Guest interview disclaimer: The interview was done by -Mayhem- with Tero Vaaja (bass) and Henri Pirkkalainen (drums) of Excalion.
Could you briefly introduce your new album High Time to those not familiar with it yet
Henri: Sure. High Time is the third and the most recent Excalion album. Some might say it's melodic metal, some might say it's hard rock as much as power metal but most importantly it's Metal that has lots of beautiful melodies, it's partly very heavy, partly very keyboard-driven, rhythmic and contains some prog elements and many fresh arrangements for a metal album. We recorded and mixed the album in the late 2009 and now we're extremely happy that it's out and available.
How do you create your songs nowadays and how has your way of composing changed over the years?
Henri: The basic songwriting has always been on Jappe's shoulders. He has been composing our songs from day one. The composing style has changed a lot during the years. I think I can on Jappe's behalf say that nowadays all starts with vocal melodies and mainly the choruses. I think this hasn't been the case always. Sometimes earlier we started building the songs according to some instrumental part that could be anything from intro to c-part. Some major changes happened before Waterlines when the songs were lots more focused on vocal melodies.
On High Time you can hear that the vocals sound better than ever on Excalion albums. One thing influencing this is of course Jarmo's voice that gets better year after another but I consider even bigger thing how Jappe learned to write melodies that fit Jarmo the best. I think this makes Excalion a lot stronger band than before.
Also the way we rehearse and arrange the songs had to change on the way. The right word could actually be "adapt" cause Vesa had to move to Helsinki and we can't rehearse with full band as before. We luckily found a great way to solve this. Normally when Jappe brings the song scratch to the rehearsals, he shows the chorus part and possibly some other things he has thought about to me and Tero. We start jamming on it and pretty soon we have the song built. At this stage we make a demo out of it and send to Vesa who looks in to the song first alone, thinking about possible guitar arrangements. Then we meet up as the whole group and go over the song, jam it and in quite many cases do some small changes that make the songs dynamite. Tero has nowadays taken the main responsibility in lyric writing. At the stage when Vesa comes to the rehearsals, Jarmo has already got the first version of the lyrics that he has been going through with Jappe together. 80% of High Time was composed and arranged this way and the next album will be done similarly as well. It works really great for us.
How much do the bandmembers spend time together and how do you get along these days?
Henri: We normally rehearse once a week, some times bit more often and sometimes a bit less. As Vesa nowadays lives a bit further we have to set up some band weekends every now and then to chill and hang out and of course to play as a band. I think we get along as good as ever. We visit each other just for fun and might not even talk about anything band related. I think that tells that we're still bunch of friends playing together and that's how I would want it to be like.
If you could choose anyone in the world as the producer of your next album Who would it be?
Henri: That's a really hard one. Earlier I would've said something like Sascha Paeth or some other top metal producer but I think for myself I would consider to pick someone who you wouldn't see as a metal producer normally. I think that could turn out to something really cool cause I think heavy albums sound a bit too similar sometimes. Of course it always depends on a person who's doing it and the thing I just mentioned could turn out to be really bad. But at least it would be worth of trying.
Your previous albums had a song with Finnish lyrics as a bonus track. Why did High Time not have one?
Henri: I think we never made so clear agreement within the band to include always a finnish sung song to our albums. Earlier it happened quite automatically without so much thinking. This time we just didn't feel like it at the time. But could be that next album also has a Finnish sung tune. Let's see.
How do you think Excalion has changed since Waterlines?
Tero: We kind of found a good sound of our own on Waterlines, and we have been trying to develop it further. So you could say that nowadays we know even better what we want to do.
What do the guys of Excalion do for living?
Tero: We have a couple of academic researchers, and the rest are professionals in IT and elsewhere. Everyone has a stable day job outside music nowadays.
Is the Studio Watercastle turning into an Excalion Tradition?
Tero: It certainly has been a good place for us. We do not have a full plan yet about how it is going to be with our fourth album, but Watercastle is familiar, convenient and a very good choice.
Does the fact that the songwriting was done in three years have animpact on the outcome?
Tero: Even as the songs are from a long stretch of time, they are not inconsistent with each other, so to speak. So I don't think it had any negative effect. We just had plenty of time to gather the best of ideas and improve the songs.
Waterlines was a lot quicker to make. Was it intended to take more time in creating the next one or was it just natural to take more time in the songwriting?
Tero: It was not planned to be like that. It just happened that the pause between Waterlines and High Time reached three years. But at least we were full of energy while recording High Time, because we had not been in studio for a while.
Is there any new video planned for High Time?
Henri: Yes. Do we have to say more now? Let's keep it still a bit mystic.
Which band Excalion would choose to tour with if it could be any band in the world?
Henri: Maybe some combo of some ultimate super bands like Iron Maiden, Helloween, Metallica etc. Again this is quite hard question. Really hard to say since there are so many bigger and smaller bands I could see ourselves playing with.
