Before we go deeper into the creation of the new album ‘The Forest Seasons’, let’s pick up the thread in Fall 2012, when ‘Time I’ was released. I understand that you did quite a heavy tour schedule to promote that album. We remember tours with Korpiklaani, Eluveitie and Fleshgod Apocalypse. How do you look back at the tour cycle for ‘Time I’?
It was an amazing time! We did a couple of US tours. Our first US tours and several European tours. These were successful and ‘Time I’ went really well. We were really happy about that. So yeah, great times!
Of course everyone expected a release of ‘Time II’ now. Why did you change your mind and how was that process of writing new music?
When we were touring for ‘Time I’, I was mixing ‘Time II’ at the same time. I tried to get it done, but I realized I could not get it sounding the way I wanted. I could not get the sound I was aiming for. I could not do it with my resources. So I had a little burn-out in 2014. I just decided to put it on the shelf and do something else. That’s how I started working at ‘The Forest Seasons’.
So the final mix of ‘Time II’ still has to be done in a proper way?
Yes and other technical things, like re-amping the guitars. I need a studio for that and I really need a proper mixing room. It is a tough job to mix an album with that much orchestration and get it sounding the way I want.
The release of this album ‘The Forest Seasons’, is accompanied by a huge crowdfunding campaign. What can you tell about that?
That was really amazing. The reason was because we needed better resources to finish ‘Time II’ and also… we never had a proper rehearsal place, so without our own studio and rehearsal place it would be impossible. We started thinking that we actually do not need that many fans to do everything with crowdfunding. The fans had already suggested crowdfunding for us for many years. We were excited about that, because usually crowdfundings were like funding for some unfinished project, but we did not like that idea. So we started thinking like: why not do the product first and then sale that product through the crowdfunding? In that way we believed it could be better. It would sell better. That’s what we started planning in 2014. The plan was always to do this ‘Forest Seasons’ album through the crowdfunding and offer it as a cool package.
The mix and mastering of ‘The Forest Seasons’ is done by yourself…are you a lone wolf in the end?
Yeah, I have been wanting to do everything myself, already for a long time. Ever since I was a little boy, I made music alone, by myself, with humble equipment like cassettes and four track machines and so it developed. Wintersun always made music alone in my home, that’s how I like to work. ‘The Forest Seasons’ is made only by me in my home and rehearsal places. Well, actually in Teemu’s working room as well, which is in Sonic Pump Studios. I just recorded my vocals there. But the mix and mastering was done all by me.
So we can speak of you and a live band… In the studio you do everything yourself, except for the drums maybe, that’s Kai (Hahto – Vera)… isn’t it?
Well, Kai is actually not playing the drums on the album. There is no one playing, it is all my programming. The album is a kind of ultimate DIY album. It is an 100% album by me. Only Teemu and Jukka did some background vocals, and added low growling vocals. For choirs we had some friends and guys from the Finnish music scène, members from Ensiferum, Turisas, Moonsorrow and Týr. I wanted some big choirs for ‘The Forest That Weeps’, the Summer song, you know. For the rest everything is done by me.
How far are you now in the process of building the studio?
We cannot start building the studio until we collect our final goal, because we have to build my property and then build the studio inside. It costs a lot. So we just wait for our funding or we cannot start building. But the first funding was a big success The original plan was to do three crowdfundings.. Now that the first one was a big success, we can almost start building with the start of the second crowdfunding. Of course it will take time to launch the second crowdfunding. We are going to start touring now, so we cannot focus on it.
We see that the album is built around the theme of the four seasons, while every season is represented by one lengthy track. What more can you tell about this topic and your inspiration for making this album?
Well, it started in 2014 when I had the burn-out. I needed to take some time for myself, so I took some months off and did nothing, just running through the forest. Jogging, you know and try to relax and think what I should do. It was Summer and the forest inspired me a lot. I had never been in this forest before. Strange, because it is really close to where I live. It was the first time I went jogging there and it blew me away. The nature and the atmosphere… at the same time I was kind of going through my library of ideas where I have my riffs and melodies and I found this one riff that perfectly matched with the forest. That was the first inspiration for the first song, which was ‘The Forest That Weeps’, the Summer song. So I started working on that one song, which I called the Summer Song as opposite to Wintersun. Something really different, a bit easier, relaxing, because sometimes I feel very stressful. That song actually took me two months to create and record and then I had three other kind of ‘song starters’. One riff for each song. And I had three different ideas for forest songs. All the riffs were pretty different, they got a different feel over them. Yet I could use them on one album. Well, at that point I started thinking: ‘This riff sounds really dark and depressing, almost evil. That’s how I feel when Autumn draws near. It is really dark and depressing. I wanted to make an Autumn song. Another song was kind of cold sounding, slow and lonely. Like walking alone in fields of snow. Nothing but snow all around you. Winter. And then there was that energetic kind of riff, for Spring, when nature comes alive again. From that point I had the idea, but I have always been a fan of the Vivaldi’s Four Seasons theme. I always wanted to make a kind of heavy metal version of it. So now I could finally do my own Four Seasons album! So that is where the idea came from.
