It is probably your first interview on a Greek webzine and despite the fact that many know your name and have heard some of your work still I’m not sure if they know your story. Shall we get it from the start? When was the time you realized you should dedicate your life into music? How important was for you as an artist that you started you trip into music industry as a journalist and in such an early age?
It’s a natural thing, you know early on what it is that makes you tick. For me it was always rock n’ roll. From my father playing “Exile on Main St” when I was very young, to my older brother getting into Sex Pistols and later Swedish death metal and so on – it always lit a fire inside of me. I still feel the same way, it really doesn’t go away!
Not very important at all, I would say. My profession exposed me to a lot of music, naturally. But any of my friends would have more influence on me, recommending old stuff that I would get into. Either way, the reason I wrote about music was because I love music and the same reason for playing. It was all the same to me – just different manifestations of this big interest of mine.
Do you miss the days where things were a little bit more naïve?
Not sure I understand this question!
You started in Sonic Ritual, a metal punk Swedish band. Why did you leave and why did you moved to Berlin after the split?
Sonic Ritual never split up, we’re still officially a band, even though we’ve been on hiatus for years. I have some great memories from that time, mainly because it’s where I “learned” how to play, and because I got to play in a band with my best friend Henke. We fell out with our bassist around the same time that Henke joined In Solitude. After that Henke felt more inclined to focus on In Solitude, understandably. At this time in my life I was still not taking my musicianship too seriously, I was still thinking that writing was my calling, so it took a while for me to continue with my music. I left Stockholm because after Sonic Ritual went on a break I didn’t really have that much keeping me there. I felt the scene was uninspiring and stiff. One day I got this idea of Berlin in my head, and I went there without even having visited before. It changed everything for me, and I don’t think I will ever come back to Stockholm.
The Oath was highly critical acclaimed having a contract with a strong label, why did you eventually split up right about when things were going to happen? What are your feelings about that band almost 3 years after the break up? Is there some unfinished business with The Oath, any unreleased material or something?
I split up The Oath because it was impossible for me to continue, for several reasons. It was a difficult decision in one way, because I knew it would set me back a few years and I would have to start from scratch again. But in another way it was a very easy decision to make, since there was no way I was going to go on in an unhappy and destructive situation.
Unless somebody brings it up, I don’t think about this band. It’s in the past.
In 2015, you were asked to join BEASTMILK who at the time were enjoying massive success following their 2013 album “Climax”. Tell us more about this era that led to Grave Pleasures…
They asked me out of nowhere, really. I saw them at Hell’s Pleasure and hung out a bit the after party. To be perfectly honest with you, I was not a huge fan – unlike so many others at that time. I was aware of the hype, obviously, and I thought they had some good songs, but I didn’t own the record and that gig was the first time I’d seen them play. But still, it was a no-brainer when they asked me to come and jam in Helsinki.
The songs were immensely entertaining to play, they’re not complicated songs, but the arrangements and compositions are much more strange than you realize at first listen. I really thought that Johan – or Goatspeed – had a unique style of writing riffs. Before this I had not been feeling very well. I was very lost and angry after everything that happened with The Oath, and had no idea how I would pick myself up and keep on going. I had several offers from bands, but nothing I felt was interesting. So when Beastmilk got in touch, it was really a blessing. It was something different and fresh, rather than me joining some run of the mill heavy metal band. We went on tour with In Solitude immediately, and that tour will always have a special place in my heart.
I realized quickly that there were problems in the band, however. And I was put in a strange situation of joining this group with their pre-existing conditions. They were very pressured, since they were sort of on the brink of really, really blowing up, and as many bands do in that situation they started to make last minute changes, where maybe in hindsight they should have kept things as they were. They fired their original drummer, and they brought me in on second guitar. And they lost their momentum, too. By the time they brought me in the hype was already fading. And I think there were some conflicting ideas of how to push forward. In the midst of this, it was obvious that Johan was not very happy. Granted that most Finns are introverts by nature, he was keeping to himself a lot on the two tours we did together. I think he felt conflicted about me joining the band. I was very fond of him and it was weird for me to be in this position of not really knowing where I stood with him, and not wanting to step on anybody’s toes, but at the same time wanting to express myself freely as a band member. Mat and Johan finally had a big falling out, right sort of when they were about to sign this big deal with Sony. Very dramatic. I don’t know any more details about that, but it was clear that Mat wanted to continue and he asked me and Valtteri to go with him.
