Swallow The Sun

Darkness, despair, coldness… are some of the things that the new album of Swallow The Sun will make you feel when you listen to it. The fifth work of the Finnish melodic doom/death metalers is truly wonderful… their best work so far. We couldn’t miss the chance, though, to contact the songwriter/guitarist of the band, Juha Raivio, and the result is this extensive very interesting interview.
Swallow The Sun band pic 2012

Hi Juha… Great work dude… “Emerald Forest and the Blackbird”… is such a diverse and beautiful album.

J: That’s fantastic to hear! It seems that people are really liking the new album, so I guess we did something right!


You have a constant line-up since your beginning in 2000… only the drummer changed in 2009. Do you believe this has helped the progression of the band over the years so as to stay focused on the music…?

J: Yes, it’s always good if the lineup doesn’t change all the time. Of course some changes can bring new blood and fresh sounds sometimes for the bands, but for us it’s been really important that we know our skills exactly and who can do what. We basically don’t rehearse at all, so it makes the album recording and playing gigs much easier.


What does “evolution” mean to you? This album has more mellow parts than any other before… is it something that goes along with the musical evolution of the band?

J: Evolution for me means that you have just to do exactly what your heart tells you to do when you write music and lyrics. We seem have to expand our slow and darker side as well as more lighter parts with every album, so that has been the base of evolution during the years.


As we’ve seen in other bands like Anathema, Katatonia etc, the mellow/atmospheric parts dominated their music after a while. Still STS have more extreme doom/death elements in their music… but since you are the songwriter of the band… what are the music ideas for the future?

J: I really have no idea what is gonna happen with the next album. When the time comes I’m just gonna sit down take a deep breath and see what comes out naturally. If it’s total funeral doom album with only growling vocals, then that it shall be. But if its only acoustic stuff with Justin Bieber doing guest vocals, then that’s what I’m gonna do, haha. Maybe Justing wouldn’t be that into it, but her music makes me depressed so it would make a sense, haha. (i.n.: Justin would love to participate… I’m pretty sure!)


I think that there’s a seamless balance between the mellow/atmospheric music parts and the extreme, doom/death ones… although some of your older fans didn’t quite embrace that, I believe that if you wanna progress then you should change… and take some risks… after all, you can’t make everyone happy… that’s for sure.

J: Yes exactly. If you start to do music for someone else than yourself, that’s the second when you start to go wrong and write shit. You have to love the music you do and if someone else happens to like it too then it’s fantastic to share the feeling. I know that the new album might be too much for many fans who want us to write “Morning Never Came” over and over again, but I still know that all the music ever written for this band have come straight from the heart without any doubt on my mind of even a single note. So, no matter if the reviews are good or bad, or if some of the fans don’t like the music because I can stand straight behind every note or word I ever written. This is the price of maybe not selling millions of albums in the music business, but feeling good about yourself as a writer.


I believe, as I have written in my review, that “Forest and the Blackbird” is the best album of Swallow The Sun to date? What do you think?

J: That’s great to hear. I really love the new album, but they all are my babies so it’s hard to pick your favorite one. I really love “Ghosts of Loss” album and “Plague of Butterflies” even they seem to be hardest ones for many fans. I hope many people feel that this is our best album because I guess that’s what new album always should be. (i.n.: Of course… the best till the next one!)


I have also written… that it’s kind of risky to release “difficult musical albums” that need time to be fully evaluated nowadays … in a world where everything… is moving so fast… for no profound reason.

J: I know what you mean and I was just thinking by myself one day that it would be most awful job to be an album reviewer. I would need to listen to one album for a month and read the lyrics over and over again and study the album for a long time before I could make any reviews. When musicians do their music and record albums it can take months, so it’s a bit awful that in these days you maybe have a day or one hour to make up your mind about music, what a bullshit! Anyway, I have huge trust on our fans for understanding and taking time for our music and other music too that isn’t most easy-listening stuff in the world. For me the more difficult music always gives more at the end, and I know I’m not the only one in the world thinking like that. You always need to work a bit more in this life to find gold for sure. (i.n.: It is sometimes really awful to listen to so many albums every month… when some of them need several time and listens just to be fair to everyone out there!)


