EDITOR’S NOTE: Finnish multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and songwriter Tuomas Saukkonen is the driving creative force behind two of this site’s favorite bands — Before the Dawn and Black Sun Aeon — along with about 1,000 other musical projects. BTD’s new album, Rise of the Phoenix, is scheduled for release by Nuclear Blast on April 27, and just yesterday we featured a killer song and official video for one of the new songs, “The Phoenix Rising”. If you haven’t seen it yet, make haste to this location, where you’ll also find a link to a free download of the song.
Today, we’re fortunate to feature this interview of Tuomas Saukkonen by guest writer KevinP, which includes insights into the new album, the band’s line-up changes, and the shift in musical style that we’ll be hearing on Rise of the Phoenix, along with much else.
This is your second album coming out on Nuclear Blast. What’s different this time around and why should people who didn’t care for you in the past now be interested?
The timing is a lot better than with the first album with NB. We signed the deal just before Christmas and the album came out in Europe 16.2. So there was not much time for promotion. With the new album we have totally 3 months, which is pretty big thing. Musically there has been a pretty big change in our scale, and there will surely be some changes in the fan base also. If you thought we were just one girlie metal band, you should really check out the new material.
Lars (bass/clean vocals) and Atte (drums) are out of the band and replaced with Pyry (bass) and Joonas (drums). What made you choose them as replacements?
Joonas and I have been friends for a looong time and we have been trying to find a band or project for a long time where we could be in the same line-up. I’ve been a fan of his playing for a long time. Also he has inspired my drum playing a lot. Pyry used to be my drum student a few years back but had been playing guitar since he was 10. Very cool and musically talented guy who started to play bass around the same time as drum, so he was an ideal choice.
I hear that Joonas is now undergoing a substantial knee surgery. Does that leave his future involvement in doubt?
Unfortunately it does. No idea when he will be able to play again, and this year seems to be fully booked and we need a fully functioning band, so we agreed that we will use a session drummer at least until autumn. We already have the new guy checked out and the first rehearsal done.
What caused the injury?
A work-related thing with the knee. He has been working 9 years in his job and that particular job does damage the knees if you have bad genes to begin with. He has gone thru one surgery before already.
Just so you know, the correct answer should always be “the new material is so fast and brutal his poor legs couldn’t handle the workload”. LOL remember that.
Hahaha. His knee MELTED in the studio!!
In the press release for the new album it states: “Massive changes in the line-up during 2011 ended an era of great frustration and brought back 110% dedication and professionalism into the band . . . newfound energy and motivation”. Based on that, one could imply that there was some bad blood or a lack of commitment and focus on the part of Lars and/or Atte. Care to divulge any details?
There was a lot of lack of commitment, focus, and professionality from Lars. That took pretty long, and in the long run that starts to build frustration inside the band when everybody works hard but we were still unable to deliver 110% on the stage.
Problems in personal life sometimes reflect on the professional side so badly that you start to function on an amateur level, if you know what I mean. A professional becomes an amateur if you don´t work hard for your status as a professional.
AND then there is Atte. He is a top professional and extremely good guy! I really enjoyed working with him in the studio and on the stage, but he was not into the change in the musical style. He doesnt like to play blast beats or fast double bass drums, so he decided to step down.
So the new material is heavier, faster, and more brutal and no longer features clean vocals (only harsh). Was this a direction you’ve wanted to go in for a while?
I have been longing for a long time to go into faster and heavier stuff but didn´t have the right kind of a drummer in the band, and also the clean vocals were kind of holding it back. Lars has an amazing voice but it doesn´t work that well with heavier parts, and I kind of had to write parts for the songs that supported the clean vocals the best.
I also started to feel very limited as a song writer.
So when you perform live, how are you going to present the old material?
90% of the old material is pretty much buried for now.
Are you worried about fan reaction to this?
Not really. I know for a fact that some fans won´t be happy, but this is what we as a band want to play. One year ago we had a choice to make — change all the things that were bothering us or bury the band.
I have written over 80 songs for the band during these 12 years, so I really needed the change. I noticed that I was no longer writing music for myself but for the band, and overall BTD had became too “mellow” for myself. It had became an obligation instead of a passion. Now the table has turned, and I am counting days to get to play the new songs live.
Speaking of live shows, Europe gets to see the band plenty. Any chance for us North Americans to see you in 2012?
Seems that Europe, Russia, Turkey, Greece, etc., will keep us busy for the beginning of 2012, and it is a bit tricky for a European band to come to USA.
Have you ever had offers to play over here?
I assume you’ve heard of 70,000 Tons of Metal and the Barge to Hell cruises, along with Maryland Deathfest. Those would be the best avenues for us to see Before the Dawn.
True….I have heard from one guy in FB about those “few times”, so I know both cruises well.
LOL, good man, well get your asses on one of those cruises please.
It would be a lot easier than a tour in USA.
Between BTD and your other projects, do you ever get any time for things “outside” the music world?
Movies, friends, gym. Music is my job and hobby so it takes my time in so many levels. When I have free time. I might go to play drums alone and figure out some new patterns, fills, etc. That is fun for me.
At the pace you produce new material for all your bands, do you ever feel “burned out” or that you need a break?
I just took a two-month break and did not touch a guitar once. I put my focus on gym and drum rehearsals. Now I’m starting to be soooooo motivated to write stuff for Black Sun Aeon for example. I never write music if I’m not in the mood.
Have you ever felt the need for a fresh set of eyes or ears to help you write or produce any of the material, just to make sure?
Most of the sound engineers I work with are very good friends of mine, and I might run a lot of ideas on the spot thru them, but I don´t need anybody to hold the strings in the studio in terms of a producer. I also have great respect toward their professionalism and would not make decisions against them. They know how to got the sound I want, and I want give them room to work.
Okay, I’ve become a big fan of a Finnish treat, salmiakki (salted liquorice). What’s your favorite type?
Any kind — but that is in my DNA.
I was going to ask you if you ever had salmiakki vodka, but then I remember your were straight-edge. Has this been a lifelong thing? What made you decide on this ?
Never been drunk in my life and never even tasted booze. Just never been into drinking.