths, Ensiferum have been busily touring throughout Europe these past months and are set to continue in this trend, touring right up to the festival season before bringing their intense folk ferocity to the likes of Wacken & Hellfest.
Before seeing them take to the stage here in London tonight, I was able to have a chat with lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Petri Lindroos together with backing vocalist and bass player Sami Hinkka on their booze laden tour bus. After the pleasantries ( and offers of alcoholic beverages) are done, I get to know them a little, picking their brains of the two-decade spanning careers within Ensiferum!
So, might as well start with the basics, how has this European tour been for you so far?
Sami – It’s been long, it’s been a month already and we still have two weeks left, it’s been really good, great crowds too.
Petri – We’re still alive (Laughing)
Touring on the back of the 2017 release Two Paths, has it been an interesting experience to introduce the live audiences to your new tracks, or have you already been touring around with these songs for the last year or so anyway?
Sami – No no no no, we have never included un-released songs on the setlist. But the plan was always to do a European tour when the album was released, but now it’s been six months (since the album came out in September), but the good thing is that people have had time to listen to the new songs, and it’s really cool that they all sing along and really enjoy them.
So how would you say the live reception to the new material has been then, overall?
Petri – Good!
Sami – live? Really, really good. And that is the most important and best feedback you can get, as an artist, when people enjoy the new songs as much as the old ones.
When I first saw you play live, it was here on the back of the Unsung Heroes album (2012), does it feel any different to you, playing the newer material live compared to previous albums?
Sami – I don’t think our style has changed that much so everything kind of fits together really well, but on the other hand we’ve always had a really wide musical horizon. So in that way it makes things easier to compose as it all goes under the name ‘Ensiferum’ doesn’t matter if it’s a Schlager-song, or blast beat or whatever, it all fits together.
Certainly, as your ‘sound’ has always incorporated many different styles of metal, has there been any conscious evolution to that, or just something that’s grown over the bands near 20-year history?
Sami – Quite naturally, I think it’s something we just like to do, and it fits in the Ensiferum mentality.
Petri – We need to loosen up every now and then, a little bit more, sometimes a little bit less (Sami laughs). But yeah, maybe like 20 years ago our field of vision was quite narrow-ish you could say.
Sami – Yeah, maybe, maybe.
Petri – (Puts on gruff voice) “Like y’know it has to be this really, up-tight heavy metal, shit.”
But now we have this 360 (degrees) vision and do whatever we want, and that is cool.
Sami – The great thing is that our fans seem to appreciate it also.
It’s funny you mention the sound being more ‘narrow-minded’ back in the earlier days, as I distinctly recall first hearing the bonus track to Unsung Heroes “Bambelo” (cover of 1988’s “Bambelo” by Gipsy Kings) and at first being utterly confused by it before totally loving it. Was there any particular motivation to record that cover, or was it a spur of the moment kind of thing?
Sami – We had been talking about making a death metal version of that song before, for years.
Petri – Yeah It just felt like a good idea.
Sami – We had a weekend off in the studio, and the guy who recorded that album (Unsung Heroes), Hiili Hiilesmaa he went home. Then coming back after the weekend we run up to him like (excitedly) “Heeyy, we came out with this, listen to it!!” , and he listens to it, before turning to us and saying “look, guys you really need to go home every now and then, this is not healthy”
But I take it he enjoyed the track itself though?
Sami – Oh yeah he loved it, said it was the craziest shit he ever heard, and it came out great.
With regards to your two most recent albums, you’ve been recording with Anssi Kippo, the producer famed for working on many of albums for bands such as Children Of Bodom and Impaled Nazarene, how’s that collaboration been for you to work with?
Sami – Well Petri knew Anssi form his previous band.
Petri – Yeah I’ve done many albums with him when I was still in Norther, so yeah, I knew the guy, he is awesome, in every single way, he’s a ninja!
Sami – (laughing) yeah a real ninja. It’s super easy to work with him, he’s really encouraging, and also strict, in a good way. But he’s still really, really supportive all the time, whilst still pushing you to the limit.
Plus, he always gives his ideas, even though he’s the producer of the album. But he never steps on the artist’s toes, instead, he’d be like “Hey, how about if we tried this a little more like this” and we like that.
Petri – And usually his ideas are always good, which is kinda weird-ish (both laughing)
Sami – Because his musical horizon is also really wide, so he listens to all kind of pop music or whatever, like not just metal music so he’s got a really good ear for hooks and catchy elements.
Has his influence affected your songwriting at all though?
Sami – Song-writing not at all, when we hit the studio the songs are all ready, what he does as a producer is more, like sound-wise and the really small details. But as I said, the small details in the might be the really good hooks or what pulls it all together.
For the Two Paths album itself, what was the direct inspiration for the album, form a songwriting perspective?
