Finntroll's Routa on everything... ever...

He's hard as the frozen ground but loves a bit of Tori Amos...

I was under the impression that I’d be interviewing Finntroll vocalist Mathias so it was quite a surprise when I answered the phone and it was actually guitarist Routa (AKA Mikael Karlbom) on the line. But seeing as it was getting late on a Friday night and I was half-cut, I took it all in my (highly professional) stride.

Personally I think the new Finntroll album Blodsvept is a work of genius - and while I don’t mind a bit of folk/pagan/whatever metal, I’m not a massive fan of the genre - it was a pleasant surprise to find it to be a bloody good listen and a bloody good laugh. When I ask about Finntroll’s intent with the new album, Routa explains “We had this idea about doing the new album – we were talking a lot about what kind of album we would like to do this time – and we ended up with this really straight forward approach to the music on this album. We wanted to make this album kind of like a ‘slap in your face’ feeling; as soon as you press play, you’re in the middle of the album! We wanted to avoid the drama of building up the songs and we wanted to avoid extensive ‘landscaping’ with the music, and we ended up with this really punk-rockish, straight forward, slap-in-your-face album and we’re loving it.”

He’s glad to hear that I’m loving it. It was a lot of fun to listen to but was it fun to record? He pauses before replying “Well…yeah…composing the songs was really fun – working at the studio was horrible! But that’s always what the studio work is; it’s too stressful, you have to be really on top of your game all the time and everything has to be so perfect in the studio. So, personally, I hate working in the studio but composing the songs was a lot of fun – even though it wasn’t that easy and it was real work but it was also a lot of fun. Personally, I love the composing part of the song; that’s nice when you start to see how the songs take their shape and you come to the final versions of the songs.”

Despite being a fun, easy going album, the layering of a multitude of different instruments must have been difficult to achieve? “Well, yes! We didn’t plan to have a lot of different layers; it’s just something that happened while we were composing it but it’s a fact that whenever we compose music, we want to do it in a way that when you listen to it you always find something new from the songs. With that first listen you get the general idea of the songs but we like to add some little stuff on it so the next time you listen you might be like ‘Hey, I didn’t notice this last time’ and hence the ‘layered’ style of the album.”

And the meaning of Blodsvept? “It’s a Swedish word for…it’s a bit hard to translate but it’s kind of like ‘shrouded in blood’…”

I see you guys stuck with the Finntroll tradition of singing in Swedish – are there any plans to bring out an English version? “No, I don’t think so. We’ve been doing this [in Swedish] for 15 years already and Katla, the first singer for Finntroll, who is still writing all the lyrics, he likes to write in Swedish. We were thinking if we were to change the lyrics to English, we would only be a band that sounded like Finntroll and we feel that the Swedish language is a huge part of Finntroll’s music and Finntroll in general, so nowadays we don’t even think about changing it anymore.”

Getting back to ex-vocalist Jan ‘Katla’ Jamsen; I ask, although he’s not in the band officially, is he like the eighth member of Finntroll. Routa says “Kind of…he doesn’t do any shows with us anymore and he’s not into the composing process either but we love his lyrics and he loves to write them so it’s just great we can keep him in the band, or keep him working with the band somehow, and writing lyrics is the perfect way to achieve that.”

Finntroll have been going for 15 years, and when I ask if Routa still enjoys the whole process, I get a hearty “Oh yeah! You couldn’t last this long if you didn’t enjoy what you do. Of course, there are ups and downs but I think there has to be ups and downs otherwise it would get boring.”

And what are Finntroll’s tour plans for the coming year? “Our tour plans are bit open yet but we’re gonna start with a couple of special shows throughout Europe and then we’re gonna do the summer festivals and then a bigger tour in Europe.” And he adds “… and we really hope we get a chance to play in Australia as well – that’s been one of our career highlights; playing there – the whole band enjoyed the country so much and all the people over there and the general vibe in Australia was so good that we just want to get back there.”

