photo by by Kalle Pyyhtinen
(Today Comrade Aleks presents the following interview with Toni Toivonen, vocalist of the Finnish band Hanging Garden, whose name will be well-known to long-term visitors at our site, and whose latest album Into That Good Night was released by Lifeforce Records on November 15th.)
Started fifteen years ago as a melodic death doom band, Hanging Garden from Finland follow their way of metamorphosis from album to album, while keeping a few things inviolable. They have a dominating melancholic mood, through the general melody of their material and their artistic approach to performing their material, and emotional variety based on heavy and cleaner instrumental parts as well as extreme and clean vocals.
Their sixth album Into That Good Night saw the light of day on November 15th through Lifeforce Records, and we can tag it as “melancholic metal” as this term doesn’t imply any strict obligation. But why not try to root out Hanging Garden’s essence with one of its members — here’s the interview with Toni Toivonen (vocals).
Hi Toni! How are you? Hanging Garden’s new album is almost in hand, so what do you feel considering this event?
I am stoked of course! I am happier with this release than I’ve ever been in any band or project before.
You joined Hanging Garden in 2010, and the first album with you on vocals is At Every Door released in 2013. That was your first session with the band. What are your memories about it?
Well, I mostly remember how painful the recording session was. Both of my bands had gone on a hiatus at the time, and I hadn’t done any death metal vocals for six months. When the time came for the recordings, it became evident that I had lost my ability to growl and scream. I had to start practicing the skill again from zero.
Each recording day I could do a maximum of one song, and it felt like my throat was bleeding afterwards. In retrospect, it adds to the emotion of the sound, but I’d rather not go through a similar ordeal again… The songs still sound great, and I still think the opening track “Ten Thousand Cranes” is one of our best songs performed live.
Agreed, that’s a strong track indeed. How do you manage to keep your voice now?
Quite well, actually. After moving to a house (instead of a flat apartment) it has been a lot easier to practice singing – not having to think about the ears of the poor neighbors is very liberating. This is very important for me, as the members of Hanging Garden live quite far apart, and we only start practicing together a bit before we need to hit the stage – and this is not enough for me to keep my voice well-trained. Practicing screaming, growling, grunting, and the like at least 2-3 times a week seems to keep it up.
I think death metal vocals is not like clean singing, where you somewhat keep your skill even with longer breaks. I would compare clean singing to riding a bike, and screaming/growling to hitting the gym: the muscles atrophy when not used at all. It is of course a technical skill as well, based on muscle control and support, but you still need those throat muscles to be in top-notch shape.
Hanging Garden – November Dawn
Did you try to keep the vibe of lyrics from previous albums when you joined Hanging Garden? The band seems to always move and change, so I wonder if you discussed details like that back then?
Well, we’ve kept the thematics of humanity as its own worst enemy, but I’ve always written in my own style. I remember that I just wrote lyrics to a bunch of the songs, and Jussi and Mikko liked them. The previous lyricist was the founder and bassist Matti, who left the band soon after I joined, so it fell upon me to do all the lyrics after that. I think there was no further discussion, and they’ve always given me a freedom of writing whatever I like…
Do you have bands or writers whose lyrics you see as the best examples of themes you pick up in Hanging Garden?
I haven’t thought about it all that much, actually. If I’d have to name names, I think Nick Cave as a musician and Cormac McCarthy as a writer would be the closest ones. They have influenced my writing somewhat. Mostly I think I’ve absorbed a ton of stuff from different sources, and then the subconscious just summons what is needed for a certain feel or theme in a song.
Toni, Hanging Garden was tagged as a melodic doom death band. How do you see this subgenre? What are its necessary elements in your opinion? And how do you see its roots?
This is a tough one… I’m not one for labeling bands in genres, and actually I’ve always found it a bit amusing the amount of different genres we’ve been allocated to — we’ve been everything from “progressive gothic doom” to “blackened dark doom” and “depression metal” – whatever that means!
I think melodic doom death portrays a good chunk of what we do though. I think the roots lie in early Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride mostly.
The band turned towards dark emotional metal with the Blackout Whiteout album. Do you remember how the changes crawled into your songs?
I think many band members were going through a bit of a tough time then, and for me personally I was in quite severe emotional distress. Those prevalent emotions can be found in the sound of that album, I think.
Hanging Garden – Blackwoods Sessions
What was the feedback when Blackout Whiteout saw the light of day? Do you remember how the band’s fans and the media reacted to this metamorphosis?
