Interview with LL (vocals) and MN (instruments)
Interview by Kira Levine
Shortly before the release of their sophomore album Ashes Coalesce, we caught up with Finnish duo Convocation to discuss their latest release and more.
Hello! Thank you for your time. I hope that you are keeping safe and well during the pandemic. Let’s start at the beginning; when did you start getting involved with music and realise that you wanted to be part of a band?
MN: When I was 13. I had been playing guitar for two years, but my guitar teacher was teaching me how to play Toto and Deep Purple songs. I was into old Sepultura, Metallica, Slayer etc. So I really didn’t give fuck about Toto nor Purple. Adios guitar lessons. Then I heard The Misfits, Black Flag, Discharge etc. That was my thing. Simple, loud and middle fingers up. But for example The Misfits had a singer that actually sang. And from 7 years old I was really into actual singing, David Bowie, Queen, The Beatles etc. So, I combined singing (and screaming) with guitar playing. It felt much more fun than playing only guitar. When I was 16 I found the people I wanted to start a band with, a hardcore punk band called Raiskattu Yhteiskunta (in English “Raped Society”). That was my first band and after that I’ve been involved with bands for the last 26 years.
LL: I don’t really know when I wanted to be part of a band per se. I’ve had more of a drive to do stuff myself more than belong to a unit. I never felt the need for playing live or being in front of people. More than that, I enjoy experimenting with things at my own pace and peace. I am way more songwriter than an instrumentalist. Playing instruments is a means to get somewhere, not the actual goal.
Like many of my age, I started with Trackers in the early 90s. Scream Tracker, Fast Tracker 2 and so on. You know those small programs on Amiga or PC? That, I think, opened a world of possibilities – I can create something by myself without needing anyone else. I have an infinite amount of sounds at my disposal (shitty samples back then) – I can do whatever I want. Looking back at this and thinking of me as a musician now makes me realise that not much has changed, really.
At times I’ve been part of bands. Even enjoyed it. What works for me the best is the creative freedom with music and then pairing up with someone talented with vocals – just like Marko [MN]. Then let the vocalist shape the song as seen fit. That way I don’t feel like compromising the songwriting still leaving a lot of space to vocalist(s) who always take the music to the next level.
Were you given any guidance from other musicians before starting out?
MN: Yes, but I didn’t listen.
LL: I don’t think so. I’ve heard negative feedback (“your band/you suck”) but not really constructive criticism. I’ve always tried to be that guy myself. Self-regulating, self-criticizing, making sure that whatever I’m doing is relevant for myself and something not done millions of times before. Honestly, I’m kind of an asshole to myself, haha.
What words of wisdom would you have given yourself? Is there anything you’d like to have done differently?
MN: No. Everything happens for a reason.
LL: Mostly about letting things go and not driving yourself mad with obsessing over things you don’t have any control over. Also adding that making compromises is not worth it. And as a post scriptum – things might be paradoxical. Learn to deal with it or suffer.
Convocation was formed several years ago. How did you first meet each other?
LL: Through a mutual friend. I think we were having a then all-too-familiar “drinking beer and listening to metal” evening where we realized that we do have a lot in common. Probably having arguments about band X’s best and worst album or similarly important things.
How would you describe Convocation’s sound to those who have not heard it before?
LL: An album of paradoxes. Melancholic and calm yet angry and aggressive. Full of hope and despair.
MN: Massive, beautiful and savage.
What can fans expect from your upcoming sophomore album ‘Ashes Coalesce’ that sets it apart from debut record ‘Scars Across’?
LL: I think it has a really different kind of vibe.
As with your first full-length, the cover art for ‘Ashes Coalesce’ was created by LL. Were there any influences on the artwork design aside from the album tracks?
LL: With Ashes I studied a lot of old masters – how they use color, contrast, light and so on. I’ve always wanted to use a certain color palette and mood so I did go through lots of old paintings. Caravaggio. Even though I had more technical and analytical focus doing that, they naturally inspired me a lot. Also some photography, movies and all visual media might inspire me a lot, but I don’t register it other than “oh, cool shot, nice composition”. For example the new Blade Runner influenced me a great deal even if it’s not really visible in the cover artwork.
What inspires you when creating new music or lyrics?
MN: For lyrics, life and humans. For music, silence.
LL: For “Ashes Coalesce”, a life event.
Are there any bands or musicians that you look up to or take influence from?
LL: Yes, I do look up to many bands in the doom genre. I do try to avoid taking too much influence from those bands, but of course lots of influences can be heard even if I consciously try to avoid them. You know, things stick. But the reason I always say that I don’t listen to any doom while writing doom, any death metal writing death metal, is that it might lead into diminished creativity and in the worst case scenario, pushes you away from the original vision or gut feeling.
You start to compare your song to your peers, “damn that’s a good riff, I want to do that too”, change things to match your own favourites, essentially being less You and more Them.
MN: I look up to the people I work with in music. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do in music.
What is the current Finnish death/doom metal scene like? Has it changed much since you started out?
