Greetings to you Toni! Time for our next interview, as we always do for every record. This time for excellent disc 'I Am Become'. What's going on at the moment at the Hanging Garden basement?
Hi Vera! We are currently waiting for the album to be released. On top of that, I have just finished the lyric video for ‘Our Dark Design’. Next up I am doing a full music video for the track ‘Ennen’ together with our keyboardist Nino Hynninen. A few new raw demo songs have also been made considering the future.
Two years ago 'Blackout Whiteout' was launched at the world. What happened next to the band? Could you support it by more gigs than ever before?
Well, we started making the EP ‘Hereafter’ almost immediately after. We did have some good gigs in Finland together with Swallow The Sun the following winter, when we were able to play for big audiences, which was nice. ‘Hereafter’ and the three video arrangements we did for it with Nino took a huge amount of our time. When ‘Hereafter’ was completed we started on ‘I Am Become’, so there really hasn't been time for anything else than creating music. Antti Ruokola also quit the band around the time when the album was released, so the release show was already played by our current drummer Sami Forsstén. On top of everything else, we had made a studio live video recording during the summer before the release. The session was called ‘Backwoods Sessions’, and was literally recorded at Nino's cabin in the woods of Pernaja. The whole thing can be found on YouTube, and consists of four songs from ‘Blackout Whiteout’ topped off with a Jeff Buckley cover. I think the atmosphere was great, and it comes through in the videos. A rather macabre detail is the cover art for ‘Backwoods Sessions’ - which can be found on Spotify - that is made from a photo of a dead hatchling bird. When we played - rather loud - and went to have a break on the veranda, there was another dead bird each break. Apparently they jumped from the nest because of our playing... Someone came up with the slogan "When Hanging Garden plays - animals die", but fortunately we didn't put it to use!
In 2016 we also welcomed a sure-fire MCD 'Hereafter'. Second MCD in between full lengths... Is it a kind of guidance to introduce us to the next musical development?
Well, the point was to make a diverse set of songs, and see how they fit together. Our method of working doesn't really include making any concrete guidelines for the songs or materials, but the raw material for ‘Hereafter’ was so diverse and different, that we decided to make an EP out of that material. In the end the songs weren't all that different, but that’s how it usually goes when we get to process the song ideas with the whole six of us, everybody bringing their ideas, flavor and sound to the end result. I don't think it was an actual introduction to ‘I Am Become’...
On that MCD the idea of guest singers was featured. Very amazing, but why do you work with so many guest vocalists while having quite a diverse vocalist in your ranks?
Thank you! Maybe I am relatively diverse, but the idea of getting great singers to make appearances in the tracks was appealing to us, and went well with the relatively short EP, so we went on ahead with that. We decided just to go ahead and ask for singers we thought highly of to come and perform as guests. I asked Mikko Kotamäki of Swallow The Sun when we were doing the live shows together on the Finnish tour, and he said yes. Our guitarist Jussi H. asked Alexander from October Tide to do one song, and also Victor from The Moth Gatherer for another. On top of those, my girlfriend Riikka performed on three of the songs, and actually made many of the vocal arrangements for the songs, as I was still quite depleted from ‘Blackout Whiteout’!
Isn't it a surplus problem when you want to play those songs live?
Not really. I can pull it off with Jussi H. live quite well. Of course, when playing together with aforementioned bands, there is a possibility to perform the songs as they are on the album! Riikka did one gig with us, and probably will do more in the future.
When did you start writing the material for 'I Am Become' and what can you tell about this writing process?
I think some ideas are from way back, and some were very new, completed just before we started recording.. The process was as it usually is with Hanging Garden: most of the members contribute in relatively finished compositions, and then people start putting in their own instruments - most of us have our own home studios. The final arrangements for the songs aren't usually done until in the recording process! Many times I get to make the vocal arrangements - if not done already by someone else - at the point when everything else is recorded. Then I send my demos to the guys, and usually Jussi H. makes some tweaks. Then I make the actual recordings that can be heard on the album.
Why the title 'I Am Become'?
It's a snippet from a very famous text. The grammar is not an error (as some already have suggested), but a poetic archaism. The original is from a Hindu scripture, made more famous by a certain U.S. physicist in 1945. The word omitted from the title does indeed depict the theme of the album quite well.
The lyrics should have a focus on the inexorable aspect of life and its antonym death. Can you go a bit deeper into that?
The lyrics for nearly all of the songs are done in memory of departed people, things or ideas. Death, loss, release and departure are the main themes on the album. The songs are about people that were family of the band members, so the songs hold intense meaning for us.
There is a kind of mysticism in the native languages' epitaphs and obituaries. Please dive a bit more into this matter for us...
Well, I think the Finnish language is very strong, bare and raw. The language is a kind of a mirror to culture, and most of the Finnish tribes have had a certain simple and stoic understanding of death and loss, I think. If you translate Finnish obituaries to English (main language in our songs) the meaning is easily lost, or just sounds silly or oversimplified. I think the "mysticism" comes from the aspects of language that are not translatable. Death and loss are also such profound concepts that the text is very delicate and fragile. Thus it is a better choice to leave them as they are. In Finland it's actually quite frowned upon in the metal scene to mix languages like that, but we decided not to care, as we thought this one quite thoroughly.
