The first solo album from Markus Laakso (released under the Kuolemanlaakso moniker) is going to be released in just over a week, with a special release show in Kuopio to coincide with it. We loved the album here at Soundscape (our review of it can be read here) so naturally were eager to learn more. See what happened when we chatted with him below!
You’re getting ready to release your first solo album. Where did the idea for it first come from, after releasing three “full band” pieces with Kuolemanlaakso?
We had some studio time booked from V. Santura’s Woodshed again for KL, but it wouldn’t have made sense to record a full band album, as we couldn’t have toured to support it, because Mikko is and will be busy with Swallow the Sun’s touring duties. Since the studio was already booked, I thought of a better idea than cancelling it and sitting on our asses for a year or so. I asked Svart Records if it would be possible for me to do “the KISS thing”, and release my own Kuolemanlaakso solo album. After all, Kuolemanlaakso started as my one-man solo project, and I’ve written most of the material. That way the fans wouldn’t have to wait as long for signs of life from us, and we’d have fun making this album.
Artistically my main point was to showcase some other musical styles that I’m into, besides the regular KL stuff. The album is quite varied, and it takes the listener atmospherically from one feeling to another. It’s not just black and shades of grey.
What was it like to go back to the “original” solo format of Kuolemanlaakso?
It wasn’t actually that different than writing stuff for the “motherband”. I wrote and demoed most of the stuff at Kuolemanlaakso’s rehearsal place, and I rehearsed the songs together with the KL drummer Tiera. We are the only two KL guys that live currently in Kuopio, where our headquarters is located, so our band rehearsals are often a two-dude deal.
Usva flew in straight to the studio as I had sent him all my demos beforehand. He’s an immensely talented bassist, and he actually came up with most of the parts while recording. The album wouldn’t be as good without his melodic and groovy playing. Our longtime producer V. Santura and I played the guitar parts about 50:50. No need to mention his talents here, heh…
The only thing that was really different were the vocals. I always record demo vocals for all my bands, but this time I knew very consciously that it would be my voice that would remain in the final product forever. Luckily it didn’t cause that much stress, but I’m quite self-critical about stuff, so it can be painful for me to listen to my own performance.
So it was pretty similar to recording a “full band” album then?
Yeah, pretty much so. In someways it was more stressful, but then again, it gave more freedom for me personally. For example, I could play exactly the parts that I wanted to on guitar, and have Victor do the rest. Tiera and Usva had complete artistic freedom to come up with their parts, as they do on the KL albums as well. Why limit them as they are super talented at what they do, and I’m not a bassist nor a drummer.
What part did you enjoy recording most – vocals, keys or guitar?
Well, I enjoy them all. They’ve got their cons and pros. I love playing rhythm guitar, meaning basically the riffs and some of the melodies, but I’m not too fond of the leads.
Whereas the guitar riffs and melodies can take enormous amounts of time to perfect, the key parts are more like in-the-heat-of-the-moment sort of stuff. Once I have them recorded, I literally never play them again – nor do I remember how they go. In that sense, they are the necessary evil. They are still fun and relatively easy for me to do. After all, piano was my first instrument as a kid.
The more I sing, the more I seem to like it. When I play music, I never count the rhythm like some musicians do. I just go with the flow and play the stuff by heart – or my musical memory. This aspect gets highlighted whilst doing vocals. I like the fact that I don’t have to sing the song all the way from start to finish, and I can have time just to chill and listen to the instrumental parts. As a guitarist, I pretty much have to play all the time and be fully focused on the instrument.
That’s a cool way of looking at it all. By the way, I really like your vocal style!
Thanks! My natural voice is actually quite high, but these songs demanded this sort of Peter Steele approach. It wouldn’t have made any sense to ruin them with power metal stuff. The verses of Roll the Dice with the Devil are the closest to the “real me”.
Speaking more on the subject of the music itself, on this album the lyrics are in English. Was that a decision you made early on, or did the language just fit better after the songs had already been written?
At first I tried to write lyrics to one of the songs in Finnish, but it just didn’t work at all. It didn’t sound right. So, I quickly switched to English, which was definitely the right way to go artistically. I always write the lyrics last. Another reason was that I wanted this album to be totally different than the regular KL albums. The band’s singing language will always be Finnish. If I do more solo stuff under KL’s moniker, it will be in English.
That’s cool. Even though the styles are different, the language definitely adds another more “obvious” difference. Is it easier writing in Finnish or English?
In English, definitely. Finnish is harder to make sound good and make sense on top of music.
Where do you take inspiration for the lyrics from? Did you draw from any different influences compared to the other albums?
The KL albums are quite influenced by old Finnish poetry, the Finnish nature, myths, art in various forms, the human psyche and my own experiences.
Most of the lyrics on this album are very personal, like My Last Words, Roll the Dice with the Devil and She Guides Me in My Dreams, but some are just plain textbook Goth nonsense, especially Where the River Runs Red. My Last Words is written for my children, Roll the Dice is inspired by the recording session of Chaosweaver‘s Enter the Realm of the Doppelgänger album and She Guides is about an actual dream that I had about a dead friend of mine. Children of the Night is influenced by late 1800s and early 1900s Gothic poetry.
I definitely got a different feeling/vibe from the lyrics in this album – the liner notes in the album will be an interesting read.
The liner notes actually guide the reader/listener deeper into the subjects of the lyrics. I’m very proud of the artbook version of the album. I haven’t seen the actual printed version yet, but it definitely has great substance to it. The artbook also has exclusive photographic art for each of the songs, shot by yours doomly.
I guess this is a little unrelated, but whilst the song was just mentioned, I have to say that Where The River Runs Red is a great song to cycle to because of the pace, haha.
In a way, Where the River is actually the most important track on the album, as it laid the way stylistically for many later compositions.
Was that one of the first tracks you wrote for the album, then?
Yes, it was literally the first. I wrote the music for it back in 2012 if I remember correctly. The lyrics were done in late 2015.
So you’ve been sitting on it for a while! Did it change much from the original version?
I had worked on the arrangement from time to time, but it stayed almost exactly the same compared to my first draft of it.
And finally, to close the interview, what’s in store for the rest of the year for you?
We’re going to play this special album release show in Kuopio with V. Santura on guitar, which you obviously know, but after that it’s all a mystery to me. We’ve gotten some offers to play more shows, but let’s see, what the future brings. Obviously we’ve got a lot of new songs demoed with KL, too, but we might lay low for a bit now.
On a personal level, I’ll start studying the Finnish language and literature next month, which will consume a lot of my time. I’ve also started writing a little something non-musical, so let’s see where that takes me…