Before The Dawn – interview met Tuomas Saukkonen (drums, rhythm guitars in studio)
Tuomas Saukkonen: “Paavo’s growls are amazing, so him doing also the growling, make me so much happier as a song-writer, because to me the song sounds better when he does the part that I would have done and it has been awesome when we were starting doing shows and hearing him doing my parts on the older songs. How fresh it sounds to my ears!”
Wie had dit ooit gedacht toen Tuomas Saukkonen in januari 2013 resoluut aankondigde dat hij vanaf nu alle creatieve ideeën zou gebruiken onder de noemer Wolfheart? Maar zoals dikwijls in het leven, zijn we onderhevig aan (voorbestemde) toevallen. Het levert een mooi verhaal op over de tweede jeugd van Before The Dawn als we een uitgebreid en hartelijk gesprek hebben met bezieler Tuomas Saukkonen die de drumstokjes weer opgenomen heeft en na de pandemie een drukke zomer tegemoet gaat.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 4 augustus 2023
Hi Tuomas, how are you doing?
I am really good. It is super busy, but all in a good way. Finally playing festivals and tours, so that is really good.
Indeed, I saw that you played at two festivals in Finland and that there was more activity. But let us start at the beginning. Early 2013 I remember you disbanded all your bands and projects to focus on Wolfheart. We are ten years later now and of course, creative challenges change. So please tell me about the trigger to reactivate Before The Dawn…
It was all like a big accident. We were never planning to do a comeback. We just did some special festival shows during the past ten years and then we did a vinyl version of the ‘Deadlight’ album with one new song, but we were never even talking about the possibility of doing a comeback, until we saw Paavo in ‘The Voice of Finland’ doing a Before The Dawn song on National TV. That started the whole kind of snowball effect that led to the comeback and even then there was no real talk about a comeback and I was actually talking with Paavo during the competition that we could do some music together and I offered him a song that – in my opinion – would fit well for his solo career or something. We went to the studio, we recorded the song and once it was mixed, then I realized that it was actually sounding like Before The Dawn right now, like they should sound right now and that is how the whole comeback started.
That is remarkable, because it came from an unexpected direction…
Yes. Juho is nowadays a full member of Swallow The Sun, I am super busy with Wolfheart, so it even did not made sense schedule-wise (chuckles). It took some time before we realized ‘okay, it seems like we are back together and writing new music, so I think it was super cool. There was no planning, no decisions made, it is just decided on its own, it just happened.
What are your memories when you met the new singer Paavo for the first time?
Oh it was kind of weird, because I am an old school person. Friends I have now, I met the first time face to face somewhere, but with Paavo, we started talking on line first and then phone calls. So it took like many weeks before we were in the same room together when we recorded a song. You kind of know the person but you have never been in the same room and to me, it quite of matters a lot what is the energy. Like with rehearsals, you can easily know when you are together in the same room: does your energy fit well with the other person? Everyone has a different omen persona. People are different when they are chatting or what they post on Instagram or Facebook, but in a face to face situation you can really feel also the energy of a person. So I was kind of a bit nervous. You never know, what if you don’t get along at all? What if your energy doesn’t match? But he was super smooth and nice. We got along super well from the first second.
Yes, he seems a very friendly person to me and a good singer, because he does the grunts and the clean chants…
Yes, because he does the growling better than I did and sometimes you have to change things. From my perspective, I don’t think I could offer anything new or better with my vocals for Before The Dawn. In my ears, Paavo’s growls are amazing, so him doing also the growling, make me so much happier as a song-writer, because to me the song sounds better when he does the part that I would have done and it has been awesome when we were starting doing shows and hearing him doing my parts on the older songs. How fresh it sounds to my ears! Before I never got to hear the growling live, because I did it myself. Now I can also enjoy the songs when we play them live.
Indeed, because you returned to the drum kit. Was that a big change mentally for you?
Actually I think to me it was the smallest change. I play drums on many Before The Dawn albums, all Dawn Of Solace albums, Black Sun Aeon albums, even on the first Wolfheart album. So on most of the albums that I have written, I played the drums also myself, so doing the drums for the album was to me an obvious choice anyways and I think the biggest change is for the audience, because they don’t see me in the front anymore. They don’t hear my voice… but to me it is a super happy change, because there are so many songs on the older Before The Dawn albums that I always wanted to play the drums live, but there was no chance because I was the front man, so it never worked out. To me it is super easy and natural, I think for the fans they are going to have a harder time.
How did you incorporate Juho and bass player Pyry again? When did that happen?