Interesting! I think we can say that the last track, the winter song, is rather exceptional for you. You sing so unexpected amazingly clean, almost like a crooner I would say…
Well, that is one song I am really proud of. One of those songs that happens rarely. Actually when I had the first riff for the song, it was going to be a dark black metallic track. I never kind of lead it myself, if I have an idea it can change in every direction and I realized that this song was going to turn out really different. And I am really happy how it turned out. I really pushed myself vocal-wise, singing like that and getting in the mood of the song. Over the years, one thing I really learned about singing, is that you have to think about the lyrics and really go into the song, live it while you sing it, so to speak. That way you get much better result.
That’s maybe also one of the reasons why you decided to focus on singing only in the live situation and you recruited an additional guitarist called Asim Searah?
Yes, that’s right. I never that much enjoyed playing guitar and singing at the same time, because it always felt like a compromise for both instruments. I love just playing guitar or just singing. So I had been thinking for it for a long time and actually the plan was to do it much later, but when I finished ‘The Forest Seasons’, I thought okay, maybe now is the time. With that latest track I just want to sing and focus on my singing. Of course I am going to continue playing guitar in the studio.
What is your favorite season?
I think Autumn and Winter are my favorite season songs, but in reality I don’t like Autumn and Winter that much. I am more of a Summer guy. Winter is really beautiful when there is a lot of snow in the forests, but in Helsinki the Winter is depressive. In January and February, when there is a lot of snow in the forests, it is a really beautiful time.
How is Kai doing now, because I recently found out that he has got an injury on his hand?
Yes, that was really unfortunate. We have been waiting for a long time to get to play with Kai again, because he is in Nightwish. In 2015 we had to take a replacement drummer, so we were really excited about it, but you know, shit happens and we just have to find solutions. So we arranged replacement again for the upcoming gigs. He injured his hand and can’t hold a drum stick probably, so he needs to take care of it.
How did you get in contact with the new guitarist Asim Searah?
Actually we have been knowing Asim for many years already. He has been living in Germany and they had this leather jacket company. They came to Finland many times and all around the world with these exhibitions. I think I first met him in a small local club in Helsinki ten years ago. He has been in the Finnish heavy metal scène for a long time. We even had some parties with him. I actually never knew that he played guitar that well or even that he played. So I was really surprised that he contacted me when we put the announcement for a new guitar player. He was the first one to contact me, the first one who sent a video. His dedication and passion for music really impressed us.
I like the artwork, it has an archaic feel, like a book. It was done by Gyula Havancsak. Some more words would be nice…
The first thing I wanted on the cover were the frames. For this record, a band like Summoning, kind of inspired me a little bit. Their album covers have these frames, I really like that. So I wanted these frames. Then I wanted to have a Summer forest scenery, but I wanted to have all seasons in there. So Gyula did the album cover via our instructions and I think he really succeeded. And I already had my challenge. For this album I actually did the booklet myself.
Wow and it will be an extensive one I think…
Yes and I have never done any graphic work or photography ever in my life and that was a big challenge. It took me more time to make the booklet than making the album (laughs). I showed my booklet to Gyula. He also took inspiration from there. I also wanted to make a statement. I mean, I got so much criticism for taking so much time for making the ‘Time I’ album, and it was not that I have been lazy. I was just so busy and it was so difficult to make with my little resources. So for ‘The Forest Seasons’ I wanted to make a statement: okay, let me show you that I can make an album fast. Actually the album took like nine months to make: write, compose, record, mix and master. From start to finish. That actual booklet took… (thinks) I don’t know, maybe fifteen months. Over a year for sure. But that was because I started learning for the photography and graphics from scratch and all those programs. I was running through the forest for maybe once a week for these two years. I did a lot of trips to the forest and took thousands of photos for it.
But the fans will get a lot in return if they want to, because not only the booklet, but there are also remixes and an extra record with the show from Tuska Open Air 2013. Why did you exactly choose that gig?
Well, it was the only show we recorded. When recording live, it is always a technical thing. For that show it was close to our studio and we had some gear and did a multi-track recording of the whole show, but we never planned to release it. I had the recordings and when I listened back to it, it sounded pretty good. So I decided to mix and master it and make a professional recording of it. That’s what I did and I think it sounds really good.
Will it only be available with the big package or will it separately come out too?
Nuclear Blast will also release ‘Tuska live’ separately. All the other remixes and re-masters from our first album and ‘Time I’ are only for ‘The Forest Package’. I don’t know what they are going to do later, because I don’t have any special rights on it, but for now it will only be ‘The Forest Seasons’ and ‘Tuska Live’.
What are the plans for the near future for touring?
We have now Summer festivals and after those we have some Finnish club shows, a mini tour in Finland. After that we are going to have an Eastern Europe tour. A new market, because we go to places we have never played before. So that will be exciting to do. Then there’s some other tours we are planning, at the end of the year and the beginning of next year and maybe also a tour in the Spring. If all goes as planned, we have four tours. Next year also Summer festivals and maybe one last tour in the Fall in 2018. And then we are going to take a break and start planning the next Wintersun album and maybe take some random good offers for shows. But me focusing on making new stuff.
I understand the songs are too long for proper video clips, but are there any plans for visuals anyways?
Yes, we are actually planning a music video, but we are not going to do it soon. It will take some time and we have so much stuff going on right now. Planning for the shows, rehearsing, the merchandising, things like that. We have a new record and a new line up, so things need to be rehearsed. But we are definitely going to do a music video and surprise people what song we are going to do. So let’s see…