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James Lascelles: “It’s alarming how since Brexit has been in the foreground of British media, these changes to public privacy have been forgotten about by many people, particularly the press.”

De Engelsman James Lascelles trok naar Finland en vormde daar de band Wheel met Finse muzikanten. Na twee EP’s is onlangs het prachtige debuutalbum ’Moving Backwards’ verschenen dat we warm kunnen aanbevelen aan elke liefhebber van progressieve metal met alternatieve rock. Denk aan Tool en Soen wanneer we een hint kunnen geven naar de muziek. Drummer Santeri Saksala en zanger/gitarist James Lascelles wisten we te strikken voor een diepgaand gesprek.

Door: Vera – 24 april 2019

Congratulations with your amazing debut album ‘Moving Backwards’! We like to relish this excellent release with more details about the band. How are you doing at the moment?
Santeri: Hi, yeah, great! We are really happy to finally have the album out and we are excited to start playing the new songs live. Yesterday we had our first gig after the release in Helsinki and it was really fun to get started with that and see the first reactions from a live audience.

The foundation of Wheel has a lovely story, since it was the Englishman James Lascelles who came to Finland in order to realize his musical ideas. Please tell us how you all met James and how the idea came into being to try things out together as a band?
Santeri: James had been working as a hired musician in Finland for a few years before he met Saku Mattila, our previous guitarist. They met in some TV-shoot and when the day was done they had a pint of beer and started talking about music. James had an idea of a band and a couple of demos and they decided to try and form a band together. Saku knew our bassist Mikko and myself from years back and contacted us. We had a meeting and then the first rehearsal and that’s how it started.

What did you decide in those early days concerning the musical style or blend of styles you would choose?
Santeri: The starting point was James’s home demos of songs he had written already, many years earlier. We arranged the songs a little to fit our personal playing styles and made some structural changes but kept most of the stylistic line. We recorded our first demo just three months after the first rehearsal and the result was pretty good; the demo was later remixed and released as ‘The Path’ EP. So there was a lot of James’s vision in the beginning but after the first recording we started writing more collaboratively and also the sound of the band has been developed by all four of us.

The first results that were eternalized on EP happened to be ‘The Path’ and ‘The Divide’. What can you tell about their creation and the reception of press and music fans? Was it the same style as the debut now is?
Santeri: As mentioned above, the songs on the first EP were James’s old songs and we recorded them not long after the band started. We started writing the songs for ‘The Divide’ EP as a group for the first time, so it was quite a different process. Some of the parts began when jamming together in our rehearsal space and some parts were written and arranged individually. On that EP is also the only acoustic track we’ve done so far, ‘It’s Over Now’, which was first arranged as a band and then finalized while recording it in the studio, with the strings and all. Comparing the EP’s to the album, I think we have become better in all sectors, from writing to sound design. We also had a change in the lineup just before we started working on the album when Saku decided to leave the band and we got the great Roni Seppänen to replace him. Roni has brought his own spices to the soup and obviously his style of playing has largely influenced the way the band and the album sounds.

From the very outset you regaled your music with deep-draught lyrics. To illustrate this, can you tell a bit more about the single ‘Please’?
James: Sure, I got the inspiration for the lyrical subject after watching some of the UK news coverage surrounding the Syrian refugee crisis; the song became an angry rant about polarizing media and its impact on the public perception of world events. The refugees were referred to as a ”swarm”; a deliberately nasty word, normally used to describe large groups of insects – a needlessly cold and derisive term, considering it was being used to describe people fleeing a warzone. This relatively subtle use of language (compared to some of the press headlines I have seen from back in the eighties) is a powerful tool to that can be used to steer the narrative about any given situation in a negative manner, often resulting in real-world consequences. We are all dependent on the news in its various formats to understand what is going on in the world around us and the largest institutions (such as the Murdoch empire) have a disproportionate and dangerous ability to steer public opinion in a way which benefits the organization itself, often at the expense of empathy or accuracy, (often both). I think the first verse of the song sums up my views about the situation pretty well:

”You’re the mouthpiece for my ignorance Absolution from my common sense
You render us indifferent
And I hang on every word”

How long did you work on the writing of the new material for ‘Moving Backwards’? Who are the main composers in the band or is it more an issue of James writing songs and you perform them?
Santeri: I have to say that we had a quite tight schedule for writing the music for the album. We started the process in early 2018 and at that point we only had two songs demoed. James did write most of the basic ideas but there was a lot collaboration too, for example Mikko came up with the main riff for the song ‘Wheel’. And I had a lot of fun working on the drum parts after the basic structures were done. There’s in fact no limit in how detailed these kind of songs can be, so even if the main core of a song is ready, there’s still a lot to play with.