You might be surprised to hear that the band is remarkably restrained on tour, as Routa puts it “Well, we are getting older”, and laughs before continuing “ and we’re getting, in a way, more professional. Of course we drink well on tour but when it comes to the shows, we kind of feel responsible – people have bought their tickets and we don’t want to be on stage piss-drunk and play like shit. Nowadays we’d rather leave the party until after the show. We try to deliver really tight shows for the audience.”

You mentioned the recording process as a bit of a pain; and we know you love the composing process; what about playing the music live? “There’s nothing better than playing live around the world and seeing so many new people and new places. It’s just perfect, and it’s a cliché to say but playing live; when you get feedback from the audience and you see they’re enjoying your music that actually makes you perform even better on stage. It’s something that I enjoy a lot.”

When I ask if he takes the whole Folk/Pagan metal crossover seriously, Routa explains that he has an intense dislike for the numerous genres in metal. “When we started there was metal music and there was rock music and pop music, and that was about it, and nowadays there’s like 50 different genres and I think it makes people a bit more narrow-minded, in the way that someone might listen to say, black metal, but he won’t listen to some band if they are of the folk-metal genre. I think it’s a loss for everybody - sometimes you’ll get asked about some new extreme, dark folk-metal and I don’t even know what that means!”

It’s been argued that bands such as Enisferum, Turisas and Korpiklaani owe more than a passing cap-doff to Finntroll but Routa explains in a good-natured way that “We’re good friends with all of those bands; we’ve toured with Turisas a couple of times and played shows with Korpiklaani as well, and I think all bands give something  to each other; I mean, it’s music – you cannot avoid getting influences from everywhere.”

Finntroll try not to get dragged in the fans debates about who is better and who is bigger, adding that “it would drive us crazy if we were to go through all the magazines to see which band has bigger ads or more interviews. We just sit back and do our own stuff and hence, I guess, we have this vibe that we’re not that serious. We’re very serious about our music and live shows and all that but we don’t want to start getting stressed about who gets the most exposure in the media or anything like that. It’s not for us.”

We get onto the topic of side-projects and he explains that he’s got a few irons in the fire, “Me and the other guitarist (Skrymer/Samuli Ponsimann) have this stoner rock project that we’re gonna try to record this year, I hope…it’s been around for ten fucking years or something but we haven’t done anything with it…it’s called The Seventh Planet (check them out on Facebook and Youtube)…then me and the bass player Sami (Uusitalo), we have this weird black metal-ish side project that we’re also going to try and finish this year. But these side-projects are more like to relieve stress and something to do for fun; we’re not taking them so seriously that we have to record or have to publish or anything like that. It’s more like something to do besides Finntroll.”

We then move into a discussion about the state of the music industry and he makes a very astute observation: “When I was a kid and I listened to an L.P, it was more kind of like a ritual to listen to; you put it on, you go through the booklet and you really listen to the band. Nowadays I notice that if I download some music, I start to listen to it and ten minutes later I find myself reading emails at the same time or something, and I realise ‘Hell! I’ve not even been listening to this for the last five minutes…’ – that’s something I’ve noticed that changing, people are downloading and listening to music on their computers but they’re not really listening to it. It’s just playing in the background.”

He tells me he’s open to all manner of music and admits that “I think the last album that I bought was probably a Tori Amos album!” and he laughs hard, adding “ That describes my music tastes! It’s from one side to the other.”

When I ask his views on why Scandinavia produces so much black metal, he responds with “I guess it’s the fact that during the winter time, the sun goes away for seven months and you can’t produce happy music while it’s cold and dark all the time!” That and the fact you have to pay so much cash for your booze?  “Yeah – that is true!” and he laughs before continuing “Yes, it makes you dark and angry. It’s a way of relieving your anger.”
It’s time for me to finish but I quickly ask who Finntroll would like to collaborate with - the answer is most surprising; Danny Elfman (Oingo Boingo, The Simpsons theme tune etc) and, in Routa’s own words “The Canadian? The crazy guy?” Devin Townsend? “Yes! Exactly! With Devin Townsend we could do something as well!”

Goodbye Mr Karlbom, we’ll see you in Australia soon. “Definitely. It’s one of our aims this year to get there.”