Korpiklaani, Karkelo, tours, festivals & drinking - a chat with bassist Jarkko

We were lucky enough to catch up with Korpiklaani's bassist Jarkko for a chat about their upcoming release Karkelo, touring, and much more - including some hilarious drunken moments.

A band as big as Korpiklaani, and with a strong focus on folk elements, tends to make one think that a collaborative approach to songwriting would perhaps be necessary. The music that these guys create also sounds like a big collaborative effort, but interestingly it is not the case at all. Korpiklaani work in such a way that individual band members demo the tracks, and those tracks are generally not altered, in terms of their arrangements or composition, within a group situation, unless something about a song doesn't work. Similarly, their tracks are also largely left alone in a studio situation, meaning that what they initially create is generally what you hear recorded.

'Some of us write more complete stuff, and some leave it more to the others to fill in,' Jarkko explained. 'Like, for example, in my mind I had it quite clear parts for violin, for example. But then again, sometimes the accordian player Juho, when he writes he leaves everything to the violin player. So it depends on the person how it works.'

Despite various articles and interviews talking about the fact that Korpiklaani writes music nearly continuously, don't be fooled by thinking that this is absolutely accurate. Unlike many bands, when Korpiklaani are on tour, that is all that they do.

'We actually don't do anything on tour,' Jarkko laughed. 'We are just enjoying the tour. I don't, for example, touch my instrument until the show time. Obviously we do the sound-check, but I don't play at all on the tour. And I don't think anyone else does either,' he explained. 'We are just enjoying the other things too much to waste time playing.'

Not ever having toured in any other way, Jarkko couldn't say whether it makes a difference to the experience of a tour.  But he did point out that having other people look after their instruments could have a lot to do with it.

'I can't compare that to these things we haven't done it otherwise,' he said. 'But, no, I think we're just too lazy. There's always someone taking care of, like, the instruments and everything. Sometimes we don't even know where our instruments are. We're like, "eh, it would be nice to play something right now, but I have no idea where my guitar is",' he laughed. 'Because there's someone else looking after it. You end up, thirty minutes before show time looking for your guitar and then our guitar tech comes and tells you that it's there.'

As fans of Korpiklaani would know, and no doubt relish, these guys totally reject the use of synthesisers. To my mind, folk metal could not be real folk metal if it wasn't played all on real instruments. I ran this past Jarkko, and asked him if the band had ever come under any pressure to bow to synthesiser technology.

'We have made jokes about that, we have told our violin player, who is also the flute player and whatever player, he plays everything, we have told him, "Shut the fuck up, we can always replace you with a small plastic box",' Jarkko laughed. 'But no, not really. I think that in general, that genuity is something that people respect in our band, in this use of traditional instruments is just one part of that, sort of, honesty that we have in the band.'

Jarkko went on to say that perhaps it would be easier to do everything with keyboards - for instance, they would like to be able to use Irish tin-whistles but can't, because in a live situation they are basically silent - but that they've managed to do it this far, through six releases, so thinks it's something that will never change.

One thing that may have struck fans of Korpiklaani is that the band's early releases had lyrical content that was nearly exclusively written in English - but nowadays they're written in Finnish. For those familiar with poetic construction, the lyrics tend to take the Kalevala meter (archaic trochaic form). I asked Jarkko what the story was behind the change.

'In the beginning, when Jonne was the only writer in the band, I think he basically wanted to do stuff in Finnish, but he didn't really feel that he was a good writer in the Finnish language,' Jarkko explained. 'When you're writing in your own language, you become so much more critical towards your own work that nothing sounded good to him. And then when he decided to write the texts in English, it doesn't mean that they were good texts in English,' he laughed. 'But it just sounded better or more suitable. Because in English you can write basically anything and it will sound good.

'Then a few years ago we found Juha Jyrkas who authored us some texts written in this old-style Finnish. And they were really good lyrics, and we started to use them. Since that, four albums ago, since that he has provided us with quite a lot of new texts and we have been using them. So we finally have a good writer for Finnish texts, so we can do now what Jonne wanted to do years ago.'

Being able to do this, and writing Kalevala style gives the lyrics a more traditional feel as well. Jarkko personally feels that the Finnish Kalevala style text fits Korpiklaani's music quite well.

'Even if you don't, as a foreigner, for example, understand the meaning of the text, you can still get a certain feeling of the text, and the rhythm, that gives you something more than a normal text in English would,' Jarkko pointed out.

The recording of Karkelo was split over two studios: the drum tracks were laid down at Petrax, but the entire remainder of the album - except for the mastering - was completed at Grooveland Recording Studio. The reason is simply because Petrax has a huge recording room that is really good for drums.

'You can put the ambience microphones, like, ten metres away from the drums,' Jarkko explained. 'You basically get a really good drum sound there. I'm not sure if the end result that we have on the album was worth it,' he went on, 'but still we tried at least to do something differently for the drums, because on past albums we haven't been that satisfied with the drum sound.'

