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Grave Pleasures – interview met Aleksi Kiiskilä (guitars)

Aleksi Kiiskilä: “When we write the music, it is together with the lyrics sometimes. This album deals more with civilization, the rise and fall of civilizations, also fears becoming reality. It is very dark, but there is also some light.”
Grave Pleasures is een band uit Finland met vier Finse muzikanten en een Engelse zanger, namelijk Mat McNerney (Hexvessel, Me & That Man) die nu ook in Finland woont. Ze ontstonden uit de as van Beastmilk en hun dark wave en post punk muziek is de soundtrack voor deze onvoorspelbare tijden. ‘Dancing our way through the problems’ is hun motto, dat is duidelijk. Weldra brengen ze hun derde studioalbum ‘Plagueboys’ uit en wij hadden een leuk gesprek met gitarist Aleksi Kiiskilä over alles wat gebeurde na de release van ‘Motherblood’, het heden en de nabije toekomst.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 21 april 2023

Can you resume what happened after the release of ‘Motherblood’?
Well, we released that album in 2017, September I think and after that we did quite a lot of touring. We did tours with Ministry and actually with Killing Joke, but that was before the album release. Anyways, we did quite a lot of tours and all kinds of festivals and gigs. We started writing the new ‘Plagueboys’ album two or three years after ‘Motherblood’. Then there was corona virus and we couldn’t play gigs. I did some of my other stuff, for instance for Hexvessel, because we do things in cycles. It took quite a lot of time to make this album the way we wanted it to sound. We had quite a lot of demos already one or two years after ‘Motherblood’, but it took quite long. I think the result benefits from that and there was no reason to release an album when there was this corona thing. We did meet each other, but we could not play anywhere. Everything was difficult.

I think you personally have written more music than before for this album, isn’t it?
Yeah, for ‘Motherblood’ I did one or two songs and for this basically two or three songs. Also special on this album is that there are songs that Mat (McNemey – singer – VM) wrote. He wrote the music as well. So we have three song-writers on this album. Most of the time I did two songs or something, but this one is a bit different in that sense, that there’s three song-writers, but everybody was arranging it. Tweaking and all that kind of stuff. So it was not like somebody was writing songs only.

Is Mat, your English vocalist, now living in Finland or is he still residing in England?
We are all living in Finland, pretty close to each other. Actually me and Juho (Vanhanen – guitars – VM) are living in Tampere which is like two hours drive from Helsinki and then Mat is living Akaa which is in the middle of Helsinki and Tampere. Our drummer and bass player are from Helsinki. So this is the area where we spend our time. Sometimes we rehearse in Helsinki and other times in Tampere. Actually this album was recorded in both cities.

How did you get involved in the band and when was it?
It was like 2016. Linnea Olsson was playing guitar when Beastmilk broke up. They did one album with Linnea playing guitar and Uno Bruniusson was playing drums. Then they broke up. They were thinking whether they should continue or not and Juho (Vanhanen – Oranssi Pazuzu – VM) was actually already involved in the ‘Dreamcrash’ album. He was in the studio playing guitar and all that, he was a member of the band but more in the shadows. When they decided that they would continue as a band, they were looking for another guitar player. I just kind of jumped in there. We tried it and it worked out. It was pretty simple, it was like a destiny thing. Nothing special. I saw that they were looking for a guitar player and I said okay, let us try and see what happens. Now it has been seven years with this line-up which is really great.

What can you tell about the lyrics or is that not your domain at all?
Mat is always behind those lyrics, but we also think about the themes together. For example, for this album he wrote all the lyrics, but we are very consistent. When we write the music, it is together with the lyrics sometimes. This album deals more with civilization, the rise and fall of civilizations, also fears becoming reality. It is very dark, but there is also some light. If you listened to ‘Motherblood’, it was very dark in terms of lyrics, but this one has a bit more light I guess. The global situation has affected us a bit, so it is more close to reality. Dark matters.

Indeed, you in Finland are close to Russia. It is your neighbour let us say…
Yes it is. Also of course Mat has grown up in England. They had this cold war posted constantly on the news. So that affected him a lot and now it is not too far from that, but it is different. It’s the same kind of thematics in the news, they give these people a platform for threads about nuclear disasters and bombs and war, whatever… We have this contrast. We always had to live in this kind of world and try to find ways to survive it and to cope with all that fear and stuff like that. That is the contrast in our music. We have dark matters, but we dance our way through it.

What else can we do? We only have one life and we better make the best of it… but it is difficult when you are bombarded with bad news everyday…
We can do this. We have to do this. There are so many places in the world where you have to fight for survive or whatever… I think it is important to make the best out of it.

One of the songs drew my attention. What can you tell about ‘Lead Balloons’?
This one is something that is quite personal for Mat, because Mat wrote this song. I think it was one of the first songs he wrote for this album. I like it and it is quite special, because it is so atmospheric, maybe a different kind of atmosphere. It shows a different side of this whole band and it has some personal stuff as well from Mat. I think he would be the best person to explain more details, but there is something in that song that is from the era when he was living in England. It had a lot of lyric work on it and it is really interesting. This moment of lead balloons is almost like a salvation. It is finally over, time has stopped. It gives that kind of feeling to me, but of course for everybody it is a bit different.

It made me think of Germany and Berlin, the divided city after WWII…
There has to be something like that as well, because Mat sometimes gets inspired from books or history. You can find that kind of stuff in there. He would probably know. You should ask him about this. He can spend one hour talking about this.

