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Valonkantajat: The dark side of the Morning Star

Melancholic, sinister and rough, that´s the music of Valonkantajat just like the Finnish landscape. Still, when observed more closely, there is something mystical, attractive and even romantic about it. Valonkantajat and their Finnish lyrics embody the Nordic melancholy on their debut album „Tuomittu Elämään“ perfectly. STALKER talked with band mastermind Jaake Nikkilä about this new album and managed to find out why male Finns are how they are.

Hello, could you first introduce the band and its members?
Valonkantajat is a Finnish band that plays down tuned rock with metal influences. Lyrics are in Finnish. Valonkantajat is: Jaake Nikkilä – vocals and guitar, Ville Saloranta – guitar, Juha Korpinen – drums and Markus Salo – bass.

The band was formed 2010, so not that long time ago, how did everything begin with Valonkantajat?
I had been playing several years in a cover band together with Juha Korpinen (drums) and Ari Vilkman (bass), when I noticed an urge to write and play again some music of my own. Music, that was a lot heavier stuff than what we used to play in the cover band. So I asked Juha and Ari to join me with this new band. This was at spring 2010. Later on Ville Saloranta joined the group and there we were, Valonkantajat. Ari Vilkman departed from the band late 2011, and Markus Salo stepped in at the start of year 2012 to take his place.

Why did you choose the name Valonkantajat? It means The Lightbearer, which is also another word for Lucifer! Lucifer is originally the Latin word for morning star, but it became the name for the devil during medieval times - so what do you represent with your name? The devil or the Morning Star? Or is this ambiguous meaning the reason why you chose this name?
The last guess was right! I liked the name because it has this hidden dark side. Not many people in Finland know this other meaning for Valonkantajat, so the name is perfect for us: The surface seems to be harmless and inoffensive, but then there is this evil side that only few know of. Just like the truth is so often in real life too.

The lyrics on your debut-record “Tuomittu Elämään” are all quite melancholic and sad, as much as I understand it they are talking about death, loss and regret, could you maybe tell us a bit more about the lyrics, what are they about?
Yeah, lyrics are stories of real life in Finland, though many of them could be placed anywhere in the world. I’ve experienced and seen quite much in my life, so there is quite often a real story behind the lyrics. Tuomittu elämään (“Sentenced to live”) tells a story that is very usual for lonely men in Eastern or Northern Finland: How on earth could these shy men find a partner to their life, when options for them to choose are few and when the reality is that their skills to communicate fluently and ability to love and to be loved are minimal or nonexistent? These men are in a way sentenced to live their miserable, lonely life somewhere middle of nowhere, in the house they inherited from their parents. They do not have skills or courage to leave the small village and confront the world outside of it. So the message from me to these men is in short “I understand you and how hard your life is”.
Another song on the album, Hiljainen mies (“Silent man”) gives a reason for the Finnish national character, men and women, but especially men: In my theory, the harsh northern climate and nature have “beaten” the laughter, joy and vividness off our faces. For hundreds of years, only the toughest (and craziest) ones have managed to survive with the hardships of our environment, and we are still like this even though living in Finland is much easier nowadays compared what it used to be. We still feel uneasy to show our feelings (usually we reveal them only when we get drunk), and we still often enjoy being isolated and not having to speak with anyone :)That is perfectly normal for us, because that is what Finnish nature has raised us to be.

All compositions and lyrics are written by you, Jaake, so can you tell us what inspires you and where do you get the ideas for new songs and lyrics?
I get ideas from everything I see, hear and experience. I’m kind of an anthropologist in the way how I’m interested in human behavior in different groups and circumstances. I try to find the reason for certain things, and then I write a story about it as lyrics to a song. Sometimes it is very everyday life - thing, like people getting too tired and stressed in work and losing gradually their loved ones because of that, or then it just things that piss me off like religions or ignorant and reckless behavior of people, was it towards nature or something else.
The musical ideas just hit me all of a sudden. I never know when or where a melody comes, and then I just have to grab my guitar and sing the melody to my phone or some other recording device that I would not forget it. So yes, there are strange sounding clips in my phone, but that is how I can get back to them later and maybe proceed composing, if the idea is promising.

Singing in Finnish might restrict the possibilities for a band. It might make it harder to play shows outside of Finland, even thought I read on your website that you already had a good response from abroad, is that right?
Yes, this was intentional risk we took. We know that it is almost impossible to get well known abroad when singing in national language, but on the other hand we are not aiming to be bigger than Beatles, the primary target is Finnish (and Estonian) listeners, and if we manage to get some foreign fans too, it makes us extra happy. Estonian folk-metal band Metsatöll has lyrics in Estonian, but it did not stop them from having a successful US tour this fall! So you never know what happens :)

So still there is the question, why did you choose to sing in Finnish?
I have written lyrics in English with my previous bands, but with Valonkantajat I wanted to put much more effort to the quality of lyrics. I wanted to tell stories that have meaning, not just empty words packed in suitable lines. I can express myself so much better in Finnish, not only because I have much more of greater vocabulary in use, but also that I found out very quickly that some Finnish phrases are just impossible to translate to English without losing something important from the feeling of the original Finnish expression.

