Folk Metal Heroes: Talking To Korpiklaani

Korpiklaani has been leading the growing charge of folk metal bands for a decade, establishing themselves as one of the most important bands blending diverse influences into the world of metal. Their new album, “Manala”, continues to see the band honing their sound, culminating in an album that may turn out to be their defining moment. Fresh off the release, frontman Jonne Järvelä took the time to answer a few questions.
Labels are often forced upon bands by the press. How would you describe Korpiklaani to someone who isn't familiar with your music?
Korpiklaani is folk metal band and we are proud of the fact, that this is pure folk metal. We are using authentic folk instruments, like fiddle, accordion hurdy gurdy and flutes. Not trying to do it easy way using synthesizer. Our lyrics are about Finnish mythology, nature, drinking, women and other things, which are close to our hearts.
There are a lot of bands playing folk-influenced metal. What do you think separates you from the others?
Many times folk metal bands are singing black metal style and there is lot of symphonic stuff as much as folk lines. We are also absolutely most Finnish folk metal band when thinking musically but also lyrically. Maybe we are also most joyful folk metal band in the world. Our songs sounds quite happy.

 

Does having your beginnings in folk music effect the way you write metal songs? Do you put songs together differently because of your background?
Absolutely. Our way to write songs and lyrics is very Finnish. We are not using any existing folk melodies on our songs. Sometimes we are make a cover from some traditional folk songs like this time Ievan Polkka. It’s been already in my mind long time, that it would a song I would like to play. It fits for us very good because it already sounds like Korpiklaani song original if thinking it musically. Lyrics written in the early 1930s by Eino Kettunen.The song takes the point of view of a young man. He wants to dance with Ieva but her mother won't let him. They sneak away to someone else's house, where everyone is dancing to a polka, and dance all night. When he follows her home, her angry mother is waiting for them, but he tells her straight out that Ieva and he will be together no matter what. The song was very popular during- and after the world war two but the song was almost forgotten during the late 70s and 80s.
 What's the writing process like for Korpiklaani? Are the folk elements essential to the songs as they come together, or are they added on later to make each one stand out?
It depends but most of the times the melody is the first thing what I write and around some main melody I start to build up the song whole. Last year when I started to practise hurdy gurdy, I wrote many melody lines using it. Actually the melodies came accidentally when I just to learn to play it. Hurdy Gurdy is a medieval string instrument and not so easy to learn to play well. The melody might be something totally else when Juho plays it with accordion or Tuomas with violin. They always arrange the melodies to fit their instrument perfect. The main composing instrument for me is still the guitar and it goes same like with hurdy gurdy. I’m just playing “something” and sometimes some melody just pop out while doing it.
A lot of the songs on “Manala” are anthematic. How much do you focus on having an upbeat, feel-good atmosphere in those sorts of songs?
The songs come as they come. We are not thinking that kind of things beforehand.
In “Ruumiinmultaa”, it sounds like there are some Indian influences in the background instrumentation. Are there any sounds you haven't incorporated into Korpiklaani that you would like to?
Really? I don’t know so much about Indian music and never been there, so I don’t know how those Indian influences are became to Ruumiinmultaa song  Maybe some movie or something like that has bee affected to it. You never know from where exactly the influences are coming from. Musically I’m always sucking ears jug spirits of happenings wherever in the world I am. Lyrics in that song Ruumiinmultaa (Soil Of The Corpse) tells a story or better to say it was a folk belief related to the pursuit of financial success, known in the area of Lapland, northern part of Finland. The one who desired to get rich made a deal with the devil, secretly collecting soil in the graveyard and offering it to other people, having had it mixed in their spirits or coffee. Soil of the corpse was only allowed to be given to those who were not enemies of the ones giving the soil of the corpse. A person who drank the soil of the corpse either died or lost his sanity permanently or temporarily. In contrast, the one giving the soil of the corpse gained financial wealth, as long as he was able to stick to the contract made with the devil, giving the soil to new victims on regular intervals for a few months. If the terms were not met, the devil killed the giver of the soil or made him insane. They say the belief lives on in certain regions of Lapland.
Are there any limits on where the music can go, and what kinds of influences you bring into the band? Or do you feel that anything can work in the framework of the band's sound?
Funny thing is, that no matter what we play, it always sounds like Korpiklaani. The music just comes into being like that. We are really open minded about the influences and sounds.
You're now eight albums into your career. Do you feel like you're getting better with each passing album, having more knowledge about the creative process?
It is always the same. Latest Korpiklaani album is the best album so far and I’m thinking how the hell we can do anything better next time. So far we’ve managed to do always better album than the previous one. Then again when I’m now looking back of the albums I still feels like that. Steady rise album after album.
Do you find it getting harder to top the material you've already done? Are you concerned with those sorts of things, or do you just focus on writing songs that you're happy with?
To create something new all the time is the most interesting and that’s what we are focusing. I like song writing and recording very much and for me it is as important as any other part of being musician.
Music is universal, but do you feel you have been limited because you don't write your songs in English?
People are asking many times what the lyrics are dealing about even that we have had the translations on the CD booklets but because nowadays people are buying their music from the Internet they haven’t booklet to find out what the lyrics are about. That’s why we released Manala album also in English. It is a free bonus CD including digipak version.
Along those lines, is folk metal inherently a niche because the tradition of that kind of music is very specific to certain places in the world? I would imagine it's harder to find an audience in places that aren't familiar with the music that's influenced you.
I think audience doesn’t need to be familiar with where our music comes from or even what it is about. All what matters is how they feel it.
Are there any aspects of being considered a metal band that restrict what you want to do with the band? Are there expectations you feel you have to meet, regardless of if the songs you're writing are headed in that direction or not?
No, I don’t think anything like that. I think we can do almost everything on Korpiklaani concept because there is not any real concept behind korpiklaani.
You've put out albums at a rapid pace since forming the band, do you think you're going to take a longer break between albums at some point, or do you intend to keep pushing on?
As I said before I really like song writing and we have good flow for the new songs. I can’t see any point to slow down recording and put it out to the people who like to listen to it. We are not thinking, that we are putting albums out at a rapid pace. We could put it even more often but because of touring it is not possible.
Do you have anything else you'd like to say to the people reading this?

For more information on Korpiklaani, and their new album “Manala”:

Korpiklaani's website

Korpiklaani at Nuclear Blast

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