Those Finns have caught our attention many times, with their extreme music as well as their intense performances, inevitably capturing audiences. In order to find out more about the band and their upcoming debut album, we took the chance to chat with guitarist Mikko (Merilinna) after their impressive show at Tuska festival, sharing the short interview slot with our colleague from Tempelores magazine (therefore also check their website tempelores.com to get the complete picture).
The classical question first – who are you? Please introduce the band.
I am Mikko, the guitar player and keyboardist of Khroma, and the other guys in the band are Maarik (Leppä), who plays the bass, Antti ( Honka) who plays the drums and does our visual style; then there is Riku (Rinta-Seppälä), who is the lead singer and who does almost all the electronics, and there is Janne (Aulavuori) and Joni (Tanskala) who both play guitar.
As I assume you are no full-time musicians, at least not with Khroma, what are your day jobs?
I am a student at the moment, social sciences at the Helsinki University - and yeah, we cannot do Khroma for a living - yet, but we do it as a way of life. There´s a small, sort-of slight change of feel into it...
How did you meet each other and form the band?
We are very old friends, actually, with the bass player Maarik and Janne on guitar and Riku as singer, we have known each other for 15 years, and I played with Riku and Janne in a band together, actually in two bands, and with Maarik also before. We are very old friends. We met Antti the drummer about four years ago, but he has always been – well, we knew who he was but we sort-of never really knew each other until four years ago. He´s from Oulu, which is a city up North, and then he played in a band in Oulu, with which we played some shows together. And then moved to Helsinki, and after that we contacted him if he wanted to play with Khroma.
What was the inspiration that you decided to become a musician? How did it happen?
Well, I´ve been playing for 20 years, and I think the starting point was... actually, I´ve been playing piano since I was six years old, and when I got to my teens, I figured that guitar would be much cooler. (laughter) Then I started to play guitar when I was 14, I think, which is 20 years ago – and I think there was no special decision behind it. It was just something I had done with the piano, which was probably a decision of my parents when I was six, but the music was sort-of always there. So I haven´t decided anything, the music was always there.
Did you also have music education at school and play in a school band or something?
No, I went to a school which didn´t have a positive attitude towards music – so we had some music lessons, but those were mostly music theory and the history of classical music, and then some piano playing and singing. But I didn´t have any school band. And I took lessons in piano, but never on guitar. So on guitar I am self-taught.
So how is the song writing process – is there one major composer, or is it teamwork?
In Khroma it´s 100% teamwork. Somebody comes up with a theme, or a guitar riff, or a bass line, or then some electronic beat, and then we start building up on the original idea and try to make it as cohesive as possible. So all the songs on our forthcoming album we have written, composed, produced – whatever you want to call it – together. It´s very hard to distinguish who has done what.
The album is 95% ready at this time, obviously we hope to find some label or some cooperative people who want to release it. We have recorded and mixed the album ourselves. The material is there, but we don´t know yet when the album will come out. As it turns out in a chat with Tempelores, the band is no longer with Inverse records, which was only distributing the Khroma single Chariots
As you mentioned you did the recordings yourselves – that means you are rehearsing in a studio?
We have a small studio, which has a rehearsal room, a small monitor room and then a small cabin where we can sing. It´s not very fancy or anything, but we can make all of the recordings there. Except – actually, we did not record the drums there, because we have a very good friend who has a professional studio, and he helped us with the drums, because the drums are much harder to record than the other instruments, in order to get this international sound. So we decided to do the drums there and all the other instruments and the vocals in our own studio.
So did you build this studio yourselves, everybody taking part in it?
No, we rent this studio – and the company who has built this studio rents the space for us. So it was there when we found it.
That´s very convenient! Well, you write the music together, but is it only one person who writes the lyrics?
Our vocalist Riku is 95% responsible for the lyrics. When he has a hard time putting it all together, then we help out, but normally that does not happen. So he is mostly responsible for the lyrics.
So are there special themes?
We try to say something with the lyrics, but Riku has a very introvert way of putting the lyrics together. He makes them in a way that they are really hard to interpret, what they actually mean. But he has the themes (as the Tempelores-colleague points out, socio-economical issues, the ed.) between the lines, so to say. And with the live-shows we have the video material, which sort of brings the themes out. But the lyrics are very introverted.
Who is responsible for the visuals?
A friend of ours ((Teemu, the ed.)) he is not in the band, but he is a very good friend who does them for us, not at every show, because that would be very hard to make the production happen. Especially when we play in very small clubs. But on this kind of occasion when the venue is big and there´s plenty of room for the screen, then he is always with us.
You mentioned that you guys played in other bands before – so what was the crappiest band name you rather would not mention you even played in the band (laughter)?
Band name? Well, I don´t know – one of them was Downbound, which was kind of cool, I think, the other one was April. With April we actually had some progress, we did two albums with Spinefarm records and toured - we had one tour in Germany and many shows in Finland. But I don´t think that´s a bad name either (laughter). Antti, our drummer, is from a band called Murana – which is also a cool name, I don´t know... I think there has not been any crappy name... (laughter)
Is there a story behind the band name Khroma?
