By the end of 2012 I sent an interview to the Finnish Ensiferum, in a way as an excuse to ask them about their newest album “Unsung Heroes” and their visit to Latin America, and besides to ask them personally as a fan about their lineup changes, some items of their discography, etc., of one of the best Viking Metal bands Finland has ever released, the same one which would have never reached a safe place if it weren’t for the consciousness and leadership of their guitarist/vocalist Markus Toivonen. I was quite surprised when in February I got the interview back answered by their active bassist/vocalist Sami Hinkka, who perfectly knows how to offer a great show either in studio or on stage as well. I do suppose that the increasing and unstoppable popularity on the “sword bearers” (Latin translation for Ensiferum) is a cause of the mixture between powerful music and the revival of ancient times which awake on many of us the interest in past and violent times in which Vikings ruled the Old World… Let’s set sail in this drakkar with Sami!
Hi there Sami, quite a honour to be interviewing such a brave warrior like you! How has Ensiferum been?
Hi! It’s my pleasure to answer your questions. Ensiferum has been quite busy since “Unsung Heroes” was released and future holds more touring and we are already working with new songs.
How does it feel to share label with Wintersun, on which Jari Mäenpää (your previous vocalist) actually is. Is there any remaining resentment?
We are not in same label with Wintersun. To make it clear, we are all good friends with Wintersun guys and with all ex-members. Me and Mahi were even singing backing vocals on Wintersun’s Time 1 album.
I really appreciate, and I’m sure many people do, your active performance on the stage! We would like to know more about your beginnings as a musician! When was that all begun? What was that which led you to play bass and not other instruments which are more popular? Speak your mind freely my friend!
I have two big brothers who got me into heavier music when I was really young and one of them was already very talented guitar player and I wanted to jam with him. Steve Harris of Iron Maiden was my great idol so bass was an obvious choice. I got my first bass when I was 11 and even though I sold my first bass later I was able to buy it back, I don’t play it often but it has lots of sentimental value.
Which is the transcendence you find in the message you promote as a band? Do you believe it is important to give something meaningful to your listeners rather than a package of good riffs and melodies?
I think music (and art in general) has as many interpretations as there are listeners so there can’t be “just one truth”. Of course I have put lots of thoughts to lyrics of last albums and we twist and turn all melodies and riffs so that we are sure that we can stand behind every note but I don’t believe that artists should say how people should interpret their art.
You, as well as Janne Parviainen (Drums) and Petri Lindroos (Vocals/Guitar) themselves, entered the band in 2004 on a period of time when there was a bleak future for Ensiferum. Three members had quit the group and Markus Toivonen (Guitar/Vocals) was testing musicians to become full members… Were you surprised with this invitation? Which was the process of testing you in order to be welcomed in the Ensiferum’s family?
Changing members was necessary for the band’s future because at that time Ensiferum started to get more offers for tours so Markus needed a lineup that would be able to give 110% for the band. I met Markus when I was recording my old band’s Rapture’s album and Markus was still working in Spinefarm. We ended up drinking and noticed that we have lots of similar thoughts about music and life and few months later he called and asked me if I would be interested to play in Ensiferum. We settled an audition date, I practiced all songs and the next day Markus sent me a message that the place is mine if I’m still interested.
As a direct outcome of that regrouping the “Dragonheads” mini CD saw the light of day. It is indeed a brilliant deed to the Nordic Gods, featuring some songs that are currently classic ones. This is not a flattering comment at all! I think it is a crucial material in your career considering the situation Ensiferum was enduring… what is your opinion about it nowadays?
“Dragonheads EP” was good way to test how the new lineup worked in studio and of course there many things we could have done better on that EP but no point looking back. It reflects a certain period of the bands history.
2006 was the year which signalled the last change when it comes to line-up, with the integration of Emmi Silvennoinen (Keyboards/Backing vocals). How did she do back then? It should be hard for a woman to be on a big group like yours and even more to coexist with savage Vikings like you are!! ;-)
Emmi has been really awesome since the day one she joined the band. Of course she is much younger that we old geezers but she instantly became “one of the guys” and she honestly must have nerves of steel considering how many years she has already listened our stupid jokes. She is also the only one of us who has classical background and that brought some new perspective to new songs.
