[Magyar verzió ITT]
We had the opportunity to interview Ensiferum’s bass player and lyricist Sami Hinkka. Before the concert in Budapest on the 8th May he was kind enough to spare us some time to talk about Ensiferum’s working methods, Finnish education, women in metal and more interesting stuff. Check it out!
Hi Sami! How has the tour been so far? I’ve seen your earlier setlists and I can see you play a lot of those older, epic songs – how does it feel to bring back those songs?
It feels really good. We have this kind of policy in the band that we try to have a song from each album on every show. We are proud of every album we did and we would like to keep up the old spirit. Another nice thing is, that this gives us more variation for the set. Even though we are promoting the latest album, we still like playing the old songs. In Germany there was a guy who said he’s seen us 46 times. There are a lot of these hardcore fans who have seen us like a dozen times so it is nice to include some more rare songs. The beauty of Ensiferum is that we don’t have a hit song, noParanoid, or The Trooper. We don’t have a mandatory song that needs to be in every setlist. We still have songs that people enjoy but we are in a really nice situation as a band, because we have lot of songs that people like, but even if we leave some of the hit songs out, we can still make a really enjoyable set.
Many of us are sad that Netta left – do you plan to have a fifth member again, maybe some multi-instrumentalist person who could perform that stuff live, or do you plan to remain as a four man band?
I think it works well with four – us four have been together since 2005, so we are the core of Ensiferum. We’ve been talking about getting a fifth member but we will take our time. If we get someone, that person needs to bring something new to the band musical-wise. We don’t need anyone just to play some keyboard, because we can arrange that ourselves. That person really needs to bring something we cannot create or produce as a four-piece. It is definitely an option, so let’s see, we will do this tour and the summer festivals like this, and then it is an open book. In the autumn we will also have more time to reflect and think about this idea.
I think it is pretty cool that you’ve had females in the band but you never specifically promoted yourselves with the fact that one of you is a woman. I mean, some bands put too much emphasis on female-fronted metal – what the hell is that even? In your case, the women always seemed a completely integral part of the band and not “just for the eyes”. So, based on this, what do you think about the role and position of women in metal?
In a way, I think this is a funny question, because I don’t think what you have between your legs matters at all. In Ensiferum, all the girls – Meiju, Emmi, Netta – they were all “one of the guys”, there was never any difference, and we never treated anyone differently, they also never asked for it, because they knew what they were getting into. We’re all human beings, so I think it is a silly question. Not to demean you, I just don’t see the difference.
Yes, but you know, in metal there are so much more men.
Maybe it is also a cultural thing that men are more culturally privileged to present aggressive feelings, and in music, when you have a female fronted band, it’s usually like Céline Dion…
What about Arch Enemy then?
Of course, but I mean it in general. We are all just human beings and everyone has the same kinds of emotions. Actually, I think it is great that this taboo is breaking that women should only behave “nicely”. We are all entitled to have all kinds of emotions and thoughts and to express them through art. Again, I’d like to underline that we are all human beings. Metal is just another form of art, if somebody starts discriminating based on what you have between your legs, that is just stupid.
In a way I understand how some bands label themselves female-fronted, because that already tells something about the band. So it is also ok that people label us as a viking metal band, or whatever – this already tells something about the band if you haven’t even heard the music. Labels are understandable in a way – if someone just hates bands with harsh vocals, or female vocals or power metal vocals, they will already know that they won’t really like that band. And if someone is into that kind of stuff, they can say “Oh, that is my kind of thing!”, so labels are good.
I know it is still in three years, but your self-titled album will be 20 years old in 2021. Will you do anything special about it?
I don’t know. *laughs* Maybe! We kind of missed the 10th anniversary of Victory Songs, it would’ve been cool to do something. I think the next thing besides working on the new album is that we will try to work on a live DVD, that would be fantastic to do. We would also like to do a documentary – we have lots of materials about the early days of Ensiferum. Tens and tens of hours about how the guys started the band and the first tours… It would be fantastic to use that and make a documentary about how it all started and to interview the old members. Let’s see, I hope we have time. Metal Blade already said that they are willing to do it so now we only need to find the time.
Do you have any kind of weird interactions with the fans and what was the weirdest?
