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Ensiferum's Sami Hinkka: "I told my boss already in the job interview that I will quit when touring is possible again"

Interview with Sami Hinkka from Ensiferum
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 24 June 2020, 11:43 PM

One of the basis of Metal music, and there are many that are somewhat of suckers, is the guitar, and along with it the sounds and riffs. However, Metal music has also been known for the compelling, and diverse, vocal styles. Finding that perfect balance between harsh and clean, velvet and crude steel, now that is art. Ensiferum, even though their vast experience, found their edge on their new album, “Thalassic”. Steinmetal took the opportunity to talk with long time bass player, Sami Hinkka, about this balance of vocals, aspects of the new album, surviving Covid-19 and more…

Hello Sami, it is an honour to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing sir? I trust that you can breathe a little with some of the lockdown lairs being lifted?

Hi! The pleasure is all mine! I hope you are doing well during these crazy times. Everything is ok here. Of course it sucks a lot that all gigs are cancelled but luckily I have studied two professions so I found a day job to do while waiting for touring to start again. I also recorded my first solo-release during the lockdown and as we speak it’s almost mixed so I hope that in early July it will be out. So trying to keep myself busy here.

With Ensiferum we are doing a stream gig on the album release day so we have had few rehearsals to check out the setlist. Overall in Finland the restrictions were not that bad because people took the warning seriously so that the virus didn’t spread that much. Maybe our ”personal-space-loving” -culture helped it also, heh.

Talking about what has been going on in the world in the last several months, who would have expected it right? I have been hearing so many things, conspiracy theories surrounding the Chinese, 5G implementation worldwide, the works. What do you think about this pandemic? Is this the real deal or some kind of an item that was taken out of proportion?

I believe in rational thinking and the fact is that we have influenza virus’ roaming around the plane every year so it was just a matter of time that something more dangerous evolved. I like conspiracy theories in movies and books but I’m not so eager to believe them without solid evidence. So I’m ready to change my opinion but at the moment it all looks ”natural” to me. But of course I might be wrong or be part of this conspiracy network? ;)

What is the current situation in Finland? Are things slowly getting back to a new kind of normal or you guys are still closed at home, not being able to do much other than perhaps write music and songs, waiting for a promise from the media?

The restrictions were not that bad in Finland. There were lots of serious recommendations and naturally schools were closed and people who could were working from home etc. At the moment stores and restaurants are opening and if I understood correctly they are already allowing 500 people events in August so maybe there will be at least a Finland tour to promote our new album besides the stream gig. Personally I’m not getting over-excited about touring worldwide to start soon because the second wave will probably happen and in few weeks we shall see how everything goes now that countries are opening up a bit more. I hope the vaccine will be developed soon.

Out of all this mess, at least you have something good to celebrate, and that is Ensiferum’s new album, “Thalassic”. To be honest, I read the translation for this title, yet I still don’t get it. What do you make of all this? Isn’t your heathenism and folklore deeply rooted in Scandinavian history and myths, as the translation of the title is from Greek?

Heh, actually it’s an English word but of course the root of the work is Greek. It sounded so much better than for example ”nautical” and as a word it tells a lot about the album. Ensiferum’s music and lyrical themes have always been heroic. Of course Nordic mythology is one source of inspiration but absolutely not the only one.

What was the initial inspiration to write this conceptual calling to be later titled “Thalassic”? What went through your mind waves while gradually forming the philosophical foundation of the album?

The idea of a theme album started to brew in my mind when I was doing the interviews for the previous album ”Two Paths” because then many journalists asked if that was a theme album and I kept replying that because of the way we compose, it’s almost impossible to make one. I started to get pissed off to myself, because why would I as a composer and lyric writer say that there is something we can’t do when it’s actually just about sitting down, agreeing that this is the way we’ll do the next album and vóila! Anyway, guys liked my idea that the next album would have a vague theme. I took long walks while listening to the very raw ideas/demos we had recorded and I tried to listen to them without analysing them from music theory aspect etc. and it didn’t take long to find the theme. Sea and water overall is so profound theme that there was no problem to find enough (actually way too many!) topics for the lyrics.

Concerning what has been going on worldwide, can you find any connection between the story being told within “Thalassic” or perhaps there is a different lesson to be learned out of it?

The lyrics were written long before any news about COVID-19 so there isn’t any intentional connection to these times. But my solo-EP’s lyrics were inspired by the outbreak and how people reacted to it but that’s another story.

Recently I have been listening to early Ensiferum albums, along with a few other bands of that same wave of Folk meets Melodic Death Metal, no doubt that “Thalassic” has a measure of uniqueness in its flow, and boy it has a flow, quite grabbing I would say. How would you describe the progress of Ensiferum from your latest effort?

For us writing new music goes always the same way: someone brings raw ideas / riffs / melodies to the rehearsal room and we arrange them together to complete songs and when we have enough songs we’ll book a studio. Of course this time there was the idea of theme album in our minds during the whole process but I don’t know how much it guided our composing on conscious level. it was cool that our new keyboard player / clean vocal singer Pekka joined the band while we were still composing that he also arranging the album. ”Thalassic” sounds like Ensiferum in 2020.

In your opinion, and in light of “Thalassic” of course, what do you think that Ensiferum now has to offer, that is a strong element, to the Metal market that has been overblown with options?