Khroma in Greek means “the whole spectrum of light”, I think, which sort-of fits into our musical atmosphere. I think. And it looks cool when you write it down. And it´s short, you can have all sorts of visuals, you can do much visuals with the logo. So that were the reasons why we chose it.
And who came up with the idea?
I think it was Riku.
Tempelores wants to know more about the new album – the main points of interest:
We have 8 or 9 songs on the album, we have not decided yet, and the production has been made very very thorough. We have started pre-production last October, or maybe even earlier, last September. We wanted to make the pre-production so that there won´t be any questions when we record the actual instruments. The main point of interest at least is that it will be a very produced album, which I am very proud of. Because earlier – not necessarily Khroma, but the other bands before had a sort of Rock´n´Roll way to write the songs, somebody came up with something, and then the other guys did their instrument parts, and it all came together as a Rock´n´ Roll song. But with Khroma we have tried to distance ourselves from the Rock or from the traditional R´n´R sound into something more produced. So I think that´s definitely one main point of interest.
Also the previous releases (one available on the band website, the other is the Inverse single, the ed.) have been done in the same matter, but those haven´t taken such a long time, those have been done a bit quicker, sort of a bit more – if you want to use that word – R´n´R. But now we try to move to some other level. Tempelores points out at the perfectionist manner of production
Yes, you can say that (laughter). We sat in the studio for many hours, thinking about the small details, how a song should go from one part to the next without losing its atmosphere or the intensity. Yeah, it has taken a long time. Now we are almost done. The recording will be finished, and the mixing will be finished in September at the latest, I think. After that we try to find the right channel to release it ( presumably spring 2014, the ed.)
How did you feel about the Tuska show today? You had quite many people watching it...
It was the biggest show of Khroma´s career at this point, and I think it went pretty well, from the band´s point of view. We have so many elements so there is always the small fear that something, some technical issue will come up and not ruin everything, but make things harder. And this show was sort of perfect for us – no problems, the audience was magnificent, and even though we are I think a bit of a weird band in this line up compared with those traditional Metal bands, the Rock bands, I think it went down really well for the audience. I am really, really pleased.
This show was actually confirmed a long time ago, about half a year ago, and as soon as we heard that we are in here (the indoor Club stage at Tuska, the ed.) and not on one of the outdoor stages, we started to come up with the ideas for the visuals. Of course there is plenty of room, or plenty of possibilities for the light and for the videos. But we will have our first open air show in Germany, I think on the last day of August, at a small Metal festival called Metal Acker, which is in Tennenbronn, Schwarzwald, near the French border (metalacker.de). I don´t think we will bring our visuals to that festival – it´s a bit difficult to produce, but we´ll see how the music works in open air.
Do you have a ritual before going on stage?
Not really, we just hug and give the “hockey kivet” - “hockey stones” ...(demonstrates the “knuckle contact”)
Oh, I know that but have no idea what´s the official name of this gesture…maybe I find out … Well, as you played in other bands, what was the worst, what was the best show? Do you have any weird story to tell?
Actually, I don´t have many weird stories to tell, a couple of not nice stories about “the other bands being assholes” (laughter) – but I don´t want to go there ...
Well, I rather thought about some “Spinal Tap”-like moments ... actually, Spinal Tap is a pretty realistic movie...
Yes, it is, actually! We haven´t faced any moments like that, we have played in small venues, small clubs in central and Eastern Europe, and everything has always been as it was supposed to be. What we have expected when we went there. I´m sorry, no weird stories!
So you´re really really lucky... other bands have dozens of stories when I ask that question (laughter). Ok, as the club scene was mentioned – in Finland there had been a Metal scene explosion some years ago, especially in Helsinki dozens of Metal clubs popped up. Now the scene is getting smaller again, no longer so many clubs – so do you think this is a good development, or a bad one?
At some point there were very many Metal clubs in Helsinki, and all of those had shows from Wednesday to Saturday, every week. Obviously it was good for the bands, because the young bands had opportunities to play. And there are still plenty, or enough venues, I think. But I think it tells the big picture – in the beginning of the 21st century the times were good, economically, and the clubs were opened, and there was plenty of audience, at least in my point of view. There was plenty of audience in all of the clubs. Then came 2008 – and suddenly... we were actually on tour with April at that time, and I think 25 or 30 shows after the release of the album, which came out in the autumn of 2008, and suddenly there were no audiences anywhere. And the album wasn´t that bad (laughter) – because we already had some following, we had fans and all that, so we knew that it wasn´t because of the band. Suddenly the people just disappeared.
