Swallow the Sun is one of the most consistent and prolific melodic doom bands from Finland and are always pushing the boundaries in whatever artistic level is possible, from their personal involvement, to the band’s direction and their latest offering ‘Songs from the North I, II & III’ displays their extensive creativity and dedication. Before he joins us for our CMJ Happy Hour Listening Party next Friday, we had the opportunity to listen the new record and discuss with the band’s keyboardist Aleksi Munter more details regarding the ambitious triple album and its conception.
How long was the process to write the three albums all together?
I started to write kinda, well, I think most of it was ready like two years ago, but because we had some record label troubles, it took us some time. Personally, I didn’t find the motivation to listen to the demos until we had the paper on our hand that we were going to be able to put it out. So after that happened, I started to actually listening to the stuff and then it took me like 3 months to do my own arrangement for the keyboards and all that stuff and then I really did recording session in like 6 days, which usually is required for one album. So, I also ended up doing all the cover layout and most of the photography and all that. I’m not saying I’m a graphic designer or any of that sort [laughs] so it’s something I had to learn, so many new stuff while doing that. Anyway, so it’s been like a really, REALLY long and tedious process.
I mean, as it is, bands usually struggle just with one album. I can’t imagine with three different concepts at the same time. Are they linked together in a sense like the lyrical concept or anything?
No, no, it’s in the sense that it goes to one of the first, was it from the first? …yeah, It was actually from the first album, one of the reviews on it described it as ‘Gloom, Beauty and Despair’ and our main songwriter, Juha, liked it, got pleased and thought that they described it perfectly. That’s why on the second album, we have one song called that “Gloom, Beauty and Despair” so after that, he was toying around with the idea, like, can you further do it like a triple album about all of those aspects where you be like kinda gloomy stuff like what we usually do and it sounds like the sound we do; and then the second album being like the acoustic all pretty, all beautiful; and then the third one being all this like… despaired cosmic evil [laughs]
Yeah, well, I’ve yet to hear that. I’m actually curious about the second and the third album.
Personally for me, those are the one that kinda ended up being like the most interesting ones because it’s something we’ve never done like on the first one, there’s a lot of elements we have never had in our music before but like on the second and third one we took it further to put elements we had before but they still are in a sense new.
I also think there’s nothing that we haven’t actually done before. For example, the second album is not like acoustic in a Bob Dylan style or you’d play next to a bonfire but it’s more like, on the previous album, there was a song called “This Cut is the Deepest” and yeah, it’s mostly acoustic but is not entirely acoustic per say and even you could play it completely acoustic and no one will notice but is still isn’t. On the second album there’s also that, there’s plenty of stuff we’ve done before we haven’t just done it to that scale and the last album as well we haven’t had these really slow songs from New Moon’s “Weight of the Dead” or Hope’s “Doomed to Walk the Earth” like there’s plenty of this slow songs that are really depressing. This is just more like embracing the whole idea of how can we now get to be really depressing, you know? Because we always think like in the terms of how this turns out and I know many bands want to be mainstream, I’m not saying we want to be mainstream but when I’m listening to our own music, I always think of myself as the listener and if it’s like something that doesn’t work for me as a listener, I wouldn’t do it. I don’t know it’s just kind a mean album, kind of unfriendly.
Was the mindset or the idea that you had with those two album any different than with the first one?
Not really, it’s all connected like for example, the acoustic album personally I was really excited about that before hand because we played some acoustic shows in Finland and I kinda noticed that we can do a really good acoustic version of our songs so I was thinking that we can do a really good acoustic album as well, so it’s something I wanted to do more anyway and I wasn’t sure how the third album would turn out but it’s funny how… it’s good to be wrong! [laughs] I didn’t see that release as our forte but turned out to be great.
The idea of a triple release album is not very usual. Usually, we only get like double LP’s coming out but triple is very rare…
I think Prince did it…
but Prince is his own man and can do whatever he wants… Aside from the fact that you’re establishing something not very common in the metal scene, what does this format establish to you as a band?