We are one of the oldest bands in this genre so I think our fans know quite well what to expect from a new Ensiferum album. What do we have to offer? The best music that this band can do, nothing more, nothing less. You can’t please everyone and you shouldn’t even try. Just stay honest to yourself and to your bandmates and create music that you love. Then you can still play the songs decades later with pride.

One of the chief aspects of “Thalassic” that I really liked is the utmost diversity in the vocals’ section, such a variety isn’t that common. Though Ensiferum has always been a band of more than the usual growl meets clean vocals, “Thalassic” is somewhat of a game changer. What is your take on that?

Of course now that we have a great clean singer it gave us more options for vocal arrangements. But like you said, Ensiferum has always had this mix of harsh, clean (male and female) and choir vocals and that’s the way we like it. This way you can get much more dynamics to the vocals. So nothing has really changed except now the clean vocals are much better than ever before.

Regarding the songwriting, other than rip and tear, which I have to say that there aren’t too many songs of that direction, there is that sense of drama, strong emotions, larger than life kind of feel. Frankly, some of the choruses are on the verge of stadium oriented, with an ability to thrive to an amazing sing-along. In your view, would you call it a change of perception of the songwriting?

Heh, thanks for the kind words. But no, the songwriting itself didn’t change, only the quality of clean vocals changed to better than before. We have always loved big chanting sing-along parts and they are one of the highlights during the live gigs.

“Midsummer Magic”, a kind of Folk Metal song that has been brushed over for at least two decades, yet here it feels pretty natural. What can you tell of the song’s origins? I am positive that you had quite a good time of release right? Are you living the dream?

It’s no secret that we come up with lots of this kind of drinking song -ideas but we also have quite strict filter for what we actually keep composing to a complete song. ”Midsummer Magic” was a killer already when the first raw demo was made so it passed the filter easily, heh. It has this jolly feeling that you just want to grab a pint or a drinking horn and run to the dance floor and sing and dance till you drop. Sounds like our gigs! So in a way, yes, we are living the dream!

 “I’ll Stay By Your Side” is an oddity, 80s driven tune, which you guys gave a rather Gothic dimension. I tried finding information about it, whether it is a cover or not, yet I came in blank. What can you tell about this song? Is it actually a cover? If not, what is that all about? It is kind of hard not to like it

This is a song that everyone in Finland knows because very legendary rock band called ”Hurriganes” made a cover of it back in 1975. We thought to update it a bit and the result is very good. Actually drums, rhythm guitars and bass are recorded at the same time and we noticed that they are in sync so we decided that no point to re-record the string instruments so that’s why there is this natural groove in this song.

I actually thought of Amorphis first time I listened to “For Sirens”, as the hooking melody took me by surprise. This song appeared to me like a scene out of a play, with a theatrical spirit. Is this a solid basis for something to be exploited further by Ensiferum for next releases?

Thank you for the complement! Let’s see what the future brings. This was one of the last songs that was finished for ”Thalassic” and I really like the catchy chorus melody and how harsh and clean vocals take turns. Also the lyrics leave lot of room for interpretation.

Another strong aspect of the album, in my view, is the production. Even though most releases nowadays are clean, neat and polished, a lot of stuffed and over boasted. However, “Thalassic” tells it differently. What is your appreciation of the work done in the studio?

I couldn’t agree more with you! Jens Bogren, who mixed the album, understood immediately what is the main point of each part of each song. It was insane feeling when we heard the first version of the mix and we were like…”There is almost nothing to correct”! It’s normal that you need to adjust details and balance issues few times before the result is pleasing everyone’s ears but this time it was just few points that needed to be polished a bit and that was it. Janne Joutsenniemi did fantastic job as a producer / recorder plus I think the fact that we are an old band, we have worked in studio so many times before and we know what we want also helped the whole recording/mixing process because there were no unnecessary tracks recorded at all. Live and learn!

Since you guys are musicians in a full time job, how have you been surviving while this pandemic is still out there? Have you been promoting your new material online, perhaps live stream or even planning a virtual tour?

In Finland it’s actually very hard as a professional musician if something like this happens because you are an entrepreneur and then you are not entitled to an unemployment benefit (actually during COVID-19 our government agreed that entrepreneurs can get it for couple of months) so it hasn’t been that easy. But we are not the only one. For us it really destroyed the whole year's plan/income because we were in the studio in the beginning of the year and everyone was hanging in there and just waiting for the festival season to start and then the touring around the world…well we all know what happened.

Like I said in the beginning, I’m kind of a lucky one because I have two educations so I just got a day job for now but I told my boss already in the job interview that I will quit when touring is possible again. Meanwhile we will do a stream gig on the release day of the new album (10th of July) so that’s going to be lots of fun to play bunch of old, rare and obviously some new songs and we have asked people to send questions to us in advance and we’ll take couple of breaks during the gig to answer to these questions and after the gig we’ll sit down and chat with people. So it will completely different than a normal gig but I’m sure it will be a night to remember.

Sami, I have always been a fan of the band, yet “Thalassic” opened my eyes and ears even further of the strong fulfilled potential that you guys have. Terrific work and thank you for the music. Cheers.

Thank you for this opportunity and I hope to see you on the road once the touring is possible again. Cheers!


 



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