Saturnus – interview met Henrik (drums), Indee (guitars) & Mika (keyboards)
Indee: “Everybody kind of agreed that we wanted to make a statement record. We wanted to sound full of energy. The right attitude, because it had been such a long time since Saturnus had put something out and two new guys coming in the band.”
Het was bijzonder lang geleden dat de Deense doom metal formatie Saturnus met nieuw werk kwam (sinds 2012). Dat maken we meteen goed met een extra lang gesprek met oude en nieuwe leden Henrik (drums), Indee (gitaar) en Mika (keyboards). Zoals je merkt, niet met onze vaste frontman Thomas AG Jensen ditmaal om het nieuwe album ‘The Storm Within’ te promoten, maar het werd in elk geval een bijzonder leuke chat.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 17 juni 2023
It is a long time since Saturnus released an album. ‘Saturn In Ascension’ is already eleven years ago, in 2012. I know more or less what happened with the guitarists, leaving the band, but what struck me, was that you only started writing new material in 2020… what was the reason?
Henrik: ‘Well, we knew that Martin would go away at the end of the year and Rune decided to stop. We basically had to cancel all the shows. A week later, I had a guy on Facebook telling me he would replace them. I told him we cancelled everything. Where could we find two guys who could learn the set in such a small amount of time for practice? We needed some really good guys and then finally we thought of Indee and Julio and we did it. It worked out fine. It was a great night and we could start again.’
Indee: ‘The writing didn’t technically start in 2020 though, because we were on board in 2019. Late 2019, because all that stuff was happening way in the background for months and months and months. As far as we knew, but the writing started late 2019 as soon as I got on board, I started shopping around with ideas. It worked out that way, because we did not have to think about touring obligations and all that sort of stuff. We thought ‘well okay, now we can just focus on writing and getting into that.’
In a way it was a bit starting anew for the members who were longer in the band, because you Indee, came later. Wasn’t there any material that you just could take over?
Henrik: ‘No, we had a song called ‘Thorns’ which we thought could be perfect for the album, but when Julio joined us, we thought: ‘you know what, we have two guys coming into the band. We had so much new ideas coming up, we had to sort it out. It took Indee a few weeks to adapt, but now he knows the recipes of Saturnus and this is just fine.’
Indee: ‘I had loads of ideas, but they didn’t make it on the record this time, because this time around we just sat down and discussed ‘okay, we like this. It sounds like Saturnus, but where do we want to go?’ and everybody kind of agreed that we wanted to make a statement record. We wanted to sound full of energy. The right attitude in a way, because it had been such a long time since Saturnus had put something out and two new guys coming in the band. All of us agreed, okay, let us do something that has a little bit of us in it as a mark and I think that was the reason – I remember Thomas saying before that the reason why the older material wasn’t used was because we were going to turn a new page. It had to be fresh. It is a new chapter for the band, not just in terms of members, but in terms of how we are moving forward, sonically in sound and how we felt as a band.’
Henrik: ‘It already became obvious when we were in the studio rehearsing, so that was an interesting thing.’
The essence of this work is capturing your own inner storm. What can you tell about the lyrics? I know that Thomas writes them…
Henrik: ‘No. I am writing the lyrics.’
Indee: ‘We wrote them together. It is important what Thomas does with it, but this time around Henrik and me have kind of put the lyrical themes together. He adapted everything to make sure that it worked. We could write whatever, but he decided if it made sense in the context of the music.’
How did you come to that storm topic?
Henrik: ‘I think the whole concept with the storm came with the structure we have. We had a lot of different working titles for the songs. In the beginning there were just numbers and then we began to write some lyrics and then it became clear that we wanted this ocean theme, the storm theme, we wanted the theme of being alone somewhere. The eye of the storm is where you are really alone. That storm theme came actually pretty fast when we were working on the songs.’
Indee: ‘It became a concept album. Like Henrik said, when we came to the idea that most of the theme had to do with storm – even for artwork – and the lyrics came into being, we realized that it was a very personal album to everyone. It was personal to everyone, because we realized that everyone was working through issues, not just as Saturnus, the entity, but people individually and that manifested in the lyrics. Even though the lyrics are quite eclectic, they are almost metaphorical, but if you really read into them, there is a lot of heartbreak in there and a lot of self-discovery I think.’
