We were recently blessed with the opportunity of interviewing one of the most exciting, up and coming bands from Finland! This is Valermada. Their craft comes down to creating some very out of the box music with a wide range of emotions and different approaches. They also boast a wide range of talent and experience across the line-up including the likes of Tuomo Latvala (Omnium Gatherum, Torture Killer).
In particular, we spoke with the frontman, guitarist, and mad scientist of the band Olavi Santala. Here’s what he had to say during our exchange:
You recently launched your debut album Fear, Regrets, and Mourning. So, first and foremost, congratulations on that!
Thank you! It feels great to finally have the record out there.
You’ve already had a good bit of success through platforms like Spotify, even landing the “New Metal Tracks” playlist on there! How are you feeling about the response to your music so far?
We had no expectations since we’re an unknown band so we’re grateful for all the attention and everything that’s happened following the release of the first single and now the album. To be featured on the New Metal Tracks playlist was huge of course for an indie release. It’s all happening on a small scale but we’re really happy for every new listener and every new follower on social media. It feels special to see that some people from all over the globe have been listening to the album.
While this is a debut for Valermada, it’s hardly the first rodeo for members of the band. Your members are / have been involved with many bands including Omnium Gatherum, Torture Killer, Hateform, Abysmalia, Ground Frame, Marbleheroes and Demigod. How is it you all came together to form Valermada?
The four of us met up at my place just before Christmas 2015, got really drunk, and apparently formed a band. Before that, Jari basically dragged me out from my writers block. I hadn’t been singing or writing seriously for years. The first demo he sent me around 2014 was called ’01’ which later became Dear Desperation. I sent him a demo of ‘The Scars That Hurt the Most’. Those two songs are quite different, the other being a sort of a doomy ballad and the other a perverted pop song with blast beat, but they set a wide spectrum in which to work, and that felt exciting. Jari and I both grew up in Vimpeli so we’ve known each other always. Antti and Jari had been playing together in Ground Frame for years so it felt natural and obvious to ask him to join the band. More demos started to emerge. Looking for a drummer we contacted Tuomas Rauhala (For The Imperium) and he recommended we should ask Tuomo. We got to know each other and basically started working on the album right away.
How would you describe your newfound sound under Valermada? There seem to be a number of interesting elements at play under a Progressive Metal umbrella.
To me prog doesn’t always mean complicated and tricky – it’s more about freedom. We like to think we are free to do anything with our music and in the case of ‘FRM’ it means combining metal with more colors going from something really gentle to punishing. It’s customary for metal bands to act like the baddest motherfuckers on earth, super-macho-testosterone-bulls and so on, and that’s cool but I want to also talk about deeper stuff and scream crazy things like “I’m weak, fucked up and suicidal asshole, please hold me!” Hahaha. But really I’ve had enough of people acting tough while they could be so much more by being real. It takes courage and real strength to show yourself that way, and as an artist my goal is to be brutally honest. Honesty in music also means you cannot obey the boundaries of a genre.
Soundwise we tried to create something that would really sound like a real band with some ambient stuff that gives it depth. We want to sound analog instead of digital. Personally, I love the sound of albums like ‘In Utero’ or ‘Superunknown’. These days quantizing, editing and drum sample replacements are killing the sound of an actual band playing together, and to me that sounds as heavy as The Backstreet Boys. Nothing wrong with pop though. Anyway, I love the digital tools but the whole thing has been overdone and I think there’s a movement going back to the sound of a real band playing together and the rawness of it. Meshuggah’s ‘The Violent Sleep of Reason’ is a great example of that and it sounds absolutely massive.
That’s admirable. Could you tell us about an interesting moment or moments during the recording process for Fear, Regrets, and Mourning? There seem to be some unorthodox moments in the tracklist like a choir for example.
Most of the choirs I sang myself but, for example, on ‘Happy’ Kirsi Salo sang some of the really high stuff. She didn’t believe she could sing so high but I encouraged her to basically scream, haha. On ‘The Law’ I did the whole choir at the end of the song. On parts of it I tried to sound like a female soprano. It’s fun to mimic the classical singing style and in the end if it sounds terrible that’s just fine because it suits the idea of the songs. Fuck the genres, fuck technique, fuck the “right” way to do stuff. Everyone should be free to enjoy and express themselves through music how ever they see fit. There are no rules.
We used mellotron samples and synthesizers but there are also a lot of guitar tracks that sound like synths. Most of the ambient stuff is actually my Telecaster going through a small Vox amp that sounds great when it’s pushed hard and going in with some delay, reverb and sometimes fuzz I don’t even really need to know what I’m doing ’cause it still makes a beautiful noise, which is convenient since I’m a shit guitarist, haha… Jari does all the guitar stuff that actually requires playing skills and he likes to keep it really simple with no effects or pedals.
