For the Imperium - Interviews - Soundblab

For the Imperium

by Amy Putman Rating: Release Date:

For those who don't know For the Imperium, they are a frantic Finnish band who cross genres and mix styles with an ambition and energy rarely seen. Broadly in the metal genre, they have just released their second album, Hail The Monsters, and are currently touring with Breed 77. I met their guitarist, Ville Suorsa, at the Newcastle leg of their tour for a chat about the band, their music, geeks, poseurs and other pressing and important matters.

So your music is a real mix of styles. How did you decide to go down that route - was it to do with wanting to be original?

Yes, well hopefully when you are making music you always want to be original but I think back then we were all unhappy with our current bands and we just wanted to, you know, break the rules. We wanted to do something nobody else had done, at least in Finland.

Your music is all around genres, combining them and never sticking to one, but if someone held a gun to your head and said that from now on you had to stick rigidly to one genre, which would you choose?

Wow, well, er, ah... I'd probably just take the bullet.

You'd rather die? Wow. That's some commitment.

Yeah, yeah... Well of course, when it really comes to it I'm not going to do that but I'm going to say I would anyway.

So you're going to be brave?

Yeah well, I'm not a true metalhead. I wouldn't be happy playing straight-forward rock so if I had to pick just one genre I would go out there and say, "OK, I want to play 50s be-bop from now on".

Is that what you usually listen to?

I have listened to it but the point is that I would just pick something a long way out of my comfort zone. I wouldn't pick anything that we do right now. I like a challenge.

So what kind of music do you listen to? What is the last album you listened to?

I actually picked up an old iPod when we left for the UK so I've been listening to my old favourites. The last album I listened to in the car was Outkast - The Love Below, and on the way here from Yorkshire I listened to Ignite - Our Darkest Days.

What's the first album you ever bought?

That I ever bought? The first cassette I bought was Motorhead's greatest hits. Actually, at the same time I bought Thin Lizzy's Greatest Hits. I was six at the time. My Dad bought them for me but I was with him - I said, "I want those ones". The first CD that I bought was Deep Purple's In Rock.

This is your first tour of the UK. How do you like it? How's the crowd?

It's really good and what I like about the British crowd is that they really let you know when they like it and after the gigs they come over and talk to you - that doesn't happen in Finland. Also they buy records, which is really nice because in Finland if they buy something, which they rarely do, they buy t-shirts. They listen to the music from Spotify and YouTube, and that's OK - we get more money from t-shirts - but you know, we have to sell records to get to make new records. Here we have sold a lot of records, both this album and the debut. On the weekends, though, they are the same as the Finnish crowd - they get hammered and get crazy! We had a lot of fun last weekend.

How did you come up with the band name?

I think it was our singer who came up with the title but its meaning is that we're fighting for the whole empire.

What does that mean exactly? Who or what do you consider to be your empire?

Everybody who wants to jump along. Anyone who wants to join us for the ride. I don't want to think that only metalheads or rock people listen to our stuff. I welcome anybody who wants to listen to us - they become our empire and we fight for them.

Just to get serious for a minute, things are not so great in the world right now, and they haven't been for a while. We gave all the profits from the digital sales of the first single from our new album to charity. It's called Food Not Guns or something - basically promoting peace. It's little drops of water into a sea but we're trying to do something; to make something good.

That's really noble but how do you feel that philanthropic image sits with your proclaimed desire to mess shit up and leave us bleeding?

You can be an angry philanthropist. Everything's so messed up. I'm happy, you know, I don't want to suggest otherwise, but you can embrace the world and feel angry at the same time.

So is your name lifted from Roman times, then, because I had wondered if it was related to Warhammer 40k?

Haha, yeah! I actually only discovered Warhammer after we became a band.

Do people keep coming up to you and asking if you're a Warhammer fan?

Actually, you're the first one! I came across it when I... um... Googled my own band... I was looking for some review or something - I don't Google myself a lot! Anyway, there was all this Warhammer stuff.

I saw on some of your pictures when I was researching for this interview that you had tagged yourself as The Hulk and other superheroes so I guess I'm just trying to tease out whether you guys have a geeky side or not?

Yeah we probably do (pause)...We absolutely do. I watch a lot of Japanese anime and our singer finished Call of Duty on PS3 today because we had some spare time. He started yesterday and finished today in seven hours - he was so proud of himself! We love Arnold (Schwarzenegger) films and stuff like that as well.

Finnish metal is having a bit of a fashion moment in the UK right now, so have you noticed a difference in your fan base?

If they have been talking about Finnish metal, they haven't been talking about us. In Finland we are the outcasts of the Finnish metal scene. We've raised a few eyebrows with our music because Finnish metalheads are purists. They like you to stick to one genre and there are good bands that do that but that's not what we are. Especially when we started a lot of people were like, "What are you guys doing? Stop that!" so I don't know if you can talk about For the Imperium in the same sentence as other Finnish bands.

Ok, so you guys are rebels?!

Yeah, I'm not sure we were trying to be but we just don't fit into the Finnish metal genre.

How do you write your music - do you all pitch in and blend it as best you can, or is there one stronger voice?

