There have been several excellent prog rock bands that have come from Finland in the past. The classic Finnish prog rock scene now has a fresh act to consider. Magna Vice is a relatively new band, but since the musicians in the band are what I would call "old school rockers" and very experienced as such, Magna Vice has a certain gravity to it right from the beginning. These are rockers who have grown up to the sounds of Kiss, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd - all of those and more. They´ve learned their thing through some formal training and lots of practice, but most of all, by listening to loads and loads of music.
They´ve just released their first album, called Serpent of Wisdom. It´s a classic prog rock concept album that has a very retro sound to it (read our review here). I was invited to sit down and chat with the band for a while, to get to know a bit more about them and their music.
As I enter the small blue building where Magna Vice practices and does almost all of their music magic, I am greeted with a busy bunch of guys, apparently cleaning up the place. I hope it´s not for my sake, but it certainly makes a good impression. As they fuss over this and that, arranging seats and all for the interview, I find out that they actually have the whole place to themselves, which is a sweet deal for a band. They don´t need to worry about studio time, they have it covered. In fact their album, Serpent of Wisdom, is almost completely made within these walls.
Even before sitting down for the "official" interview, we talk quite a bit, as the band members introduce themselves and tell me about the location and even about their week long "band camp" at a summer cottage where the beginnings of their second album were apparently already created. As I put my iPhone on the table and push the rec button, there is an amused chuckle among the guys. "We´ll all be really quiet and shut up now."
I´m glad they didn´t, though. We had a really nice time talking about many things, with the discussion even getting a bit sidetracked every once and a while. Here´s what Magna Vice had to say about quite a few matters:
We´ll start with the obvious. Who are you and what´s Magna Vice all about?
Band: (total silence)
Alright then, this is a great start!
(Everybody cracks up laughing and the privilege of answering most questions is quickly delegated to Esa, the guitarist of the band.)
Esa: Well, we´re Magna Vice. The band was founded in December 2010. Robin, Jonne and I started out as a trio, but soon we realized this could be turned into something more. We started to look for a singer. We had recorded a demo earlier and we played it to Veli-Matti and asked if he wanted to sing some of the stuff for us. He joined the band right away once he had had a go with the material. Petri joined the band a little later.
Petri: I had actually quit playing in bands some years earlier and had been concentrating on studio stuff, mostly. It was the typical "I´ll never play in a band again" situation… But after I played a bit for these guys I thought I´d join them immediately, if they´d have me.
Esa: He played for about half an hour for us and after that we kinda looked at each other and went "That´s it then, isn´t it? Welcome to the band!"
How about prog rock, then? Magna Vice is clearly a prog rock band, how did that come to be? Is prog a passion for you all or is the choice of genres a result of all your creative ideas melting together?
Esa: I don´t think prog has ever been the number one passion for any of us, I guess we´re all some sort of heavy metal men originally.
(All guys seem to agree with Esa on this.)
Esa: But I have, of course, listened through all the classics like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath already as a kid.
(Everybody definitely agrees with this.)
Esa: Frank Marino also played some appropriately heavy prog in the 70´s, and he´s been one of my biggest influences - which you can probably hear from our music.
Petri: On the other hand, we´re doing exactly what we want in this band. We´re not bound by a specific genre. We can add a bit of this and that to our songs, according to what feels and sounds good.
Esa: And that is also how prog rock pieces are often born. Everyone brings in their own ideas and when they are put together, it becomes a progressive mix.
Jonne: We work on ideas together and sometimes an idea evolves into a song, sometimes some ideas are forgotten or set aside, sometimes some of them are used later.
(At this point the discussion veers into a sidetrack of talking about the hours the band puts into rehearsing weekly. Five hours at a time, twice a week! Respectable! They guys really do take this seriously.)
Ok, so, let´s talk more about your first album, Serpent of Wisdom. It took me on a time traveling journey to the 70´s and even impressions of the Vietnam War flashed through my historian´s mind. Could you tell me a bit more about the album?
Esa: (laughs) You´re on the right track then! There are a couple of war themed songs on the album, that´s true. Originally the songs were all made as separate pieces, one was even released as a single a year and a half ago. I think we had already begun to record the songs when suddenly it became apparent that there´s a story here. I scribbled a sketch of the story on the back of a cigarette pack, and a main character was born. A war veteran who suffers from hallucinations and, well, it´s a bit crowded in his head. The framework of the story works rather well with the songs - and the story is also present within the songs.
Concept albums or theme albums aren´t very common these days. Was it a risk to make one?
Robin&Esa: No, it wasn´t.
Jonne: It´s a chance. A chance to take our music into a new direction. Personally I´m totally fed up with the Finnish pop scene at the moment, there´s just such a narrow selection of music. It´s unimaginative and not very creative. In the 70´s there was a lot more experimentation, the songs could be longer than 3 minutes and there were more instrumental solos, even just jamming. It was, in a way, more a living thing. Today´s music is often so synthetic, so structured.
Esa: Composing and arranging songs used to be more daring, music didn´t have to conform to a certain kind of radio format.
And in these times of playlists, when people don´t listen to albums from the beginning to the end, but pick single songs to be added to the "gym exercise playlist", it must be a challenge for a musician to do something else than 3,5 minute songs…
Band: Yes, we´re trying to fight that!
Esa: But in the end it´s about making the kind of music we ourselves like. What we listen, what we are influenced by, all of that can be heard in our music.
Robin: And the next album we make, it might not be a concept album.
Esa: Or then again, it may be.
(Guys burst into laughter and there are a few knowing looks.)
Okay, I´m not going to ask more about that - we´ll remain waiting for those news. But on this album, there is a clear anti-war attitude…
Veli-Matti: And anti-religion attitude!
