“Good evening Mr. Stenberg”
“Good evening Mr. Van Halen”
Thus begins another interview session with Markus Vanhala of Insomnium Gatherum… I mean Omnium Gatherum! This Finnish / Faroese tradition has been going on for thirteen years now, over the course of seven albums within various sites that I’ve been writing for. Markus is in the studio with Insomnium, the other band where he’s pulling off his guitar wizardry, but he’s kind enough to take time to talk to the one-man street team from The Faroe Islands. After some light catching-up chitchatting, we get down to business!
Your new album “Grey Heavens” has been out now for about a month now. Just to open up the interview, I’d like to ask how it has been received?
Markus: The feedback has been great! Surprisingly good this time actually. We Finns don’t expect anything you know, we just do the things we do. This time we went to number two on the national album charts, which is pretty insane because we’re still on an underground label and with the promotion we get, so that’s pretty cool. I just saw today that Moonsorrow are number one on the chart, so I guess Finland is insane. Also this time we got broader recognition, for example “album of the month” in Metal Hammer, which really cause an effect when we were touring Europe, especially the German and Austrian dates were really good. So there’s healthy interest in the band on several fronts, which is good of course.
I want to talk a bit about songwriting. Regarding the creative process, it’s no secret that you’ve been increasingly busy these last couple of years bouncing between Omnium Gatherum and Insomnium. Did you feel any pressure this time and was there some point where you might have felt less inspired to write, because of the fact that you breathe, eat and shit music 27/4 so to speak?
Markus: Yeah, it’s funny nowadays. Both bands are highly active. I’m for example sitting here talking to you now, while Ville from Insomnium is in the next room because Insomnium is in the studio hehe. It’s more scheduled I would say, when Insomnium is on the road, Omnium is in writing mode and vice versa. I’m busy yes, but the band’s are at different processes, so I’m able to handle it. I schedule my writing session for the band at specific times instead of sitting everyday and analyzing if this is an Insomnium riff or not.
Talking about the songwriting for this album specifically, it’s still you who are composing all the music. One would think that there maybe were several songwriters in a band consisting of six members.
Markus: It’s still me doing most of the stuff. Joonas is doing something every now and then. Jukka of course does all the vocal lines and lyrics, so he’s just as creative as I am. Joonas does some vocal harmonies as well; he’s a really good singer btw. But yeah the creative is always the same; you try to influence yourself while moving forward, taking these different pathways in the songwriting and see where they lead.
Now that the album is out how do you feel it stands in the Omnium Gatherum discography? Does it differ at all from past album in your opinion?
Markus: It’s different from the past two albums. With “Beyond” we felt we reached the top of our epicness, so it was a conscious decision to kind of take a step back to “The Redshift” and write more straightforward, kickass songs. At the same time, the album has something new, like for example “Skyline”, which is probably the most straightforward song in our catalogue. That’s the thing; we toured a lot for the last album and seeing the crowd’s response from the stage, it is always the more straightforward songs that get the best energy from both sides. The album starts immediately with “The Pit”, no intro or anything, just to get that energy from the get go, straight into battle, kinda like the Star Wars movie “The Empire Strikes Back” if you catch my drift hehe.
And no bonus tracks this time?
Markus: There is one hidden track. This is actually the first time we have unreleased material after an album has been released, but we will get the track out there at some point.
Now you’ve had the same people recording, mixing, doing artwork stuff etc for quite some time now. As a listener I don’t have any complaints at all, but I’m interested to hear if you had the thought of shaking the team up a bit in the desire to try something new?
Markus: There are definitely pros and cons with that aspect. You’re right about the fact that it might get a little boring after some time. Olli has done our artwork since the first album, so I think he’ll remain with us until the band dies hehe. Teemu has recorded us since “Years In Waste”, we have a really good connection with him and Dan Swanø of course has been on board since “The Redshift”. It’s a good formula and us Finns don’t really want to meet new people. It would be nice to work with some kind of outside producer at some point, someone who has great input in the studio, but you have to meet the right people and have the right amount of cash also hehe.
You mentioned that “Grey Heavens” went to number two in the national charts. Is this your first entry?
Markus: No. “New World Shadows” went to number five or six I think, same with “Beyond”, but they drop fairly quickly, the fans here are quick to buy the albums.
I guess there’s a great new metal release every week in Finland, that’s why the albums don’t have a stable position in the charts right?
Markus: Yeah, Finland is a good place to play metal music and a really good market still.
Let’s talk touring. You tour a lot, I mean you tour a helluva lot. You recently did two treks in Europe. One was a co-headlining tour with Draconian and the other supporting Amorphis. How did those tours go down?
Markus: Surprisingly well. We had a great following, the turnouts were good, which is a signal that things are moving upwards. The run with Amorphis was really nice because we got to play some shows in Norway, Denmark and Sweden; these northern countries are usually left out of most European tours, unfortunately, so it was cool to go to new places, like Bergen in Norway and Aarhus in Denmark. Amorphis is one of the reasons we formed this band, so it was of course an honor to be on the road with them.
Can you elaborate more about the trek with Draconian? That seemed like a really mixed bill in my opinion.
Markus: That was a strange gathering. Draconian are like doom metal, Year Of The Goat was seventies occult rock’ish and Oceanwake was also kinda really slow doom metal and then us in the middle. Oceanwake was really cool btw. The tour was good for us even if we were the odd ones on the bill so to speak. Good turnouts, good gigs and we got picked up by a new booking agent after the tour, Dragon Productions, so all in all pretty good, more concerts are coming!
Ok, that leads me to my next question. I know you have a lot of booked shows, can you tell more about where you’re going to take this album?
Markus: We have a U.S. tour lined up with Sonata Arctica in November and December, festivals in the summer, some Asian gigs are coming and another European tour is in the works as well. So we’ll be a lot of the road and we love it!