Well, the thing is, it’s also one of the main reasons behind the whole idea. It’s fucking stupid you know? in this time and age with people having a 7 second attention span, doing a two and a half or triple album is stupid but in a sense, what would make sense? if you wanna make it big, you wanna make money, you wanna do that but also, Juha told me this one and I wholeheartedly agree like how the album as in our format, it’s very important for me as I always been a very strong advocate to make an album as a collection of songs that are linked together, so there’s many occasions when a certain song wouldn’t stand out that well by itself but in the right context between certain songs, it makes the hole better. All that starts from the beginning of the album, how it begins and how it ends and that’s when you start to arrange the songs in there and all of them work and the hole begins to be complement of it. Also when you consider having the album as a physical object, like looking at the graphics and all that, it’s a multimedia thing, it’s visual, it’s physical, it’s oral. That’s all I get, it’s kind of a statement for the album format, not necessarily against the single format but like an augmented form of the single format.
Now that you mention the importance of the graphic concept linking with the music, do you think that its graphic content of these release translate perfectly to the lyrical side? that I would see those images and relate them to a certain song or album?
Ehm, well cause I did most of that [laughs] let’s just say yes! I think it’s pretty good in like, if you look at the booklet for example, all of the images on each song where the lyrics are on, they do have a very strong connection to the song. That was my main intention like, we have this cover pictures of the girl we have on the cover, those were taken by our guitar player’s girlfriend, who’s an excellent photographer, so I tried to do all the cover graphics in regards to them so they would play a role together so I actually first arranged all the songs on how they would go into the booklet and then decided what photos to take and use in there, so I do believe they reflect the feel of the songs or at least on the best way I could do it.
How are you going to translate all the songs composed for the three albums into a live setting? Do you have an idea how are you going to pick and choose which songs to play to say “this is the new album we have?”
I have no fucking idea [laughs] when we played in the states back then, we said we won’t do this anymore but last time we had a half-an-hour set so that’s like 5 songs [laughs] so I do believe most of the songs will be from the first album just because they fit easier into the set and we don’t want our live set to be too mellow. Live setting is completely different from the studio setting, so we aren’t gonna to play too many off the acoustic but we will probably do one or two from it and also we’ve always put a long and slow song from the last album but it’ll be interesting. We’ve played 2 and a half hours set so in theory, we could play the whole thing [laughs]
Do you have any favorite songs in each album?
Yeah, I think on the first one there’s this song “The Memory of Light” because it’s something like completely different than what we have done before and we did really good on that so it’s something that stands out for me from that album. From the second album are the first two songs, the first one is like the intro of the entire album but with the second one is the first actual song but together, they represent the whole album in the sense of what is it about and it really describes it in a really short period of time. Then from the third album, I’d say “Empires of Loneliness” cause we have Nathan [Ellis] from Daylight Dies narrating, it’s such a cool song and always gives me the chills.
What’s next for the band now?
Not a triple album… [laughs] What’s next is good cause we always love to play live and all that so we’re going to do as much touring as possible now, like to bring it out to people and get out ourselves to have something to do [laughs] and then we’ll see what else happens. It feels like a break, it’s been 3 years since our last album. 3 years? that isn’t much, like our previous album took like 2 years or something but just because we haven’t done anything it feels like a long time. Also, I’d say that this was kind of in a sense fast to make, especially comparing to our first two album or three. I think our main songwriter Juha had just kind of an idea on how we should sound, then after the third album, he started kind of relaxing, cause we’ve been doing all these sorts of stuff, all these black metal stuff and we had blast beats on our albums and all that crap but it all sounds like us so I guess he figured out how to sound like Swallow the Sun without adhering to these strict guidelines, so he was able to write all these music without thinking how we should sound. That’s probably one of the reason why it came out relatively fast, considering the amount of music. Also, I’m extremely vocal when it comes to liking something, if I think something’s band, I’m the first one saying “no!” [laughs] but I didn’t have to do it once on this album.
US tour anytime soon?
I wish I could tell you. We have been talking about something but we haven’t, or at least, I haven’t heard anything about something happening but we’re working to come back this spring but don’t know anything but I’m pretty sure it’ll happen.