Tero: Helloween would indeed be great. They are just living legends and they are awesome live.
How different was your studio experience compared to previous albums and was it easier this time with more experience?
Henri: For most parts of the studio work experience and previous knowledge makes it a lot easier to work cause you don't have to stumble in the dark, so to say. I would still say that studio working is always extremely challenging because you can really easily grow blind to your music and sound while in studio (as we're producing the albums ourselves). At some points you easily just feel like keeping the arrangement and mix as it is even if you know that with a little bit of extra effort the song would sound much better. So keeping yourself all the time alert and aware how everything sounds can be really challenging when the days could be quite long and no big pauses in the recordings. Still I think I can speak for whole band that the actual
playing in the studio has become lots easier by the experience.
Which of the new songs have made it to become the favorites of Excalion band members?
Henri: I have many favourites in the album that change according to how the wind blows. heh. But seriously "Firewood" and "Lifetime" have been really strong for myself.
Tero: I love "Foreversong". That one hit the mark perfectly. I've also been fond of "From Somewhere to Anywhere" from the very start.
Where did you get the idea of writing song descriptions online before the release?
Henri: I think I suggested (could've been also someone else from the band) that as I saw some other bands doing this and some fans writing to us asking how the songs are like. Helloween and Muse had something like this for example in a finnish rock magazine. I was reading these magazines all the time in the studio and as a music fan I really like this idea when you can picture the song in your head before you even hear it. It lets your imagination flow nicely.
Are you happy with your co-operation with Limb Music?
Tero: We have no complaints. We are probably the kind of band they genuinely like and want to work with, and they are honest in their business. It has worked out well.
Are there any plans for re-releasing Primal Exhale or spreading it over the internet or is it even possible?
Tero: Re-release is possible. But that depends on many factors, money and so on, so it is better not to promise anything just yet.
Which things would you like to achieve during your career?
Tero: We actually never had the wild world's-biggest-rock-stars kind of ambitions, we started the band because it was great fun... Nowadays I think we want to write songs, make albums, and be successful in the way that we have the chance to make more albums even better albums and progress. As simple as that.
The hometown of Excalion Konnevesi is a small place. Are you the local Rockstars?
Tero: Heh, a great question... Maybe we're more like the local village idiots! No, seriously, back there most people know us because of the band, and we often get to talk about it.
Did you have high pressure of reaching the high quality of Waterlines with this new album?
Tero: Some, yes, coming from ourselves. It would have been nasty to realize that the new album is worse than the previous. But luckily we found out that we still get better and can learn more. High Time turned out great and we're proud of it.
What do you think the band could still improve on?
Tero: We have plenty of stuff to learn still, for example in studio work. And when it comes to developing your own style, there's no limit in how good you can get.
Henri: Totally agree to Tero's words.
Which Excalion song in your opinion holds the most successful lyrics?
Tero: Jappe's lyrics in "Soaking Ground" have a great atmosphere. Of High Time songs, I would say "From Somewhere to Anywhere" and "Firewood".
How important are the lyrics for Excalion in General?
Tero: That's a question I have sometimes given a lot of thought to. This kind of metal is not usually very lyrics-oriented. Excalion lyrics are usually written for complete melodies, I mean, the melodies are there first and the lyrics are made to match the demands of music. I nowadays think that relatively simple lyrics match our style best. One good idea, one hook per song, makes good lyrics for us.
Your best band Experience so far?
Tero: Lots of funny stuff has happened over the years... But maybe really the best was the whole time period just before Waterlines, when Vesa had recently joined the band and we felt that our thing was starting to work on a completely new level. That was great.
Henri: I personally loved that period really much cause everything started going very smoothly and we had still lots of time to rehearse together and make the band very strong. I could also point out some band parties beginning of this Millennium at Jappe's place. Setting up the band equipment to a living room and spending one at a time partying and playing. Or maybe the time when we didn't have a rehearsal space when Vesa entered the band. We had to train in a small cottage at my home where you could barely fit the drumset. Imagine putting the PA-stuff there, All guys standing really tightly next to each other without any possibility to move or sit and Jarmo singing from upstairs where there was only a bed and can't even fit standing. haha. Great memories!
Where did you get the name High Time?
Tero: Simply from the fact that there was such a long pause between Waterlines and the new album. The name also sounded good and catchy.
What will happen next?
Tero: Songwriting for the next album! Actually it has started to happen already.
Henri: Yes and the process has started very suddenly and very fast. New and very strong songs coming up at an impressive pace. I'm already waiting a lot to get the songs recorded and released. What will happen next is to also see what we can do to our quite a low gig selection.
Any last words?
Tero: Thanks for all the nice feedback we have received from our fans! And for all those who have not yet heard of Excalion, check out our new album High Time, it is great Finnish melodic metal and we love it, maybe you'll like it too!