(NCS writer DGR recently had the chance to pose some questions by e-mail to Ville Friman, guitarist, song-writer, and co-vocalist for Finland’s Insomnium, whose new album Shadows of the Dying Sun was reviewed by the same DGR here.)
Thank you so much for sitting down for this interview. How are you feeling as the official release dates of Shadows Of The Dying Sun move closer?
Ville Friman: No worries Dave, our pleasure really. It’s exciting times. Album seems to be doing well in the press, and we just found out that it made album of the month in German Metal Hammer, which is pretty big. Just hoping that people will like it and enjoy it as much as we do.
Shadows Of The Dying Sun is still recognizably Insomnium but there are a couple of shifts in sound. For example, I noticed a pretty big increase in tempo on a lot of the songs and the inclusion of some serious blastbeat work on the part of Markus. Insomnium have done fast tunes and more “traditionally” (if you could forgive a reductive phrase) melo-death songs before, but this album really sees the speed increase on multiple songs. Were you guys feeling in a faster mood than usual?
Ville Friman: Yes, I guess the blastbeats are bit of a new thing with us. We have fast songs on the album, but also a couple of slower pieces. So it’s a mix of things. We weren’t trying to be fast intentionally. I guess we just brought the tempo up a notch in general. And we were thinking about finding the best tempo for each song, and when we wanted to sound fast, we went pretty much as fast as we could.
A quick question about “While We Sleep” and the closing guitar solo. I haven’t seen the video yet as I write this, and I say this due to my love of Omnium Gatherum’s 2013 release Beyond, but is that Markus Vanhala on the closing solo? It sounds so much like his playing style and it is really high up there as one of the best moments on the disc.
Ville Friman: Yes, it is. All the solos on this album are done by Markus. He’s an amazing guitar player and has the touch, style and vision to pull it through with great taste. I’m not much of a guitar player, so I’m more than happy to leave this bit to Markus. It’s really his forte!
Speaking of the “While We Sleep” video, I heard tell that Grupa13 were involved. How was it working with them?
Ville Friman: It was a great experience. We shot all our parts during one day and flew over to Wroclaw, Poland to do this. We just love what they did with new Behemoth video and wanted to try out if we could get the same kind of quality to our video as well. Everything went smoothly, and we were looked after professionally. We even had a bit of time to go for a lunch with some of the group after the shootings, which was really nice. We hope the fans will like the video too.
How’d you guys decide on the artwork for the disc? You’ve had a thing for birds on your covers for some time, and that interest has spilled over into a couple of different songs across your releases. Is this quickly becoming shorthand for an Insomnium release?
Ville Friman: We decided to work again with Wille Naukkarinen (Soulcarver Media), who is also known as the guitar player of Finnish band, Ghost Brigade. Basically we gave Wille all freedom to come up with the artwork. He came up with the idea of using birds again, and I suggested to him to also add the “dying sun” to the cover, and that was it pretty much. I guess kind of repeating a bit what you do can make it your thing, in a way. And I guess we’re stuck with the birds now hah hah.
One of the reasons I became such a huge fan of your band is that you guys have always had a literary element to your music. I remember Above The Weeping World had multiple passages from a Finnish poet, and if I recall correctly, One For Sorrow was also inspired by a poem that contained the line, “and one for sorrow” in it. I’ve also always been a fan of the line in “Through the Shadows” on One For Sorrow that says, “You can’t win always, but you can lose every time” — that takes the wind right out of my sails every time I hear it. What were some of the ideas that played into the concepts of Shadows Of The Dying Sun? Any more poets or authors inspire the band on this disc?
Ville Friman: I think Niilo has always been more inspired by poems and so on. I tend to take my influences and stuff more often from movies, novels and comics. For me, the starting point for all lyrics is kind of a revelation about something. For example, you make your own happiness and need to take responsibility of your own life. I like to have some kind of message behind the lyrics. For example, “You can’t win always, but you can lose every time” is a kind of modified version of an old humorous Finnish saying. The main idea behind the title is the momentariness of life. We’re here for a short while before we fade away. Even the sun will be gone someday. We get the energy from sun, life is kind of a vessel for this energy. And that’s all there is. I don’t believe in the afterlife or things like that. This is it. Better make it count.
You get a lot of mileage out of your singing voice on this album, providing whole choruses to songs such as “Lose To Night”, verses to “While We Sleep”, and popping up in “The River” and “The Promethean Song”. How much freedom did you have to come up with the lyrics and melodies for those? Was it a collaborative effort or did you have a pretty clear idea of how they were going to go?
Ville Friman: Thanks, Dave. In the case of my own songs, I made all the melodies and lyrics (“LTN” and “WWS”), and for Markus’s songs, I sung Niilo’s lyrics, but pretty much came up with the vocal melodies and harmonies myself. Our recording engineer, Teemu, also helped me a lot during this whole process– he came up with additional harmonies and even sang backing vocals on most of the tracks. I really needed someone to give me that extra push and go a bit further than before.
I wanted to ask a few questions about the song “Ephemeral”, as I assume that outside of “Revelation” and “While We Sleep” it is probably going to be the song with which most people have familiarity due to its advance release as a single. How did you guys come to the decision to have that be the first song released from the new album? I’m sure all of you were prepared for the reaction to it, as it is pretty out-of-the-blue for an Insomnium track — a relatively upbeat and fast tune. Also, what is the story behind the genesis of “Ephemeral”? Was it an idea that had been laying around for a bit?