Sami – Hmmm I don’t really know, as for us the song-writing process is so slow, it’s never like a theme or a concept album. As always it’s just a collection of songs that we had ready for the studio (bursts out in a broad laugh) Well there is always that really strong heroic theme that’s always there. Musically I guess the folk music is really the cornerstone, and it will also be. But as a direct inspiration, I couldn’t name any one thing, more so it’s a collection of stories that work.
Being the main songwriter of the band for many years now, do you think will ever be able to exhaust the amount of material you can create form the myths and legends that have been part of the Ensiferum sound-scape for so long?
Sami – Nowadays most of the inspiration comes from real life, and then you just have to find the right metaphors that fit Ensiferum’s heroic theme. So it’s not really about the mythology itself much anymore, it’s more about being, up yourself. (both laugh loudly at this)
As for the sub-genre of folk metal itself, for the last decade just about, there’s been a massive influx of metal bands, worldwide, that call themselves as being folk metal bands. Do you enjoy the attention that the genre has gained, being able to hear all these different tales on the concepts, or is it more a hindrance at just how many there are now? Or even a bit of both?
Petri – hmm, interesting…
As I’ve noticed by my own knowledge that most countries seem to each have at least a dozen folk metal act these days.
Petri – (laughs) yes, they do.
Sami – It kinda bloomed around 2008 I guess.
Petri – And after that, it started being like watching mushrooms grow in a rainy season.
Well for one it’s good that people have balls to do that.
Sami – well yeah like if you feel like writing a certain type of music, just go for it really.
Petri – Who’s stopping you, you know.
Sami – Well let’s see, I still have hope like when there was the new wave of British heavy metal, maybe they’ll be a second wave of folk metal. As for some bands, that would really help, y’know, put the pedal to the metal and make it to the next level. And in doing so bringing something new there.
Because at the moment I feel that at the moment, although we’re one of the privileged few, there are really not that many ‘big’ folk metal bands so it’d be really cool if something new would like rise out of it. As that’d be really good the whole scene too, instead of it being like it is now that there are only a couple bands that are big.
Petri – Don’t be shy, go big, go bold.
Sami – exactly, go crazy and be creative, yeah.
Well out of the many folk bands out there, I’ve always seen Ensiferum as being one of the heavier bands, being very much influenced by death & thrash metal. Where would you say your musical inspiration comes from?
Sami – I would say it’s old, things like Iron Maiden and bands like, Slayer.
Petri – Metallica.
Sami – yeah Metallica too, stuff like that. Well that all started when we were kids, listening to it. Although for me personally, I’m really bad at following the metal scene about new bands and what’s happening on the other side of the pond.
Petri – When you’re in this business unless you really have to pay attention to one in particular, then yeah I have zero ideas about the new bands.
Sami – But if somebody says “Hey check this out” then I will but not by myself.
Petri – I checked like I think it was Metal Hammer or something like that a year or so ago, and at the end of that magazine there was the review of the new albums and stuff. I checked it out like there were 50, 50 reviews or whatever, and I knew nothing about those, being like “what are these bands, where did they come from Sami – (adds in) “Am I old?”
Petri – (laughs) yeah exactly, then I was taking out my phone and was I was YouTube-ing them all and by the end, I was like (long pause for thought) they were all complete shit, there was nothing to mention or put forward.
Sami – I see, well I suppose it’s a matter of opinion.
Petri – With so many bands coming up all the time, it makes it, like not there even being any point in trying to figure them all out.
Sami – Well it’s impossible, but that was kinda the cool thing about ‘back in the days’ when you had, well when the labels had much more significance. Like if Spinefarm or Roadrunner (records) or Nuclear Blast release something then you know it’s already been screened so I know I need to check this out.
Petri – Nowadays everybody puts their own stuff on YouTube or whatever they use now.
Sami – And even if there might be the new Metallica in there, they could easily get lost in the simple quantity. So it’s a totally different business these days.
Yeah, I totally agree, especially with the rise of so many ‘straight to the internet’ labels out there now.
As for smaller bands out there, that might not get heard, was there a particular reason for bringing out the first support act Wind Rose with you on this tour?
Sami – Well we already knew the guys, we’ve taken them on tour a couple of years ago. They were also there in Japan, with us too. So yeah we knew them, we know they’re a good live act, (they make) great music and we were just pondering the bands for the tour and we all thought “Hey, let’s ask those guys.”
Petri – Also because these guys were willing to do the whole 6 weeks, as 6 weeks is a really long time in nowadays standards. So everything that goes over 3 or 4 weeks automatically rules out a lot of bands these days. Not so much the bands who would be at the ‘right’ level, but still so many cannot do this as a main career, so people will have jobs and will have to trade in their summer holidays from work to go on a tour, for example, and stuff like that.
It’s so often these days that bands have to prop themselves up with secondary jobs.
Petri – yeah totally that is the case now.
Sami – I’d even say it’s most of them these days actually, it’s sad.
