Thus Spake the War God
CoC chats with Matthias Nygard of Turisas
by: Jackie Smit
Undoubtedly one of the finer debuts of 2004, Finnish folk metallers Turisas seem to have taken the metal world by surprise with their brand of _Battle Metal_. The truth is, however, that Turisas has been in existence since 1997, when Matthias "Warlord" Nygard and Jussi Wickstrom met up in the small town of Hämeenlinna with the express purpose of creating, in their own words, "Pagan metal hymns". I recently had the pleasure of conducting an interview with Nygard, shortly after it had been reported that the band's guitarist Georg Laakso had been stabbed during an altercation outside a fast food restaurant.

CoC: Obviously first of all, our condolences go out to Georg and we hope that he is recovering. How is he at the moment?

Matthias Nygard: He's very okay. I mean, we were a bit scared, because we nearly ended up having to cancel our slot at the Tuska Open Air Festival, but he got through it. He managed to get stabbed six times in the back, but luckily he wasn't hit in any major organs or anything like that.

CoC: I saw the photos on the website, actually, and it was a very close call from what I can tell.

MN: It was really close, and when you consider that it could happen from just one stabwound, then he was very lucky to have survived. But he was back again a week later playing at the Tuska festival. He had to take it a bit easier to avoid tearing the stitches in his back, but he is okay now. He is back on his feet.

CoC: Have you been able to find out what the particular reason was for the attack -- you mentioned on the website that he was involved in a fight outside a fast food restaurant?

MN: It was kind of someone that he had known before -- nothing serious, just sort of like a small-town fight, you know? So they just started in what looked like a normal fight; just man against man and no one came between them or interfered or anything like that. Then it was just afterward at the police station that he noticed that he had been stabbed in the back. Obviously what had happened was that the guy's girlfriend had come from behind while they were busy with fighting and stabbed him with a knife and nobody saw anything. It was a weird situation, because afterward we weren't even thinking about it. We thought that everything was over and done with, but then later on he noticed that he was bleeding. Like I said, initially everything seemed really normal -- it was just a fast fight between two guys and he only noticed that he'd been stabbed later on.

CoC: No one has made any sort of fuss about this in the Finnish newspapers, have they?

MN: No, nothing -- we're not really that big a band. If we were bigger, then maybe they would have said something. But aside from reports in the alternative music media, there was nothing.

CoC: So no blaming metal for the ills of society then?

MN: <laughs> No. These sorts of things are bad, but they tend to happen quite often in Finland -- two guys fight and someone draws a knife. So when it happens, nobody really thinks anything of it anymore.

CoC: Why do you think this sort of behaviour is growing so common in Finland?

MN: People get drunk and shit happens. I mean, we were just out for a beer or two and then this happened. In Finland there's nothing like big problems with firearms or anything like that. Usually it's just petty disputes between people at bars or whatever.

CoC: Fair enough. Let's move on to your debut, _Battle Metal_: are you satisfied with the reaction that you've received from the press and from audiences so far?

MN: Yeah, definitely. The response from the press has been really overwhelming so far. We got some really good reviews. I mean, in amongst some of that you will always get a couple of guys who didn't like the album, but overall the media seems to really like it. With this record it was kind of a long process to finish the whole album, and we were very deeply involved in that, to the point where when we finished it was a really odd feeling for us wondering what people were going to think of what we had done. But now everyone has given us really good feedback. Of course, when we were working on the album we did think that the album would do well, but our fears were that our judgement was being clouded because of how much we were into the music.

CoC: How long did the album take to complete?

MN: Well, our original plan was to enter the studio in April 2003, so by that time we had already completed all the songs for the album. Most debut albums tend to be a collection of songs that the band has written since the early days anyway, so on _Battle Metal_ there are songs dating as far back as 1998 or 1997. But we were supposed to enter the studio in April, as I said, and that fell apart when we realised that we would not be getting more than about three to three and a half weeks of studio time. So we decided to hang back and maybe go looking around for a cheaper studio with the opportunity to have more time, because we know that we would need it as a result of all the various orchestral arrangements and so on that would go into the record. Then we were told about the possibility to record in France at Sound Suite studios, which would have fit into our budget and given us more time. In the end that turned out to be a cool idea, although we still had to record all the violins and the accordions and all the extra things in Finland.

CoC: In retrospect, how do you feel about the way that the album ended up sounding?

MN: I am very happy. Whilst recording _Battle Metal_ we got into a situation where we didn't have time to really record anything more, because we had run out of time and that kind of forced us to come back to Finland and finish recording the choirs and things like that. Obviously that brought us to the edge of having to rush the album and just finish it as soon as possible, which would have affected the end result quite badly. Then Terje from Sound Suite let us know that he was really into the music and he ended up giving us ten days extra for free, just because he knew that we could do better if we had some more time. And then finally in April of this year it was ready. It came out sounding more or less the way we wanted it to, and I think that considering the situation that we were in, it ended up sounding really good.

CoC: Would you have done anything differently if you could do it again now?