Can you go deeper into the lyrics of ‘Moving Backwards’, since they have an interesting theme that nobody can ignore in this world…
James: The songs on ‘Moving Backwards’ broadly explore society’s descent into a tribal state. ‘Vultures’ is a song about witch hunting culture in the online world and the tremendous power the online mob wields. I got the idea for the lyrics after reading about how James Gunn lost his position working for Marvel/Disney (he was director for the Guardians of the Galaxy films) after a series of tweets he had published back in 2009 had gained media attention, resulting in the public outrage that led to his ultimate dismissal. He is one of many people who have had their careers or lives destroyed in the wake of online outrage and although there have been cases where the internet has been a definitive force for good (such as Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey being exposed), James Gunn, like many others, did not break the law and it’s highly subjective if what he did can even be described as ’wrong’ on any level. Personally, I think he should not have lost his job for releasing a series of at worst, distasteful jokes. Considering these tweets were published at the height of the popularity of shows like South Park and Family Guy, it is important to acknowledge that humour like everything else, changes over time. Especially considering we are living in a time where everything we do online is recorded in some way forever, I think we need to be careful with how heavy-handed we are when people blunder in such a mild manner. The track ‘Wheel’ is about surveillance – I got the idea for the song after reading about the UK’s extreme surveillance laws passed back in 2016, allegedly in the interest of public safety (although at least publicly, there has been no evidence published of how these harsher laws have prevented a terror attack). It’s alarming how since Brexit has been in the foreground of British media, these changes to public privacy have been forgotten about by many people, particularly the press.

When did you start playing live as a band? What were the first efforts and what are the highlights until now?
Santeri: Our first live show ever was in March 2016 in Helsinki, a little less than a year after the band had started. The idea was first just to challenge ourselves to play the quite complex songs live and to get feel on how we could sound live compared to the recordings. Since then we have played a handful of gigs each year and we’re always trying to improve our performance and develop our live sound. At the start of 2019 looks like there’s going to be a lot of touring ahead and we are loving it! I guess we played our best shows so far supporting Amorphis on a few gigs a couple of months ago. And the audiences seemed to like us there!

Soon you will hit the road in Europe with Soen and that is really a band of your ilk. I think you will get along with them very well!
Santeri: I’m sure we will, it’s going to be a lot of fun and a lot of great music!

And sorry to use the word, but just as in Soen, Tool influences are prominent in your music. I guess you all are big fans of that enigmatic band?
Santeri: Definitely. Tool is one of the greatest and their music has had a big impact on us. I guess playing progressive stuff with grungy guitars, odd meters and melodic vocals will always be compared to them, that’s how big Tool’s influence has been on the whole world of prog music. By the way, can’t wait to see them live again in June!

Your music can be a true challenge to create amazing video clips. Please tell us the plans for visual escapades and what you have done at this level until now… (for instance for ‘Where The Pieces Lie’).
James: ‘Where The Pieces Lie’ is a song about overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. I wrote the lyrics during a difficult point in my life, when it felt like although I was far from OK, there was no other choice but to keep marching forward and hoping that things would improve at some unknown date in the future. We wanted to visualize this in the video and I think the main actor, Lassi Hurskainen nailed this; evoking the hopelessness and desperation that the song is about. The world seems to be in a state of perpetual chaos and it feels like much of modern living is about hanging on by our finger nails, waiting for the storm to pass. Every song has a unique theme so we tailor the visuals to match each song specifically.

Another visual aspect is the artwork. Who did it and can you share any thoughts with us about the symbolism?
James: My wife, Ansu Lascelles designed the artwork. As she was very much aware (and occasionally involved with) some heated debates about the album’s lyrical themes, she wanted to articulate them through the artwork. The album cover depicts a lone wanderer in a tribal, dystopian, hopeless and barren future – both relatable and unrecognizable in their similarity and difference to the present day. She is an amazing artist and we love what she managed to come up with for the cover.

What can you tell about the recording process? Was it very different in comparison with recording the EP’s? Did you use an extern producer or technician? Same studio or different?
Santeri: We recorded drums and basses in the same studio that we used for recording ‘The Divide’ EP, Sonic Pump Studios in Helsinki. The recording engineer was Jesse Vainio, who also mixed the album. Guitars were recorded at James’s home studio and then re-amped at Sonic Pump. And the final bit was when James recorded the vocals in a nearby studio all by himself. We didn’t really have a producer except that Jesse’s vision had a lot to do with the sound design. The weirdest thing was that there was hardly any vocals ready when we started recording. So, for most parts it was like ”this is probably the chorus” or ”here it’s going to be something rhythmical with the vocals and here’s a long note” or ”this could be an instrumental bit”. It was kind of a strange method but if nothing else, it ensured that the basic tracks were already quite detailed and interesting even with no vocals at all.

What are the plans for the near future?
Santeri: Touring! We will hit the road with Soen and Ghost Iris soon and later in the spring we have a tour in Europe supporting Katatonia. And then festivals in the summer. We are also already starting to write new material. So it seems like it’s going to be an active year for Wheel!

If there is anything you’d like to share with us, please feel free to do it right here…
Santeri: See you on tour, keep it Wheel

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