Ok. Let’s draw our attention to the album. Why did you name it “Forest and the Blackbird”? How is the artwork related to the title?

J: I wanted the album sound like children tale book and came up with this name. On the title song father is reading a tale for his dying child and that lead the whole concept of the new album to be this journey through the night and being trapped on this limbo between dusk and dawn. On the “Emerald Forest and the Blackbird” song father is leading his child through this magical diamond forest towards the calling of the Blackbird that is gonna lead the child to the other side after the point when father can’t go further with him. So, the eye on the album cover is actually death.


Please give us a hint about each one of the songs:

J: “Emerald Forest and the Blackbird”: Journey to the night begins.

“This Cut is the Deepest”: Mellows down the atmosphere a bit after the deadly beginning.

“Hate, Lead the Way!”: Most brutal and desperate cry on the album, wipes away the beauty for a second.

“Cathedral Walls”: Funeral song, carrying the coffin with many people, still you are totally alone.

“Hearts Wide Shut”: Maybe the most progressive song on album, strange piece of music and lyrics that tells story of prison within.

“Silent Towers”: Shortest song with almost radio friendly chorus, but we ruined our mainstream true doom chances again with the growling part, haha.

“Labyrinth of London (Horror pt. IV)”: Horror songs are always fun to write and this one was a blast to do again. I always see in very early stages of the song writing if it’s gonna be Horror song. Really morbid tale in the vein of good old Jack the Ripper.

“Of Death and Corruption”: There is a real death metal part in this song with a fucking guitar solo! Maybe we need to put few crosses upside down on our logo and add some blood on it too!

“April 14th”: Tribute to almighty Type O Negative and the passing of the green man, Peter Steele.

“Night Will Forgive Us”: I wanted to put this song as a last song because it leaves the atmosphere of the album open. It’s up to everyone to decide if they feel that the end of the album shed a little light, or did you just turn back into the night.


The production and the final result, in my opinion, are excellent. Are you totally satisfied? Would you change anything?

J: I’m really happy how the album sounds like. We wanted it to be warm and natural sounding album, but still keep it huge and cold when needed. There are always some things you would change on the mix and playing wise, but Mikko Karmila and Hiili Hiilesmaa did a fantastic job with recording and mixing this one.


Tell us a few things about the recordings… and the days when you were on the studio writing the music for the album. Did you have in mind to add those more melodic features from the beginning or it just came out in the writing sessions?

J: I guess I can’t help the thing that there are always loads of melodies going on in our songs. I like that guitars, vocals and keys are having lots of melodies and many times at the same time, haha. I kind of need things happening all the time so it doesn’t get boring for me, but then again I feel that one of these days I’m gonna do the funeral doom album I always wanted to do with Swallow the Sun, and that’s not gonna be more straight stuff I believe. When I write music I hear these different things on my mind at the same time and I keep adding more layers and more layers. Then when we start to record vocals we always have to take stuff away so it doesn’t mix the vocals. But more is more like Yngwie Malmsteen once said!


How did it come up and you co-operated with Anette Olzon and Aleah Stanbridge?

J: I heard Anette’s solo song called “Invincible” and I loved how she sounded like on that song. Tuomas from Nightwish helped us out and he sent the demo of “Cathedral Walls” to Anette and she loved the song and wanted to do it, so it was as simple as that. Aleah was doing vocals already on our last album, so it was natural to ask her to do some quest vocals this time also. I also have a band called Trees Of Eternity with her, so STS and Trees of Eternity are kind of sister bands these days.


Why did you choose to make a video for “Cathedral Walls”? Do you believe this is the most representative song of the album? Are there gonna be any other videos and if so, for which one of the songs?

J: I think that “Cathedral Walls” gives good picture what this album is all about. That song has that certain atmosphere that goes through the whole album and of course people will be more interested about the song also because Anette is singing on it.

