Interview with: Olli Vänskä
By: Elvira Visser
It’s a cold day in Tilburg (The Netherlands), but we are inside the venue 013 having a talk with Olli Vänskä, the violinist of the Finnish battle metal band Turisas. The band from Hämeenlinna was named after their homeland’s ancient god of war. While Olli is drinking his can of Fanta we ask him about their two albums, Battle Metal and The Varangian Way, about live performances and about their current tour as support act for Dragonforce.
Turisas touring with Dragonforce. Two different styles, how come?
Olli: “Yeah well generally wise we are playing folkish battle metal and they are playing hyper speed, super ultra speed,” Laughing: “that is different. We share some kind of crowd entertainment factor…we are both kind off, have fun with the bands. So that is the common factor. They kind of hand picked us for the tour, so they wanted us to come. I think specially in the UK we share a lot of the same fan base so it makes sense in that way. Other wise I do not know. It was especially in the UK, and in the USA also, a good thing for us because they are kind of an established band and we had the opportunity to play bigger arena’s for example in America which is a nice thing.”
The CD The Varangian Way dates back to 2007, are there any plans for a new CD?
Olli: “We did the DVD last year, but yeah, we are kind of moving into the third album phase now. So I mean like, we know that people are expecting it from us and we are kind of expecting it from us as well. It would be nice to finally play some new material. We did some like one hundred and thirty gigs last year alone. Something like that takes its toll. You need peace and quiet for writing lyrics and recording an album. So I think we are taking time off after this tour to properly focus and concentrate on the album.”
“The Varangian Way” is a concept album will the new album be a follow up, will it be a new concept album or tracks that stand on its own?
Olli: “I think it has something to do with the second album. I mean like, at least that was the original idea. I am not exactly sure what Mathias has in store for it. He probably does not have anything right now…he has been studying and kind of building the the story inside his head. I think it shares some things with the second album. The last song on “The Varagian Way” is called “Miklagard Overture” which means like something like: in the beginning. So a follow up kind of thing makes sense, or make a CD using a completely different angle.”
Are you involved in writing the tracks?
Olli: “On the last album I had co-credits on a couple of songs.”
Is it easier to write a track that stands on its own, or when it needs to fit in a storyline. Or is making a full CD easier when there is a story line, so that each track falls into place? So knowing the story you know where you want to go and how it needs to sound.
Olli: “Yeah that is true, to make a good kind of story obviously and also musically, I think it helps. That is how Mathias likes to write and he has a story or something in his mind and then he fills the gaps with the music or something. I think that is his preferred way. He does not compose much stuff just for future use. He just makes them in demand, kind of way.” Thinks and continues, “for me not so much, at least. Last time I was not given any, like clear instruction like here is the story line and make something for this. Except for Jarisleif then we knew pretty much what we wanted to do, and then it is just work from there.”
The debut album “Battle Metal” dates back to 1998. Did Turisas hanged, Did you grown as a band, evolved…when recording a new CD do you think Turisas will sound different?
Olli: “Like on the second album we sound different then the first. It is always the debut album where you have unlimited time for preparing the first album and then after that you just have time limits. So it is more or less a collection of songs from a bigger time period. You are on tour and that takes time. On the second album we had to do it in a couple of years. I mean we are lazy and slow writers anyway, so that makes it take a longer period. Ithink we kind of developed or somehow grown for sure. I think on “The Varangian Way” the sound is close to what we probably come up with next time as well, maybe. I think we want to kind of update still. Although Mathias is crazy about these extra sample he is getting of the libraries and wants to add all this small shit, I don’t know but the basic construction is more or less the same.”
Is it Mathias input only?
Olli: “He is kind of the guy. He will do most of it eventually, whatever we do. Actually it revolves pretty much around him. He is a strong leader character and he has the main responsibility for the music and the lyrics. There is input from the others as well but in the end, I think it is pretty much him who makes the last call so in that way Turisas is pretty much his brain child.”
Last gig Finland, something special? Tired because you played there all summer?
Olli: “You mean for the Finnish audience especially? I don’t know, being the support band creates certain limits in what we can do. I think there are some things in stall/reserve for Dragonforce because we done like 100 gigs with them, so it is kind of the end of the tour with them. But we had a nice home town show in Hämeenlinna in January. So we have probably nothing that special. Maybe if we come up with something, but nothing special in that sense.”
Do you like to invite some other musicians?
Olli: “Could be”, laughs sneaky. “We know this nude accordion guy Antti Laurilla.”
What if you do not have to think about budget, but when everything is possible. What would you do? Dancers, proper choir, flutes and more musicians on stage or every instrument you hear on the CD.
