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The Abbey  – Jesse Heikkinen (guitars, keyboards, percussion, vocals)


Jesse Heikkinen (guitars, keyboards, percussion, vocals): “Creating the whole album was more or less a spiritual exercise for me. I wanted to learn something new about me and about things that are restricting myself when I recorded the album.”
Af en toe word je echt verrast door een nieuwe band met een fantastisch debuut. Recentelijk overkwam dit me met ‘Word Of Sin’ van het Finse The Abbey. Dit album baadt in een mystieke doom metal sfeer, maar anderzijds zijn de composities ook doorspekt met muzikale vondsten die je eerder in progressieve rock zou waarnemen. Daar wilden we meer over weten en dus contacteerden we mastermind en bezieler Jesse J. Heikkinen uit wiens koker al dit fraais gekomen is. Het werd een bijzonder aangenaam gesprek met een rustig pratende Fin.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 07 april 2023

How are you doing?
I am pretty busy at the moment. My fourth solo album came out on February the 10th, then The Abbey album came out on February the 17th. We had the first The Abbey shows right after that and also two other of my bands released their first singles. So it has been pretty hectic, but it is nice to see that things are happening.

The Abbey is a new band, a new project for you, but you have been a musician for a long time. So can you tell a little bit more about that? A kind of introduction of yourself let us say.
Well, I have been studying music since I was a kid. Also I have done basically everything, from jazz to extreme metal. I have probably done around eight hundred shows in twenty different countries, or something like that, but most of the stuff happened here in Finland. I have always been more of a background singer/guitar player, not a front man. This is kind of a new thing for me with The Abbey, that I am actually a front man of a rock band. So that is something totally new.

Well, that must have been a challenge of course…
It has been different for sure. I am actually pretty relieved how easy it has been and how naturally it has come. I have had my solo project Iterum Nata from 2017, but it has been more or less just a kind of solo side project.

Is it instrumental then or with another singer?
No, I am doing the vocals as well. I have done maybe twenty shows with that project. I would actually like to do more, since I just got a new album out and I have this kind of new mindset of being a professional creating musician and I want to do more with that.

How did you come to the idea for The Abbey and how did it come into being?
It was May 2021. I had been just recovering from a severe depression and I guess it is pretty normal to somehow re-evaluate your life after that. I had the feeling that I was not using all my creative energy, my full potential, as I should. So I tried to think: what is the next step? What is it that I am missing? How can I express myself in a way that I haven’t done before? Then, one evening, a friend asked me to do guest vocals for his doom metal album. It was a band called Fuzzifer. So he asked me if I could do Beatle-esque harmonies with doom metal attitude. When I recorded those tracks, I felt like ‘wow, this is so me. This is exactly the thing that I have to do more’. It was just a couple of days later and I wrote at my Facebook page that I wanted to form a doom metal band. From the start I really wanted Vesa (Ranta – drummer – ex-Sentenced, The Man Eating Tree – Vera). I knew him from Sentenced and we met a few times before. We are from the same northern Finland city, so I wanted him to join because his beat is something extraordinary. Then, our second guitarist Janne Markus, he wrote to me that he had seen my post on Facebook. We talked a bit and we agreed that we were on the same page with our visions, so he joined in. Then luckily Vesa said yes. Henri Arvola, our bass player, I only knew him a bit from before. We have been studying music at the same time at the same conservatory. But Natalie (Koskinen – Shape Of Despair – Vera) I had never met. It didn’t even come to my mind to have another singer, it was actually Vesa’s idea and I am so happy that he came with that idea, because Natalie brings so much more to the band. There is so much complexity and she is just an amazing singer, you know? Everything happened really fast. I think we had the whole band together during the summer. Then I started making the demos. I recorded guitar, vocal and keyboard demos and everybody seemed to like them.

That is a relief. Where do you live in Finland, in the northern part?
Right now I live in Turku, which is in the southern part and Natalie lives in Helsinki, but the other guys live in Oulu. That is my hometown. We had our first show in Oulu, we rehearsed there. It was funny, because the first time ever we played together was the same day when the album was released. We hadn’t played a single note together before that (laughs). We had like five days of rehearsing and then was the first show. That was exciting, but after the second night of rehearsals I was pretty convinced that it would be amazing… and it was.

Might be an odd question, but what are your influences then to play this genre? Did you listen to metal of this genre before? Doom, progressive…
If you ask me about my influences, I think it is mostly from the seventies progressive rock and some progressive extreme metal, even black metal.

That makes it interesting, because progressive and doom is melted together in The Abbey, while doom metal is usually a very traditional genre and progressive is unexpected twists and turns…
Yeah, at first my idea really was to form a doom metal band, but after I started writing the songs I have to admit that I cannot escape my roots in progressive rock. So you can hear lots of influences from the seventies.