It happened during one car ride. I was driving home from the studio where I was doing the final mix from the first song with Paavo. Then I realized ‘wow, this sounds like Before The Dawn’ and Juho and Pyry were the first persons I called. I sent the song quickly to their e-mails and said: ‘listen to the song that I sent, I had this idea, do I sound like a crazy person?’ and before I got home, both checked the song and replied like they are in. They liked the idea, so they were on board from the first second. I don’t think I could have gone through the whole comeback without Pyry and Juho, because us three were the last line-up in 2013 and we did the last album ‘Rise Of The Phoenix’ in 2012, so to me it was very important that this was the line-up that continues. We have a member change on the vocals, but without Pyry and Juho, there would be no comeback.
Indeed every band has to have its own identity and now people will see that Before The Dawn is a different band from Wolfheart…
Yes and that is also one of the reasons that I would never have planned a comeback with me as a front man of Before The Dawn, because that would make Wolfheart and Before The Dawn look almost identical. It would be bad for both of the bands, so having Paavo as a front man and me in the back, I think it serves better image-wise, also for both bands, like separating them even more.
Who wrote the lyrics now?
I wrote the lyrics, when I had recorded all the songs in demo versions, I sent them to Paavo and he sent me back his vocal ideas and rhythmic ideas and arrangements, and we started working on the vocals from there. Every first idea came from Paavo. I thought it was very important also for the album and the sound that Paavo had contributed to his vocals. I wrote the lyrics based on the vocal demos we did. It was a different feeling writing the lyrics also, because this time I wasn’t the one singing them. Sometimes as a vocalist you don’t feel comfortable saying certain things, because you have to sing them, but now it wasn’t me, so I could do it more freely.
What were you inspired by as themes in general?
It deals with forces of nature kind of topics. With this album I was going through a lot of what the pandemic caused and then also with the Ukrainian and Russia conflict. In most of the songs, the angle is towards how small we actually feel when there is an outside force that we don’t have any control over. Is it a war or is it a force of nature or whatever, it is about how small human beings are when facing greater powers.
That’s nice, although also a bit scary of course…
(laughs) It was. I think the pandemic came as a lesson to many people, not to take ordinary things for granted, because a lot of things can happen that changed the whole Europe suddenly.
What about energy in Finland? Are the prices still very high?
They are not that high as they were last winter. The whole Europe and also Scandinavia is prepared now. We went for the shortage of gas, now we are importing the liquid version and we have these special terminals in the harbours. So I don’t think it is going to be that difficult as last winter was, because heating a regular home plus minus 20° might cost 3.000 euros per month. And you have to heat it, because if not, your water pipes will explode. It was very complicated, but I think next winter is going to be better, because now all the countries have been prepared. We manage at the moment quite okay.
I don’t know yet. I had a social tariff, but this month it ends. It ends for everybody. Now I am going to have normal prices again, but now they changed my contract without warning me in a variable one… I am not happy with that…
Electric companies in Finland do the same. If you had a contract for many years with a solid price, they cancelled the contract from their side. They send a new one with a new price and what can you do? If you say no, then you don’t have electricity at all. They steal from people with the crisis on the background, of course you need to have the electricity, so I think maybe there’s going to be some court cases in Finland, because it seems like it isn’t wholly legal. You cannot raise the prices that quickly that high.
It looks like you are better prepared for the switch than Belgium…
Yes, the Finnish government took it very seriously when they saw what was happening. We have a very complicated history with Russia.
Indeed, remember our conversations about the winter war when ‘Wolves Of Karelia’ came out from Wolfheart…
I think we are now completely independent, at least power-wise from Russia. Ukraine has shown that you can’t really trust the leaders. I don’t know any Finnish person who has anything against a Russian person. There is no hate between the people, but the leaders are a different thing. We don’t trust them and our government is now well prepared.
Now let us look back on the first gigs you did after the pandemic. How did it feel to be on stage with Before The Dawn again?
It was amazing and very scary at the same time. It was amazing once the first gig started, but I was very nervous before the show. It was a long time since we did former gigs. Of course we did special shows on festivals, but the first show was 25 minutes. We never played that long ever to begin with and now we have a new line-up. We were not able to practice together more than three times, because Paavo lives up in the north and me and Juho had a lot of touring schedules at that time with our bands, and it was the first time I played drums at that big show and we knew already that there were fans coming from North America and at least ten countries in Europe. The fans were expecting something special, not just a regular gig, but us coming back from eleven years of silence. The bar was set really high and I was really nervous for my drumming for the first show, because all the drummers before me in Before The Dawn have been just amazing. So it was very nerve-wrecking, but once the gig started, that became one of the best gigs I have ever done. It was the first time we ever used a new backing track system, the first time I was running that kind of new software. We had that big camera crew, we had a big light production and everything, so there was only one solution: it HAD to go well. And of course, if you look at it that way, you get even more nervous, because I used to work as a stage manager over ten years, so I have seen all the ways you can fuck up a gig (chuckles). I have seen all the mistakes you can do on stage, I have seen all the technical problems you can have and I had that list in my brain all the time, all the things that could actually go wrong that we can’t even have anything to say and then of course: our paying needs to go well. We need to perform the way that the audience is expecting. I am super happy that everything went as well as it ever could have been.