Is there a lyric that really moved you and maybe you want to tell something about?
(thinks) I actually like ‘High On Annihilation’ a lot, because it has a bit humour, well, not humour but stuff that makes you laugh in it. “I am so tired that I cherish some skeletons”, these a bit more everyday things in a way, but not in a typical sense. There is no song that I don’t like, because we usually are pretty brutal if we don’t like something, then we just say it. We don’t hesitate to speak out freely what we think of it. Mat writes the lyrics mostly, but it is a skeleton, it needs further development. So it is fine for me to say that; or if I write a song, maybe Mat or Juho will say it is a bit boring. It is fine. Then we make it better. That is how we work.

What can you tell about ‘Society Of Spectres’?
That is a song about these spectres, it is – not like a conspiracy theory – but you know there are these people who have so much power and they have these followers, almost like a society. It is about these bad guys. The song is about them and their thoughts and what they may think. It is not this kind of ‘new world order’ song, it is not blaming them, just trying to get inside their heads.

Can you tell something about the artwork and the visual presentation of this album?
Yeah sure. The cover is made by Tekla Vály. She is a friend of ours, a very good photographer and photo artist in a distinctive style, but the idea was from Mat actually, let me say it is like a civilization in the make after everything was wiped away. Then you have this ‘Lord of the Flies’ kind of idea. You have these kids with no history. They have no rules, they are almost like a tribe. They are beginning something new and they are weird people. I think it is weird. The first time I saw it I had my doubts. I didn’t know if I liked it or not, but when I looked at it for maybe two or three times, I started to love it. It is a bit different, the colours are weird and everything is a bit strange. It fits the music perfectly.

So it is a kind of post apocalyptic thing…
Yeah sure, but the artwork itself isn’t. It is a new beginning of something. For videos we have David Fitt. He is the same guy who made ‘Joy Through Death’. He has been making the new one for ‘Heart Like A Slaughterhouse’ and the next one will also be his work. It is like a trilogy. We have ‘Society Of Spectres’, then ‘Heart Like A Slaughterhouse’ and then one more is coming. (‘High On Annihilation’ – tip Vera)

Did you stay in Finland to shoot them?
Actually not, they made them in France. Tekla Vály made ‘Society Of Spectres’ in Finland, she made it, but David Fitt is French. We just communicate remotely, because we trust them. They know what they are doing and they are really cool people. It is even the same cast.

When you tour, it is both with bands inside and outside the metal scene. Did you meet any of your heroes along the way until now? Are there bands you really hope to tour with?
Yes, of course, but we also like good combinations, like for me, playing with Killing Joke was of course playing with the same musical tribe, a similar genre, but also when we played with Converge and Crowbar, it was super interesting because when you go and watch a gig like this, you have so many different experiences. Heavy and slow and they are fast rocking thing, hardcore, whatever… I think all is good, doing gigs with bands inside your genre but also with cool people outside the genre.

Did you mostly tour in Finland or also abroad?
I am not sure what we are doing next, but before we mostly toured in Europe. We did some gigs in Finland, but I think we have much more stuff to do outside the country. Now everything is still a bit of a trouble, so I think we are going to play more in Finland as well. We hope to come to Europe, the UK and Germany, that is where we have quite a lot of audience and we like those people. We played in the Netherlands as well. I think we have played in Tilburg at least in Little Devil and then of course at Roadburn festival. I cannot remember clearly, but it is always fun. Good beer and food.

In Finland too, but I am not familiar with the fact if Finland has many breweries…
Quite a lot actually. In the 19th century it was maybe more than one hundred breweries, but most of them fell down. Now there are again quite a lot, mostly small micro breweries. You have a lot of those and they have these weird beers, all kinds of special beers. Quite interesting, but I think the best ones are the quite big ones in my opinion, those who have been around for a long time. Good quality. Basic stuff (laughs).

I think you round off the album with a very good song: ‘Tears On The Camera Lens’…
That is also Mat’s song. You can hear quite a lot of English post punk influences in this one I think, but also it has a quite peculiar arrangement, because it is not like a typical prog or punk song in terms of arrangements, because it is small in the beginning, but it grows constantly into a more emotional experience. I think we have more emotion in that song than in most of our stuff. It has that far cry in it, more tears…

More melancholy. That is also important for Finnish people…
(chuckles) We can’t escape.

What was – until now – the most far away place you have played with the band?
Actually I wasn’t in the band, but the band used to play in the US. Now, when I think about it, we have also played in Moscow, now it feels much more far away than New York. This was probably four or five years ago. We flew directly to Moscow and there was this guy at the airport. He had a white shirt with a bloody hand on it and he had a beer and he shouted: ‘Welcome to Russia!’ (laughs) He was the guy from an electric shop, because they had an electric problem in the venue. When you play guitar, it touches the microphone. It made like electric loops which we could not fix. There were all these crazy things happening. I think I was not so smart in the airport, because I said we are a rock band. They were not really happy about that, but everybody there in the audience and the organizers was great. It was one of the best gigs I remember. It is so sad actually now, when I think about it. They have tried so hard to build this contact and we also, Finland has quite a dark history, and we have been building trust for so long. I think right now that feels like the most far off place. I have been pretty far, I used to go to India many times, but I have to say Russia is now the most far away place. We would like to go to Asia and Australia. There are so many people over there who like this kind of music, for example in Japan and in Australia, but it is not that easy to just go there.

What are the dreams for the near future, if we still can hope for a future?
We would like to do some gigs and touring. Not too much, but so that it is nice and well-thought. We always think about new material, but we don’t want to be too fast and take our time, so I think that is something we learned after this album now. We focused on this album, on this release and when the time is right, we start to write something again. Right now I think the only thing we can do is to go out. There is one problem: you already need to plan one year ahead, it is crazy, these are unpredictable times, but we have to keep on dreaming.

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