Wintersun Bassist Jukka Koskinen Breaks Down the Mystique Behind One of Metal’s Rising Stars
Wintersun have spent the last eight years as the world's favorite cult band – in waiting. The braintrust of one Jari Maenpaa, former frontman with folk metal faves Ensiferum, Wintersun's 2004 self-titled album plays like a master's class Finnish metallurgy. It's music forged of ambition, addled with technique and technicality that truly suits words like "grandiose" and "epic."
Had they then burst onto the scene like hellhounds on a bloody trail, Wintersun would have easily eclipsed the likes of Nightwish or Children of Bodom for Scandinavian metal supremacy. Sadly, they toured infrequently and took eight years to release their second album: Time I (think Helsinki Democracy). Yet, the world watched. And waited. And in 2012 were finally rewarded.
Noisecreep caught up with Wintersun, speaking with bassist Jukka Koskinen, on the final date of their U.S. tour with Swiss Paganists Eluveitie. The band (rounded out by drummer Kai Hahto and guitarist Teemu Mantysaari) was stunned at the reception they'd gotten from American audiences. The tour was marked by rabid reactions, sold-out venues and shows that had to be moved into larger rooms to meet the demand for Wintersun. Now, with work on the forthcoming Time II album nearing completion (the band opted to split up over 90 minutes of new material over the course of two albums) and a return to the States in the cards, Finland's Wintersun is finally beginning its long over-due rise.
Were you guys surprised at how well your first U.S. tour supporting Eluveitie did?
Yes, the tour has been amazing. Every show. Every city. We really didn't know what to expect. We were excited and happy to have the chance to come here but this is nothing like what we expected. We assumed some people were going to like us but we really didn't think that the shows are going to be so packed and people would be so into it. I know it sounds like a cliché but every show was amazing. Maybe LA and Montreal were the standouts but they were all amazing. Everything was at least an 8 out of 10. We couldn't have asked for a better first U.S. tour. When it comes to the North American audience, they were more energetic than in Europe, in my opinion.
When are you planning on coming back?
The plan at the moment now is that from January until May, Jari is going to put the last finishing touches on and mix Time II, which we'll hopefully going to be releasing late in 2013 or if not, very early 2014. From there, we'll tour Europe and North America again. We have to get back here as soon as possible. The record label (Nuclear Blast) is so positively shocked about how well it's worked. It's very up in the air whether we will headline or support a bigger band, we still don't know. One way or another we'll be back again soon.
Watch 'Time' Lyric Video
While this is your first U.S. tour in the history of the band, Wintersun hasn't toured much at all, right?
Right. We haven't done much touring at all. Two European tours in 2005 and 2006 and then a few shows in Finland. Aside from that, we toured Europe in October and this (U.S. tour) has been our fourth tour ever. Wintersun really hasn't toured much at all – but now, of course, we're much more active - which we plan on staying.
What do you think it is about Wintersun that has struck a chord with American fans?
It's great music. It also stands out from a lot of the music that's already out there. One thing that's helped us is not releasing our second album until now. Folk metal bands have been touring the States and Europe. In the past, we've been lumped in with other folk and pagan metal bands, which has a lot to do with Jari coming from Ensiferum, but Wintersun has a lot more to offer. There are a lot of other different sounds and different genres in our music than the whole pagan or folk thing. We also bring a lot more technicality to the music. The Wintersun sound is like a movie soundtrack but no one has taken to the level we have. We have a softer side, a very progressive side, and a very brutal side to what we do.
What can fans expect from Time II?
There will be more heavier songs and definitely more guitar solos! There's seven guitar solos on Time II instead of there being just one on Time I. There's also the most beautiful song I've ever heard Jari do on Time II. I think fans are going to be very happy with it.
When you took the entire Time album divided it into two records, how did you decide what songs went on which record?
The track order has always been the same. Our record label first brought up the idea When they first asked we were against it but when we started to think about we realized that it would give a lot more attention to the individual songs than letting it just be one 90 minute long album. Now that we're splitting it in half, it allows people to really listen to the record and really appreciate the hard work we've put into it. We knew that the fans' were going to be a bit sad when they heard we were putting Time out as two record: 'We've been waiting eight years and now they're splitting the album in two parts! C'mon!' But I think people have begun to understand why we've done it this way and they're OK with it.
Watch 'Winter Madness Kai Headcam' Video
Wintersun is largely perceived as Jari's solo project. Does the rest of the band play on the records these days or is it still just him?
We totally function as a band nowadays and everyone plays his parts in the studio. It's not like it used to be on the first album where Jari played all the instruments except for the drums. Back then it was Jari's solo project and even Kai was a session musician back then. It's a fully functioning band now.
After eight years of recording, re-recording and agonizing over it, how did it finally feel when the new record was finished?
[Laughs] Relieved. I think we all have to say that we felt relieved and that they heaviest burden was off of our shoulders. Of course, there's still a lot of work to do on Time II, but we're not starting from scratch as the songs are already recorded: just the mixing and the mastering. It's so great that the record is already out and we can be active again touring-wise and see that people haven't forgotten us. I think it has boosted everything. Even though it's taken us a number of years to get here, people have been waiting. They haven't forgotten us. People are so goddamn happy that it's out: they've been waiting for a long time – and we have as well.
Why did the record take so long?
A few things. One big thing, for example, was that Jari had to start from scratch when it comes to composing all the orchestration. It was something he's never done before: composing that many instruments for one song. We couldn't afford the computer farm. We needed several computers linked to one another to have enough power and RAM to do the things we needed to do. Of course it's about inspiration as well. It's a huge project. It might have been a problem on the mental side for Jari as well: losing and then re-finding inspiration. If inspiration's lost, who knows when it's going to come back? Both the technical stuff and the inspirational stuff took a lot of time but, of course, Wintersun isn't going to make any compromises after this long. If we were to do or release anything that we weren't happy about, what would be the point of doing any of this at all? Maybe it's not going to follow a normal two-year album cycle but we aren't a normal band either.
Why didn't Wintersun bring in a producer to help get the record done?
Well, we were thinking about it but Jari is a producer himself. I don't honestly know if it would have helped too much. Jari has a very clear vision for himself. Who knows? Maybe in the future.
What would you say Jari's vision is for Wintersun? How would you say he looks at music?
That's an interesting question. His vision is very personal and he knows exactly how he wants Wintersun to be. Its like Wintersun is living through Jari or you could say that he is living through Wintersun. Wintersun is still developing and whatever might come will come. Let's say that we know exactly what we want to do and the plans we have for the future we feel very confident in them as well. Like we always do. We've got a strong package here with the four guys in the band – especially Jari. If I were to compare him to someone it would be Devin Townsend. He does his thing and it's completely him.
Jari frequently mentions Devin as an influence as well as people like Steve Vai, Emperor and the Austrian black metal band, The Summoning. A lot of their music can be described as atmospheric which also can be said of Wintersun.
Those are very true. We're also very influenced by movies and soundtracks. Soundtracks like Gladiator. Japanese movies. Asian movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. You can hear a very strong, emotionally touching element of Japanese and Asian melody in Wintersun. I actually almost just bought Howard Shore's soundtrack to The Hobbit but I wanted to see the movie before I bought the soundtrack. We all love his stuff – certainly his Lord of the Rings soundtrack that is very, very inspiring and influential.
You're from Norther as well. Are they still a band?
No, we decided to disband. I was in the band the entire time it existed: all twelve years. Everybody had so many other things to do it was impossible to keep the band active. At the rate things were going, we were going to maybe be able to play one show a year and maybe make a record every few years. I'm now much more busy and dedicated to Wintersun.