Henrik: ‘I always try – when I write lyrics – it means something to me personal, as a fan of Saturnus myself and a listener of music, I love it when a lyric can mean something else to you. You know that it means something for whoever who wrote this song, but for me, it means this. For me this duality is very important. We worked a lot on that on this album. You can relate to the lyrics in so many ways. It is of course about the band’s struggle, the whole story with the guitar players leaving, we had a lot of different members coming in and out the last ten years. We had Jens from Sweden, we had Martin coming in, they are all good guitarists and good friends, but there was something missing. That is the storm of life, what you are going through.’
In ‘Even Tide’ your long time friend Paul Kuhr (Novembers Doom) pops up again. That is nice. The tours with Novembers Doom and Agalloch I followed very intensive…
Henrik: ‘That is a long time ago. 2006. Novembers Doom will play at the Prophecy Fest now.’
Yes indeed and Agalloch is together again…
Henrik: ‘At least for one gig let us say.’ (laughs) We had a little tour with John Haughm when he was a solo artist and everybody was asking why don’t you play anymore? Then he came to the stage, it was like two weeks after and he said ‘that was it, Agalloch is gone’. We were waiting for a phone call from Paul Kuhr. Mika wrote that song ‘Even Tide’ by the way. It is one of my favourite songs, so Mika, hold on.’
Mika: ‘I came in later and now I actually feel like I am part of the album as well. It is a great honour.’
Henrik: ‘And we wanted Mika to be part of the album as well. He wrote the song and it was too good to be left aside.’
Indee: ‘It was exactly what the album needed. The album did not feel complete until he brought the song inside in and we all listened to it. That is what is missing. I remember my personal first experience when I heard it finally, with all the vocals on. I was just on a train ride going to meet someone, but I was completely flabbergasted. I had tears in my eyes, it was goose-bumps all over. I personally, even though I was ‘the new guy coming in’ from the very beginning I was hooked and I wanted Mika back.’
Henrik: ‘We all wanted Mika back, but he didn’t want to come back first.’
Mika: ‘I saw Saturnus in Denmark in the middle of 2021 with my wife and I said ‘Jesus, I miss those guys! I missed Saturnus and I missed playing with them, but then Thomas asked me just playing two tracks, maybe three and I told him I could do that. Perfect. And after that I did want to go back. During this break I met Indee and Julio at that time and these are wonderful guys and I know Henrik, Brian and Thomas. I know who they are. I wanted to be back in the family.’
Henrik: The vibe in the band changed during the last six years. That is the whole point of the record actually. There has been… I am not going to say turmoil – but at least a bit frustration, but Mika came back and we are all happy now.’
His piano and keyboards are very important in the Saturnus sound and I think it is a bit more in the front now…
Indee: ‘We pushed for this record to sound a little more – I don’t want to say heavier – but a little more dense in a way. When the first notes kicks in and then Thomas’s voice and all the orchestration, then you think ‘oh okay, it is not the same’. It is the same, but it is bigger and denser.’
I think it might also be an advantage to have an own studio to create the foundation and then afterwards go to Flemming Rasmussen…
Henrik: ‘Yes, but we always work with Flemming. With covid-19 you could not play with the band anymore, you can just play for yourself. So what can I do as a drummer? I just stopped smoking and I decided to spend all this money on studio gear to record drums for myself and then when Indee and Julio came in, it made a lot of sense why. I could send demos and stuff and we could work on it. We could take it from there. Of course we would go to a studio with some proper gear, because I don’t have that. Indee has that, but I don’t have that for the drums. Sometimes it takes more space, a really bigger room to have that big drum sound and I just love working with Flemming, so it just makes sense to use him again.’
Indee: ‘It was an absolute pleasure. It was really good. It was a bit of a disjointed recording process in terms of sickness and frustrations and travel and all, but it worked out the best for us. Julio actually recorded his guitars in Madrid and he sent me the raw unprocessed sounds and I reprocessed them and then I recorded my stuff and sent it to him. I wrote all the orchestrations down and then all that stuff went to Flemming. I enjoyed it. I sat two weeks in the studio with Flemming while he engineered and mixed it.’
Henrik: ‘We recorded the drums and bass in December 2021 and we were done with the record in January 2022. Then we just needed mixing and mastering.’
Indee: ‘Vocals were done with Flemming as well.’
Henrik: ‘It took a bit longer than we thought, but it didn’t matter.’
You have a new record contract with Prophecy Productions in the meantime…
Henrik: ‘Yes we did’.
Indee: ‘For two years now actually that we have been with them.’
Henrik: ‘That was weird. We have known them for five years or something. The old record was on another German label and that went bankrupt I think. I don’t know what happened, all of a sudden there was no record company anymore and we had a contract with them. At that time we still owed them one record, but we don’t want to do that because there is no foundation for anything. When the record is done you have no money for PR. They said ‘I noticed, but what can we do?’ Finally we came out of it and Prophecy came in and said we had to make a record. We said ‘yes what can we do for you and what can you do for us?’ because it is always a two way street.’