Tuomo worked on ‘The Law’ drum track for a long time before coming to my place to record it. He wrote this on his Facebook page lately: “The amount of practice hours I spent behind the drums sweating and swearing just for the sake of being able to play this song even close to how I was hearing it in my head is just ridiculous. I have never put so much time in learning one single piece of music before mainly because the tempo was pretty much out of my reach, but I just didn’t want to go the easy way. Now that it’s done I’m happy I did it, but I never want to play this again.” When we actually recorded the song it sounded easy and not a single beat was edited.
Hmm, what else… There’s violin, piano, nylon string acoustic guitar, darbuka, some percussive sounds that I made throwing scrap metal around at an old warehouse that was originally used for carving gravestones, and on ‘The Scars That Hurt the Most’ there’s the sound of my old fireplace that it makes when it’s really cold outside, haha.
Very cool. There seems to be a painter’s aesthetic to the record. From the album cover itself to the lyric videos, there’s some sort of paint present. There’s even a charcoal drawing, spray paint on the “Becoming Me (Incomplete)” music video. What made you want to go this route visually? Also, who did the painting?
The collaboration with Jani Kaunisto started with the music video. His paintings are dark but colourful and psychedelic, and I think his art has a lot of similarities with our music. Jani is also from Vimpeli and, as teenagers, we played in a couple of garage death metal bands there in the nineties. So we go way back also. We’re grateful for having him and also Pirkka-Pekka Ylisuutari who directed the music video and who has been helping us with the visuals.
I recently gave the album a listen through and really enjoy the various tracks you’ve constructed here. There are a number of feelings and musical approaches at play. That being the case, if you could only show new listeners a single track from the record, what would it be?
Thank you! I think ‘Dear Desperation’ might be the one. It’s got ambient stuff, thrash, pop, blast beat, clean vocals and screaming, horror and psychedelia. The whole album revolves around those elements.
Good choice. You’ve been mentioning plenty of collaborations and activities from other artists in relation to your own work. Let’s take that a step further… How do you feel about the landscape (soundscape?) of modern metal coming from Finland right now? Who should we be listening to?
I fell in love with death metal in the late eighties and early nineties and since then metal has become so much more diverse, which is great. You might even ask if some of the stuff is actually metal anymore, and I suppose that’s the case with Valermada also. After a while every new movement in music becomes a tool for artists to blend into their music and they come up with the next new thing and so on. I think metal as a genre and music in general progresses as one through the countless artists globally and Finland is just one part of it.
Anyway, talking about Finland and old school death metal, I just listened to ‘Sermons of the Devouring Dead’ by Cadaveric Incubator and I think it’s one of the best death metal albums I’ve ever heard. You should definitely give it a listen. Their singer Antti Oinonen also grew up in Vimpeli and we did some death metal together back in the day. I also love Alamaailman Vasarat and Rotten Sound. I asked the other guys in Valermada for some bands to listen to and they gave names like: Oddland, Humavoid, Khroma and Whorion.
Thanks for the recommendations! Do you have any upcoming live shows for fans to be looking forward to? Also, there seems to be an element of performance art to your band – will that translate onto the stage at all?
We decided to start working on the next album right away so no gigs for the moment. But for the future, we do have some ideas how to bring the collaboration with Jani Kaunisto and Pirkka-Pekka Ylisuutari to the stage.
Nice! On that note, if you could collaborate with any artists, dead or alive, who would you choose? (not limited to musicians)
A random list in a random order: David Lynch, György Ligeti, Arvo Pärt, Björk, Stanley Kubrick, Iánnis Xenákis, Steve Albini, H.R. Giger, Robert Fripp, John McLaughlin, …I could go on forever.
Lots of good names there. Let’s bring the focus back to your own. What does your band name Valermada mean and how did you come up with it?
At first it was a wordplay that combined some themes I had in mind. Vale is Finnish spoken language word that means ‘a lie’. I also thought of a whale armada… I tried to make up a word that wouldn’t exist anywhere in the world. When I googled other ideas I had there were tons of bands with the same name already, but when googling Valermada, there was not a single hit on the internet. So we thought it kind of sounds silly and confusing but it doesn’t matter ’cause at least it’s genuine and after a while we will be giving the name a meaning. Lately I’ve associated the name with the beautiful monster on ‘Fear, Regrets and Mourning’ album cover.
Speaking of that monster… Final question… This one is a bit random. If Valermada was a sports team, what would your mascot be?
A love sick jungle demon trying to fuck up everyone.
I’d cheer for that! Are there any final words you’d like to share with your listeners out there?
Just thank you for supporting us, stay in contact with us on social media, and the basics of course: Don’t be an asshole and don’t take shit from anyone.