How do you look back at the more than two years gone by since the release of previous album ‘One Man Army’?
‘One Man Army’ started a new chapter in our career in many ways. It was our first album with Metal Blade, the collaboration with recorder/producer Anssi Kippo started and Gyula Havancsák became our cover art artist. So many things changed then. Music-wise it was a natural step forward for the band but the seed was planted then; that we want our albums to sound more like live-albums than “over-polished generic studio album”. Also Netta Skog slowly became a permanent member of Ensiferum, I mean, first she was just a substitute for long tours, but then our ex-keyboard player Emmi wanted to step down completely and it was natural to ask if Netta wants to join as fulltime member and lucky us, she did!
Did you experience some special new territories or happenings on tour worth having a special mention? What were the highlights for you?
‘One Man Army’'s touring cycle has been an amazing ride. We played in many countries for fantastic crowds with superb bands. It's impossible to name just one or even a few highlights, because every show has been unforgettable. But I have to mention that during this touring cycle, we did bunch of acoustic gigs in Finland and those were lots of fun and hopefully we can do those also outside Finland.
When did you focus on writing the new material for ‘Two Paths’ and what about this writing process this time?
For us the writing process is an ongoing thing. Even now we are already working with songs of the next album. So it's not easy to say when the writing of ‘Two Paths’ started, because most of the songs took years to finalize. The way we compose is really slow, because we compose together as a band and not so that someone brings ready songs to the rehearsal room and tells others what to play. We bring raw ideas to the rehearsal room and arrange songs together by twisting and turning and analyzing everything. It's a slow method but very rewarding and this way everyone can stand behind every song.
Some songs should be demoed seven years ago. Which ones only came to full existence this time and why?
Like I explained earlier about our composing process, we will not record a song before we are 100% happy with it. On ‘Two Paths’ there is a song called ‘I Will Never Kneel’ and I think was 2010 when I recorded the very first ultimate raw demo of it for others to listen to. But it took all this time to find all the missing parts and finalize the arrangement. But I'm really happy with the result.
Netta Skog joined as permanent member in 2016, but of course we all know her enthusiastic appearance from the live shows. Now that she is truly Ensiferumed, please resume again how she entered and grew properly into the band (an some words about her exceptional musical background)?
That's true, she is really a great performer and musician. Well, she is a world champion of digital accordion, so that tells something about her skills. She replaced our ex-keyboard player first for few tours and then things changed so that we asked her to join us as fulltime member. The change went really smoothly because she and Emmi are both really easygoing persons.
Can you tell a bit more about her input on the new record and of course I have noticed some new elements in the trusty Ensiferum sound, but what would you like to mention as new elements on ‘Two Paths’ in the eyes of the creators?
I'm really proud that Netta bravely took part in the composing process by telling her opinions and bringing her own ideas to the rehearsal room. Of course it was natural to use accordion sound a bit more this time, because we have an accordion player in the band. Otherwise I think the sounds of ‘Two Paths’ are very Ensiferumish but of course this time everything was done better than ever before.
I remember you recorded ‘One Man Army’ with the intention of coming closer to the live sound, but this time you also had a different approach in recording. Can you go deeper into that and how did you experience that personally?
Indeed! We wanted this album to sound as if a band is playing live and most of all, that the band is kick ass! We wanted to capture live-energy on this album and when we recorded drums, everyone was playing at the same time. Even though the main focus at that point was to record drums, but Anssi recorded every instrument and bass lines. At least three songs were taken from drum recording sessions! Really old school! The biggest difference between ‘Two Paths’ and everything we have ever done before was the change of mentality: on this album we wanted every take that would be left on the album to have emotion in it. So we focused on having takes which would have “soul” instead of hunting for technical perfection. I think you can really hear that on the album. I really love this kind of approach to music, because music is a form of art and art is expressing something deeper than words can describe.
What are the main qualities of producer Anssi Kippo that makes him a perfect match as producer for you?
Everything. I mean his way of working suits us perfectly. He is an amazing wizard in the studio! He is a strict producer, but very supportive and he has creative ideas and unbelievable working moral.
I would say that the single ‘For Those About To Fight For Metal’ is a jolly symbiosis of AC/DC with Ensiferum hehe. Well done! Any comments on that?
Hehe, that's true. The original idea was to create an anthem for our fans around the world, because the opening melody was so heroic. But it happened at the time when AC/DC's singer had hearing problems and he couldn't finish a tour and I was jamming this melody in the rehearsal room and thought, well first of all “FUCK!” because AC/DC has been an important band for me since I was a kid and then I thought how would this melody sound in “Thunderstruck-style” and it sounded awesome! Others liked the idea so we kept that and continued to arrange that song. Few weeks later I had almost all the lyrics ready for this song and I saw a headline that Manowar is quitting and again I was like “FUCK!!” because they really had an impact to young Markus when he was forming his own band. So I thought: how about making a tribute to our fans, AC/DC and Manowar and so the song title was decided!
I know that you don’t like to dig deeper into the lyrics because the fans are free to interpret, but some words about the concept and underlying idea of the title ‘Two Paths’ would be nice though…
‘Two Paths’ is a very obvious title and it refers to choices. Big decisions in life, but also realizing that those small fleeting moments when we choose to do or not to do something, will have consequences. We usually don't even notice that we are making choices all the time and those will change the future, our own and people’s around us. Everything has a price.
In this light: Are you someone who promptly takes decisions or do you mostly act after well-thought consideration?
We are all humans and no one can think through every decision and even the wisest can't see all the ends (shameless Lord Of The Rings-tribute :D ) but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't try! I think the older you get, the more you'll see the connection on past decisions and the present and that way you start to understand that the choices made today will have effect not just now but in the far future.
Can you tell a bit more about the guests on the album?
Even though we are a folk metal band, using folk instruments just because “we have to” has never been our thing. We always listen what the song needs and on this album the song material was a bit more heavier, so we only needed help from our old faithful nyckelharpa/violin virtuoso Lassi Logren who did an amazing job! Oh and Vince from Metal Blade was in the studio shooting some video material and we lured him to sing some choirs and shout his lungs out in shout-parts with us.
Two songs are recorded with a different approach (‘God Is Dead’ and ‘Don’t You Say’). Can you tell a bit more about the reason for that?
I assume you mean that we included two versions of each song on the album? Ensiferum has always had harsh, clean male and female vocals and choirs, so it's always an interesting process to arrange vocals to our songs. We recorded first clean vocal versions of those songs and just for the hell of it we asked Pete to do harsh vocal versions and they all sounded so good that we decided to keep them all. It's going to be fun to see which versions we play every night on tour, hehe.
Somewhere I read that you are all very lucky to have reached a point of respect and success with Ensiferum, something that obviously was just a dream when starting. What are still dreams to fulfill and achieve with this new record?
That's true, we are very lucky that we can do what we love on this level. Of course even if nobody would buy ‘Two Paths’ and no one would come to see us on tour, we would still keep making our music because that's what we love to do. I hope we can do lots of gigs around the world, meeting old friends and making many new on the road.
What are the plans for the near future and what are the tour plans up to now?
There is quite a lot touring coming up in the next few years on every continent. So besides that we are working on new songs, there is a plan to record a new DVD at some point and like I said it would be great to take Ensiferum acoustic spectacle abroad, but first we focus on promoting ‘Two Paths’.
To occlude: What is your top 5 to listen to at the moment?
During this week I've been listening to: Björk, HIM, Swallow The Sun, Dio and Rainbow. You can't go wrong with this lineup.
Sami, I wish you all the best and thank you for your time. See you at the next Ensiferum gig!
It was my pleasure! See you soon! All the best!