INTERVIEW WITH SAMI LOPAKKA

Ten years after recording their first CD, American’s are finally going to get a look at Sentenced, Finland’s 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, it’s like the first time for us in the States and we have got very much a positive response from over there. So in March we’ll actually see if it’s 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 didn’t do the album alone. As I said already mentioned, there was this co-producer with us, the whole session. Anyway it’s 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 aren’t going right all the time you loose your nerve sometimes, and you can only blame yourselves. So it’s pretty tough from time to time. It’s 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 it’s always like pretty intense for each member. So in that way it wasn’t anything new.

TRANS – You’ve 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 it’s 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 aren’t 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 don’t 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 aren’t thinking about anyone’s expectations or people’s 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 wouldn’t 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 lyrics?

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 together.

TRANS – A lot of bands you see a lot of side projects. You don’t see that with Sentenced.

Sami – No, at least not yet. This band takes so much time already that it wouldn’t 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 from it.

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 don’t have to do it in real life. It’s 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 Sentenced’s music would sound the way it does, or did you have something else in mind when you started ten years ago?

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 didn’t see the future very clearly we only saw the next album and what we wanted to try for next. For example now I really don’t know what the next album is going to sound like. Always we just wait and see what comes out naturally and just do that.

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 it’s 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 it’s more like rock and roll when we play live, and on the album we can be atmospheric and try out new things.

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 someone’s 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 don’t 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 it’s 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 don’t even want to think about that.

TRANS – You’ve 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. I’m 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. It’s enough. It’s 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 don’t 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 don’t 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 couldn’t 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 you’d 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 can’t remember the songs anymore.

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 didn’t 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 doesn’t make life better or anything. It just happened and that’s it. I’m glad that we can continue with the band and even get money out of it. But it’s nothing…I expected more than it really was.

TRANS – You said a more romantic view, like a rock star image…

Sami – No not rock star, I’m not up to it ever. I hate all people who pretend to be or are rock stars. It’s just basically equal to being an asshole.

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 wouldn’t 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 don’t have to have anything else. The money flow has, for years it was like the money was flowing away from us. Now it’s flowing back. If you work hard enough you will get to that point sooner or later.

TRANS – What are you currently listening to, besides Crimson?
Sami – I’m not listening to Crimson, I have played it for a month in the studio, so it’s enough for a while. Lately I have been listening to mainly two albums. TYPE O NEGATIVE World Coming Down and ANATHEMA’S Judgement.

Look for SENTENCED at March Metal Meltdown, and on tour this Spring and/or Fall.

Transcendence Magazine


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