LL: No idea. I don’t follow it that much. Probably more bedroom-doom as the technology is more available, cheaper and more convenient. At some point there might have been a trend going on, but it’s really hard to say as most of Finnish death metal bands tend to be borderline doom anyway, haha.
The death metal scene seems to be very much alive based on what my friends’ bands are doing – pumping up great records all the time.
And as for doom, I mostly follow, again, those bands my friends are involved with, namely Tyranny, Profetus. Worth noting is also the latest Solothus which I recorded and mixed.
MN: Profetus. I enjoy that band. There are decent bands here Krypts, Corpsessed, Cadaveric Incubator and so on. So, I think the graveyard scene is okay here.
How has the current pandemic affected Convocation as a band as well as yourself personally?
LL: Not much. I like staying home a lot. We were supposed to start rehearsing Convocation with live guys for the Killtown gig, but COVID made the start a bit more inconvenient. We had probably two sessions and the rehearsal place shut down. Other than that, family and friends have been healthy so all good. In Finland the whole keeping physical distance in stores etc. doesn’t matter that much. We tend to do that anyway. We fucking hate to be too close to other people, hahaha.
MN: Personally, in no way.
You’re set to play your first ever live show at Kill-Town Death Fest VIII in Denmark September. Have you set your sights on any countries you would like to tour after that?
LL: No. It’s supposed to be one gig and done.
What song(s) are you really looking forward to playing live? Do you have a favourite from the new album?
LL: It really changes from day to day. “Martyrise” has more drumming action and in that sense it’s right up my alley. Too many fills, too much stuff = great! But right now, I’m enjoying playing “The Absence of Grief” a lot. There’s certain peace and beauty slowing it down, stripping the drumming to the bare bones. New thing for me who constantly overplays the shit out of everything.
As a whole band, I can’t wait to play “Absence…” with all the harmonies. I’d like to be in the audience to experience that.
MN: The set.
If you had an once-in-a-lifetime chance to collaborate with any band or person, who would it be and why?
MN: Maybe with John Zorn. Musically I enjoy over the line journeys. Also singing with Prince, but he’s dead.
Can you name one negative and a positive about being in a band? Is the industry everything you’d thought it’d be?
LL: I don’t care for the music industry. I am the shittiest self-promoter in the universe and I don’t get kicks shouting how great we are in social media or in a bar. For us the music industry is… not a thing. We are a small band that does not play live (excluding Kill-Town one-timer) so I don’t feel us being a part of any industry per se. We are not doing this for money or stardom – we’d pick another form of musical output for that if it were the case.
I’ve worked with good labels, Everlasting and Dark Descent, so I can’t really complain that much. Of course there are small annoyances here and there, but nothing major. I do too much myself including artwork, mixing etc. so there’s millions of small things happening simultaneously. If I would delegate more, then I’d probably be annoyed of other people doing things “the wrong way”, haha. No clear path of staying sane for me.
Is it difficult balancing out being in a band with all your other commitments?
LL: Not for me. I kind of naturally set the pace as a sole musician. I think me and M have a good understanding between us that when he has time to concentrate on Convocation, then he does. We are not in a hurry anywhere. And while M does other stuff, I have something else cooking meanwhile.
Personally, which genres of music are your favourite?
LL: Well, quick answer: black metal or death metal. Depends on the mood, time of the year and the phases of the moon. After those two, for me, good music is good music. All forms of doom works but I’m not too obsessed about it. Grindcore, progressive psychedelic rock, ambient, chill music, classical all work for me equally. There has to be some substance, soul.
MN: Music with strong emotions.
If you could only listen to 3 records for the rest of your life, what would they be?
LL: Goddamn these questions. I’m a person that changes opinions about things like these too often so I’m having a hard time here, haha. “Storm of the Light’s Bane” for it never gets boring and is practically a perfect collection of perfect songs. Obtained Enslavement – “Witchcraft” for the same reasons. Now it gets hard. “Altars of Madness” for the quintessential death metal album or maybe “Clandestine”? “Ablaze in the Northern Sky”? Or something completely different like Isis’ “Panopticon” or Beethoven’s 9th symphony. I’m going to toss a coin when this choice needs to be done.
MN: David Bowie: Diamond Dogs, Low, and Lodger.
LL: I wish it would be that easy for me, Marko, haha.
Do you have creative endeavours or interests other than Convocation?
LL: At times way too much. Desolate Shrine being my other “main thing” is just finishing an album. I’m also part of a black metal band with a friend of mine that will release an album during autumn. Also I have an album worth of <super secret mysterious stuff> composed so I should start recording drums for that during the summer. I need to do something at all times and I fucking love it AND it drives me crazy.
MN: Sum Of R, Ural Umbo, Dark Buddha Rising, Boredom Knife and a collaboration album with Ashtoreth. Also a new band, etc. A lot. That’s what I do. A lot.
Other than an album release and festival date, do Convocation have any other exciting news for 2020/2021?
LL: I think that’s enough for one year.
Thanks so much for your time, would you like to share anything further with our readers?
‘Ashes Coalesce’ is out now, via Everlasting Spew Records.
Convocation – Ashes Coalesce
2. The Absence of Grief
3. Misery Form
4. Portal Closed