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Before The Dawn: Lone warrior with a green thumb

An extraordinary chat with an extraordinary person, not just because this Finn turns out to be very talkative... Tuomas Saukkonen, the Before The Dawn mastermind, provides us with surprising insights regarding the connection between music and gardening and the new album "Deadlight" (including this fabulous Metal hymn "Deadsong"); he reveals his problem with the term Gothic and solves the mystery, why such a remarkable band has stayed beneath my radar until now...

First question, naturally, about Before The Dawn: Is it a solo project, or a band, and if it is a band, who is part of it? It´s a bit confusing...
It has been confusing for me also for the last couple of years. Actually it was supposed to be a solid band when we went to studio to record a new album, but we had to fire the drummer after one week and start recordings all over again... we lost one band member there. And then also our second guitarist was too busy with his other band recording, so I played all the guitars. So on the album it is only me and Lars. But now it´s a band. We got our old drummer Dani back, a month after the single release, and I hope the next album will be played by a solid band.

So it´s four band members? On the record band photo there are only three, on the website there are four...
Yeah. I know it must be very confusing for fans and the media, because with every album there have been big changes in the line-up. And we also changed the record company, finally we got one from Finland (Stay Heavy Records, the ed.). Locomotive Music did quite a good job in Europe, we had a couple of tours and good promo, but our albums were never released in Finland... they got very good reviews in Finland and in Europe, because I have sent the albums to magazines, but there is no distribution, no promotion, no release... so there has been a lot of stress in those four years...

That means BTD has been pretty much a one-man-project... but maybe you can introduce yourself and your band members a bit...
Hmm... I have a bad habit not to leave much room for the other members in making of music, or decisions or anything. I´m a very nice guy in general, but when it´s about making my own music, then I can be a bit like a dictator. No compromises, because I know in my head how it should sound and what I have to do to make it sound like that, so then it might be a bit rude... there is only my opinion, and wrong opinions (laughs). That´s how I feel in studio, it is very hard to see outside the box... but still I would not like BTD to be a solo project but a band, I want to play gigs, as many as possible, I like to hang out with the guys, I like playing together... But in studio it has always been difficult. The last two albums I recorded mostly by myself, that was easy (laughs). But I try to be as loose as possible with the other guys.

The other members are obviously very easygoing, because they are playing with me (laughs)... With Lars it´s like winning the lottery to have him as a singer, he is a Grammy-Award winning vocalist from Norway who lives in Finland now, and I got him for my band! And he is also... Well, I am always very fast and hectic in studio, I don´t want to use so many days, I want to do everything as fast as possible and usually I write some of the music and most of the lyrics in studio. I like to be spontaneous, I don´t want to plan too much. Lars is also very fast and very talented, he works very well with me and is OK with the stressing and fast situation. Usually we do all the vocal melodies with lyrics in the studio, one hour before the recording. Without rehearsing and stuff, but it works very well, this is very important for me, so I don´t have to do so much pre-production with the vocals.

About Juho, the other guitar player... he is extremely professional, and his role in the band is much bigger than a normal band member, because he has also recorded most of the tracks on the last two albums. Yet he has not played guitar on either of those, only a couple of solos. Still he has a big role in the band, because I don´t know anything about technology, mixing, recording, anything. And I don´t care, and I am not interested at all. I never record demos at home, I know nothing, I know how to plug in a keyboard, but that´s it. Therefore it is good to have such professional guys in my own band. Also Lars is a very good producer, he can mix and he has done a couple of albums already, so I can count on them very much. Members like Juho and Lars give me the freedom for making music, they don´t tie my hands in any way. Normal band with normal musicians would actually create that kind of problem, if one guy makes all the music he has to go through it all with the band members and still had the responsibility for the recording, so...

Dani is the new old guy, he played on the first two albums, then something happened and the whole line-up was gone, then I was solo. When he heard that we had fired the drummer, he sent me SMS, after two years not talking at all... “How are you, how is life, how is your drummer situation?” It was a very pleasant surprise, I wouldn´t have asked him because I thought I had burned that bridge a long time ago. But he is the best drummer for this kind of music, it was such a pity when he left, and I could not find anybody to replace him. Of course I found drummers, but... my way of composing music fits his drumming very well, he plays the way I like, I don´t have to show him anything... we can just play and don´t have to talk about things.

About Lars, he sounds like having a trained voice, not like Opera, but... trained...?
I don´t actually know if he had many lessons... I know he has been singing since age 15 or something, and he has made so many albums... you have to check his site www.myspace.com/larseikind... most of them are Black Metal bands from Norway, Khold, DawG, Age Of Silence, that was the band he won the Grammy Award with, then he was asked to join Arcturus, but he was moving from Norway at that time, and nowadays he still sings in a band called Winds. It is a bit complicated art-stuff with Hellhammer from Dimmu Borgir, and one guy from the US. They don´t play concerts, they just make albums... Well, Lars has been a professional singer for over a decade now, he also had a Grunge band named Jack in the Box, which was big in Norway, and he is still a singer for Honcho, a Norwegian Stoner band.