MN: I'd probably ask for more days off in between the actual recording. I mean, twelve hours was like our shortest day in the studio, you know, and that was really stressful. Next time we'll know, if we end up working with Terje again (which will be great in my opinion), how he does things and how we like to work, and that will obviously make things go much faster.

CoC: Your music is very grandiose in the sense of you having a ton of different instruments playing at once. Do you see yourself as expanding even more on that in future, possibly to the extent operating on a similar level to a band like Therion?

MN: You know, for me a lot of people tend to think of this sort of music in terms of 'more is better' and to me it's not like that. We wouldn't want to have a full orchestra or something like that just for the sake of having it. It has to suit the music. Of course it would be great to work with more organic instruments -- on this album we had to sample a lot of things and I would have preferred a more real sound. On the other hand, I like experimenting more and trying new things, but that will never be the main starting point for everything. How we do it will always suit the music.

CoC: Talk me through some of your lyrics -- you've mentioned in the past that you don't want people to associate your lyrics with fantasy themes?

MN: Well, I think that most people will regard our music as very fantasy based and even cheesy. To me the battle themes and the historical points are frames of reference to build up each song and in that lie things that are deeper and have greater significance. There are songs on this album that are pretty straightforward and that have no greater meaning, and that's the way they were supposed to be. But then there are songs that have many sides to them -- criticism toward the glorification of wars and the romanticising of wars and stuff like that.

CoC: Don't you think that because of your appearance on the album sleeve and because of the way you are portrayed, people might discount Turisas as being cartoon-ish?

MN: I don't pay much attention to things like that, because at the end of the day, I'm not really affected by what people think. I'm just happy with the people that do get what we're going for. I mean, I agree that it does have a cartoon-ish quality to it, and that's because it was meant to have that. We don't intend for everything to be dead serious. People can make up their own minds as to what they think about us, and I certainly don't disrespect people who avoid us because they deem us to be cheesy or whatever. There are people on the opposite side of the coin that like the theatrics in the band. But the visual elements are not what's important -- if that were the case than Turisas would be very empty. I think that it serves as an escape for many people, and that's definitely not a bad thing. I mean, if something isn't deep or complex, it shouldn't necessarily be seen as having no value. It's the same case with movies -- you have your highly rated art movies and then you have the basic Hollywood popcorn movie, where you don't really need to think about anything. But at the end of the day, it's equally important, because it's also entertainment.

CoC: If you had to look at your band from that context, would you see yourself as a more high-brow artistic statement or simply popcorn entertainment?

MN: I haven't really thought about that, to be honest, but I think that a combination of the two would be a good description of us.

CoC: In the recent Turisas live shows you've featured dancing girls, and you've had full instrumental backing from accordion players, violinists, etc.. Are you planning on taking your band toward a more extravagant live set as time and money eventually allows?

MN: Yeah, I'd like to. I mean, it would be great even to have the possibility of touring with the show that we've been doing in Finland. Obviously in Finland, we have far less constraints when we play live than we would have if we were on the road. When you're on the road, then there's a financial side that comes into it. Things like the dancing girls -- again that comes into the entertainment element in the band. It's not necessarily integral to what we do, but it works when we play live and people love it. Eventually I would like to expand it even more, but then again you can spend thousands and thousands of Euros on things like pyro, which wouldn't really bring anything more to the feel of the show. Doing things cheap, you're forced to come up with ideas and it really stretches your creativity. If I had a bigger budget for the show, I'd probably end up spending more money paying people more so that they would be more into what they're doing, than use the money for huge laser shows or shit like that.

CoC: Turisas throws together a lot of very different influences in ways that haven't ever really been done all that much before, and the result is obviously a fairly unique end product. What inspires you to make the music that you do?

MN: Well, I think that people always try to see the connection between bands and what they're doing. To me it's more about being open-minded toward everything. I have a very broad taste in music and most of the guys in the band feel the same way. We listen to a lot of different kinds of music, and we also check out a lot of different bands playing live and we generally try to find positive aspects from everything we encounter, which eventually might end up in the music of Turisas. So my inspiration is not coming from any particular source -- it's more about looking around and not being afraid to use things just because other people might not think it's cool.

CoC: So, what are your immediate plans following the release of _Battle Metal_?

MN: Well, once the album has been released and we've seen how things go, we will look toward touring. Of course, being an eight-member band, financial constraints play a big role in those sorts of decisions, but I'm hoping that someone will come up with something to give us a chance to at least play a few shows in Europe. Otherwise, I'm afraid we'll probably have wait until we've finished the next album. Also, one of the biggest things I'm looking forward to is to start work on the new music. Now that I'm more accustomed to the song writing process, it's going to be much easier, and at the same time I want the new material to be much more intense and to have a different starting point. I'm really looking forward to that, but I don't think we'll start anything for the next album before the end of the year.

CoC: Any last words?

MN: Nothing in particular -- I hope that people will check out the new album for themselves and see what they think. There's been great reviews and there's been bad reviews, and I just hope that people will make up their minds for themselves.

(article submitted 9/30/2004)


ALBUMS
9/9/2007 Y Stefanis 8 Turisas - The Varangian Way
9/30/2004 J Smit 8.5 Turisas - Battle Metal
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