In-depth Interview With Turisas Violinist Olli Vänskä

By Andrew Bansal

After a successful Paganfest America tour last year, Finnish ‘battle metal’ band Turisas is ready to do another North American trek this year. They’ll start with the epic 70000 Tons Of Metal Cruise from January 28th to February 1st, and following that they will do a run of dates as part of their ‘Guards Of Glory’ tour with Greek power metal band Firewind and California-based avant-garde metal band Stolen Babies as support acts. Turisas is also currently in the studio, gearing up to release their next album, the follow-up to the well-received third studio album ‘Stand Up And Fight’. On January 9th, I spoke to violinist Olli Vänskä to talk about the songwriting and recording process behind the new album, the upcoming tour, and more. Read the conversation below, check out this location for North American tour dates and ticket links, and visit Turisas on their official website, facebook and twitter for more info.

Your North American tour is starting next month. How are you feeling about that? You must be busy preparing for it right now.

Yeah, absolutely. We’re in the studio at the moment and there’s a bunch of stuff to finish there, so yeah, it’s going to be a busy two and a half weeks or so, with the tour coming up as well.

On this tour, are you still going to be playing the majority of songs from ‘Stand Up And Fight’ or is it going to be a different set?

Well, we’re anyway changing the set from what we played earlier, so it’s never going to be the same. We’re not one of those bands that do the same set for two years in a row, but since the fourth album is supposed to come out in May, it’s going to still be a majority of the previous album. But if we have a chance and I hope we do, then we’re going to definitely showcase some new material there. It all depends on how we get the production done with the album.

That’s exciting to hear. What’s the progress on the new album? Is it done and ready for production?

Yeah, all the basic tracks are done and I think Mathias is doing some vocals this week. I’m going to do my violin lead parts this weekend. We’re doing all the keyboards and orchestration stuff as we speak, and it’s kind of happening in many places at the moment. Then we’re also rehearsing with the new guys. As you might know, we have a new drummer and a new bassist in the band [ Jaakko Jakku & Jesper Anastasiadis respectively], and obviously the set is going to be kind of refreshed anyway because we’re kind of resetting the whole thing with them. Of course, there’s going to be a lot of familiar stuff. The guys are playing excellent, very tight, and I’m confident that it’s going to be a really good show. We’ve done a cover rehearsal so far, and super excited about that.

I was going to ask you about the two new members. How are they fitting into the band and what’s their contribution to the new material?

People who know our band from before would know that we have a very .. how to say it in a nice way .. it’s dictated by Nygård pretty much. He’s the brains behind all the stuff. There’s two songs from me and one from Jussi [Wickström, guitar] but otherwise it’s Nygård’s music and his lyrics. But the new guys played their own parts for this album. The new drummer did all the drums and did excellent work with a very dirty, street-wise style to play (laughs), so I really like that. He’s hitting hard and doing all sorts of reckless stuff there. So yeah, I’m confident that it’s going to be a really intense rehearsal there while Nygård is huffing and puffing his vocals in the studio.

Yeah, I actually interviewed him in LA around two years back, when you were touring America and opening for Cradle Of Filth. He was saying that even though it’s kind of been a ‘dictatorship’ as you just said, he’s been more open to ideas in the past couple of years. Would you agree with that? Has his approach changed and has he been more accepting of the other members’ ideas?

(Laughs) Yeah you can say that. He’s a guy with a really strong vision and will. I have no problem if he’s done an excellent job and obviously taken the job pretty far. So I have no issues with handing the reigns to him but I guess with this album it was also a question of time. There was simply too much stuff falling on his shoulders and I was happy to do my part, specially when there seemed to be pretty good stuff coming up. So yeah, may be he is getting mild in his adult life. He’s getting rid of that teen angst may be (laughs).

Right! So you were mentioning that the basic tracks for the fourth album have been done, and he’ll do vocals after which you’ll do violin. Is that the usual process and do you record your stuff only towards the end of the whole process?

I think most bands work like … you have the material, you arrange it, some bands might just record it while playing with the whole band. More bands are doing it in a way that you lay down the basic tracks starting from drums, bass and guitar, and build it layer by layer. That’s how we’ve done here as well. So it’s much easier and makes sense to play all the leads parts when you have the foundation there. Also with the vocals, it’s depending on the orchestration and how the harmonies go there. So I won’t say it’s the most complex music out there, but it’s definitely more complex than many others. Sometimes it’s really refreshing to do stuff with a punk mentality (laughs), but we have to keep a lot of stuff in mind. It’s not a punk album, but 30 per cent punk.