Indee: ‘They have been really good to us. They have given us some really good conditions in terms of liberty and all that kind of stuff. Not just that, they are great people to work with. When you communicate with them, it doesn’t feel like communicating with an office. It is like part of the family. You talk to some friends. That is why it is really easy to talk to them and the other thing is that they don’t mess about things: you know when things need to be done, how fast it needs to be done, they are very open about things. They also come up with good solutions. When there are issues, they come up with solutions for problems.’
Henrik: ‘We are kind of new guys, because the last one was a good deal for us, but it wasn’t the one we have now, with a big label. We always try every time, to move a step up. Do something better than we did before. Play more, to get out and just keep the wheels turning in a way. When we met these Prophecy guys, we thought: ‘okay, this is how the big boys work’. We can learn something from them. They are open when they think that something is not going to work.’
You have played already quite a lot after the pandemic. For instance the tour with Poema Arcanvs, Esoteric and Helevorn. You already played the new song and single ‘The Calling’ on that tour. This is the opportunity to tell a bit more about this track…
Indee: ‘Indeed, we played ‘The Calling’ and we played ‘Chasing Ghosts’. We asked Prophecy, because the issue was, because of all the chain supplies across the planet for vinyl, it is just like everything is taken by the super big corporate labels and everyone else is bind. Everyone else, it is not just us. So we asked them and we chose those two. They are both coming out as singles, we had already chosen that. So it made sense to play them, because they are coming out as singles, so that people could hear it live. The video for ‘The Calling’ is taken from the Prophecy Fest 2022, it is a live video. We managed to get the multi-camera footage from them, they were really nice. They sent us massive files (laughs). A friend of ours went through it all and did the edit for a music video. Because we are playing too quick, we were worried about things not lining up, but we are happy. We knew this was going to be the first single and we wanted to come up with something different, to see the response. It is a little bit more upbeat, but this is one thing I like about it, not in terms of meaning, but when you play live in front of people that haven’t heard it before, Saturnus fans… they hear it… and in the beginning some people are a bit unsure, but when the chorus hits, you see this complete wave of understanding. That is awesome.
Henrik: ‘And it is called ‘The Calling’ because that is what we want to do. Saturnus is our home. In a way it is just natural that it should be the first single of the album.’
Indee: ‘The song, technically, is about reaching out and achieving things that you feel the need to have in life. That’s why some of the lyrics are literally ‘this is our calling, this is for you, our calling’ It is a statement, basically saying that we are here and if you go through the lyrics, it kinds of talks about viles and tribulations, personal heartache and all that sort of stuff. I think of Saturnus like a beast. It is a big massive versus of Saturnus and the calling is basically the idea of really lighting the fire.’
For a doom metal album, it even sounds quite catchy…
Henrik: ‘I think Thomas, when we played it the first times, announced it as our Eurovision song.’
Indee: ‘He already prejudiced it. Some people will love it, some people will hate it, some of them were not sure but then the chorus did it and everyone got a kick.’
Henrik: ‘Playing-wise it is super. In one way it gets better and better. We grow into the material ourselves, because the thing with this album was, we had never played the songs live, all of us together before recording it. We didn’t actually know if it was the right thing to play it live. When you play a song live a lot, you create some natural distance and it gets better, but we have to stay true to the album. We changed it a little bit, but for the better when we play it live.’
Indee: ‘Especially since Mika is in the band, a lot of what I had written has changed. Mika said ‘I am going to change this’ and I said ‘go for it’ If he thinks that it needs to be different, that is fine with me. I was open to it and everything he slightly changed is better than before. I literally got goose-bumps. That is the difference between an album and playing live. Forget the audience, a whole different type of experience. The album is perfect, but live is also perfect, just in a different way.’
What about the video for ‘Chasing Ghosts’?
Henrik: ‘We intended to have a live action video. There was a plan for it, but it didn’t happen for very different reasons. Time frames, budget thing costs, although we had grand ideas, but in the end we thought for the sake of time, it was better for us to go down a live action video edit of the performance act footage. It came out awesome. We are already happy with it. It is the same guy who did that video as well as the lyric video. He is from another doom band. There is going to be a third video, but that is going to be a standard visualizer.’