I think there was great diversity in the reactions and album reviews. Many liked our music, especially those who hadn’t heard of us prior to the album, but many of those that had been digging “Inherit the Eden” were a bit taken aback by what we had done with the band. Of course it’s always a bummer to let people down, but we don’t make a profit with our music, so of course we do the sort of music we feel like, always.
How did you come to idea of Backwoods Sessions back in 2015? How did you manage to organize everything for this session?
It was a fucking chaos. We didn’t know what we were doing, but asked for Kalle S. to operate his camera equipment and my friend Kristian Kuronen to take care of the sound engineering and recording. We borrowed a ton of equipment wherever we could get it, and tried our best in one weekend’s worth of work. It was stressful, but fun all the same!
Really? You didn’t know what you were doing?… Actually it seems to be like a well-planned recording. Why did you choose this particular place to film this recording?
The place is owned by our keyboardist Nino, and is a perfect getaway resort for band stuff. The main building has a very high ceiling and wooden interior, as you can see from the videos – it is a great place for recording as well. On top of the Backwoods stuff, the drums on At Every Door, November Dawn, and Into That Good Night have been recorded in that same room. The place is also beautiful and surrounded by nature, so it is a great place to relax after recordings as well.
You go deeper into the territory of gothic metal with the I Am Become album, though it has its hard sides. Was it difficult to switch on this updated sound with all its nuances during recording?
I don’t think any “change” in sound has ever been a conscious choice. We just make a bunch of demos and it’s always very difficult to know what the end result will sound like. Especially this time, with two engineers mixing the album. But all in all, I don’t think there was much difficulty.
There’s a song with Eino Leino’s lyrics in this album. It’s something new for Hanging Garden, but it sounds very organic, very natural. Do you want to use lyrics written in your mother tongue once more? Finnish is a melodic language, and it fits the melodic sound of the band.
Well, I do like to sing in Finnish. But I think we will stick to English for most of our stuff, as it is more approachable to most of our listeners — only a small fraction of our fans are Finnish. But let’s see! I do like what Opeth did with their bilingual release.
Do you know where Hanging Garden has a bigger fan-base? Do you often play abroad?
I don’t remember any spesifics from any sales forms or anything, but based on social media interactions I would say we have many fans in central Europe, the Baltics, and even the Middle East.
We have ever played only one gig abroad, but you can quite possibly see us in central Europe next spring!
What made you return to the Backwoods Sessions concept once more in 2019? How does this material differ for you from what you recorded during the session in 2015?
Well, we thought the concept was intriguing, and this time we had more experience with live recording and filming. We thought we’d just try to do the same concept, but better. It was a very arduous process once again, so let’s see when we have the energy for part 3…
Hanging Garden – Signs Of Affection
The band’s music develops from album to album, and the title song of Hanging Garden;s new release Into That Good Night still has similarities with the At Every Door album. How much of the old Hanging Garden is left in the new songs?
I think there will always be some elements from our beginnings. People have their own flavour with their instruments, and as long as we create music and sound with our particular dynamic, there will be that familiar “something”.
Well, then how far did you go from At Every Door?
I don’t actually think we went very far, at least in my ears. Our sound is just more refined and the songs are more “to the point”. It’s very difficult to say though. Experiencing music is very subjective, and being one who’s been a part of the creating process, the subjectivity is all the more difficult to avoid.
The album was released by Lifeforce Records again. Are you comfortable with the label and their methods of work?
Yes, Lifeforce has been good to us, and the communication and collaboration has always been quick and effortless. I think we have great mutual respect.
Will you support Into That Good Night with a tour? Do you already have dates scheduled?
For now, not a proper tour, but we have a handful of gigs throughout Finland, and probably one or two in Europe as well next year. Touring for a longer leg is a bit challenging, as many of our members are fathers of small children currently.
With what kind of bands do you perform your shows nowadays? You went far from the doom scene and you’re in some in-between post and gothic metal scene, so I suppose it’s not that difficult to find proper company to play with on a short tour or a few shows.
We will be doing shows alongside October Tide, Throes of Dawn, Kaunis Kuolematon, Counting Hours and the like. So, gloomy and melancholic stuff, I think it goes well together with our sound.
Thank you for the interview Toni! I wish you all the best with spreading Hanging Garden’s word further! Did we miss something in this conversation?
Thanks! I would also recommend checking out the music videos made for the album. They’ve all been made by the band, me and Nino mostly. We had a few interesting ideas we incorporated in the visuals. And buy the album!
Hanging Garden – Rain