It was quite hard to find out a few things about the band because almost everything is in Finnish, do you plan to translate that also to English for the fans from abroad, or do you just want to concentrate on the Finnish audience?
We have an English biography on our myspace-page, and (now that you mentioned about this) the same bio was added to our facebook-page as well. We used to have a page in English in our homepage, but after we changed the site style, that page dropped off. That was maybe because we concentrated more on updating facebook-pages than our homepage. We have made some updates in English, and more will come as we are getting more foreign listeners. Thanks to automatic translation, most of our fans can understand what’s going on even when we write in Finnish.

You made a video for your song “Lupaus” (http://youtu.be/aujnY8UNOkg) where did you shoot this video? Looks like a very nice place! Why did you choose this song for a video?
Hah, the video was shot about two kilometers from my house in Porvoo countryside. Actually almost all of the footage for the video is shot within few kilometers of my house, so I guess I can say that we chose nice place to build a house. I like pristine nature, and there is plenty of it around here where I live. Not too far from city and civilization, anyways.
“Lupaus” (= promise) was chosen for this video, because it is one of my favorite songs and so it is for the rest of the band too. It just has this “something”, missing ingredient that other songs on the album do not have. The lyrics tell about not-that-sane person who falls in love with nature so deeply that everything else does not mean anything. It sounds crazy, but we do actually have this kind of celebrity in Finland. He lost his family because of this too strong love towards nature. In the chorus this person asks nature to give promise to him/her: “Please, could you promise to love me till the end of my life?” That is where the song title comes from.

One would guess that everything went very smoothly for the band so far, being founded in 2010 and already having a contract sounds quite promising for the future, but I’ve read in the band biography that you had some difficulties and rough times, what was going on?
After releasing our first EP 2011 (and finding out that we would not get a record deal from anywhere with it), we decided to go to studio later that year, record a full length album and then push hard for master deal with record companies. A Finnish record company was interested in us right from the beginning, and their interest was growing as they heard what kind of material we managed to do in the studio. So we started negotiations about master deal and deal for gig sales in the same package. I listed myself to Finnish Musicians Union to get lawyer to help me with the details in the deal. After 6 months of negotiations all was set, we had agreed with many things and the deal was ready to be signed. Then the record company sent a short message that they will withdraw from the deal. Just like that. So all what was left at that point was half of a year of wasted time and effort, and we had to start finding a partner once again from the start. Luckily, we found Violent Journey Records only few months later, and we were relieved to have finally a publisher for the debut album. At the end, I’m very pleased that we ended up working with VJR instead of that first (larger) record company: it felt like we were was always last in their priority list during negotiations.

On the Promo pictures, in the video and also live you always are dressed in black with red ties, what’s it all about? Is there a special reason for this?
It is our uniform. Something that we can be recognized of and something other bands do not have (at least anyone who we know of). Our logo has the same red color with black background. And what is a very positive thing with these clothes is that we never need to think about what to wear on gigs, since we always have the same uniforms :)

The bio also mentions that you are all experienced musicians, so in what bands have you been playing before Valonkantajat?
I have had two bands, Damage (thrash metal) and Fleam (metal rock), Ville played in Murdershock (death metal), Markus in Re-Armed (extreme metal) and Elevensun (doom), and Juha in a cover band called Vepasto.

I was at your record release party in Semifinal on 12. October, it seems you have already a good fanclub already, I sometimes thought I am at a Backstreet Boys gig, there where even girls with a poster in the crowd and a some screamed” Jarkko”, is it always like this on your gigs?
Hah, I wish it was but no. Those “girls” were my colleagues, having a bit fun with that poster. They gave me the poster after the gig, and now my 5 year old daughter has it because it has “so much of lovely glitter” on it.

Jarkko you told me that you are a teacher, I would guess you teach history or divinity (theology) or am I completely wrong with this?
Actually I teach biology and geography. It goes well in line with my atheism, since we natural scientist aren’t that exited about religions or any other superstitions. If I would teach theology, I would not help myself from rationalizing to students that the existence of supernatural things like god is highly unlikely. This atheism can be found also in the lyrics of Valonkantajat as criticism against religions and the troubles religions have caused to people all over the world.

I can imagine that your students are pretty happy about having such a cool teacher who is playing in a rock band, or what kind of reaction did you got so far from your students?
Some of them are quite exited of course, but since most of them listen to hip-hop and pop, it does not affect ordinary school work much at all. Some students have asked for an autograph, though.

So the year is soon over, what are the plans for the rest of the year, and what is coming up next year?
We are planning to play two gigs at Southern Finland, and hopefully many more next year, on festivals too. We haven’t had time to practice for new material for long time, so I’m looking forward to that. We must also decide when to start recording second album, so there’s some planning we have to do for the next year.

So they say that on 21st of December according to the Maya calendar it’s going to be the end of the world, so if this is going to happen, what do you most want to do before that?
I’m so glad that we managed to release our debut album before the end of the world! Seriously speaking, I would spend a lot of time with my family if the end was coming. But since it is not and there are a lot of days left in my calendar, I will keep on living happily my life. My music may sound depressed, but it does not mean that the composer himself is depressed. I enjoy life :)

Thank you very much for your time and answering my questions, I wish you all the best for the future and hopefully see you soon on stage again!
Thank you for interesting questions. See you at gig(s)!

More information about Valonkantajat here:

Author: Sandy Mahrer, transl. C.Ullmann, photos: Band
Date: 2012-12-08

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