In the review of your CD I actually compared your music with classical Norwegian Goth Metal from mid-90s, like Tristania or The Sins Of Thy Beloved – so how would you define your music?
Well, I wouldn´t use the word “Goth” very easily ... I got a bit frustrated with that word, because of Locomotive Music and their promotion, back then the biggest bands were The 69 Eyes, Stratovarius and HIM, and they made the big mistake to put our music in the wrong category, namely Finnish Power Gothic Metal, comparing us with the bands I mentioned, and they are all so totally different... and of course, if your label is “Gothic”, then the album is going to the Gothic reviewer, because magazines have people specialized... and then the reviews came out, defining BTD as Gothic Metal. Everywhere! And I can see the connection, I like simple and strong melodies and the structure, I like to have this Pop structure... usually I make songs using acoustic guitar, and they are Pop songs when I wrote them, they just have Heavy sound and vocals, which is very similar to Gothic Metal bands.

And in the mid-90s it was also the contrast clean vocals and growls, the bombastic sound, very melodic but also very heavy...
And also melancholic, yeah, so I understand the connection. But to me it has always been (desperate) “no... we are not Gothic...”

Actually I have to refer to particular bands because “Gothic” nowadays has a totally different meaning, referring to completely different sounds, so for me it is difficult, too, to find the right words... Melodic Death Metal... maybe...
But “Death”, no, no, Arch Enemy could be Melodic Death Metal, and we are very far from that...

... or Children Of Bodom... so that´s the question, how would you define it?
Hm. (long pause) Dark Metal is also a bit wrong... ah... Melancholic Scandinavian Metal! Because I think we sound a bit Finnish. Yet without Folk influence, like Amorphis or something. Melancholic Scandinavian Metal would be the best definition!

Apropos Finland, what is the situation from your point of view? Now Finland is, thanks to Lordi, known as Rock´n´Roll nation on a more international scale – is that true for you?
(laughs) Well, it depends, from which side you look at the situation. Of course we have now very big bands which we did not have 10 years ago, Amorphis, Lordi, Nightwish, Children Of Bodom, and more coming all the time. But the situation in Finland has not really changed, because there is still like... well, everybody plays in a Heavy Metal band, or everybody knows at least two guys who play in a Metal band, so it´s still: too little record companies, not enough venues, too many bands, so...

Well, in Helsinki there are lots of venues...it´s crazy here...
Yeah, but that is the capital...

You´re from Lahti, what is the situation there?
There is one quite small Rock bar and one very big venue with only a few Metal gigs, like 2-3 a year, and that is pretty much like the other towns outside Helsinki. Well, I would say that we ARE a Metal nation, because a lot of bands are huge, but it does not feel like a positive thing if you live in Finland, as a Metal musician. Every venue is overbooked, it´s very hard to get gigs, it´s very hard to get a record contract with a label that takes the risk to do something in Europe. Of course there are a lot of small labels in Finland, but there are less people in the country than in London, which is just a city! (laughs) So there is very little to do for a Metal band in Finland, there are obvious limitations how many albums you can sell, and it is very hard to make a living, almost impossible to make a living as a Metal musician in Finland, if the album is not out in Europe...

But isn´t it the case that bands like The 69 Eyes or HIM also drew much more media attention to Finland and the scene here, so bands have much more and better chances to attract a market abroad?
Yes, of course it has helped, but at the same time all those problems in the record industry with piracy and stuff, it costs money from every record company... and Finland is a bit isolated, so it is a risk for a company from Germany to sign a band from Finland, which makes it hard to get them playing gigs in the market area and all that... therefore for a German label it is still much easier to sign a German band, who have some local background, fans, tours behind them... And I know many bands with a record contract in Europe who don´t release albums in Finland, because they don´t sell so many albums here. So there is the option, to be well-known here a bit unknown there ... I had to try a bit of both... so we are a Metal nation, but that is not always a good thing to live in one, because the competition is very very hard.

OK I understand. A classic question – where does your inspiration come from?
I don´t actually know. I think it is something... a built-in thing, it is my way of living: making music. I actually never noticed that I need something to make music. I don´t have to be sad or happy or anything...

... or drunk...
NO! I am actually Straight-Edge! (laughs) That would not help me... and it doesn´t have to be night or day... actually I make music all the time. I write about 50-70 songs a year, and I have four bands with record deals (one of them, Dawn Of Solace, releases their debut soon, the ed.), and I hope to get at least four albums out next year. And there is another Grindcore-band which I hope... well, having five albums out in one year, that would be something to talk about when I am old. That´s my plan for the next year, so ... I just make music, all the time, I never start thinking why I do it...

So music is indeed your full-time-job?
It does not pay my rent, but I do it like a full-time-job. I still have to do it for one year like a hobby with full-time-effort, I just put up my own company, I do those gardening things the whole summer and I produce a couple of bands, I give drum lessons...