This time we have guest contributions of Tomi Joutsen (Amorphis) and Niko Kalliojärvi (ex-Amoral, Humavoid). Can you tell us about your bond with those guys and where they appear?
Tomi Joutsen appears on ‘Hearthfire’ (most of the growls) and ‘Forty One Breaths’ (the clean Finnish vocals in the end). I've always thought very highly of Tomi. He is a great, versatile singer, and also shares my profession as a youth worker. We didn't know him personally before, we just met him on a cruise ship, and Jussi H. asked him to perform, and he said yes. Me and Niko on the other hand go way back. We've had some beer fuelled 'for fun' music projects together where we both sing for almost two decades. I wanted him to do some powerful deep growls on the bridge part of ‘From Iron Shores’, and make this movie trailer voice bit for ‘Our Dark Design’, and he did as he was told, haha.. No, actually I am very grateful for his input!
The recording process is also a mystery to me until now. So it is up to you to lead us through this process... Did you use an extern producer or mixing guy?
No external producer. Jussi H. has produced all of our material after ‘TEOTWAWKI’. On ‘I Am Become’ we actually laid down the guitar tracks first. Instead of making demo recordings, Jussi H. and Mikko decided to make them tight enough to be used in the end result. Next up Jussi K. made bass tracks and some bass synths and other oddities to back up the guitars. Some programmed and played synths followed. Only after these points were the actual drums recorded by Sami at our rehearsal place. We have good recording gear and our drummer Sami has a degree in music technology, so he knew what he was doing well enough. Then Nino went on to put some keys in, and in the end I had to make the vocals. Sami had made the melodies for one song, and Jussi H. for a few others, but the rest was up to me. After recording at my home studio, I sent everything to Jussi H. who did all the backing vocals and harmonies. Then Jussi did some additional production and details, and our part was done. The songs were mixed at Redfive studios by Mikko Herranen and Toni Kimpimäki. We decided to take on an experimental approach of two different mixers. They got to pick the songs they liked most and do those. We first thought we might have to put Mikko's songs on the first half of the record and Toni's on the other, but surprisingly the songs worked really well in random order. I'm quite glad we took this approach, as both of the guys did an awesome job!
Who is the female singer in the last track 'Ennen'? And what does that mean actually?
My significant other Riikka Hatakka, who also appeared on the EP ‘Hereafter’. She actually made about half of the vocal arrangements on that song as well. ‘Ennen’ means ‘Before’ - but the name is also an anagram from the name of the person after whose memory the lyrics are written. I make lyrics for most of our songs, but the lyrics on this one are written by Nino.
In addition to the lyric video for the single 'Elysium', I see that you are busy with shooting a music video. For which song? Can you tell a bit more about the making of?
The song is ‘Hearthfire’. We've been working with the highly talented Julia Alakulju who also did the video for the song ‘Hereafter’ (obviously from the ‘Hereafter’ EP). She's using some really cool 8mm film on this one! We also have a video coming up for ‘Ennen’, as mentioned before! The video will feature sign language and autumn nature aesthetics. We also found a piano abandoned in the woods in Helsinki, so we are going to shoot a scene with that one as well! We shall see what comes out, as neither of us are actual professionals when it comes to video material. ‘Elysium’ was also done by me and Nino together.
Now that Swallow The Sun and Ghost Brigade are having a pause, I think you can impress their fans. Also the ones of Katatonia. But what are your personal thoughts about that?
Well, I don't know actually! Of course it would be great to cater to the fans of these amazing bands you mentioned. Hopefully someone will spread the word and our music to them!
By the way, Tomi Joutsen did an extremely intense vocal performance on Hallatar's album, don't you think so?
Yes he did indeed! The song I heard has a funeral doomish tang, and Tomi does quite a different style than what we have gotten used to hearing on Amorphis songs. I like it.
What are the plans for playing live?
We have just one gig coming up. It's going to be held at Vernissa, Vantaa. The event is called December Doom, and will feature us, Shape Of Despair, The Moth Gatherer and Counting Hours. It will act as our album release party as well. The times are quite dark when it comes to performing live. We are a six-person act with a huge amount of gear, so it's quite difficult and expensive to move around. In Finland there are hundreds of metal bands - biggest per capita in the world - so all the venues are filled with metal acts all the time. The oversaturation of metal shows means smaller crowds, so gigging in Finland seldom pays off. That's why we focus mostly on recording and video sessions. We have often talked about a tour in Europe, but most of us have other jobs and children, so making arrangements for a tour poses a challenge for us... Hopefully this will become a reality soon, though!
Who did the artwork and can you tell a bit more about the link with the contents of the album, seen through the eyes of the creators?
The artwork was done by Kalle Pyyhtinen. The art is his interpretation of our music. I think the artwork portrays our music beautifully, and Kalle did a damn fine job.
Except for playing live the new (and older) material, are there any other plans for the near future?
We are going to do a similar live studio video session to ‘Backwoods Sessions’ early 2018. After that, probably more composing and hopefully a tour! No concrete plans yet, though.
If there is anything you'd like to add, feel free to do it right here...
Go and see our material on YouTube! When the album comes out, we will release an amazing music video done by the talented Julia Alakulju of Illusia Creative (you should check her out on Facebook!). The video is of the song ‘Hearthfire’ featuring beautiful guttural shouts from Amorphis' Tomi Joutsen. And buy the album!