INTERVIEW WITH SAMI LOPAKKA
Ten years after recording their first CD,
Americans are finally going to get a look at Sentenced, Finlands progressive
metal export, for the first time. Sentenced will be performing at March Metal Meltdown in
New Jersey supporting their latest Century Media release Crimson. In early February
I had the pleasure of speaking with band co-founder and guitarist Sami Lopakka.
TRANS - Looking forward to March Metal Meltdown?
Sami Yeah we are, its like the first time for us in the
States and we have got very much a positive response from over there. So in March
well actually see if its just bullshit or if they are really following us.
TRANS - You recorded Crimson at Tico-Tico instead of Woodhouse studios,
and you also changed engineers from Waldemar Sorychta, why?
Sami Nothing like a big reason, we just wanted to make things
different this time as we recorded Down and Frozen in Germany at The
Woodhouse Studio with the same people. Now we wanted to do it in our home country,
Finland, and do it with Finnish people. So we actually were in four different studios here
in Finland during the process. Finworks is probably the biggest and best studio, at least
for me here, where we mixed the new album, the whole recording session was almost like a
tour as we were changing the location all the time. It kept us kind of fresh all through
it. Any time we went to a new place it felt like starting all over from the beginning. We
had this co-producer with us, he was taking care of the technical end of the studio He was
taking care of all the technical side of the studio, all the world of sounds, so we could
totally concentrate on the music itself, and playing itself. So it was a very good
experience for us, and it is possible that we will work this way in the future as well.
TRANS Sentenced produced this album, what did you like about
producing; what would you change?
Sami Well I have to say, we didnt do the album alone. As I
said already mentioned, there was this co-producer with us, the whole session. Anyway
its a pretty demanding job. First you have to play, then you have to check out that
everything is the way that it should be. When things arent going right all the time
you loose your nerve sometimes, and you can only blame yourselves. So its pretty
tough from time to time. Its more interesting than to just play, to be also
producing it in the process.
TRANS Did you feel more involved in the whole process?
Sami Yeah we had to. We had to be involved anyway. Whenever we do
an album everyone has an opinion about everything, and its always like pretty
intense for each member. So in that way it wasnt anything new.
TRANS Youve been doing this for 10 years/7 albums now,
what have you learned?
Sami We are learning still. We have come along way from the
beginning of the nineties when we started as a death metal band. We have been changing
music-wise and I think we have been growing up as well, at least a bit. You learn more and
more from music with every album that you do. We have been sounding and doing things a
little bit different on every album so its always like an experiment to (record) a
new album, and try out new things. You learn all the time. Maybe we have learned
something, maybe not.
TRANS You said that the music teaches you something, or do you
mean that you learn more about music?
Sami Yeah, it works both ways. The music gives lots of
opportunities to express yourself and in that way we have really learned. Finnish people
arent very social people. So expressing things through music is pretty satisfying.
TRANS I would never have guessed. The last two Sentenced albums
are really sensual, very expressive
Sami Yeah I would say that when we dont talk much here
things kind of back up inside and then they just come out when you do something in art.
They come out very strongly.
TRANS How hard was it to come up with new material after Frozen,
it was seemingly a peak album. Was there any pressure to outdo it?
Sami No not really. After we toured for Frozen we took a
little break. After that when we started writing songs it came out pretty easily, and when
everybody writes songs we arent thinking about anyones expectations or
peoples reactions to what we have done previously or sales figures or anything. We
just concentrate totally on what we want to do next with our music and how we want to
present ourselves on the next album. We absolutely refuse to have any pressures from any
direction. I wouldnt say that it was very difficult. It took a lot of time. But
whenever we concentrated on writing those songs and rehearsing them and arranging them,
they came together pretty easily in the end.
TRANS Did most of the songs start with musical ideas, or with
Sami Yeah all of the songs, we always do the music first. Then
we listen to the music and write the lyrics directly from the feeling we get from the
music. Having this match between music and lyrics is very important for us and I would say
music and lyrics are like 50/50 for us. We want to have this relation between the two. We
want to like have the music make the lyrics stronger and vice versa.
TRANS From the beginning you have been working with lead
guitarist Miika Tenkula, and drummer, Vessa Ranta do you find that that limits your
creativity, or have you become comfortable, you know each other and write accordingly?
Sami I think we have kind of grown together. The more time we
have spent with each other and the music the more we know about each other and know what
to expect. We know each other as musicians and as well as people so there is really
nothing negative related to that it just makes things easier really. This experience
TRANS A lot of bands you see a lot of side projects. You
dont see that with Sentenced.
Sami No, at least not yet. This band takes so
much time already that it wouldnt be mentally very healthy to have some other bands
in addition. So we just concentrate on one thing, and do something else if we have time
TRANS You said one that, "The music is depressing to escape
from negative ideas" what did you mean?
Sami Writing the negative lyrics, and expressing depression or
despair or pessimistic thought through the music is kind of therapy for me at least to get
rid of those negative feelings at least for a while. You can never totally get rid of
them. When we are for example rehearsing for three hours and screaming out in the music
that we would like to kill ourselves, then we dont have to do it in real life.
Its kind of a catharsis or so. I would like to think that maybe sometimes the one
that is listening to our music can find kind of (a) relation in his or her own life, (to)
these negative things and have this same kind of cleansing reaction with it. That might
just be wishful thinking.
TRANS Did you always have a vision that Sentenceds music
would sound the way it does, or did you have something else in mind when you started ten
Sami Yeah, ten years ago we had a pretty different image in our
minds. We had a lot of different influences in our minds. Bands like DEATH or IRON MAIDEN
or METALLICA were kind of like our musical idols. But since the first album already we
have been constantly searching for ourselves and searching the music that we want to do
and we really didnt see the future very clearly we only saw the next album and what
we wanted to try for next. For example now I really dont know what the next album is
going to sound like. Always we just wait and see what comes out naturally and just do
TRANS Do you still perform live any of the earlier material,
prior to Amok?