Now, to me Grave Pleasures was always a new band. It was not Beastmilk with a new name, or anything like that. It was a new band. To me it seemed a bit lame to try to piggyback on the success that Beastmilk had, and therefore also on the work of two people that wasn’t in the group anymore. I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to write in the same style, and that everything I would do would be compared to “Climax”, and I wasn’t interested in that. I had faith we could do something on our own instead. But this whole issue was a very grey area, and there was a lot of talk back and forth with the management and their expectations and the contingencies of the record deal and so on, so the lines ended up very blurred. In the end we brought Uno along, we got Juho Vanhanen in as a session guitarist, and we signed with Sony.
Why did it feel once again that you should leave?
There was a lot asked of us when we started Grave Pleasures, and we had a very intense time together as a band. Me and Uno were living in Berlin and we flew constantly, it was a never ending trip to and from the airport. We wrote and recorded “Dreamcrash” very quickly, and I’ve said it before, but it was a very rewarding and creative time. Something really clicked between all of us on that level. I can’t recall a single disagreement during this time – we had a very open and accepting policy of the material, a “anything goes” kind of stance, and it was really refreshing to write without thinking about genre or style specifically, but rather just let things come as they may.
But I think Mat specifically felt that the pressure was on him to follow up with something spectacular after “Climax”. And he was really pushing for us all to make this band our first priority, which we did. Then, when the album flopped, his interest dropped and he suddenly said that he didn’t want to tour anymore. I guess what he really meant was that he didn’t want to tour with this band anymore, since he still kept touring with Hexvessel. But that’s not what he said. I was dumbfounded. Why should we give up so quickly after all of this hard work? So what if the album didn’t do well? But he said he had made up his mind. That didn’t sit right with me. At the same time, some of us didn’t agree on the management that we had. So much energy was going into a pointless and outdated way of “marketing” music, and none of it worked very well. There were so many emails every day, about stupid administrative shit, and it really sucked the energy and fun out of everything.
In hindsight, we were all exhausted emotionally. Me from the split with The Oath, Mat from the split with Johan, and Uno was also very affected by the recent split from In Solitude – a band he had been in for 13 years. You can hear it in the album, after all we named it “Dreamcrash”. I am an “all or nothing” kind of person, and I knew I couldn’t sit around and wait for whenever Mat felt it was the right time to get going again. I also did not want the situation to escalate into a big conflict – it was really the last thing I wanted. So I stepped out, and Uno followed.
Looking back I think we were really a great live band there for a while, and I know that “Dreamcrash” wasn’t very understood by a lot of Beastmilk fans, but I really don’t care – I think there are some great songs on that album and live we really killed it. I really hope I get to play with Juho again sometime in the future, because that guy is a genuis and a pure joy to play with and be around – what a talent. What he’s doing with Oranssi Pazuzu right now is just incredible.
I guess the tour with Beastmilk and In Solitude and then Grave Pleasures is responsible for finding your next band mates in Uno Bruniusson (Procession, Death Alley, ex-In Solitude) and Gottfrid Åhman (No Future, Reveal, ex-In Solitude, Invidious, Repugnant). Is this Maggot Heart’s steady line up?
Uno and Gottfrid are old friends of mine from Sweden. I’ve known them for over a decade, and Gottfrid even played bass on a few shows with Sonic Ritual ages ago.
Maggot Heart is not a band, per se, and it was never meant to be. It is more of a solo project. I asked Uno and Gottfrid to help me out with some arrangements and with the recording, but I never expected them to play live with me since they are both so busy with many other bands and because Gottfrid lives in Sweden and so on. Right now I got Olivia Airey on bass and Neta Shimoni on second guitar and Uno plays the shows with us that he can, it’s on a show to show basis.
When did you feel it was time to move on and start your own band? How did Berlin and its culture or the streets’ vibe of the city affected you or how did it change you as a person and an artist?