All these shows with your main band plus being in Insomnium… I have to ask, has it not been a challenge to hit a balance for both bands when on the road?
Markus: Of course it takes a lot of work to build the schedule for both bands and last year it was really crazy touring Europe and the U.S. with both bands with Insomnium headlining and Omnium Gatherum as direct support, which made me stand onstage for two and a half hours each night, sweaty as hell! It’s different with festival if both bands are playing, cause it’s just one show. The fanbases between both bands are pretty similar so it kinda makes sense have them together on the road. It’s a lot of work but I don’t complain because this is what I always wanted to do.
And now you’ve signed to Dragon Productions, which could indicate that your touring schedule might still escalate. That’s a great booking label to be on!
Markus: Yes, this is definitely a step up for us. I’ve known the people at Dragon Productions for some time and really like what they’re doing. They are a dedicated bunch and we’re in close contact with them about future plans. Only the timing was a bit skewed because the new album is already out and 2016 is already full with shows, but we’re really looking forward to working with them in the future, especially for the next album hehe.
So I’m going to turn my focus on YOU now! How does a year look in the calendar of Markus Vanhala?
Markus: The calendar is pretty full! This year is going to be very busy because both bands have new material in 2016 so my calendar is pretty much booked one year ahead, which is pretty good when you think of it as work, as a job, it’s good to have things lined up one year ahead. Of course there’s the lost spare time but yeah I’m really good at overbooking myself, so work work work makes me a stupid man hehe!
Do you have any idea on how many shows you play a year?
Markus: Not exactly. I think last year it was 150 – 200 shows, I haven’t counted. After “Beyond”, Omnium Gatherum did like 160 shows circa and Insomnium did around the same amount of shows for the last album. That’s only shows, then add all the hours of rehearsing, composing etc… a lot of metal!
You mentioned spare time, do you have time at all to just sit down in your apartment and check out new bands?
Markus: Of course, there’s always some time for that. I’m a music freak still so I check out a lot of stuff. It’s nice to be on Century Media as well because they send out a lot of CD’s of their artists. Also on tour, especially with Omnium Gatherum, me and Joonas always explore the record stores and come back with thirty new albums in our bags.
Cool! It is possible for you to list a few bands that have satisfied your metal hunger in recent times?
Markus: The new Oceans Of Slumber was really good, they’re from Texas, really raw stuff and one of a kind. Miasmal, Vampire and Firespawn are other bands that I’ve been listening to lately. New Megadeth was cool and also Dream Theater. Also Steven Wilson’s last album “Hand.Cannot.Erase” is a favorite of mine. The new Spiritual Beggars album I’m looking forward to as well.
Give me your take on the music business of 2016! What is your stance when it comes to social media insanity, album downloading etc?
Markus: I just had a strange conversation last weekend in the local pub. There was this Omnium Gatherum fan who came up to me and spoke about concerts going into holograms, people only watching stuff at home and all this stuff, and I thought… that’s not going to happen to metal music, it cannot happen to metal, maybe to pop music for young people. How would you feel about watching a concert on screen? You can’t get the same vibe. Drink beer and mosh! Of course, with Spotify and downloading, it’s bad for record sales but vinyl sales are going up. The metal hordes still buy the albums and t-shirts at the gigs so they’re pretty loyal. As a worldwide distribution tool, the streaming services are good in the way that they help get your name out there.
I think metal has also become a bit more mainstream or more accessible because of things like Spotify and iTunes and maybe that draws more people to it that don’t necessarily have the same loyalty as an old school / die hard metal fan.
Markus: Yes that’s true. One thing I really hate with this social media thing is that when you’re an artist, you have to be some kind of social media hero nowadays. All your partners wait for you to do the greetings every day when you’re on tour and instagramming every hour when you’re in the studio. In the nineties it was like way more mysticism and magic in metal music because you couldn’t get much information about the bands, and if you found some kind of info it was really cool because the bands were so distant in those days. Today you know everything about your heroes because you’re probably stalking them on facebook and I don’t like that aspect of the music business today, I don’t stalk Eddie Van Halen that’s for sure hehe.
You’ve been with Lifeforce Records for some time now. How’s that cooperation working out?
Markus: They’re a pretty small label, which is good for us as a band. Stefan, the label boss really likes us and we are lucky to have been a high priority on the roster, so they’ve been doing a lot for us. Of course they have rather limited resources when it comes to stuff like distribution and promotion channels. We actually just fulfilled our contract with them, so we’ll see what the future brings. Lifeforce was a new beginning for us and like I said, they’ve been a part of our success, definitely.
Markus, you know we can’t exclude Insomnium from this conversation. How has the experience been for you since you joined the band?
Markus: I joined in 2011 as a fulltime member but before “One For Sorrow” was released. I feel really comfortable, I already know the guys from before, they’re good company and it’s great to write together with them. It’s like another brotherhood of metal for me personally and I try to give 100% for both bands.
I’ve noticed that you’re in the studio at the moment. Is there any way I can get you to shed some light on the details here?
Markus: Yes we are in the studio recording new stuff. It’s still on a secret level information wise although I would like to talk about it hehe. It’ll be different and epic that’s all I can say.
Ok I think I’ve got my answers. If you have some last words you’d like to share with the readers here at Extreme Metal Voyager, now’s the time to speak up.
Markus: Keep bugging Fróði to get us to The Faroe Islands to play. That’s one of the places we’ve not been to and we’d be happy to pay there for the metalheads! Otherwise thanks for the continued interest and support!
For more info about Omnium Gatherum, check out their Facebook page here
“Grey Heavens” is out now through Lifeforce Records
Extreme Metal Voyager review can be read here
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