In-depth Interview With Korpiklaani Bassist Jarkko Aaltonen

By Andrew Bansal

Just eighteen months after the release of their seventh studio album “Ukon Wacka”, Finnish folk metal band Korpiklaani is back with another new album titled “Manala”. The album was released on August 14 via Nuclear Blast, and right now the band is on tour in North America, promoting the album. Recently, I spoke to bassist Jarkko Aaltonen to talk about this quick turnaround from the previous album to this one, the lineup change in the band, and touring, among other things. Enjoy the conversation below, check out the awesome music video of “The Steel” using the YouTube player, and visit the band’s facebook page for tour dates and other info.

Your new album “Manala” came out a few weeks ago. It’s been only one and a half years since the last one was out. It’s a good thing that you’re doing it so soon, because bands take much longer between albums. How did you manage to do it so quickly?

Well, we got used to that when we were kids, because of the bands we were listening to back them. In the 80s, when I was a teenager buying music from my favorite bands, they always released one album each year. If you think about Iron Maiden, they did five albums in their first five years and they managed to play 200 shows every year still, so I think we should be able to do exactly the same. It shouldn’t be that difficult (laughs). But seriously, we don’t really think about it like we have to make an album every year. When we write enough number of songs, we go to the studio and make an album. It’s that simple. We never book the studio without any songs written.

Yeah, even before you mentioned Iron Maiden, that was the first band I thought of as an example of a band that released albums every year. Do bands like that still inspire you to keep active all the time?

You have to be sort of active, I think, but there’s two sides to that. For some bands it is an in-built system that you have to keep on doing things. For us, Jonne cannot continue unless he finishes something. If he has 15 demos of good songs that he feels would make a good album, he has to make a album. He cannot just leave it there and say, ‘Ok let’s do another six months and let’s write more songs.’ He cannot work like that. He has to get things done. But you have to also understand that probably many bands feel sort of forced to do stuff. The business develops faster these days, and there are a lot more bands than there were in the 80s, so you have to keep doing things or otherwise you’ll just be forgotten.

How’s your relationship with the record label? Have they ever forced you to do anything or do you just do albums according to your own schedule?

No, we’ve never had anything like that. Nuclear Blast has never told us to do such a thing. With the previous record label Napalm, we did have a thing that once the band started to move from the English to Finnish language, they started to complain about it. They said we had to have this many English songs on the album. So we just renamed all the instrumentals with English titles and they were happy with that!

Interesting! For this new album, when did you find the time to start writing, considering that you’ve been touring so much during the last year?

We don’t really write anything on tours. Of course when you’re playing, you get some ideas and you record the riffs and melodies to remember them later. Then when you have a break from touring, that’s when you actually start writing the songs and putting stuff together. Everybody seems to think that we’re always on the road but we always have breaks. If we already have the basic ideas put down, the writing process is pretty quick.

Talking of the lineup, you had some problems on your previous North American tour, where your violin player left in the middle of the tour. I guess now you have a new guy. How’s it going with him? Is the lineup back to being stable again?

Yeah, not many people know this but during the last 12 months we’ve actually had five different violin players. When somebody finally writes a biography of our band, that will be a terrible, terrible piece of work to figure out who the hell did what (laughs). But anyway, once we parted ways with our violin player last year, we had still some festival appearance to do, so we had a couple of our friends who have been playing with us before fill in for those shows, and then we hired the guy who we thought would be the permanent member, this young kid from the music academy. But on the US tour we really understood that we shouldn’t put a kid through such a massive job. So we sent him home from Seattle, and it wasn’t really working for either him or the band. After that, we finished the tour without any violin player and then we got this new guy. He’s an adult male person, which is a plus. He’s a nice bloke and things are working really good for the band right now, in the sense that we are really comfortable with the current violin player.

Has he contributed to the new album, or did he come in after you had already recorded the new one?

No, the young kid that we fired in the middle of the US tour, he managed to record one song that we already finished last year. But then, the new guy has actually re-recorded even that one. So the new album is entirely recorded by our current violin player.

I think it was at the Hollywood show on that tour, where you played without the violinist for the first time. On stage, how big of a change was it for you?

Last year, we had already played a couple of shows in the summer without the violin player, which was the time when we realized that we cannot continue like this with the then current violin player. So then we did it without the violin, and it wasn’t that bad. We have a brilliant accordion player and he’s able to fill in some parts that are supposed to be played on violin. We had to leave out a couple of songs that had lot of violin, but then we added other stuff anyway so it wasn’t anything too difficult or strange to deal with. It actually felt a lot better than the shows we did with the violinist, which wasn’t really working anyway. So it was OK.

You’re touring North America again now. It must be good to tour straight after the album release, and now you can really promote the album.

Yeah, that is the idea behind the tour. That’s going to be an even better tour than the previous one, for the audience at least, because we have really good bands with us. Not to take anything away from Arkona or the other bands on the last tour, but now we have Týr Moonsorrow and the Estonians Metsatöll. That’s going to be a very good package. It’s going to be a nice evening for everyone who’s attending a show.

Coming back to the topic we discussed at the beginning of the interview, in your opinion what’s the reason for bands taking longer to release albums now as compared to the 80s? Is it just the lack of sales?

No, it’s not only the lack of sales. I think it’s partially because bands would turn professional very quickly in the 70s and 80s. There was money in the business, and they would make a living off of the music. Now, everyone has to have a second job. Everybody has to go to work. And it’s quite easy to see that when you’re working full time somewhere else, you’re not doing your band full time then. So things take time. You’re not a full time musician anymore. I think that’s the main reason.

Related: Hollywood gig review