Even before we start to write the song we have a vision of how it's going to be. I'm not sure the song ends up like that but we have a vision. Writing varies so much, I'm not sure I can tell you the exact process but there is a lot of collaboration, that's for sure. I don't think any of us could do a For the Imperium song alone. There have to be at least two of us. When I start to write a song I usually make it almost done but leave room for the others, then I'll pass it on and come back later. We almost never compose all four of us at the same time - that's just too much hassle; too many opinions at the same time.

There have been a lot of comments online about how hard your guitar parts are to play. Is that deliberate to show what you can do, or do you just like that sound?

Well, I was a total guitar geek when I was younger and for me back then music equalled guitar-playing. Now I just really love writing songs and making music and I don't consider guitars alone... But I've done the work on the guitar - I started when I was six, and by the age of ten I was already practicing for hours a day. I just wanted to. So the basis is there and now it is just an instrument for my self-expression. I can do tricks but I don't aspire to being a guitar hero.

So it's a medium for your self expression and exploration rather than an end to itself?

Yeah. If you think of guitar heroes from way back like Eddie Van Halen, who is one of my favourite guitarists, by the way, his stuff is still awesome and he managed to compose brilliant songs, but if you listen to his playing by today's standards, it's not technically difficult. Things have moved on. Guitarists like Misha Mansoor from Periphery are sick - he can play hoops around Eddie Van Halen. I like the difficult stuff but sound and timing rule and just making good songs are the important things for me now.

Do you get a bit of a kick out of it when you do it on stage, though, like, "Look what I can do"?

Yeah! Because other than it being a way to express myself in the songs, I couldn't be a performer without my guitar. It's part of me when I go on stage. I would feel so naked without it. Normally I'm very humble about music but when I get on stage I have the mindset that nobody else could do what I do. When I get on stage I want to be like, "Go ahead and just try this". Like, nobody is better than me. Everybody has to carve their own niche. It's not about who plays the fastest - it's about doing original things.

You said once that you are definitely not poseurs. How does that sit with the rest of the metal scene, because some kinds of metal are almost about posing and holding up your guitar and so on?

Have we really said that?

I'm afraid so.

Shit. And now you're going to see us live... (laughs). When I think of poseurs, I think of bands that have the surface but not the inside. They look good, and they look good in their promo pictures, and they play well but they don't have the passion or soul. Even if we may seem cocky on stage, we're not trying to. To be really good you have to be humble - when you start to believe you're the best in the world then you're not. That's how you know you're not - if you think you're the best.

Maybe it's ok to be a bit cocky? There's a distinction between posing and enjoying yourself.

Yeah, and because we live in a society with rules, I can't be like I am on-stage when I'm with my friends or in my school. People would just get fed up with me. So that's the posing we do on stage... But the thing we do on stage is also a kind of outlet for us. We get to go there and leave all our energy there.

With such a frenetic album, how do you keep the energy up?

Well, in terms of songwriting or making records, we don't feel like we're running out of ideas. We all have new ideas already, at least in our heads. I've recorded something in my house and so on. Of course, we can't always be fired up but, how can I put this? We all have a need to always be doing something as a band and we have a need to constantly move forward. Even if it's not rapid progress, we have to be having some improvement and I think that's where our fire comes from.

We want to play gigs in new places, and release our music in new places, and (have) new ideas for music videos, and have new challenges for the band. We want our music to get out there so badly. None of us feels we can take a vacation. Even if it's been four years and two albums, we have just started. That's where the energy comes from - we just need something to happen all the time.

You once said your music was the 'catchiest chaos ever' but this album seems a lot more together; seamlessly blended instead of chaotic. Do you feel like you're maturing as a band, or is the next album going to be completely different again?

We probably are going to throw something completely different out. I think the biggest disappointment about the third album would be that someone guesses what's coming next. Of course, we're just trying to make good songs but if we're maturing and changing and it seems like we're more together, I think it's just that time has gone by and we've been working together for longer. It's natural progress.

Of course, we have visions for what albums we want to make and what songs we want to write but there has to be room for surprises. There has to be room to move. If we decide to make a death metal album, it will probably end up being something totally different. I actually had a different vision for this album but I'm really glad that I was surprised when it came together. As I said earlier, it needs all four of us to have input so I was really pleased when I listened to the master version. Some things we wanted to be there were there, of course, but I still had moments of being like, "Oh wow, we went there!"

Hail the Monsters works together as a whole, instead of being an assemblage of tracks - was that intentional?

Maybe it is more of an album than the first one, but we certainly didn't set out to create a masterpiece album or anything. Of course, we want to make one someday but I think we're still not there. If there's ever going to be a For the Imperium magnum opus, it's still yet to come. Maybe it's the fifth album - who knows? As I said earlier though, it's just that time has passed and we're making natural progress working together.

So what's next? Do you have an idea or are you just going to get into the studio and play around with stuff?

Well, everyone has their own ideas but we've not thrown our ideas out to each other yet. I don't think they've heard any of my new stuff. I think now is the time to focus on this album and on the touring and stuff like that. I don't know... The third album... Seriously, it could be a more put together album, or it could be a total fucking curve-ball. It could be a jazz album.

Well, I'm very excited to find out.

Yeah, me too!

Finally, I wanted to ask you an important question: Who is your favourite superhero?

I'm not sure if he's a superhero but probably Silver Fang, the Japanese character.

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