I took the whole of 2015 off to write, focus on personal matters and all in all take a break from my “career” and instead be creative on my own terms. There was never a question of whether or not I should continue making music, because I’ve been writing songs since I was a child and I will keep on doing it until I die, but I definitely did not want to rush into anything yet again and, you know, make huge mistakes again.
Berlin has been a great inspiration to me, because there is a tangible sense of liberation here that is very infectious. It is changing rapidly of course, as am I, but I still have the sense of “anything could happen” when I go out at night. You meet a lot of very different people.
This is the first time you also sing as in the previous bands you were a guitarist. How (un)comfortable is it having a double role?
It took me a long time to get used to the idea of singing, it was really terrifying to me at first. I never wanted to front a band. Never! But the discomfort was also part of the reason I went ahead with it – I felt that I had to push myself to new limits, or else I would be left with a mediocre project. The challenge was important to me. And as it went along, it was surprising how quickly I got used to it, really. I’m enjoying it now, even though I think it’s very difficult. I like having the extra tool of expression at my disposal, with the guitar it’s like two hand grenades instead of just one. Also, there was no way I was gonna try working with another singer again – singers are crazy, everybody knows that!
Why did you pick Maggot Heart as the name, is there any story behind it?
Not really, I just think it sounds cool and fits the concept of the band – like an infested and infected heart.
How would you describe the music of Maggot Heart? Are you the only one responsible for the music in the band?
I write the songs, yes. Uno and Gottfrid helped me arrange the EP . They helped me bring the songs to life and did an amazing job. But the songs are mine and the lyrics are mine. I’ve heard a lot of different descriptions already, and that’s really great, I think – the fact that it’s not too easy to pinpoint. Many call it post punk, but I wouldn’t say that necessarily. I think it’s more rock n’ roll. But I am a big Killing Joke fan, so that tribal rhythm thing is definitely something I have a soft spot for. To me it’s just negative rock, a mix of all the aggressive music I like, from heavy metal to punk and post punk.
Which are the things that inspired you in writing lyrics and how important are the lyrics for Maggot Heart?
Lyrics are very important. These lyrics come from an honest place of either my own experience or what I pick up from people around me. It’s difficult to explain my own lyrics, so I’d rather have you read them and make your own interpretation.
Tell us more about the theme of every song track by track… Is it altogether a comment about the place of women on the 21st century societies and the dystopian urban way of life in modern civilization?
Sorry, I won’t hand an explanation to you!
I come from the metal scene, where the concept of “darkness” is constantly regurgitated, sometimes brilliantly, sometimes not so brilliantly. This is my version of “darkness” – the very real, very concrete abyssal darkness that you encounter in the streets at night, in the bathroom stalls, in the restless souls you meet in the bars, in your head in the morning, in your daily grind, in your disappointments, in your failed expectations, in your fear, in your insecurities, in the violence and hate you encounter – especially as a woman, in the rage that builds inside of you and so on. It’s a world of urban decadence, constantly on the verge of falling over the edge.
Who’s responsible for the artwork of the album and some advertising poster/flyers I saw on your facebook page?
Jan Utecht did the EP artwork. Tim from Teratology Sound & Vision did the flyer.
You’ve been a metal journalist for 10+ years, worked with big record labels and still you are responsible for Death Beat ‘zine and working with Maggot Heart on a grassroots basis. Do you think this whole DIY attitude is the antidote to the 1984-like tyranny of mass media nowadays?
I don’t know anything about rap, but a friend turned me on to some great rap and one thing that is really inspiring when it comes to that scene is that so many artists are completely independent. Even big ones. I’m no super veteran in the industry, but I’ve done enough and know myself enough to know that this is the time for me to do it on my own. I really don’t care about “success” on a grand scale, to me there is no bigger reward than total control over my own art. I have faith this music will find its way to the people who want to listen to it. Same with my zine, which is really just a hobby, but doing things myself means everything to me.
How do you see yourself in 10 years?
It’s all about this moment!!!
Tell us the near future plans for Maggot Heart.
Tonight I am going out for a drink. Later this year I am recording an album. Plan is to have it out spring next year.
The epilogue is yours…
Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. To the death!