But everything is still connected with music?
Yeah, except the gardening...

Actually it´s perhaps not that far out, because also music, or a band, has to grow, it needs time...
Yeah, and what I like about the job, like with music, you can hear, or see, the product. I enjoy very much to build big yards at summer cabins, and I can immediately see what I have built with my own hands. And I need some money to finance my own record company, to be in studio for three months in a row, to pay the rent, phone bills...

That means a lot of gardening...
A lot of gardening, yeah! For two years I had some health problems because I am not sleeping, but that´s the way it goes... I guess with everybody who wants to achieve something and go to the limits at some point; I think this is just normal.

Ok, now about the lyrics. Is it just my interpretation, or are there some religious references... has it any deeper meaning...
Yeah, there are! Not connected to any religion, but I use this crucifixion or angel motives. It has a deeper meaning but not connected with religions, the bible, God... when I use words like God... I would never explain it in the lyrics, but it is how I think about life and death...

Rather the darker side of life... is this your personal point of view?
Yeah. It is my point of view, but it is very hard to get the whole point by reading the lyrics. I don´t believe in any God or any kind of higher existence, I think that both good and evil are in you. So if I sing about God, it means something in you; also evil - I would never use the word Satan, because it is just a stupid word describing a stupid thing. Both good and evil are in you, you have to deal with both of them. It is very hypocritical to think that you are a good person, nobody is born as a good person, you make choices throughout your whole life. And that´s it, I have quite many questions about that, I have used the words crucifixion, crucify and those things, but it has nothing to do with Jesus Christ or anything.

Is there a concept or story behind “Deadlight”?
No, there is a little story in Deadsong, but not in the album... I actually forgot to mention, writing of music comes all the time; whenever I have an instrument in my hands I can make something. I actually wrote a song during a live radio interview, I have it on tape...

So how many instruments do you play?
Piano, drums, bass, guitar, and I am learning to play Saxophone.

Because you are not busy enough.
Yeah, yeah ... maybe that´s why...

Which is your favourite instrument for songwriting?
Guitar and drums, I use both. When I have the guitar part in my head I want to play the drums, and when I hear the drums I can continue with the guitar. I can do both, one in my head and one in my hands. And I need both, because the rhythm is very important to me, with the music. With the lyrics it is a mood thing, I get the inspiration from all my personal stuff, it is like a diary. And most of them are somehow disguised, like “Deadsong”. It is very well-hidden... and I write most of them in studio, because I want them from the moment the album was made, not like from six months ago.

In my opinion “Deadlight” might be your best album so far, with all the elements from your previous works coming together so nicely – so is it the best album for you?
Yeah. Despite the drummer situation, and this is why the first song is called “Wrath” with very angry lyrics, we lost one week of studio time – it was supposed to be very relaxed, “I just play my guitars and do my vocals”, then there was X-mas and New Year in between, and then – BANG – I had to do all the guitars and drums without rehearsal, only three days for the drums. Luckily I had three good days... that doesn´t happen very often... so I was very pissed of in studio, but still... It was very crucial for the album that Juho recorded and Aleksanteri Kuosa mixed it, we have been working together already for the BTD "Ghost" album and with my other band Dawn Of Solace, so we knew each other very well, they were very flexible with the schedules and did more than I paid, or the company paid them to do.

"Ghost" was the first solo album, but I knew already it´s not going to happen with this one either, and after the bad vibes with the ex-members I just wanted to make a point, proving that I can do it alone, without them. I did not expect that it would affect the result, but somehow it did. And on "Ghost" Lars was only guest vocalist, after that we have played 60 gigs together, so now we are like friends and band members, so it was much easier to work with him, to get the best out of Lars. It was not like, he comes to the studio and just sings what I have written, and then bye-bye...

Well, actually it happened EXACTLY like that, because we did all the vocal parts in one day... but we had been working and playing together before that, performing some of the new material live, so... it was also the professional line-up that we had for the very first time. 2006 was a very busy year, so when I went to studio I already knew that we have a good band, with the new record company I knew this album would get good promotion... I was very confident with things, that can also be heard on the album. I could take some risks, like having Blast beats or Thrash drumming, I didn´t have to think about the album, I felt very relaxed and made the songs that amuse me. I would not change anything from the album.

Finally, do you have a crazy tourstory?
Hm, because I am Straight Edge nothing crazy happens to me...

Well, doesn´t make sense to ask you would prefer, sex, drugs or Rock´n´Roll, as the answer is already clear...
Yeah. (laughs)

So... who would you never ever want to meet in a Sauna?
Hmmm.... (long pause, followed by an even longer pause)
There are a couple of names but I cannot say them, that would cause a lot of problems...

Never mind.... thank you for the interview!


Author: Klaudia Weber, photos: mike@pakkotoisto.com
Date: 2007-04-29

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