For the band name you have chosen The Abbey and that has an occult aura, isn’t it?
The name came from the abbey of Thelema, that’s right. I was having a conversation about the abbey of Thelema and at the same time we were thinking about the name for the band. Then I just realized: ‘oh God, that’s the perfect name for a band’. It has this kind of mystic vibe and also it is a bit dark. You don’t know what kind of abbey it is. When it comes to the occult, there is a real connection with the abbey name and the Aleister Crowley’s concept of the true wheel and magic. I myself, as a practising esotericist do think that The Abbey, the band, is truly a part of my kind of personal great work. Creating the whole album was more or less a spiritual exercise for me.

That is said in a beautiful manner…
Yeah, I wanted to learn something new about me and about things that are restricting myself when I recorded the album. It never really was like this traditional song writing process, because I just plugged in my guitar and most of the songs came by improvising. I just recorded whatever my inner musical compass was showing me to play. The essence of The Abbey is intuition and kind of free-riding metal.

One of the most beautiful songs is ‘Widow’s Will’. It is amazing!
Thank you very much. That was actually the first song I wrote for The Abbey. That was the first demo I sent everyone and that is how Natalie said yes when she heard the demo.

I can imagine…
(chuckles) She had been just saying: ‘I will never join another band again’ and then she heard ‘Widow’s Will’ and she was in (laughs)

It reminds me a little bit of ‘Voices’ from Borknagar, do you know that?
That is true, it has kind of a similar vibe. I haven’t thought about that, but now when you say: yeah. Well, that was the song where it all began.

‘Starless’ is a very complete composition, because it has different moods that really moved me…
Yeah, ‘Starless’ is the only song on the record that was not written by me. It is actually Janne’s song. The lyrics are Natalie’s work. It is probably the most heavy song, at least from the lyrics. All my lyrics have more or less some sort of hope, something positive, but those lyrics in ‘Starless’, they are just hopeless and really, really dark. I actually love it that we got one song from someone else than me. It gave the album so much more texture and dimension, you know.

And a promise for the future, also from another direction some ideas may come up…
I am open for everyone of the band, writing songs for The Abbey. We actually have been doing a firm amount of new demos already.

What can you say about the lengthy song ‘Old Ones’ which has a prequel?
‘Old Ones’… that was actually the second song I wrote (laughs) I wanted to make a really heavy and doomy song. I think it is a really nice combination of traditional doom and some sort of weird artsy progressive stuff. We have the organ solo part, I don’t think anyone expected and yet it is coming. I think it is one of the strongest moments on the album. For ‘Old Ones’, I also want to talk about the lyrics a bit. I think it was the first The Abbey song I wrote lyrics to. The most difficult thing for me when I made the record was to start writing the lyrics. At first I was way too over-analytic and then I just realized: ‘fuck analytic, I have done the compositions by improvisation, so let’s do the lyrics in the same way. So I took the same method of free-riding and then it was pretty easy to come up with the lyrics. It is a story basically where this lightning is hitting a church and then the church burns. It is kind of a revenge from the old forces of nature. Pagan gods who are claiming back their territory from Christianity, from men in general. It is kind of an ode for mother nature. It has this pagan vibe, but also if you want to think about it as Lovecraftian old ones story, it can be that as well.

On the other hand, the most traditional doom I could find in ‘Queen Of Pain’… I think…
For me ‘Queen Of Pain’ is somehow more Danzig like, it has this rocky riff.

Are you also involved in the videos? I think that might be the domain of Vesa Ranta?
The original script for ‘A Thousand Dead Witches’ came from me. Apart from that, they were pretty much Vesa’s visions indeed. It is such a helpful and big thing for us.

Is there another song you want to tell a story about?
Well, I can say something in overall about my texts. In the first The Abbey interview I was asked if I have some sort of concept or theme in my lyrics and I answered no, because when I wrote the lyrics, I didn’t think about things like that. I just wrote whatever came to my mind, you know, but after that interview I started to think about it and I went through all the lyrics. Actually I discovered that all my lyrics are about getting free of some restrictions. They have this echo of yearning for freedom and I actually think that is a pretty occult thing. In my view the occult is something that makes your chains visible and by knowing your chains and your restrictions, you can do something about them.

Do you consider Finland where you live as a kind of rather free country?
In a way yes. You can be yourself here, more than somewhere else, but if you think about the laws, then this is totally different than let’s say the Netherlands for example. When I think about restrictions, I think about, yeah maybe physical, but also spiritual and psychological restrictions as well.

What you feel is always most important, not only obeying rules…
Yeah and most of us, we don’t even know what hidden motives we have ourselves. We don’t know our own psyche that good. We are being driven by instincts that we don’t control. By making those instincts, those hidden motives, visible, you start to master them and you probably get to know yourself a bit more. At least if you know who you are, it is better for you to be with yourself (laughs).

What are the plans for the near future with The Abbey?
Right now we have done three shows and I think all of us are really hungry for more. So we are trying to arrange some live shows in the near future and as I said, we have also written a good amount of demos for the second album. So if we don’t have anything else, we can always do something with those, maybe even recording an album at some point, but the live thing, the shows are now the priority for us. We haven’t confirmed anything yet, but I am sure something will come up later this year.

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