Are you still a gardener?
Not this summer. It is too busy. I have over twenty festivals for both bands, loads of them are outside Finland, so there are lots of travelling days and there is a lot of promo and video work for Before The Dawn in June and in July still. Actually today we start recording something new for Wolfheart also. The weeks are pretty busy and all the weekends are fully booked, so it is not a good idea to do a regular job on top of that. I am getting older, I need more sleep, I want to relax a little bit more, so I want to focus on Before The Dawn and Wolfheart.
I can understand. Being a gardener can free your mind, being in nature, but you probably have to be there at a certain time and it is a responsibility…
It is a very stress-free job, but I do need to do the hours, so when I lose 40 hours per week, the music side becomes super complicated. Even though the work as a gardener does not bring stress, the schedules will do the same. I am sure, if I want to go back to gardening, I always will find a job. I did it for 27 years, there is not going to be a machine that’s going to replace my work. You always need human beings to plant the trees and there will be a job for me when I need it in the future.
‘Final Storm’ was a single in 2021. Was that a separate song you released?
Yes, that was like a special bonus song and surprise for everyone who bought the ‘Deadlight’ vinyl version. When we decided to do the vinyl version, it did not feel right that we were just going to print the same songs again that everybody already had on CD. It felt like we were just making money with the same package in a different format, so we decided to write one new song as a gift for the fans, but at that point we were not thinking about any kind of comeback. It was just one song to be part of the vinyl version.
I see, because you were still singing there…
Of course, because at that point, we did not know anything about the comeback that we did now. Now looking back, I can say that it was very confusing for the fans, because there saw a new song coming out, a new video coming out with me and Lars doing vocals. That might very easily have looked like a base to come back. And then the next song is with a different singer, so we created a bit of wrong impression accidentally in 2021, but like I said, the whole comeback did happen and nothing was planned.
And Lars, your previous long time buddy on vocals, agreed with that?
Yes. Lars officially retired from professional music stuff already when we parted ways in 2010. He did agree to do a few festival shows, but that was only one gig in one summer that he has been able to do. Of course we asked him also about the new Before The Dawn idea. We did not want to step on anybody’s soul. We did not want to do a comeback or take decisions that upset anybody that used to be part of the band. Lars was okay with it and he even supported the whole idea.
What can you tell about the video clips for ‘Destroyer’, ‘Chains’ and ‘The Dark’?
Well, the first video was actually shot in the same venue where we played the first show. It was at the Sibeliustalo Hall in Lahti. It felt as the best place, because that was also the venue where we played the last show in 2013. And it is the same venue where we played now the comeback show. The venue plays a big part in the history and the future of Before The Dawn, so we wanted to complete the circle so to speak and underling the comeback at the same venue that we ended the band back in the days. The whole footage for ‘The Dark’ is taken from the actual gig where we performed the song. We also wanted to make that venue and the event being part of a kind of visual history of the band. Now everybody who goes and sees the video, sees the same venue where we were buried and reborn then. And it is nice to do these kinds of things. It is a nice story that I like to remember, like ten years from here. Nice story. Ten years apart. Same venue. A little bit different guys. The other one was sad and this was one of the happiest gigs. Nice contrast also in the history of the band.
So you have a real bond with the venue…
Yes and it was the same promoter as the one who booked the shows back in the days and he has always been very supportive. He heard the rumours that we might be coming back and he emailed me straight away: ‘if you are going to do a first gig, you have to do it in my venue. This has to happen. Don’t go anywhere else.’ That also kind of happened on its own. We didn’t email the venue ourselves, there was no agency making it happen, the venue wanted to do that for us.
That is so nice! Not only business but friendship…
Yes, because now being part of the music business for twenty years, you start to appreciate the people more. Music business is like any kind of business, it is there first of all to make money. If labels or agencies don’t make money, they go out of business, so that it what they do and what they should do, but to me matters first of all the people with who we do the things we do and what the mood is and not so much the numbers or excel sheets.
What are the plans for the near future and for touring?
We still have few festivals left for the summer in Finland. Then we will do a club tour in Finland in September and November with both Before The Dawn and Wolfheart. In November we are going to tour in Europe together. We are basically full booked until December now and we are already booking shows for the next year. It looks like a very busy comeback (laughs).
To occlude one small question about Wolfheart. So the new material for Wolfheart is already written?
Well, Something is written and something will be recorded. I cannot tell anything more now, but there will be something coming out this year. New music, that is all I can say.
Thank you. I am going to wish you a very fine further day!
Thank you and I hope the same for you and I am heading now to the studio for the Wolfheart recordings.
I will be with you in mind
(laughs) nice talking bye bye