That can also be nice. The lyric video is beautiful with the tides of the ocean, the waves and so on…
Indee: ‘There is a nice little fact about that video. No one shot ever repeats itself. No repeating ones. The guy was really proud of that one, because he managed to create a ten minute long video without any view that repeats itself. That was really impressive. We were looking for that and he said: ‘Did you notice anything?’ and we said no. ‘Nothing repeats itself’ he said and that was marvellous.’
Indeed. Usually, when they use an image with the chorus, they repeat that image when the chorus comes back…
Indee: ‘The chorus isn’t the same each time. It is a soft chorus and then a hard chorus. It is the same lyrics, just other dynamics.’
Henrik: ‘I wouldn’t say there won’t be a next video for one of the songs, when we play the next gig, at Copenhell in Copenhagen, I am pretty sure we will record it and see if we can use that. We don’t know yet, it is still in the making.’
I have seen a video from Saturnus at Copenhell years ago…
Henrik: ‘In 2013. Ten years ago.’
It is strange that you played at Prophecy Fest last year and this year Novembers Doom and Agalloch. They split the tour of 2006…
Indee: ‘Let’s see what happens.’
They are going to release ‘Veronika Decides To Die’ finally on vinyl and as an artbook… That is probably also the initiative from Prophecy Productions with you?
Henri: ‘Yes. That was one of the parts in the contract. Thomas has the rights for the album of course and he said yes. They work with this artbooks and Martin told us that ‘Veronika’ would fit for that special editions. It is the album that sold out fastest on tour. We had the CD and Firebox never re-released it, so it was just sold out. Everybody was asking and we couldn’t get copies anymore. That was hard, so when this opportunity came, we embraced it with both hands. I don’t have a record player anymore. I would be very happy if it would come out on CD again.’
Indee: ‘I think there is a CD and a download in the artbook. That’s the whole point of it, the reason why the album will be re-released actually.’
Henri: ‘Then I am happy.’
For ‘The Storm Within’, Mirko Stanchev did the artwork. Is he from Czech Republic?
Indee: ‘No, he is Bulgarian. I was talking to my girlfriend one evening; saying that we were looking for a graphic artist. She is Bulgarian. She said: ‘My friend Mirko is a professional graphic artist.’ He is also a photographer, he is one of the main photographers in Sofia for gigs. We contacted him and he was already a big fan of Saturnus and answered that he would be happy to work with us. We had a video call one day and it instantly clicked between us. He studied the former Saturnus records and that’s how he got into it. I was amazed: ‘We have found the person! Obviously we needed to see the results. We literally gave him words. We said: ‘This is what we think. This is the concept. We want a guy that looks in panic, he knows that he is in amending doom, there is a massive wave. Can you make it look dangerous and savage and this is the title and this is what we want. The storm coming in the back.’ And the first visuals he sent, everyone was flabbergasted. He nailed it!’
Henri: ‘He did a wonderful job. Beautiful artwork.’
Indee: ‘The guy did a bunch of T-shirt designs for us, he did the ‘Lighthouse Session’ artwork for us. So he is basically one of our indoor guys now. We will keep him around. His company, ‘Illogical Conversions’ did a really good job. He is very talented and easy to work with. He takes our ideas on board and he gives his own ideas back in a really great way. He tells us what works as well and what doesn’t work.’
Henrik: ‘He is a fan. I didn’t know him. We have used fans before, for the EU tour to make a shirt. Sometimes we organize a contest. If I should do some artwork for a band I really love, and I would do it, it would be the best of all. You know what I mean. It would be a honour first of all and then it would be an expression of my work for a broader audience and blablabla, so I would do the utmost that it is amazing.’
Indee: ‘So it is not just for the money. Actually I made a friend. The good thing about the artwork as well, is that it doesn’t stop with the record. We actually use it for live purposes, beyond our video backdrops and all that stuff. He gave us eight designs, just because he was inspired and dedicated. He is a wonderful guy.’
What are the plans for the near future?
Henrik: ‘Well… we have a lot of plans. We will of course go on tour. We have a tour in the Fall 2023 and then of course we have these upcoming festivals, like Copenhell and Brutal Assault in Czech Republic. I think the main album tour, the first run, will be in October. Then we have some single shows and in December we relax. There’s a lot coming up.’
Indee: ‘For us, September, October and November will be pretty busy and then of course festivals in Summer’.
When is the first gig for you now?
Henrik: ‘It is going to be in June 16th around the release date. We play the Pandaemonium stage at Copenhell festival at 23h30, so it is going to be doom at night. It is going to be awesome. We can watch all the heroes afterwards. A late show.’
In the meantime it is published that Saturnus will play at Prophecy Fest this year as well, so that is why their reaction was quite mysterious during this chat.