But I think in the small clubs the situation has been like that ever since, at least here. But on the other hand, in central Europe, the small clubs – of course we had done a couple of shows where there had been very very little audience – but almost at every show there were at least 50 to 100, or 30 to 70 people, so that it is meaningful to play, and I think it was also meaningful economically for the club to have the shows. So in that sense, the situation has either got better, or it has always been like that. But here you can definitely see the economic decline.
The same issue with the internet – on one hand it is better for the bands, promotion-wise, to get out there, but on the other hand there is so much out there that again it is so difficult just to get noticed...
Yeah (laughs) that is also the big question the record labels are wondering about … for Khroma the internet has been a good way to release our material. We decided when we started that we will do things ourselves as long as it´s possible. And even further. So for us it has been only a positive thing to have a channel we can release our music for free, people can listen to it, come to the shows, and we can sort-of get the band going. The record labels always say that even though there are more bands than ever and the internet provides sort-of an equal possibility to everyone to release their material, you still need the record label for promotion and for sort-of lifting the band onto some level.
Sometimes I think having a label is a bit a status-thing... a band with a label is automatically “better”...
There is some truth in that. Generally you could say, the more underground your music is, the less you need labels for anything. Perhaps the mainstream Metal bands or the mainstream sound – and there are a lot of those bands at this festival – they perhaps still need the labels to make the publicity happen. For underground sound you can do pretty much everything yourself. I see Khroma as somewhere in between there, because with Khroma we want to make Electronic music with a Metal vibe, and in the Electronic music scene pretty much all the artists do their releases themselves.
Maybe it´s easier to have access to festivals, when you have a label …
Yeah, or you need a good manager or booker, and perhaps a good promoter, but perhaps also the label perhaps automatically raises the attention of the festival organisation. Perhaps. I don´t know. I think the whole music scene, the whole business, is in a situation where every case is different from each other. Some bands here definitely need a label for their very Pop-sensible sound, and then the Death Metal bands can definitely do everything for themselves. And then very many bands are somewhere between those two extremes.
One question I have been pondering over for years – being from Austria, Finland has always been this Metal paradise – so many good bands, good musicians. It´s impossible NOT to have a lot of Finnish bands on a music magazine website... Why Finland? What is your theory about it?
The musicianship in Finland is very high, much higher than in Eastern Europe, maybe also higher than in central Europe. Although, there are so many more people in central Europe and of course there are very very skilled musicians also, but compared to the size of the population perhaps, here are more skilled musicians. It is very hard to analyse where it comes from. One reason may be that there are many very small cities, towns and villages, and maybe there aren´t many other things going on, so that musicians basically go to school and after school they rehearse, and same pattern every day. Very many of the Finnish Metal bands come from outside the big cities, or at least originally come from outside big cities. That is one thing. Why Metal – it has to do something with the darkness and the coldness, that Metal, the hard music, somehow fits that vibe or that atmosphere. And of course when the scene starts flowing, when there are a couple of successful bands, the pattern feeds itself, and the more youngsters start playing Metal instead of something else. I think it´s a combination of these things.
From the Austrian perspective there are also many more live clubs in Finland, it´s normal that a band plays in a club – this is not that “normal” in Austria (at least outside “Folk” or “Schlager”). And then the general public acceptance of Metal – so if there are also labels, journalists, the public not automatically going EEEOOWW when it comes to Metal, or that they separate between “high culture” and “the rest (to ignore)” - it´s a vicious circle for Rock/Metal bands, not getting noticed, not getting any support. So I think Finland accepted Metal, was so proud of successes like Lordi – nothing like that could ever happen in Austria...
I think that has to do with the success of bands who came up around the turn of the century, Children Of Bodom, HIM, Nightwish also...
... Stratovarius, Amorphis even before that...
… and Amorphis definitely – in North America they have been a pioneer for the hard sound. When they started having some attention, I think there was then a positive circle that sort-of feeds itself. I think to whole society began to accept the hard music as a serious culture.
Does anybody in the band have kids already?
Yeah, some of us have kids, some don´t.
So is this a little bit of a nightmare – kids when reaching teenage age, they tend to oppose their parents´ musical preferences – is there a nightmare of your kids becoming Justin Bieber/Britney Spears fans, and you have to listen to that all the time then? (laughter)
I don´t have kids myself, but I heard from my band mates that this has already happened...
OH NOOO!! (laughter) Well, some of my friends raise their kids with Hevisaurus & Co, so let´s see what happens... (laughter)
Last question – so if the band members were – you can choose - either characters in the Simpsons or Star Wars – who would be who and why?
OK, I definitely have think to go with Star Wars, because Science Fiction is a bit closer to our state of mind than the Simpsons. I think … I think we would be Stormtroopers. We don´t want to distinguish, we are five, actually six equal guys on one mission. So we are Stormtroopers.
Even though your boss would be Darth Vader (laughter)?
Yeah yeah – he is somewhere there, controlling the atmosphere.
So actually your visuals guy must be Darth Vader then ((Teemu, who had been sitting right next to us for some minutes, seems startled and a bit confused))
Yeah exactly (laughter)!!