Ville Friman: At that time, we only had finished a couple of songs, so we did not have that much of choice really hah hah. I did write “While We Sleep” at this time as well, but I couldn’t get it to work that well yet. “Ephemeral” worked better and seemed to be one of those songs that just got stuck in your head easily. So, easy choice for a single really. It’s true that this song is a bit different from what we’ve done before, but we didn’t think that it would be a disadvantage. Sometimes it’s good to shake things a bit and do something unexpected. The song just worked, everybody was pleased with it, so we just went with it. The song was written (music and lyrics) somewhere in the spring 2013, so it was a new tune and not something that had been hiding in the drawer for a long time.
While I’m on a brief “Ephemeral” bit, did I read the band’s recent Facebook page updates correctly that you have wrapped up a video for “Ephemeral” as well?
Ville Friman: We did a lyric video for “Ephemeral”, and that’s where we’ll leave it I think. Plan is to shoot another music video from this album still in some near future. But let’s see how things pan out.
The album version of the song also differs a little bit from the single. Did the band do that just to keep folks on their toes? Also, how did the acoustic songs on the single release come about?
Ville Friman: Just to keep it a bit interesting and offer a second view to the song. Lots of these ideas were brought to the table by our recording engineer, Teemu, and we just went with them really. It’s a kind of second version, but very true to the original one. I have lots of acoustic material in the drawer I never recorded or released anywhere. The idea was just to offer something extra for the fans for being loyal during the long wait for the new album. Because of tight schedules, I just recorded all the acoustic stuff back at home as a lo-fi approach works with this kind of stuff.
How’s it feel being the only guy with the name Ville in the band? Empathetic towards the Markuses’ plight?
Ville Friman: Hah hah. Yeah it’s bit funny that we now have two Markus’s on board. But we actually use humorous acronyms between us all the time so it does not really matter having the same names. You can never have too many Ville’s or Markus’s in the band, you know.
Speaking of Markus Vanhala, how was working on the album with him? He’s been with the band for awhile, but Shadows Of The Dying Sun represents the first release outside of the “Ephemeral” single with him in the band, so I’m interested in how the songwriting process evolved with him as an official member.
Ville Friman: It works really well. Because we live in different countries we worked our way through computers and demoed material back home. Markus came up with 3 songs, and I wrote the rest. But then there was lots of good interaction going with all the songs. Markus came up with awesome solos to my songs, and I came up with some clean vocal lines to his songs. And of course everyone threw in some ideas concerning arrangements and so on. So good interaction along the whole process.
“The Promethean Song” sticks out as one my favorites from the album, especially as a song that will feel comfortably familiar to Insomnium fans. I’m really curious as to the story behind that one as well, and specifically, once you launch into the “No redemption from the sky” set of lyrics and then into the whispered verse that follows. What was the inspiration behind that song?
Ville Friman: This is actually one of Markus’s songs and one of my favorites on the album. So, the main music is done by Markus, Niilo did all the lyrics, and I came up with the clean vocal lines in the chorus. So, good interaction going there throughout the whole song. This is a good example of how good of a musician Markus really is, as he is able to adjust his writing style according to the band that he’s playing in: for me this song sounds like solid Insomnium, even though the newest member has written it. As I did not write the lyrics, I can’t tell about the lyrical inspiration too much. But basically it’s about realizing that there’s no force beyond this world that can pull ourselves out of the shit we’re in hah hah. It’s about finding that power yourself from within you.
I apologize if this sounds like navel-gazing, but as a musician do you find certain environments and moods lend themselves to your songwriting better than others? Like, are there moments where you’re trying to finish something that has been on your mind song-wise, you open the window and see that the sun is out, and then just swear because you know nothing is going to get done?
Ville Friman: I think it’s more about just finding the right mood and that’s something that comes from within. You can feel down and depressed, whether it rains or shines. And shitty weather and darkness do not necessarily create creative atmosphere. For me, I need time and space to concentrate and just play with music. Enough time to have fun with it and get those creative juices flowing. At the same time, it’s not all fun and games. You need to put the work and the hours in. Fine balance somewhere there.
Which song on this record are you most excited about? Any one song you hold nearer to your heart than others? Other than a full-disc run from front to back, which one are you most interested in hearing fans react to?
Ville Friman: I like “The Promethean Song” a lot. But all the songs are kind of special for me in their own way. It’ll be interesting to hear how people react to “The River” and “Black Heart Rebellion”, as they have a bit faster drumming and a “black metal” kind of feel in them.
You’ve announced quite a few dates already on the Summer festival circuit as well as some outside touring. Which one (or ones) are you looking forward to at the moment? Is a potential trip to North America in the cards? Any chance you’ll find yourselves in the boondocks of Sacramento, California by chance? I can guarantee at least one person will be there.
Ville Friman: We are looking to get to the USA ASAP. We love it there, you know. I think the first one we’re going to do next week in Tilburg with Epica will be the most interesting one, as it’s the first one after awhile. You always get the nerves kicking in a bit. At the same time, it’s interesting to get out there again and play new songs live for the first time. All festivals are always fun to play, and Summerbreeze especially has been always really good for us.
Finally, as a band you guys have put yourselves out there on quite a few social media sites. Has that helped with keeping in touch with a lot of the fans? Also, where can we find you folks now, outside of the requisite Twitter, Facebook, and band website? I remember, for example, Insomnium were on another service posting small studio updates as they happened.
Ville Friman: I think it’s good to get connected with fans, and we try to do this to some degree. But I have to admit that there’s a bit too much out there at the moment. I mean, different medias are overlapping, and I don’t know who has the time to keep in touch with people through every one of them. We’re mainly trusting on Facebook at the moment, but also do some additional stuff, chats and so on, through various other sites.
Thank you so much for subjecting yourself to my inane line of questioning, we really appreciate it.
Ville Friman; No worries, Dave, it was my pleasure!
Shadows of the Dying Sun will be released in North America on April 29 by Century Media and can be pre-ordered here.