Sami - Naturally we do stuff from Amok on. It kind of makes
sense. I think (that) with Amok we kind of found our style of melodic metal,
depressive lyrics or so. We have kind of been reborn inside the same style ever since with
every album. Doing earlier stuff would not make too much sense as it is so different from
what we are doing nowadays. So we play from Amok, Down, the Love and
Death EP, Frozen, and Crimson, we have a lot of material. We can play for two
hours if we like.
TRANS - Have you had a chance to play any of the Crimson
material live, and what has been the response?
Sami We have played a show on Christmas Day here in Oulu, we
have this kind of ten years anniversary show. We tried out three new songs, and the
response was very good. The songs worked very good live as well. We are looking forward to
playing all the songs live, and see what people think about them and how they really work
when we play it live. Always when we play it live its a different thing from the
album as we do things more straight and we pretty much concentrate on the intense
atmosphere and the straight communication or so with the crowd. So its more like
rock and roll when we play live, and on the album we can be atmospheric and try out new
TRANS It must be really pleasing to see the crowd reaction.
Sami Yes it is always, well not always. We have played shows
that were like someones funeral. When the crowd is totally into it and there is a
lot of people and they are very noisy it is always a great experience. Basically we
dont really like touring a lot, but we like this one hour of each day when we go on
stage and whenever the people really show what they think about us, especially when they
like us its a good experience.
TRANS After playing the songs from Down, Frozen, and the
EP, night after night, are they still powerful to you, do you still feel them?
Sami Yeah, I do at least. It (the music) always has more power
live because you are actually playing it yourself so it has the same feeling still. Maybe
when I now listen to Down the feeling is not so strong because I have heard it now
so many times already and I know it inside out. When we actually play it with actual
instruments the feeling is always there. We have played them at least 100 times by now.
Not counting rehearsals, mixing, and mastering. I dont even want to think about
TRANS Youve heard a lot about playing in the States, do
you have anything that you are not looking forward to, or any reservations?
Sami Not really. Im not expecting anything really. I am
just looking forward to see what happens and I have heard that there are not so many
people at metal shows, when a metal band plays over there. Even if there are two or three
people there who are totally into it. Its enough. Its a different thing, and
we totally understand that.
TRANS Just the one date?
Sami For now, but we are planning a tour or two tours this year
over there. The first chance is in May when MOONSPELL and AMORPHIS are playing, and the
alternative after the summer festivals when ICED EARTH are doing a tour. That is actually
more likely than the one in May. It is possible that we will do them both. At some point
we are coming over.
TRANS Any dates for Crimson in Europe?
Sami Yeah, mainly in Finland for now. Like during the spring.
Then if we do this thing with MOONSPELL and AMORPHIS in May we come back and play a lot of
festivals during the summer and also we are doing a full headlining European tour here.
Touring will definitely keep us busy and miserable.
TRANS - What can people look forward to seeing you play live that they
may not be expecting?
Sami We are more traditional in that way. We dont have any
explosives or go-go girls, or Vikings having a fight. We like to let the music speak for
itself. The show is always intense and we move quite a lot on stage but we dont have
any special kind of tricks or anything. I would hope that people would listen to the music
and not expect anything like explosives.
TRANS Why did you first pick up the guitar?
Sami Probably because I was so impressed about the aggressivity
of bands like SLAYER and METALLICA, it was like 87, I think when I first got my
first guitar. It was an acoustic guitar. I tried to like reach the same grab, or feeling,
but I really couldnt at that time. I think it was because of those two bands.
TRANS When you first started playing did you ever think that ten
15 years later this is where youd be?
Sami No, no never. We just, first when we started the band we
just wanted to like see if we could like play some other bands songs or maybe in the
future make our own song. When we actually started rehearsing we were so interested and
thrilled about it that we that time we rehearsed every day for several hours and then when
things started to happen we just went along with it. We never expected to be at this point
in the future.
TRANS What kind of cover songs did you guys start out playing?
Sami We played from The Leprosy album a couple of songs,
also some METALLICA songs, also some SLAYER stuff. I cant remember the songs
TRANS Is this what you thought it was going to be like 7-10
years later? Or is the reality different than what you expected?
Sami We didnt have any great expectations for the future
at that time. I always had a more romantic view of success or so. Now when it has happened
it really is nothing that big. It doesnt make life better or anything. It just
happened and thats it. Im glad that we can continue with the band and even get
money out of it. But its nothing
I expected more than it really was.
TRANS You said a more romantic view, like a rock star
Sami No not rock star, Im not up to it ever. I hate all
people who pretend to be or are rock stars. Its just basically equal to being an
TRANS Do you mean more of a romantic that you would have more
time to sit and write?
Sami Yeah, that we could totally sit and concentrate on the
music and that we wouldnt have to consider about doing other jobs or so. A more
romantic over the fact that music has become a big part of our lives and that we are
actually living from it now.
TRANS So you are just starting to not have to hold other jobs to
make ends meet, pay the bills?
Sami Yeah at the moment we dont have to have anything
else. The money flow has, for years it was like the money was flowing away from us. Now
its flowing back. If you work hard enough you will get to that point sooner or
TRANS What are you currently listening to, besides Crimson?
Sami Im not listening to Crimson, I have played it
for a month in the studio, so its enough for a while. Lately I have been listening
to mainly two albums. TYPE O NEGATIVE World Coming Down and ANATHEMAS Judgement.
Look for SENTENCED at March Metal Meltdown, and on tour this Spring