Swallow The Sun band

I think that with “Emerald Forest and the Blackbird” you are making an opening to a larger fan base. I do not understand why some people may find it wrong for a band… after all isn’t this what a band should mean to do… reach a wider audience with their music?

J: Well, with the music like this we most certainly will always stay as a underground band, it’s just way too slow and meaningful music for most of the people. But Opeth is a good example that everything can happen. People are getting more and more into a deeper music and I couldn’t be happier about it. There is million fast metal bands who sing about dragons or Vikings and everything is about fast guitar solos, but people are finally getting bored of that stuff and been wanting to hear something with more depth. So, maybe there will be a bit more room for bands like us, I hope so. (i.n.: Sure there’s room for bands like STS… people can distinguish a good band eventually!)


“New Moon” reached the 10th position on the Finnish Albums Chart in 2009. Is that kind of a pressure for the band… do you wanna beat that…do you get anxious … or metal music… has nothing to do with charts and prizes?

J: Hey, we hit number 3 with “Hope” album, so we are going dooown, haha!!! But in Finland everything can happen, even get to the album charts with music like this. But the truth is that when getting mail and hearing from the people who were gonna kill them self, and being saved because of our song or album, man… that feeling makes it all worth to do this thing and write music, not the album charts. (i.n.: That’s what metal music is all about… not for the stupid mainstream album charts!)


Are there any tour plans as yet? Any Summer Festivals that you are gonna participate in?

J: Yes, there will be festivals in Finland and around the Europe. I can’t remember now what are the festivals we have confirm so far, but you can find all of them from our website during the spring time. We toured almost 150 gigs and played 27 countries with “New Moon” album, so this time we are gonna be more careful what tours and gigs we are gonna do, but I hope we are gonna tour even more than with “New Moon” album. This new album need to be heard and played live!


I see that we are on a terminal point... where especially the younger music fans have to re-consider their way of getting their music… Downloading a band’s music instead of buying it will cause a huge problem in the end… no one will record and release music anymore and that will be a total music destruction. So, how do you see the future of this so called “free music” culture? What shall the musicians (and the labels) do if they want to keep producing music without losing their money and time?

J: It’s a hard question and I don’t think anyone will know what is gonna happen in next few years. I still believe that people want to own music like people want to own other art too, and vinyl have been coming back more and more also. I’m actually really happy about the vinyl starting to sell again, and that is exactly what I mean that people want to really own music again, not just a file on a computer that has no real soul that like a vinyl is breathing. Of course CD and vinyl prices have to come down even more because I don’t believe that new generation will ever understand what the downloading will do to the bands because they have been growing up to a world where you can get everything free from internet. They don’t even have a clue that it might be illegal, and when labels just don’t get their money back from the album sales it makes everything much harder for the small bands. Bands can always record their homestudio stuff and just put it in the net for free also, and that’s totally fine and great. But there is so much more when it comes to the real studios, sound engineers, producers, cover artists etc that can make the product be a classic and not just a demo you did on your bathroom.


And some weird Questions now!!! Where did you get the inspiration for Swallow The Sun?

J: I actually had a “doom” band in the beginning of 90´s and been huge Candlemass, Solitude Aeturnus and My Dying Bride fan for ages. I was playing in these progressive bands for the whole 90’s, but then I saw My Dying Bride after a long while playing on a festival at the summer 2000 in Finland, and I knew I have to put my doomier band back together and do this kind of music again.


What are those things that you do not like in the music industry nowadays? Were things better almost 12 years ago when you started?

J: There’s a lots of things I don’t like in music industry these days, but I’m not gonna go there now. Of course every year albums sell less and less that is a problem as we talked about downloading stuff. But one thing is really bad, and I know everyone have to survive money vise in this business, but it feels like people almost want that the bands would also play gigs for free and same goes with clubs and venues. I can tell you it costs a lot to get the band on the tour at the first place, so I would be nice that people show their respect and at least come to the gigs and maybe buy some merchandise if they like the music. Back in the days there wasn’t this much bands touring also, so I understand that if there is gig every night then you just can’t support everyone even if you would like to.


How do you see Metal music 30 years from now?

