By Andrew Bansal
After achieving success through its European release, Finnish death/doom metal band Swallow The Sun’s fifth studio album “Emerald Forest And The Black Bird” was finally released last week on September 4th in North America, via Spinefarm Records. To support this release, the band is currently touring North America as opening act on the ‘Teutonic Terror Attack’ tour with German legends Kreator and Accept. A couple of weeks back, I spoke to vocalist Mikko Kotamäki to discuss this album, the tour, and other things. Read the conversation below, enjoy the beautiful music video of the song “Cathedral Walls” using the YouTube player, and visit Swallow The Sun’s facebook page for more info on tour dates.
Your new album is finally coming out in North America. It’s been out for a while in Europe. Why has it taken so long to release in America?
Yeah, it took a while. We were pretty pissed off about that, and it took way too long. But there was some problem with the record label. They just couldn’t get it out until now. But I guess it’s better now than never (laughs), and I’m glad it’s finally coming out. It was not up to us and we were trying to get it out way sooner, but yeah something record labels just work like this.
At least it’s coming out, so that’s good. Your previous album “New Moon” was released in 2009, and before that you took about two years to release each album. Would you say it took the same amount of time to complete the new one?
Yeah, well this basically took two years as well. After “New Moon” we toured quite a lot. We did three North American tours, and European tours, summer festivals and shit like that. So it was a bit harder and more frustrating to do this album after that fucking busy year. But let’s see what’s going to happen with the next one. So far we have nothing ready and may be it’ll take two years also. That seems like our deal! (laughs)
Just for people who’re curious about it, can you briefly tell me the idea behind the title “Emerald Forest And The Blackbird”?
I wouldn’t say it’s a concept album, but there is a little story behind the whole album. On the first song, which is the title track of the album, there’s a father telling a story to his dying son. I think it’s pretty easy to figure out if you read the lyrics at some point, but that’s the basic story behind the album. It’s a happy, happy album (laughs).
You’ve also had some guest musicians, like Anette Olzon from Nightwish. How was it working with her on that track “Cathedral Walls”?
Well actually she recorded her parts in Sweden, so I didn’t meet her to record the song. Our guitar player Juha just got the idea that this song may need some female vocals. He heard one of Anette’s songs on her own page, and he decided that we need this kind of voice. He asked her, and she wanted to do it, which is fucking nice. Nightwish is getting quite big nowadays. So there’s absolutely nothing bad to say about this co-operation with them!
As soon as the album comes out in North America, you’ll be touring with Kreator and Accept. That’s one tour which I did not expect you to be on, because it’s not the usual kind of a mix for you. But it should be interesting. What are your expectations?
It was a bit surprising for me as well, but after all, we decided to do that anyway. It’s a weird lineup but this time it’s a bigger tour than what we’ve done previously in the US, so may be we get a chance to play for new listeners and bigger crowds. But seriously I don’t have any expectations because may be those old school thrash metal heads will kill us, I don’t know (laughs). We’ll find out, and let’s see what happens. Hope they like it! Of course, theirs is totally different kind of music.
This album has been out for a while in Europe, so I’m sure you would have already played them on stage. So when you play in North America, I guess you’ll already be used to these songs, as opposed to the usual cycle where you release the album, tour straightaway and kind of practice the songs on stage as the tour moves along.
Yeah, I think we’re in good shape now. We’ve played quite a lot of shows in Europe after the album came out here. We did one European tour with Paradise Lost and more recently we’ve been doing summer festivals. We went to Japan too. So we’re more than ready to play the new songs, and I guess people won’t have to be disappointed (laughs).
After this tour, will you be doing any more tours?
Well, after that we’re doing one more European tour and then this year will be pretty much over. But we have some plans for next year, and we need to come back to America because it’s always nice to tour North America. It’s a good place to tour, for sure. And may be we’ll probably try playing in countries we’ve never played before but we’ll see what happens. Next year is also the 10-year anniversary of our first album, so we might also play a little bit of that next year.
Will you play the whole album?
May be! We’ll have to see whether we still know how to play those songs (laughs). It’s been a while since we played them. It’s actually been 10 years since we did a couple of those songs. We would need to go rehearse for a while. But rehearsing sucks. So that can be planned for next year, but most definitely we’re coming back to America.
What have your past North American tour experiences been like? Recently you toured with Katatonia in late 2010, and before that with Finntroll.
Well, I think the best tour in North America so far was that 2010 tour with Katatonia. That was a fucking great lineup, and of course we are very good friends with those Swedish bastards, so we get along with them quite well. The first tour we did was in 2007, also with Katatonia, and we’ve been playing with different kinds of bands like Soilwork, Finntroll, Moonsorrow and bands like that. I think it’s getting better all the time. Since 2007, we’ve played like 200 shows in North America. So may be people are starting to remember us there.
Coming to the album itself, in your opinion how does it compare musically to the previous four albums?
Well, it’s such a cliche´ to say, but it’s our best album so far (laughs). I think it’s a very easy album to like. It’s a bit more progressive and somehow a little bit more mellow, but of course there’s a lot of aggressive parts as well. I think the mellow parts are softer than before and the aggressive parts are stronger than before. I guess it’s more versatile compared to our previous albums, but I don’t think old fans will be disappointed.
Yeah, there are some pretty long songs on the album, so it’s definitely more progressive. But was it a challenge for you to record those songs because of the length?
Yeah, specially for our drummer! He said that this album has been such a fucking pain in the ass to play in the studio, because the songs are not so fast, but when the songs are long and slow, it’s actually fucking hard to play that kind of stuff. You can’t imagine how hard it is, specially if you have to keep it sounding groovy. So yeah, it was a pretty hard album to record, for everybody actually.
So is it equally hard or even harder to play live?
Well, may be it was harder to record, at least for me, because I didn’t have all the vocal lines ready when I went into studio. We didn’t really rehearse the album before the studio, we only did it a couple of times. So it was very challenging but now we’ve played it live 60 times so now it’s getting quite easy actually. I think we can play those songs now (laughs).
From the shows that you’ve played this year, which were some of the places where the crowd’s reaction to your music was more positive than you expected?
Japan was fucking amazing. It was really surprising because we had never played there before, so that was great. We toured with Paradise Lost in Europe, and France was crazy. It was a really good turnout. I guess we’re doing good in Finland as well, but may be the best countries for this kind of music in Europe are probably France and the Netherlands, along with UK and Finland.
For this touring cycle, you must be used to a more or less fixed set list by now. Which of the new songs have you been playing regularly?
We have played all of them actually, because now we prefer to play the new songs, of course. But it also depends on how long the set we’re going to have. In festival gigs we play three or four new songs, and then the rest of the set list is old stuff. Unfortunately it’s not going to be one hour long on the US tour, but usually we play 4 or 5 songs from the new album because we don’t want to just come back and play the old songs again and again. We pretty much try to add new stuff to the set as much as we can.