Many people comment that even though you are a band with a lot of years, your discography is a reduced one. If you had the chance, what would you say them?
Quality over quantity. In music and overall in life.
This year we received your latest full length, ‘Unsung Heroes’, you did a remarkable job with it!! I’m being honest when I tell you that just with the intro ‘Symbols’, I could foresee something majestic was to come. When and where have you started the writing process? It’s like a back to your roots in my view, but without neglecting the identity you had scaffold over the years, don’t you think so?
Thank you very much. It’s impossible to point exact date when we started working with songs of “Unsung Heroes” because we always have lots of raw idea that we work with. For us the most important thing composition wise is that the music sounds good to us, everything else is irrelevant. This time the album turned out to be like this and like I said we are already working with the next album’s songs and I can tell you that it will be again a step to a new direction.
Is there any concept behind the title of the album and its relation with lyrics?
Not really. All lyrics were inspired by real life and in a way or another they all tell about “a change” but again, I don’t want to explain them too much because I want each listener to find their own meaning for them.
During the recording process you were all the time uploading Studio Diaries videos, mesmerizing the attention of your fans and allowing them participate in guessing which cover you were going to include by giving some clues… who had this idea? Why do you think it is important to exhibit these things to your audience?
We had our friend Miska Engström working for us at that time. He filmed and edited those studio diaries and the DVD which was included on Limited Edition of “Unsung Heroes”. We didn’t plan any of the diaries ahead, the whole cover song guessing thing etc. just popped to our head while we were recording the album. I think it’s good that fans can see how bands work in studio and give them an insight on how much work it actually takes to make a proper album.
Finally, the cover was ‘Bamboleo’ of Julio Iglesias in a thorough version plenty of variations!! How did you do with Spanish? Was that cover chosen for some reason in particular?
We have had the idea of making a death metal cover of ‘Bamboleo’ for years and this time we finally decided to do it. It’s a great cover and I really hope we could play it live in future. The problem is that it’s recorded in D-tune and we play in E-tune and we are already having terrible overweight costs when we fly out of Finland and taking D-tune guitars and bass would cost simply too much.
A video was shot for the song ‘In My Sword I Trust’ which is absolutely killer! The ‘behind the scenes’ video clarifies many doubts I had about it, but others remain without answer yet. It is not a typical video clip as it is recorded using a technique that is not so usual, which one is it and why using it? How did you get in touch with Grupa13? Who decided the location?
Our management recommended Grupa13 to us and we sent them few emails about the song, lyrics and I had some visual ideas also for the video. The director liked the song and our ideas and even though we didn’t have large budget Grupa13 really made a great video. They found the location and actors etc. Big thank you to them one more time! I hope we can work with them also in the future.
We had received some rumours that the Finnish sword bearers will reach South America in 2013. Many people is awaiting your visit, hope to see you in Uruguay! Do you have some countries already confirmed so far? What are your expectations for that tour?
There are lots of plans to tour around the world this year but all confirmed gigs can be found on our official sites. We really hope we can finally come to South America since we have heard so much good from fellow bands who have toured there. Keep the pressure on local promoters/club owners and who knows, we might come to your town this year.
This is your time to mention Ensiferum’s future plans!! You had tried out several features along your career: clean voices, epic choruses, acoustic instruments, orchestrations… is there something missing you would like to add into your style?
We are always challenging ourselves as composers and as musicians so on the next album we want to push our boundaries even further into “epicness and craziness”.
Thank you so much for answering this interview! For me it is very important that a musician who I value a lot had taken the time to answer these questions with the goal of spreading the voice of Folk / Viking Metal. Greetings from your fans of America!
Thank you! It’s always a pleasure to answer a good interview. All the best and see you on the road! :)
Demo –97 – 1997
Demo II – 1999
Hero in a Dream Demo– 1999
Ensiferum – 2001
Iron – 2003
Dragonheads (EP) – 2005
Victory Songs – 2007
From Afar – 2009
Unsung Heroes – 2012