Olli: “Could be, make sense to have a proper choir there. Yeah probably but it is a fine line between cheesy-ness and I mean cheesy-ness in a good way and chees-ness in a bad way. I think we are still on that cheesy-ness in a good way. But it is a bit of metal war, war scenes and it would be a bit weird with a real orchestra. We like to make it big, so in that case we probably would put some …well some”, smiles with a grin, “Well actually a whole lot of them (musicians) on stage.”
You just said you like to make your shows theatrical is that also why you come up in outfits and use the paint as well?
Olli: “Yeah it is a lot about the live shows. We are…well the best impression you get from us is seeing a live show. We try to make good albums. But it is kind of…”
..Come see us live, in a town near you…
Olli: “Well it is true I mean, we have the feeling that it is the best kind of impression that we can give of the band if we say come see us live. That is why we invest to much in the show. That is which came first, we want to make it kind of big and theatrical, the shows and that is why people like to come see us.
Do you like that people come war painted to the gig and you see them war painted? As you have some paint with the DVD?
Olli: Yeah! It creates some kind of bond with the audience and it is kind of flattering to see when someone puts effort in it and comes to the show with a painted face. It shows commitment from the fans and shows your colours in a way. I think it is cool, I like it sometimes. Sometimes I feel bad, I hope they are not laughing at them on the streets and in metro’s. I mean, they must look like a bunch of freaks… At least we can stay backstage but they have to walk around like that all day. I appreciate it very strongly. In the UK we have a lot of them in mainland Europe some, but there were some painted as well in the USA and we are nothing there yet, so that is really nice.”
In Finland a lot of musicians in metal bands have a classical background, what about Turisas who is a schooled musician?
Olli points to himself: ME!
Olli: “I think Mathias has some lessons with instruments. I think he knows some flute, bass guitar and some keyboard as well. Netta has been trained, she has had a formal accordion education but only on the same instrument. All the other guys are more or less stuck with the same instrument.
I think I am the only one who had a classical training but if that is a good thing or not, I do not know.” Laughs. “I never intended to be a classical violinist and I never intended to be a metal violinist either. You do not really know what to wish for, but things come in your life. Sometimes it would be nice to speak the same language to some. If you are trained and can read music and speak about the chords. That kind of things are harder when people have different approaches to certain things.”
In the last couple of year the Pagan and Battle music is booming, I do not know if this is the right English expression, Like it is popping out of the ground like mushrooms.
Olli: “We have the same saying in Finnish.” Laughs. “There is a lot of that Wodan and stupid beer culture involved.
We have Dutch band called Heidevolk and they sing about Wodan too and drink beers from horns.
Ollie: “Yeah I know them. I think the hole pagan battle metal thing is just something new that came up in the last years. I do not know what the original reason for it was, for example in Finland. I think the bands that play this kind of music had built it up inside and then the contracts came and it came in public as well. I think it people were getting bored with music and then having some new directions is always a good thing. It probably has some similarities with the world getting, maybe, a anti culture thing, something like getting fed up with the modern culture and now respecting their old culture and finding out about their heritage and wanting to know more. Probably, it might be a sum of many things. I think you can very well enjoy the music without going there and drinking beer out of horns and camping in the woods. That is cool as well, though but it is not like you have to do this and this. In the US for example bands like Finntroll, Korpiklaani and us ..I think it is a breath of fresh air.”
But the ones you mention are all Finnish is that a coincident or …what do you think?
Olli: “Melancholy?… yeah I know. There are bands from mainland Europe as well, but maybe the Finns are just better.” Laughs. “There is Eluveitie from Switzerland they were in the Pagan Festival as well and Týr from the Faroe Island. So I do not have a clear answer for why it is getting bigger now. I only joined Turisas in 2004, when the recording of the debut album started. Jussi and Mathias founded the band. They wanted to play something different, they had their own roots in black metal and true power metal, no…well true metal probably. It is a combination of battle war and black metal.”
When are you satisfied at a gig. When the paint comes off or when the crowd gets wild? When is it a good gig?
Olli: “The crowd makes a big part of it for sure. I tent to have like a lot of paint before the gig and not much paint after the gig. I am definitely one of those paint remover players. It is kind of the feeling. If I am not sweating enough at a gig I have not invested enough.”
Or there are not enough lights spotted on you.
Olli: “Or there is good air-conditioning… But it is definitely creates a feeling, in a bad way as well, because it makes playing even harder. I have to hold my violin under my chin. And it just very hard when there is no grip anywhere because it goes (makes a funny slippery sound). You will see, me rubbing with the towel all the time to make it dry.”
Do you wash the stage clothes very often….(joking)
Olli: “Yeah sure…of course…well not properly. The ugly smell is one thing, you would not feel good on stage and into the battle. If you smell like flowers it is not the real thing. You have to have a bit of disgust there. The smell of men!”
What do you like more big festival, or small venues or do you think it both has its charm?
