What I’m about to say might probably sound like fangirlism-driven stuff, but truth is if the 20-year-old me had been told one day I would interview Mathias “Vreth” Lillmåns I would have burst into laughter. Instead, not only Vredesvävd, the fisrst studio album after seven years by Century Media, was released; we even had a chat with Finntroll‘s frontman: in spite of tachycardia we got some interesting details about the record, possible future plans and much more. A few months ago we launched ourselves into an analysis, in Italian, about Finntroll from the early days to the present year, now it’s about the we add some more piece.
So, how are you? What’s up?
I’m really good, yeah! Really good, you know, everything is kind of ok here up further north in Finland.
I actually saw you have a gig tomorrow and the day after (9th and 10th October) with Dispyt (Jakobstad and Oulu), so is this why you’re up there?
Well yes, and it’s also because I actually live in a city called Seinäjoki.
I see! First off, since we’re seriously living strange times with COVID, isolation and social distancing: how has it been for you?
Well you know, I speak as a musician right now with two new albums out this year: both bands were supposed to be touring quite a lot, and actually I should have been on a European tour with Finntroll right now and I think at this point we would have been a little bit over halfway through the tour, so sort of in a week or something it would end and I would have been home for a couple of days, I think two-three days, and then I would have gone straight on tour with …And Oceans for three weeks. Well… that didn’t happen. [laughs] It’s really frustrating when you have two new albums, with Finntroll it’s been 7 years since the last album and with …And Ocean it’s been 18 years, so you really want to go out to promote these albums but well, can’t do anything about it… That’s how it is right now. Let’s hope everything gets better and we can soon be outside of Finland, for the remaining part of this year we have a couple of shows, as you said with Dispyt I have two shows now, this weekend, and with …And Oceans we have 6 Finnish shows coming up, so at least there is something and we’re able to do it. I really hope the restrictions do not get stricter than they are right now.
How have things been with your personal life? Has isolation and so on prevented you from doing something? Have you been home all the time?
I haven’t actually been home, I have still been travelling but of course within Finland, for example we actually recorded Vredesvävd during the worst time of the lockdown, so I was in Helsinki for almost two weeks and when I went home I was stopped by the police, I had to show my ID and everything. It’s been restricting but luckily there was not that much going on during summer anyway. I’ve been travelling to Helsinki of course to work on Vredesvävd and stuff like that, but otherwise I’ve been here at home mostly. I used to live in Helsinki but I moved back home to western Finland a couple of years ago.
I can spot some of your tattoos, I see you have many: do you have any Finntroll-themed tattoos?
Yeah, I actually do! I have to think, wait… I don’t refer to the tattoos made by Skrymer, our guitar player, as “Finntroll tattoos”, he’s made a lot of them. But I actually have one here, on my right arm [he shows the tattoo], here I have all the stuff related to my different bands, there’s like one thing from every band I’ve had since… well, forever, so here I have a very big Finntroll tattoo, probably the biggest of all the tattoos dedicated to my bands. It’s sort of a forest with hooded figures and skulls, the ones that are on Nifelvind’s cover.
Speaking of albums, congratulations on Vredesvävd! I’m happy it was released after seven years of wait, are you guys satisfied as well?
I’m really happy actually! The amount of thinking and going back and forth with these songs… at some point, when we wrote the first songs a couple of years ago, I thought “This album is going to be a disaster, sort of a schizophrenic album”, because all the songs we did were going in different directions, something that you could have never put on the same album. I’m really glad that last year, I think September 2019, we actually found the theme for the album: we usually want to introduce some new element or like a twist to the album and to reinvent ourselves, and this time it took forever to find that red thread that goes through the album, sort of exactly one year ago we found it and then everything fell into place. I’m happy that we did get this album, which is like nine different songs that could have been on nine different albums.
I have to say, since after Blodsvept your fans had to wait seven years for new material, I was personally afraid you might disband at some point. How come that it took so long, a part from finding the right theme? Maybe something that had to do with your other bands, as well?
No, actually it’s never had anything to do with the other bands. I’ve always been juggling with 5-6 bands at the same time, I’m really happy that I ONLY have 4 bands right now, it’s a little bit less than I usually have (laughs), so I cannot really say that it’s got anything to do with my other projects. In the last four year I even only had 2 bands at some point. It’s just really important for us to find a twist for the album and well, as I said, searching for that kind of sound really was taking forever. In the first years we’ve never been inactive, we’ve been touring a lot, and we were out there so much, until 2016/17; we’re not the kind of band that writes material on tour, when we get home we usually have a little time off. After 2016 we came back from the Blodvsept tour, we already had been on the Nifelvind tour and Ur Jordens Djup, so that’s almost 11 years on tour altogether, we could really sense that the break between tour and writing new material was going to be longer than before this time. Tour can be tiring and demanding, we needed to reprioritize the whole thing, but well, here we are now!