Nah. Not really. There was a funny moment once in Helsinki. Our old rehearsal place was in the same building as the venue Nosturi. There is a gas station next to that place. One afternoon on a day we also had a show in the night, we ran out of beer and me and Mahi (MarkusToivonen, guitars).) went for some more. As we were waiting to pay for our beers, there was this guy, totally drunk and sees that Markus has an Ensiferum shirt and he is like: “Hey! Are you guys coming to the show tonight?”, and we are like “Uhm, I guess so?”, “All right, see you in the front row then!”… He didn’t recognize us, that was so funny.
Overall, I’d say that metal fans are really cool, there isn’t that kind of worshipping in the metal scene, most people understand we’re all human beings and I think it is very different compared to many other genres, where some people keep certain artists on a pedestal, that is just weird. You can respect somebody’s art but they are still humans. But it is not like that in the metal scene, people can just walk up to you and say that they like your music but that is all and I think that is wonderful. This year I’m going to Hellfest with a fucking tent and I know it’s going to be fantastic. This is one of the coolest things about the 70000 Tons of Metal cruise – there is no backstage. All the bands are just hanging around with everyone, I really like how down to earth it all is. It is also cool how many metalheads have their own bands, they play instruments, so everybody knows the “hard reality”, how it’s not anything glamorous, just creating stuff with similar minded people, and enjoying that with similar minded people in the crowd – I really like the symbiosis of that.
What is your worst vice, do you have any unhealthy or neglective habits?
Alcohol is something you always have to be smart with, but I enjoy good food, I love chocolate and I love good whiskey and good wine. You just need to be smart and take everything with moderation. You can have fun, you only have this life so you need to enjoy it, but it is also important to take care of your duties – we are going to have a fantastic show, so I cannot drink a bottle of whiskey, because that would be really unrespectful towards everyone who is here tonight.
You haven’t covered any folk songs for like ten years now. Would you like to do something like that again?
Yes! We have some ideas and we’ve had some ideas. During each album session we try to arrange them, but it never turns out to be good enough… Ensiferum is just too ambitious, we don’t want to just put more distortion and harsh vocals and just make a simple cover that way, we really want to cherish the original version but also add our own ideas, which is actually not that easy. But yes, we do have the idea to cover a couple of folk songs. We are also talking about making an acoustic album because we’ve played some acoustic shows, where we could cover the folk songs that we like, and not specifically the well-known ones, not the most obvious choices. But let’s see, we need to sit down and think about the priorities, because this band works really slowly, we need to really focus on something and then do it well.
Let’s stay at this folk topic. On your earlier albums there are practically no folk instruments but it could still be labeled folk metal. Now you are using more and more folk instruments and also more and more clean singing, is there a reason behind this or is it more like natural evolution?
It is natural evolution. For us, folk instruments aren’t something we have to use, it just depends on the song, part by part we see what kind of soul each part has and what instrument would be the best to characterize it. We like certain folk instruments a lot, such as nyckelharpa and kantele. On the first album there is only some flutes and kantele, but then it evolved a bit more. Let’s see. Albums are not something we plan too much ahead, we don’t say that next time we have to use certain elements… Same with clean vocals, we go song by song and simply try different ideas.
It was really surprising that on your latest album, the song versions with the clean vocals are labeled as alternative version, and the clean singing version has no label, that surprised me a lot!
*laughs* Yeah. When we made those two things, Don’t You Say and God is Dead, it was kind of obvious that those were going to be clean vocal songs, after we had recorded them, we were like “Hey, Pete (PetriLindroos, vocals, guitars), you are here, go and try, just for the fun of it”, and then we realized that those are actually really-really cool, so why not put them on the album? It wasn’t intentional.
All of you are bilingual – what language do you usually think in, and does that change during a tour?
Yes, and that is kind of the beauty of it. Sometimes I’m looking forward to tours because then I get to speak English. I like to maintain the level of it, and if you don’t use a language it starts to fade bit by bit. I have many friends abroad, so of course I chat with them almost daily which is also really nice. Languages are a really good investment out there.
Is there a reason why your lyrics are mostly in English? Is it so that more fans can appreciate it, or does it just flow more naturally, or is it better from a business perspective?