It’s is indeed very much a shame, although getting away from the negative sides of the industry and moving to one of it’s brightest and I’d even say, booming, is festivals.
Are there any, in particular, you’re really looking forward to playing this year?
Sami – well, for example, we’ll be playing in Wacken this year, and it’s nice to finally play a little bit later as usually (in past years) they’ve used us, Petri – as bait! (both laugh)
Sami – Yeah like to get people out of their tents whereas now we’ll be playing later in the evening which is cool because the lights work so much better.
But personally, I’m really looking forward to Hellfest as I’m going to be there for the whole festival, camping out in a tent, definitely going to see Iron Maiden. Although It’s been nearly 20 years since I did that myself last time.
Will the whole band be joining you over the entirety of the festival?
Sami – Just me, although I don’t know, are you willing you to come and camp, smell like shit be piss drunk for 3 days.
Petri – I don’t know, we do it already now, for 6 whole weeks! (he says while laughing)
Sami – That’s so true, just instead of a tent, we’re in a bus, so it’s not that much difference.
Petri – But in a festival, you’re surrounded by a lot more people than just the people in the bus. But it’ll be cool you know, going back to your roots.
Sami – Exactly, and we’ll be playing on Sunday so I’ll have been rocking already for a couple days.
Petri – Oh shit, yeah yeah.
Sami – So we’ll see what kind of condition I’ll be in.
Petri – Take a photo of your face before going and we’ll take another on Sunday “DO you recognize this man, have you seen him” (they both laugh at this)
How do you think that will be, being amongst your fans for the whole event, are you worried about being swamped the whole time?
Sami – I think that’s the whole beauty of the metal scene, there’s not that much idolism here. Like we’re all human beings, everybody can smell bad, and Nah, it just doesn’t happen in this scene. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
Going back to your live experiences, are there any particular songs that you look forward to playing live in your set, from any album?
Sami – Well I really like the first song off of the new album, “For Those About To Fight For Metal” which is really cool now that people are already singing along and having fun.
But, as for oldies, I would say “Victory Song”, it’s really really nice live song the good sing-along chords and usually, it gets really big mosh-pits going, it’s just a really good song.
Petri – I still like the “Two Of Spades” that’s got a cool, ‘pulls you in’ melody there at the beginning and it’s got some punk rock, Motorhead vibes on it, then it’s got that Finnish disco going on in it too, you’ve got everything in it.
Sami – yeah it’s a crazy mix that number, it’s a good live song yeah, a lot of people going crazy, and it’s also a good drinking song.
With the Prolific album schedule you’ve kept over the last few years, are there any plans to head back into the studio after the summer season is done with?
Petri – I think that the studio has to wait, for a while, we’ll have to start checking out new stuff sometime after the summer, maybe.
Sami – I’d say realistically; we won’t be going into the studio again until 2020. This year it’s all about touring, and next year we’ll still be busy, touring-wise, so I suppose we’ll be composing stuff in between tours and see what develops. We also never book the studio before the songs are ready, some bands still leave a lot of things open when going in, but we don’t like doing it that way.
What would you say is the more key ingredients of Ensiferum’s sound, as there’s often a quality of ‘density’ in your songs, how do you feel about that side of the music?
Petri – Well yeah there are a lot of different elements all are popping out In their own turf.
Sami – There are a lot of layers, even though we’ve been cutting down a lot since “From Afar” because on that album, at it’s worst there were something like a thousand tracks on one song.
Petri – I don’t even know (how many)
Sami – yeah form the compositions, the big choirs, the folk instruments, it was crazy because on the release you could only hear a fraction of what was being put into these songs. It’s better to focus on what’s essential in each part.
But for the key ingredient for a good Ensiferum song, it has to have a good melody, that’s what makes for the best songs.
As a final question to ask you before you get ready for the big show, do you have any plans or ideas to release your own branded alcoholic beverage, a signature beer or something like that?
Sami – we’ve been talking about that for years actually,
Petri – More recently as well we’ve been discussing it a lot on this tour too, maybe we can cook up something, maybe like one more magic potion y’know.
Sami – there are a few connections out there so yeah, let’s see.
Like Korpiklanni released theirs just a couple of days ago, I saw a picture on Facebook form Jarkko (Aaltonen) their bass player and I was like “Aaaha” they’re finally making it.
But if you had a choose one, is there anything you’d practically like to produce un the Ensiferum brand, like a lager, and ale, possibly even a spirit?
Petri – Hmm, well we could do them all!! (bursts out in laughter) Although vodka, yeah that’s one of the most favourite drinks in this bus anyway, most consumed beverage, not even water can compete with vodka here.
Well, thank you guys for taking the time for this interview, I very much look forward to seeing you guys on stage later this evening.
Sami – That’s okay, it’s been a pleasure, thank-you.
Petri – Yeah, it wasn’t so bad, have a good evening and enjoy the concert,