On this tour, you’ll also have Firewind as support band. They haven’t toured in America too much but now they’re finally breaking out. That must be good for you as well because a lot of people will come to see them too, and of course they’ll stay to see you guys.

Yeah yeah, absolutely. But you can’t talk about Firewind without talking about Gus G and Ozzy. Obviously him playing with Ozzy is probably going to push them, and hopefully us as well. It’s all about strong tour packages nowadays so I’m happy that we could nail them down to be the direct support. Looking forward to that. They seem like good guys, so it’s probably going to be a fun month or so.

Even last year you toured America for Paganfest. That must have been a crazy experience.

Yeah! We did the first Paganfest in 2008, and last year we did the headlining tour. That was great. We traveled with the Russian band Arkona. They’re super, super nice people but we didn’t exactly have too many common words (laughs). So there was a lot of makeshift language going on there and a lot of vodka going on as well. But it was pretty fun. And of course, Alestorm we know from the past. They were supporting us already in 2007 or 2008 into UK and all that. All in all, it was a really good experience, and a lot of people turned up as well so that was of course comforting in the sense that you are headlining a package and you can pull full houses. That was one of the reasons that we are daring to go again with a headlining tour this year.

Yeah, exactly. It’s funny you mentioned Arkona, because I interviewed them back in 2011 and it was the weirdest interview I’ve ever done. They don’t speak English, and they had a translator but even he was not speaking very good English. So I was like, what should I do here?!

(Laughs) You should have asked them to send you a picture riddle or something instead of doing an English interview. But they are excellent people. It was the same thing for us last year. We don’t speak too much Russian and they didn’t speak too much Finnish or English, and there was no other common language. I think our keyboardist Robert [Engstrand] is definitely on level three may be on Russian studies now, so he was learning from the guys in Arkona.

So, as you said that last year the tour was great and that’s why you are coming back this year. That’s great because in the past I don’t think you were able to tour so regularly in North America. It must be a good feeling to have a strong position in the American market. You already have strong relationships in Europe, I guess.

Yeah you are right. I’m sure you know how big the country of USA is. Basically you can start a tour on the East Coast and end it on the West Coast, and there are so many smaller places that you can never really cover the whole country as well as you might want to. We had this kind of problem that we did one tour and we meant to do another, but then somehow the schedules of some other tours ended up. So it was like one-and-a-half or two years between tours, and in the States I’ve learnt that you really have to build up regularly. So, now it’s within one year that we’re coming back and I hope that we can come back with a good package again with the new album that’s supposed to come out in May. I’d love to return to the States with that as well.

You toured America with DragonForce in 2008, and that’s when I actually discovered your band. Would you say it was easier to play as an unknown band because you didn’t have to impress anybody and you’d make new fans every time?

Well, first of all I don’t think it’s useful to go on tour unless you are there on impress people (laughs), so we definitely were there to kill. But of course, the pressure is less when you’re riding with somebody else’s package. In that sense yeah, but obviously it’s more fun to play a longer set and build the production and stage setup as you may. So I’m happy that we made it to this position and I don’t take that for granted. I hope that we’ve done something right in the past and hopefully we’ll continue to do so. It’s a wonderful country. There are not really two states that are similar and there’s great variety there. We hope to tour there even more.

So, your cover of Boney M’s ‘Rasputin’ is pretty legendary. Have you talked about doing any other cover tunes?

We did Jethro Tull’s ‘Broadsword’ around two years ago and we did Black Sabbath’s ‘Supernaut’ but that was only on the Metal Hammer CD. It was just for some bonus material and it was easier to take somebody else’s song for that. But we might do something but it’s probably not going to be on this album. It will be stupid to try to repeat the trick in that sense. I guess Rasputin is something I’m really glad we did, but of course every time we meet people and they go like, ‘Yeah, we love Rasputin!’ there’s a small cringe. We’re like, ‘What about any other song?’ So may be that’s our ‘Smoke On The Water’. Deep Purple will have to play that until they are in the grave, and for us that song is Rasputin. Actually we’ve done many shows without Rasputin, just to make room in the set. But I mean, why deny it? It’s a catchy song and I’m really happy that people dig it. I’m sure we’re going to do it at some point. We’re going to Latin America after this tour and those people are crazy there. I guess we might have to do Rasputin or they will tear us apart.

So, how did the crowd react when you didn’t play the song? Were they mad?

No, not exactly. I know that we’re not a one-trick pony. There are a couple of other decent songs in the set, so they left us alone (laughs). They were just clapping a bit less enthusiastically but they were doing mosh pits instead.

Make sure to check out Olli Vänskä’s official facebook and twitter for some entertaining posts!

Related: Turisas LA gig review