Following our review of Kuolemanlaakso’s most excellent new album Tulijoutsen (see what we thought here), we caught up with the founder and main songwriter of the band, Markus Laakso, to find out a little more.
Could you introduce yourself and tell me a little about the band?
I’m Markus Laakso, the founder and main songwriter of Kuolemanlaakso. I play guitar and keys, the latter exclusively on records. I don’t like labels, but a lot of people seem to file us under death doom, although our music has influences from a far wider musical spectrum. The band started out as my solo project in the spring of 2010, but grew into a genuine outfit of misfits during 2010-2011. We’ve released two full-lengths and an EP so far.
You’re currently getting ready to release your album Tulijoutsen (which I can’t get enough of; it’s definitely my favourite release of 2014 so far!) – could you tell me about the writing and recording process of it?
Thanks a lot! I remember writing the first riffs and melodies for it at Woodshed Studio, Germany, during the recording of our debut in February 2012. The first album was pretty much entirely written by me, but this time other members provided material, too – namely Usva (bass) and Kouta (guitar).
We did some touring after the debut was released, and grew closer together musically as a unit as the result of it. So, this album is certainly more of a band effort than the first one. We recorded the album at a secluded location in the middle of the Finnish woods, next to epic lake scenery. We flew in our producer V. Santura (Triptykon, Dark Fortress) and his studio equipment from Germany, and it was a super mellow and relaxed session. The album turned out to kick more ass than we had even dreamed of.
Were there any tracks that were more of a challenge to complete than others?
We recorded Tulijoutsen and Musta aurinko nousee EP, which came out last November, at the same session. The title track of the latter was by far the hardest tune to execute on tape. It is a cover song from a band called Juice Leskinen Grand Slam, a Finnish pop-rock classic from the 1980s. The original sounds nothing like our band, so it was a challenge to vend it through the Kuolemanlaakso doom grinder, but eventually our version turned out really good.
My personal favourite is Aarnivalkea – the vocals for that track in particular are mindblowing. Could you tell me a little more about that track?
If I remember correctly, it was the first song I wrote and demoed for the album. The intro and chorus melody used to be completely different. I noticed that it resembled another melody on the album too much, and brought it up to Santura, our producer. We decided to change it, and I came up with the riff, that we ended up using in a really short amount of time – like 10 minutes or so.
That particular track showcases our current sound quite well, as it has some melancholic melodies and harmonies, beautiful keyboard parts, clean singing, growling, spoken parts, extreme string-bending, faster passages and a fucked up structure. The lyrics are more or less based on a phenomenon called will-o’-the’wisp, the ghost lights on a lake. The English translations of the lyrics can be found in the booklet of the CD and the gatefold of the LP.
Which track is your favourite or the one you’re most proud of?
I’m most proud of Tuonen tähtivyö. It’s probably the best song that I’ve ever written. I’m also very fond of Glastonburyn lehto, our little Twin Peaks tribute. When it comes down to writing music, it’s all about creating an atmosphere and trying to nail it on tape. A sonic vision, if you will.
Are there any interesting stories from the studio?
We went fishing a lot, and plucked mushrooms and berries, so every night was a gourmet night. All of us are above average chefs, some of us even professionals. Compared to the previous session, our alcohol consumption was surprisingly small – until Kotamäki, our singer, showed up…
There were bats circling around the wharf at night, and the owl, whose hoot you can hear at the beginning of Glastonburyn lehto, was recorded live at the recording cabin. It really was a back to the nature sort of a trip.
I adore the artwork for Tulijoutsen – could you tell me a little more about it? Who created it and did you go to the artist with a vision in mind or did you let them have free reigns?
Maahy Abdul Muhsin (maahyart.com), a 19-year-old prodigy from the Maldives painted it. I gave him some guidelines and instructions on what I wanted to have on the front cover, and he executed it beyond perfection. That guy never seizes to amaze me.
Tulijoutsen means “the fire swan”. The lyrics deal with fire and water, the opposing elements, and the fire swan combines them both. Every track on the album is either a “fire song” or a “water song”, except Aarnivalkea, which is both. The opposite elements are also present musically, as you can hear from the crushing doom and beautiful melodies, demon growling and fragile clean vocals and so on.
You’ve got a few shows lined up for March – how would you describe your shows to someone who hasn’t seen you live yet?
A panzerfaust of doom.
What are you most looking forward to about the shows?
I’m just really happy to have a chance to go out and play the new shit to an audience for the first time. The new tunes sound killer on the album and the rehearsal room, so I’m confident that people will go nuts for them live as well. I also look forward to all the free beer. Hey, I’m Finnish!
If you could play a show anywhere, where would you choose?
If you could collaborate or work with any musician or artist, who would you choose?
Angelo Badalamenti, without a doubt. He’s my musical hero. The soundtrack to Twin Peaks season 1 is the best album ever made.
And finally – if Kuolemanlaakso could put their name to a product, what would it be?
I’d love to have a DVD/Blu-Ray out some day, but Kuolemanlaakso superhero tights would be cool, too, for all you caped crusaders out there.
Tulijoutsen is out now. Buy your copy from here.