Insomnium – Interview with Markus Vanhala
@ The Islington Assembly Hall, London
19th January 2020
Interview by Demitri Levantis
When Finnish melodic death metallers, Insomnium dropped into London to play the Islington Assembly Hall this week, Metal Rules caught up with guitar player Markus Vanhala to see what the band are up to on their tour with Conjurer and what they think of metal today.
What are the band’s biggest plans for 2020?
We’ve toured Finland and Europe already and now we’re in the UK. We’ve got a USA tour lined up later in the year and the rest of the time we’ll be really busy – lots of festivals in Europe too. Our agents will be working full time too.
How do you think the tour has gone so far?
Very good, we have had a long career that’s been steady and going upwards, we haven’t had any setbacks yet.
Do you have any anecdotes from the tour so far; any funny stories?
We’ve been getting more boring than ever, haha! Less drinking than ever so we are getting old but of course, that happens. Because we are Finnish we used to have parties every night, now it’s like every other night.
How does your current album ‘Heart Like A Grave’ differ from the other albums?
Compared to the previous album, ‘Winter’s Gate’, it has more songs; that one was really one long piece of music. We wanted to do a normal Insomnium album that has 10 songs, but the particular theme was to dive into this real Finnish old melancholy – not the normal melancholy with Finnish bands like Sentence who have always sung about suicide and darkness; they’re one of our biggest inspirations. So this is like an old school Finnish melancholy, based on things that happened in Finland like 100 years ago, and life was pain back then but people were persistent. People were working to death in the fields but they knew the weather wasn’t going to kill them, so they carried on. It’s about the real Finnish darkness where you have your pride and eat it.
Are there any themes like Finnish mythology on the album?
Not exactly, it’s more like old Finnish poetry; inspired by old poets.
Nothing like Amorphis or Vorna’s work; they sing about poetry?
No, they are more into Finnish folklore like the Kalevala which is basically the Finnish bible.
Have you played with Conjurer before this tour and what do you make of them?
No, this is the first time and they are a really cool band, I checked them out when they were added to the tour and I like them; they’re quite an up and coming group. I think we found a really good new English band for this tour.
What festivals are you playing this year?
Big ones: only Finland. Nothing in the UK so far, I don’t know why UK festivals don’t like us, we’ve only played Download once a long time ago. We’re doing Wacken festival and Summer Breeze and Rock Hard in Barcelona too. There’s a bunch of others but I can’t remember; there’s so much in the calendar.
What do you guys like to do when you’ve got a day off on tour?
Nursing hangovers is the honest answer! But I’m a tourist, I like to walk around the cities and go to the record store as I went to one near here today to buy some records. I’m also highly into old US cars; if there’s something about old US cars around, I’d go there.
How about when you’re at home in Finland and you’re not in the studio; what do you do outside of the band?
Worship Satan and smoke crack would be the honest answer, haha! But I am playing in Omnium Gatherum as well so I’m spending over 200 days a year on the road, so I’m trying to behave like a normal person like when I’m at home with my family and the cars, and I spend time working with my guitars. I also like walking in the forests, which is cliché but true.
None of you guys have day jobs?
Ville has a day job but he doesn’t normally tour with us. He’s our fifth member but we tour as a four-piece mainly. He’s a scientist and he loves his job. We’ve got to the point where we don’t have to do anything else, but Ville really loves his old profession.
What do you make of the global metal scene today and how do you think it has changed in the time Insomnium has been around?
I’m getting old and I’m not checking out new bands that much but nowadays it seems more difficult to form bands today – it seems you need to do a lot of social media or YouTube to be noticed and find people with the same taste. For me, that would be very hard as I hate social media; it’s all about posting about yourself and that works more for musicians like rap artists, etc, but at the same time things like Spotify help find you. But playing-wise, it’s not so difficult to start playing an instrument; like when I started playing the guitar there was no internet, so I had to learn songs from cassettes. Now you can get lessons from YouTube and buy things easily. So that’s why I think musicians sounded better in the 90s, because music back then had more soul because it wasn’t so polished. All the metal records back then sounded more evil because of the crap quality which made them sound more evil or more lively.
Are there any bands you would recommend to anyone at all?
Rotting Christ, their new album The Heretics was probably my favourite from last year.
Any up and coming bands?
Conjurer for sure, I think The Great Old ones were a great band I discovered last year too.
What is it you enjoy most about being a musician?
It’s always a good process, like when I’m at home composing music, that’s great, but when you get a song down that’s the best thing about being in a band – getting things ready for the show and you feel great about it. And then the other step is in the studio where you get the album format done, that’s also great but then when you have the finished product and you travel around the world and play it to the people that’s also cool. I love the whole process but think the studio is my least favourite part.
Do you have a special place to go to write new material, somewhere inspiring?
At home. I cannot work on tour at all like some people, I need somewhere where there is no hassle. It’s a cliché, but it’s best to work on music at night because there’s nothing distracting like during the day when other things happen.
Finally, what advice would you give to fans who want to start their own band?
Never give up! It’s a long road and took Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum over 10 years to go anywhere – even on the first albums it felt like nobody cared about us. But if you have a vision, stick to that vision and never give up. Don’t follow trends and if record labels tell you what to do tell them no and follow your instincts, that’s the only rule – honesty. You have to be honest if you want to succeed in metal music.
Thanks very much, it’s been great having you so good luck to you and the rest of Insomnium for tonight!