Speaking of concepts, I read Vredesvävd is about a journey within ourselves…
That as well, yeah. It’s all about different kinds of journeys, this album: for example, you can have a geographical journey, when you travel to something, or the spiritual journey, as you said, travelling into yourself and finding yourself, that’s what the song “Forsen” is all about, a spirited journey to confront your shadow-self in an way. The opening track “Att Döda Med En Sten” is on the other hand a journey to seek vengeance.
And how does this concept connect to the title of the album? Vredesvävd means roughly “wrath-woven”, how is the journey linked to wrath?
All these kinds of journeys that we’re mentioning are connected to a sort of state of wrath, as a result of a violent event in some way, for example vengeance, made in huge anger, or the shadow-self or the dark side of yourself is also connected to wrath. All these stories are based on wrath and they’re wrath-woven, rage makes you want to go on a journey, some traumatic event also.
You said it took a long time to find the right sound, I actually spotted many similarities with Finntroll’s early sound, the Nineties, I’d say: I could hear a lot of Jaktens Tid. Were you specifically looking for it or did it, well, just happen?
It sort of just happened. If you check Blodsvept it was slower, more riff-based, with this new album we decided to go for more fast-tempo songs and also more melodic since the last really melodic album is probably Nattfödd. There’s melody on all the other albums as well, but by going back to that more melodic style that we had this sort of by itself became more of an old school Finntroll album, when we went back to those melodies we still like. There’s also a lot of new stuff, so I’d say it’s a fifty-fifty album: for the old fans there’s lots of Easter eggs from like JT or MW or even Nattföd, but stuff that could fit on Nifelvind as well.
How was it for you to work on material and sounds that actually belong to before you joined?
(laughs) It was nostalgic for me, the only album that I owned before I joined the band was MD but still, it was taking me back to that kind of era. It was nostalgic to bring back that “end of Nineties” black metal riff, me and Trollhorn were listening to a lot of melodic black metal in the end of the nineties, so bringing back those sounds raised nostalgia.
I suppose Skrymer took care of the cover art again, were you other guys in the band involved? Did you give any contribution?
I personally didn’t, I corrected the lyrics, I made sure all the texts and words are correct, that’s sort of my part since I’m the one who speaks the best Swedish in the band. I didn’t contribute in any way, it was actually Katla and Skrymer talking together about the lyrics and then Skrymer based the cover upon them, upon the discussions they had. They’re all visions of what he felt while he was listening to the songs.
It looks like an old, wise guy. I suppose we need a guide for the journey.
Well it can be, that’s really really close.
You recorded the album in Helsinki, How was the recording of the album in Covid era? Did you do it anyway remotely, in person…?
No, actually we recorded it in Helsinki, even though there was the lockdown we could still do it: there were not so many people in the studio and there could only be ten people at the same time, so we could sort of more focus on what we were doing, we didn’t have any distractions from the outside, I could spend the whole day there to do my vocals. The only bad thing was that Skrymer wasn’t allowed to enter the studio, because he lives in Germany and the day after he landed here they raised the area where he lives and made it a pandemic area, so he wasn’t allowed to set foot in the studio through all the recording sessions. Luckily we have a friend in Helsinki that could record his part, he has a good studio at home, so he (Skrymer) did his parts there and then sent them to us. It was good but also sad that we couldn’t be there, the whole band, everything was done and we had to limit the number of people who could be in the studio at the same time, we could be only two or three, which was a bit annoying.
That’s an unfortunate year. About this, do you personally agree with restrictions and guidelines that Finnish government is promoting?
To some extent, yes. I also think it was kind of a stupid idea to open the borders at the end of summer, when everyone could travel again. People in Finland if they have a chance to travel, they do, they go outside of Finland at least once a year to some touristic areas, so I’m really angry about the fact that the music and cultural scene is the one that takes the backlash of this. We’re being punished for something that wasn’t our fault in the beginning, of course the virus is spreading now but if people hadn’t travelled we wouldn’t have anything to spread now. I understand totally that now we have to restrict the gigs and everything, but it’s sad that we have to pay for people being stupid tourists, you know. That kind of sucks, the bands did their best to stay home, they didn’t get to tour, and some stupid people went to touristic places just because they could and they had to go to party villages. Here we are now, being punished for this.
Gigs are to some extent allowed, are you planning to have some concerts in streaming?
We have so many plans right now, we’ve been waiting to do some kind of release gig here and we had to move it two times already, we might have to move it a third time, so time will tell. Finnish government informs us, like, two days before the law changes, which is annoying for us: we haven’t been able to announce the gigs we had booked so far because nobody says anything in time. We cannot really say anything now, we’re still waiting to see what happens next month and since the restrictions come so late, there’s no point in starting promoting with such a short notice. Also booking camera teams and stuff… maybe it’s going to happen, we’re just waiting for the government to make up their minds so we can start planning. It’s ok for smaller bands, like Dispyt, the tickets are limited to 50 but it’s a small venue and 50 people would be cool as well, the same for …And Oceans, Lutakko in Jyväskylä, but with Finntroll the costs are so huge, we cannot make promises while there’s restrictions.
In Helsinki they’ve closed a lot of venues, Nosturi (I was there for your last show), The Circus, Virgin Oil… What’s happening?
