I spoke to Sami Hinkka from Ensiferum between bands at this years Bloodstock festival to talk about their new album, Unsung heroes, and their tour plans.
Festivalphoto: Your new album, Unsung Heroes, is due out in a couple of weeks time. How long does it take from starting to write to it being ready to release?
Sami: Well we are a really slow band when it comes to composing. On the new album, in "Pohjola", there's a chorus melody I introduced to Markus in 2005. There are some songs that we made the first demos back in 2006, but we weren't happy with the songs and we couldnt finalise them in time for the "Victory songs" or "From afar" albums which sounds really crazy but that's the way it is for us - we want to be proud of every note, and to be able to say we explored every possibility and this is the best result we could come up with. It's usually a really slow process. Markus is the main composer, and I also have some ideas. We bring a riff or melody to the rehearsal room, then we start arranging it together with the band, then we start the twisting and turning and try all sort of wierd ideas. I think for the majority of stuff on "Unsung heroes" it took maybe two or three years, but the good thing is we're kind of always one step ahead - we always end uphaving a lot of material that is not ready. Now we have four, five, six raw songs for the next album already, even before "unsung heroes" is released.
Festivalphoto: It's a good position to be in, to have some stuff left over.
Sami: It is yes, you're not forced to put everything you have on the album, you can just use the material that you're completely satisfied with, so that guarantees the quality also.
Festivalphoto: You write the lyrics - do you ever struggle to think what to write about, or do you find it easy to come up with ideas?
Sami: I come up with ideas really easily. Of course now when we're not in the writing process, my head is totally empty, but when I sit down to write, I know I'll get the feeling. Sometimes it's a slow process but sometimes yuo sit down and it's there almost immediately. It's difficult as it's more personal. I've told the others that they can participate and I want their feedback but they're "yeah yeah yeah you can do it". I read the most in the band as well, so I'm into this kind of stuff. They count on me...how foolish of them (laughs)
Festivalphoto: When you write and record the albums do you ever think "This is a great song but it will be hard to play live"
Sami: Yes, but we try not to think about it. When you're composing an album you shouldn't stress about "can we do this live", because the listening to the CD and seeing the band live are two different experiences. The song doesn't necessarily have to be the same live as on CD, that's my opinion.
Festivalphoto: You're on tour next month.
Sami: Yes, in September we're going to start our European tour. A few dates in Finland then we have time to wash our dirty underwear before we start the actual tour. We have a few shows in the UK, but that's not enough for us - we want a proper UK tour, which we're planning now for early 2013 and also some fetivals hopefully in the UK next year.
Festivalphoto: Will there be much stuff from the new album in the setlist on the tour?
Sami: Yes of course, we are promoting that but we're not doing an Iron Maiden - we're not playing the whole of the new album, even though that was a cool idea. We're going to promote the new album and have a few songs from that album, but also want to play some songs that we haven't played in a long time, because we have a really devoted fanbase who come to see many of our shows so we want to keep it interesting for them rather than just playing the hit songs. It's also cool for us so that we can keep the whole back catalogue playable.
Festivalphoto: It must be a difficult balance writing the setlist - new fans want to hear the hits, old fans want to hear the obscure songs, some want to hear the new songs, some want the old songs and so on.
Sami: It gets more and more difficult after every album. We have setlists we have played on certain tours and even festivals so we see that ok we played these songs in that city last time, so lets play some different ones this time. It's really difficult because if you just play obscure songs the new people will be like "what the fuck", but at the same time you don't want your hardcore fans getting bored of hearing the same songs all the time. So it's a difficult thing to do - but so far it has worked.
Festivalphoto: What are you guys like when you tour - lots of partying or are you all sober and sensible?
Sami: Well we're getting older and we're in a really privileged position to be full time musicians. The more you get the more humble you should be. Of course we like a few drinks after the show, red wine with the crew, but it's not like a few years ago - then it was like PARTY all the time. Of course we have a day off sometimes and thats different. We have a really nice crew, it's like family so of course it's good to have a nice time with them, but people are paying to see a show, and they don't want to see a bunch of guys with hangovers playing with 50% of their energy, you want to see them giving 100%.
Festivalphoto: On tour you're all living together the whole time so it must be important to get along well with everyone.
Sami: Yeah we have a really good chemistry inside the band, we've had a pretty solid lineup for a few years. This latest album studio session was quite unique because we all lived together, the whole band, for two months. It was a really nice experience and made us even closer. Everyone has their own ways to find solitude and private time, and everyone needs that, at least I need it.
Festivalphoto: When you buy music, how do you prefer it - Vinyl, CD or mp3 downloads?
Sami: I buy them all. Last week I bought one song from itunes, and a couple of weeks ago I bought my last CD. It's been quite a while since I bought vinyl, but I still like them, and we want to release all our albums as vinyl also.
Festivalphoto: There are a lot more bands now releasing stuff on vinyl whereas a few years ago almost nobody did.
Sami: Yeah and I really like vinyl because you get to appreciate the artwork more as its so much bigger, and you get the gatefolds as well.
Festivalphoto: OK thank you for your time.
Sami: No problem at all.