Olli: “I like mid size clubs, kind of biggish. Festivals as well. You can create more atmosphere in a club gig and at a festival you have like 40 minutes sets and you have to just play, play and play, and you have to get the crowd moving and it is rewarding as such as well, but you can create more moods in a club. It is not one or another it is just a different approach.”
But on Festivals you are even further away from the audience.
Olli: “Well sometimes. We played at Download, in the UK and it was like 10 or 20 meters away from the audience. And sometimes at club gigs it can be like you are pushing the monitors back with your foot, because the audience is climbing on stage. In Switzerland I just spent the hole gig pushing the monitors with my feet all the time because there was some drunk guy pushing it further on stage all the time. They were right in front of me. That was one of the drunken crowds ever, cool at the same time. I need some space, and I am all the time worrying about the bass player hitting me, or breaking my bow. Nygard is always trying to beak my bow when we are playing so I like to have my own space.”
Did Mathias ever succeeded in breaking anything from you?
Olli: “Yeah one bow. In the US he hit the violin of my…. like it flew like 5 meters over the stage. It did not even break, like a miracle kind of thing, I was like fuck! Because it is kind of a fragile instrument as well. But yeah, I have to be alert on both sides while playing.”
Did He got shot with the arrow and bow?
Olli: “I was too worried about the violin. no hard feelings, well of course a bit hard feelings.” Laughing some more before he continued. “He has got nothing I can break, well of course the microphone.”
but there is always a new one…
Olli agrees with us that he can break a leg or an arm…but still, Mathias will be able to sing, so that does not work.
Is there any gig that disappointed you, not getting that good feeling?
Olli: “Last year, mmm in 2007 there were some really bad gigs. No, no bad gigs last year in 2008. Bad gigs let me think, I guess it was 2007 that was terrible. Once at a festival in Austria I did not played one single note. I had some problems with my wireless thing and eventually I felt from the stage at the back and almost smashed my violin, that fucking sucked and we started a half our late. That was not the best one.”
In the summer you recorded some documentary for the Dvd, were you guys involved in putting the DVD together yourselves?
Olli: “I was not involved that much. We had a production company that was taking care of things. Mathias invested a lot of time on it.”
Did you know you were going to be on it while being in the sauna?
Olli: “Well they had the camera’s there so it was a big chance it was going to be on the DVD, so that was fine by me. I am not ashamed of myself.”
There was the “Fuck the guitar solo” thing, is there a battle going on backstage between Dragonforce and Turisas?
Olli: “The band are weird guys, they say all the time: we are shit, we are shit, we play shit. So they know it. I do not have to prove it.” Laughs. “There is not really a fight. They are cool guys. So we have that thing on stage, but it was a fun thing. I do not take that really serious. I came up with the whole thing for fun, it was just an improvise thing at first. In the UK tour we did a longer version of it. We are not doing it now. It was fine, but not any more it was too long. 1.5 minutes of a voice speaking, like a god or something so the audience got bored and they wanted me to play more instead of the voice….please play something!”
You have Netta on the tour now for like a year now?
Olli: “She played first with us in October 2007, so yeah over a year.”
Is it different in the bus now, because before it was all guys?
Olli: “She is not too much of a princess. She is doing all right I guess it changes something but nothing that serious. I think she stays out of the sauna scenes and all the stupid things and shit we come up with. She does her own thing.”
Weird question: Jussi’s beard how long did he needed to grown that?
Olli: “Less then five years I think. Three or four years or something… I do not think it has grown that much lately. Maybe it is at the maximum length or he has to take care of it better. Maybe he shorten it sometimes. I am not much of a beard grower myself, so I would not know the details.”
Washing of the stage clothes…did you already found some creepy crawlies in there?
Olli: “Neuhw! I do not think so, they do not like it in there. It stinks and smells. I have not seen any of those creatures over there. No animals. Well you have to take care of the fur obviously, otherwise it does not look like fur any more but like cement. So it is not really really disgusting.”
Is it not extremely warm?
Olli: “Yeah, I am not using like a winter coat like that. You live and learn. It is not the same costume all the time. You find out the flaws of your costume and you can fix them. I am always really hot on stage so I could not wear a jacket or a full shirt.”
What about summer festivals in the sun and your furry costumes?
Olli: “We played in Italy and it was like over 30 degrees out side in June or July. It was not that bad at least it was in the shadow. So it was not too bad.”
Did the paint came off even more fast?
Olli: “No I think It actually dried really really fast, because of the heat.
but the small clubs with out good air-conditioning are probably the worst. Because the light are really low and warm and humid inside. Hamburg is one of the worst places, there is one small club really bad. And Manchester academy three which is like a sauna thing, like insane hot. We are used to that, it does not surprised…but on one of those nights it is just one extra burden.”
We would like to thank you for the interview.
Olli: “Thank you, enjoy the show!”