I have no idea what they’re thinking, it’s a stupid situation. There’s only really small venues or really big ones now. Nosturi was perfect for us, you could fit 900 tickets or so there, now there’s not much. Of course we have Tavastia, not now because of corona but well, at least we have that. There’s also Telakka, I’ve never been there though so I don’t know what it looks like.
I don’t know how much time you spent in actual isolation, but if you had to name the top 3 of albums you’ve listened to the most, what albums would they be?
I actually listened a lot to the album that Oranssi Pazuzu released in spring, Mestarin Kynsi, that’s probably the one I’ve listened to the most. There’s also this band from Seinäjoki called Mr Peter Hayden (now PH) that released a record called Osiris Hayden (2019) and I’ve listened to that one as well. Then I actually don’t know what else [laughs], but at least these two. I’m not listening to much music right now because I have so much music going on with myself, so it happens very seldom that I have some time or the energy to put on some albums, also because writing, producing, recording, practicing… Usually when I come home I just want to take it easy. But at least Oranssi Pazuzu and Mr Peter Hayden. I’m probably going to listen to the new Dark Buddha Rising that is coming in about a month a lot [12th November]. I think there’s probably going to be only one single in the album [laughs].
Switching from albums to books, I saw Finntroll was featured in the new book by Markus Laakso, Folk Metal Big 5, how did it happen? Were you contacted by Markus, did you have interviews?
I actually have no idea how it happened because when I saw a commercial for it online I had no idea it was even made, it was finished and it was in the pre-sale phase already. I really had no idea that book happened! But I guess it was Tundra, Routa and Trollhorn who were interviewed, I read the book and I have it myself, later on I helped Markus with the promotion. It’s a really cool project, I just was so busy with the new ..And Ocean that I totally missed the whole thing.
And now, a question from a Finnish language student to another: I remember that maybe it was Routa that mentioned when you joined Finntroll you didn’t speak Finnish…
I really didn’t speak Finnish at that time yet, or better, I understood, but I didn’t dare to speak. At some point I decided I wanted to learn, so when it was decided I was going to be part of the band, and the guys sometimes used Finnish and sometimes English with me, I just said “From now on let’s not use anything else than Finnish”. I didn’t attend Finnish classes, I was forced to study Finnish at school but not everybody [who has Swedish as a first language] speaks it so well, especially because in my hometown Finnish is not needed.
Going back to music stuff, since the sound of Finntroll has now changed a bit compared to before, do we have to expect new outfits on stage?
Well yeah, we have sort of changed it on every album, so yes, it’s going to happen. There’s going to be new winds. There’s lots of stuff happening with the live shows, there’s going to be a lot more.
You took part in a documentary called “Pakko Huutaa” (I must scream) and now you’re teaching extreme vocal techniques: how important is metal to Finns, in your experience? What kind of a teacher are you?
In Finland metal has always been quite mainstream, especially in the last 15 years. Metal is one of the biggest music exports, probably the biggest, I can’t really mention anything coming from Finland that is bigger than metal, so yeah, it’s always been a big part of life. It’s important to pass it on to younger generations. I personally started with this kind of vocals at the end of the Nineties, there were no teachers around, it took me many years to find the sound in the right way and to make it my own. I hear from many of my students that they gave up, “It hurts so bad”, they didn’t want to do it anymore and they quit the band they were playing with, so that’s why I think it’s important to be there to help them so they don’t lose hope. I want people to continue to do this style of vocals and to keep up the quality of bands coming from Finland. I’ve been doing remote classes through Skype because right now I cannot travel and I usually have weekend workshops where I have more than one person at a time, but they’re canceled at the moment.
Do you plan on maybe releasing some video tutorials or DVDs?
I haven’t been thinking about that, it’s maybe a little bit too early because I’ve been doing online classes since May, it’s still new and I’m still figuring out my online style, but it would be cool to do something more. With all the gigs canceled now I need to figure out something to pay my bills with, so probably that’s a good way. I’ve been coming back to teaching, I’ve never really liked teaching but it seems to follow me around for some reason… [laughs] But teaching is rewarding, especially when people gave up on singing, as I said, and I’m managing to bring them back. To everyone out there reading this: if you want some lessons feel free to contact me, I’m doing a couple of classes every week and right now I don’t have anything else than time.
One last question for you: in Finland it’s very easy to interact with musicians, you spot them in a bar, you go there, you talk to them. Do fans get clingy sometimes? Do you avoid it?
Well it happens a lot that fans get clingy, in Finland it’s easier because Finns do not come to you to say anything when they see you in bars or something, so I’m happy to go out and I don’t need to think about someone attacking me. In different parts of the world it can be quite hard to go around, you just have to plan how you do it so you don’t put yourself in those situations, especially in South America it’s impossible to go anywhere from backstage but well, it’s how it works.
Thank you for your time, congrats on the albums you released and let’s hope to see you on stage very soon at this point!
No problem! Definitely, actually in December I think we’re playing some gigs with …And Oceans in Helsinki at Telakka, let’s hope it stays like that. Fingers crossed!