Right, that´s true! On your album release gig the video materials were full of iconographic images, religious symbols, photos from the Vietnam War era, popular culture icons… Why did you choose to include those in the show and in the music?
Esa: We´re trying to provoke people. Provoke them into thinking about these things.
Veli-Matti: We´re not trying to be political, though. We are trying to get people to see that religion and money direct our lives too much these days. Politics is influenced by religion and so on.
Esa: And it´d be great if people, when provoked, would not only think about these matters but also would start acting differently. Policy makers, for instance, could make decisions that are more brave, different, in some ways. In our videos and in our music we are trying to make our view of the world visible. And on the album, there are those themes of religion and war, but there´s also a storyline about home. The protagonist isn´t feeling very well at home, either. He has all kinds of flashbacks into his childhood and so on.
In other words, there are many levels to the story and the album is not an "easy listening" one. It doesn´t open up on the first listen.
One of the best types of feedback we´ve been getting has been that the album isn´t an easy one. That it requires time and concentration before you really get it. There´s quite a bit of musical information on those tracks. Even I myself still notice new things when listening.
Moving on to the album release gig (read our review here). A nice crowd and a great evening, wasn´t it?
(Everybody agrees with enthusiasm.)
Jonne: You know, we played that gig pretty much note for note as the album is, so there is no room left for idle talk about how you can do whatever in a studio but on stage it doesn´t sound the same. We sounded pretty much exactly the same as on the album.
Esa: It just shows that you don´t need a huge production team to make something like this happen. Veli-Matti has done the video materials, Petri has done the background tracks, we´ve all worked together on arranging the songs. Everything from the album cover graphics to designing band shirts has been done by us.
Petri: It also means that we´ve been able to do stuff that we may not have been able to do if there was an outsider involved. Recording a single track didn´t cost us anything, so we ended up with each song having about 250 tracks and that´s where I started to work down from. If I was to count the work hours we´ve put into this, the album would´ve been quite expensive to make.
Jonne: Kinda explains why albums like these aren´t made that often…
Heh, well, yeah. Is this how you want things to be in the future as well? If a record label came to you with a proposition for a deal, what would you do?
Esa: Hahah, it depends on the deal, of course! We do want to stay in charge of the creative side of things. But if we speculate with the thought of an outside producer being introduced to our creative process… It might get crowded around here! We have two rather amazing producers right here, who have worked on this album for hours and hours.
Jonne: Perhaps we could work with a producer when it comes to some aspects of the sound, but not when it comes to the artistic decisions.
Esa: But seems we´ve been able to make things work by ourselves, too. No outsiders needed as such. And all in all, we´re very pleased with the outcome.
Now that the album is out, do you have any gigs booked already?
Esa: Well, at the moment we´ve only got one gig booked in February. What we are in need of is a manager, someone to sell the gigs.
Petri: A manager or a promoter who could sell us some gigs outside of Finland, as well…
Veli-Matti: We would really like to be able to play on some Finnish festivals next summer, as well.
Petri: Japan would be nice.
(Everybody cracks up. This seems to be an inside joke for the guys, something they´ve been talking about in sauna during their week at the cottage…)
Veli-Matti: We really don´t have those kinds of connections ourselves, unfortunately. The deal we made with Inverse Records was a good one, they´ve really helped by distributing the album promo materials quite widely, even outside of Finland, to different kinds of magazines and so on. They´ve got great connections for that.
Esa: Sharing the links for album reviews and such on our own pages gets us visibility. Nowadays it´s so important to get those clicks on those links. It really is valuable for us. And Inverse Records has had a really great way of dealing with everything. I called their managing director Jaakko Tarvainen about our album and he asked me to send the material in right away. The next day he called and said that he thought we had a finished product and that the album could be distributed through them. After a bit of paperwork the orders were made and we got the album out.
And you know, there was a funny detail to the story. We had already booked an album release gig, but we didn´t, at the time, know if the album would actually be released. A bit of pressure on us… But we had a deadline at the end of July and that was it. And that´s how it went in the end.
Petri: There were also all sorts of interesting things going on, as far as creating the sound world of the album is concerned…
Plenty of interesting details on the album, for sure!
Petri: Yeah, we´ve made coffee and recorded those sounds, for example. Lots of weird things…
And that makes the album actually a very visual experience, when you listen to it. It´s not, for a lack of a better word, flat.
Esa: You know, that´s exactly what I wanted to hear. I´ve been talking about a three dimensional mixing in reference to the album. We´ve done it right if the listener notices that there´s something more to this than just the left and right.
What about the future? What kinds of plans do you have?
Petri: Yeah, well, now that we´ve been flexing our muscles with this album, it´s better to start working on new stuff while there´s still that momentum going on.
Esa: It´s not like we can afford to think that we´ve now made the definitive album and can just rest on our laurels. We´ll keep on rehearsing, composing and doing music. We´ll see what will come out of it. If not a concept album, then an album. That much is pretty certain.
Of course the foreign market thing interests us, and all connections we could make, for example, in England, would be great.
Jonne: We have an excellent band and we´re willing to work hard to make things happen!
We´ve now been chatting for quite some time, so I think it´s time for me to leave you guys alone for the time being. Anything you´d like to add at this point, what the readers of STALKER should know about you?
Esa: Well, it has to be mentioned that we´re all incredibly handsome.
(All the guys burst into roaring laughter.)
Hahah! Consider it done. Thank you so much for your time, Magna Vice!
Magna Vice are:
Esa Karppinen (guitars, backing vocals)
Robin Jansson (bass, backing vocals)
Jonne Orrensalo (drums & percussion)
Petri Oksanen (keyboards)
Veli-Matti Heino (vocals)