I think it is really natural to just write in English. Some parts just come out in Finnish – again, this is not something we plan ahead, like “Hey, let’s add a Finnish part here”. It just happens that we have some cool lyrics that fit the mood and the melody and then we implement it. We have a lot of vowels in Finnish, it is a nice language to sing in. You can have much better and deeper lyrics written in your native language, you don’t need to stress about the grammar because it comes naturally, and you can also use more “high literature” metaphors. This is why I also like to keep the Finnish part of it, but it is not like we need to have it. But I can say that English is the main language for Ensiferum and it would be weird to change it.
You used to work as a kindergarten teacher. This way you probably have some insight to how the world-famous Finnish education system works, what do you think, what makes it so good and famous?
It’s equal. The idea of our education system in Finland is that no matter where you come from, the education is free and you could come from the poorest ghetto… Okay, we don’t have ghettos, but from the poorest family and you can still study to become a doctor without taking a loan. Everyone has the same chance and this is something that should be true for all the kids in the world. I know this is some really idealistic hippie shit, but on the long run, maybe 100 or 500 years from now it could be true, because humanity, we, have to evolve. That’s the direction we’re going, in the really big picture anyway.
So you’re an optimist…
Well, I’m a realist. I’m sure it will happen, but we won’t be there to see it. But I would like to be alive when we land on the Mars, that I’d really like to see. I will not die before that, I refuse!
Do you have any problems with hotels or catering when you are touring or is that usually sorted out well? Does it ever happen that you have to arrange anything of that sort for yourselves?
On such tours we don’t have hotels, we sleep in the bus and I think that is really convenient, because after a show you just take a shower and you can just lie down – or of course, you can head outside and have a party, which some of the crew members especially do. I don’t know how the fuck they do it night after night!
Personally I, especially on these really long tours (this one lasts six weeks) with no day offs, I haven’t really drunk that much at this tour, because no party is important enough to screw up the next day’s show.
But touring is really easy for us, we are really privileged to be on this level. We are not Metallica, sure, I ride the bus when I’m at home, I don’t even have a car, but on this level we have a really professional crew with us. For us it is actually all about doing the show, we don’t have to do anything else, they don’t even let us carry anything! If we try to carry something, they just send you away, if you break your fingers, the tour is over, so they don’t let us do certain things. It is really nice to be in this kind of situation.
What’s up with that “make power metal great again thing” onyour Facebook?
Let’s just say Ensiferum is a very active band, but there are still lot of days of the year that are not filled with touring and there is something coming up. It is not an Ensiferum-thing, it is a me-thing.
(Later it turned out that it was a reference to Sami’s own band: https://www.facebook.com/metaldefacto/)
Do have any songs or scraps of papers with lyrics on them laying around that have never seen the light of the day?
We have lots of ideas, and that is also the beauty of Ensiferum, there is always dozens and dozens of raw ideas waiting to be arranged. After the summer, we will sit down for a few weeks and check out what everybody has. We already have some song ideas, but not a whole album yet, but we will discuss the ideas we have, and then let’s see. Maybe not 2019, that is way too fast, because there is still a lot of touring to do, but maybe early 2020! It is hard to say in years, because there might be half a year when nothing happens, but then there is two weeks when you do some intensive rehearsal room time, and suddenly you have several songs.
Is there anything that has been laying around for, let’s say, 6-7 years but never actually finished, something you keep postponing or find it never good enough? Or if you have an idea then you go and finish it?
No, it is exactly the opposite. The song I Will Never Kneel from the last album, I made its first demo in 2010 or 2011, and it probably had like 2-3 parts of the song but it was never finished.
What about the song Bonus Song then? How long did it take you to write it?
Do you plan to do anything similar fun stuff like that?
No, not really. Bonus song was born, because our record label said, hey, we need one more cover or bonus song. And since we don’t need cover songs just for the sake of making cover songs, and we were already in studio, we were like “For fuck’s sake… We need one more bonus song… Let’s write a Bonus Song!”. So we went to the studio, pressed Rec, composed the song in 15 minutes, I wrote lyrics in another 15 minutes and then it was done.
Have you ever played it live?
Do you plan to?
Maybe for some really drunk crowd…
Well maybe for the 25th anniversary DVD, as a 2nd or 3rd encore… Maybe, I don’t know, we never really thought about it. We just wrote it in the spirit of “Well, you want a bonus song, here is a bonus song for you!”. Metal Blade loved it and actually called it fantastic!
Well, that is all and I would like to thank you very much for answering. This has been really nice and I think your approach to life, music, crowds and just everything is fantastic!