The songs for the album were pretty much finished by the time the band hit the studio, but Aksu Hanttu, producer on the album, worked with Korpiklaani to rearrange some of the tracks. He also helped the band to work harder and make the album as good as it could possibly be.

'He made us work quite a lot harder. He was always asking us, and saying, "You can't do that, you have to do it the other way", and then asking like, "are you sure that you are happy with that? Did you really think that that was good?" and stuff like that,' Jarkko explained. 'He was really a pain in the ass that made us really push ourselves harder, which I think is quite good that at least we hear so many different things on the album now, than from the previous albums.'

Earlier this year, Korpiklaani played Paganfest in the US, and Jakko was cautious about how how well they were received. Prior to Paganfest they had only been in North America once - in Calgary - for an indoor festival six months prior. Heading to Paganfest, therefore, they weren't quite sure how well they'd do over there. Then Korpiklaani were billed as the headlining act.

'We were a bit nervous about that,' Jarkko reflected. 'Because, for example, we thought that we are a smaller band, than of course Primordial or Moonsorrow who both were on the same bill. But in the end it went really well. We realised that we actually have a fan-base and we have a following in North America, so there were so many people at the shows and many people came to us to tell that they've been waiting for us there for seven years, and they had already lost their hope that they would ever see us live. So in general, that was a really good tour.'

But the highlight of the tour was a little bit different.

The second-last show of the tour was at House of Brews in West Hollywood, meaning they were on Sunset Strip and therefore in the middle of everything that has ever happened in the Los Angeles music scene.

'The sun was shining, it was hot. And we were just sitting there on the street-side bar, drinking beer, and tourists buses stopped there to take pictures of us. So that show and that day was the highlight of the tour.'

Speaking of tours, this August Korpiklaani will be appearing at Wacken's 20th anniversary festival. But unlike many bands that are hugely excited to play Wacken Open Air, Jarkko believes that there are many other festivals that are a lot better.

'Wacken has a reputation of a huge, great festival. But I don't really think of it as any special thing. We played there once, and it was ok. But since that we have played many other big festivals that are, in my opinion, better organised, and in other ways as well better festivals. So I don't really consider Wacken that special.'

Jarkko went on to explain about how they've played Grasshop in Belgium a few times, and he actually liked that festival a lot more than he did Wacken. When I asked Jarkko why, he explained that he feels that Wacken has almost outgrown itself.

'Well, for the audience I think Wacken is almost too big. There was 67,000 people there and that is more than the area can hold. And then, the backstage, for example, the area for the band in Grasshop is just brilliant. For example, in Wacken, if it's raining it's going to be mud at the backstage as well. But in Belgium if it's raining it doesn't matter. So, I like it more.'

Besides their music, Korpiklaani have a big reputation as a band that likes its beer and its parties. Knowing this, I asked Jarkko if any band member has ever fallen off the stage, and what are the weirdest places that band members have woken up in after a show. This is what I was told:

'I don't know if you know the German band, Tankard? Well, they are quite big beer drinkers and quite big in the alcohol thing. Anyway, we did a tour with them in Finland in March this year I think. And, well, one certain member of - us - got so drunk with them that he did fall from the stage in the biggest Finnish rock club, Tavastia in Helsinki. He was just walking there and the stage just ended too fast. He fell off the stage into the audience, but luckily he actually landed on his mother in law,' he explained, going on to say that he didn't get in trouble with her. 'But now that I remember that wasn't even the first time!' he went on. 'One other member of us has actually fallen from the stage as well, and he landed on his girlfriend.'

As for weird places to wake up in, tables feature prominently.

'I have a lot of pictures from our tour buses when, for some reason, our drummer has this thing that he usually wakes up - when he gets drunk, he doesn't get that drunk that often, but when he does he usually wakes up under the table. I don't know why but he'll go there. But sometimes he's there together with the violin player. I don't know how they do that and why, but that's what they do.'

While the drunk stories are hilarious, the band doesn't not take itself seriously. They would never, for instance, cancel a show due to being so drunk that they couldn't play; or, more to the point, get so drunk that they would be forced to do that.

'We still realise that we have a job to do, and we try to keep it that way that we play the shows, and then again, at least we perform. Most of the drinking goes on after the show, or in the morning, but the afternoon is something that we try to keep a bit slower. But I think that is something that fans expect from us, that is someone to fall from the stage,' Jarkko laughed.

As for other tours, you guys in Australia will have to hold on, because there hasn't been any talk about an Australian tour any time soon. For everyone else in Europe, check out Korpiklaani's tour dates here.

Korpiklaani's Karkelo is out on 26 June 2009 on Nuclear Blast/Riot. Read our review of it here.