J: Whoa, how would I know? Well, maybe that time we have been getting UFOs bringing us music and new players with 50 fingers on their hands or something. So, who knows if there is gonna be new trend of Outerspace Metal with 50 fingers Alien Yngwie J. Malmsteen who actually is faster than speed of a light, hahaha! (i.n.: Yngwie would be really pissed off if an alien played faster than he does!)


How can a band differ and separate itself from the thousands other bands out there… that due to youtube, myspace, facebook… are “bombarding” the fans with new music and info every minute…?

J: I guess and I hope that the good music will always finds it way. Lord knows there’s lots of bad music around, and that is also because everyone can actually record their stuff in their bathroom these days and release it. I guess someone should start only release cassettes and have a fanzine trading through old school post, that would be different. Maybe Punk scene still have this, I hope so.


What are the secrets of composing really nice music? What are those things that inspire you?

J: You just have to trust in your heart when writing music and hope someone else likes it too. That’s the only rule when composing music. My inspiration is mainly coming from our 4 seasons and mostly from winter and autumn. I’m living in the woods at the country side and nature has always been the biggest inspiration for me.


Were you obliged to give just one album to extraterrestrials that would represent the whole human music evolution, which album would it be and from which band/artist?

J: I would give our new album and say that make me a president of the whole Galaxy! I would be total dictator of a Galactic radio station that would be the only one the whole Universe would hear! First thousand years it would only be Type O Negative, Rush, Iron Maiden, My Dying Bride, Marillion, Duran Duran and Sibelius!


Which is your best book that also became a movie… and why?

J: I think it’s yet to come and the name will be Hobbit! I always loved that book and can’t wait for the movie. (i.n.: Can’t wait either dude!)


Who is your favorite fantasy author and why?

J: Well it has to be Tolkien. He used parts of Finnish language for creating the Elves language, so that’s reasons enough, haha.


Do you believe in luck and coincidences or you believe that the human mind and will can affect all things in life?

J: I think that 95% is just luck in this world, but those 5 % of your own will can make a huge change when the right moment comes.


Who is your favorite philosopher and why?

J: Al Bundy from Married with children. I learned all the important things from him when I was a teenager. (i.n.: As so many of us – Al was a super odd “philosopher” after all!)


In a scale from 1-10, how much afraid of dark are you? Is darkness, in any case, part of your life?

J: I would say 8. Darkness and silence are actually pretty scary, but now I’m talking about your inner darkness and silence that you might hear and see during the dead of the night. This new album is exactly about these themes when you’re trapped in this limbo between night and morning and your forced to face your own demons. There are things about the dark and silence that can wake these things up. (i.n.: I totally agree!)


You have the opportunity to sleep with the movie-celebrity of your choice. Who would it be?

J: Scarlett Johansson for sure! Don’t ask me why.


Do married people live longer than single ones or does it only seem longer?

J: Well depends on the relationship I’m sure that Al Bundy would have a word for this, but I say that living in a bad relationship will kill you sooner than the single one, but the time spent together feels like a thousand years, haha. (i.n.: I’m wondering what Al would say about that!)


One night stands or long term relationships? Maybe it is better to have long term relationships with lots of one night stands…right?

J: You’re absolutely right there sir! (i.n.: Hahaha!)


What do you think concerning the International financial crisis? The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer… but for how long?

J: Well, I don’t know how much more poor can I get from here, but good for the rich tough! Don’t know really every time when I start to think where people and governments are putting their money and what all good you could do with it in this world, it just makes me wanting to kill. But that’s all hippie stuff, and I’m not that much into flowers. (i.n.: Me neither… that’s why we’ll need something more than damn flowers to make a revolution!)


Imagine that your girlfriend/wife is selling your whole album-collection just to buy an expensive ring for herself. How would you react? wink

J: Well, who cares about the ring, but if there would be this horrible situation, then it should have been invested into the silicon tits instead to make it worth it!!!


Thanx very much for everything Juha … Thx for the music as well… Take care!

J: Hahaha, thanks Thanos, great interview!! smiley(i.n.: Yeap I think the same too fella!)