Interview with vocalist J Grym
This interview with vocalist J.Grym was done by Rhoutna and Silence
via e-mail in June 2005.
Vanguard was founded in 1999. Did you start the band seriously with the thought of getting a contract in the future or just for fun?
You are just about to release your debut album in June. Could you tell us something about your band and the past as most of our readers probably don't know very much of you yet?
You've had a couple of melted down computers, three exploding mixtables, a drummer crushed into the hospital and a electrical blackout during a recording session. "Against all odds and gods" as you called it yourselves. Did this not take a lot of motivation away? How much harder was it to start from nothing again?
The main reason we started this band was that at the time there weren’t many bands that played this kind of music – especially here in Finland. We just wanted to get more of this kind of genre-crossing music out. A record deal was our main aim from the start, but once we started playing and jamming, we enjoyed it so much that recording became less of a priority. We were quite happy to play just for us and our friends.
We had the main vision of the sound we wanted for a very long time. It included a cello and a female vocalist, right from the start. But in real life it was a bit hard to make true… Searching for a female vocalist that fit our crew took some effort. We burned through thirteen candidates, but none seemed right until we found Suvi G, at the fall of 2001. We used session cellists and friends of friends until we found “Beepo”, our cellist – actually Aapo but every time he changes his phone number we change his name alphabetically, and he joined as a full member right away in the fall of 2002.
After a couple of years we decided it was time to take the next step and start really making noise about ourselves. We set out to record a demo-ep but, like you said, misfortune hit us pretty bad. During our recording two mixing tables broke down in two different studios and a city wide black out took out the hard discs which contained our material. We had actually just beaten the greatest performance out of our drummer that he had ever played on a recording, and there it went, vanished in a second…
Our rehearsal place was also hit by lightning when we practiced the songs for the demo. It was a hundred-year old house almost in the middle of a forest, and we had the whole attic to ourselves. It was a really cool place, but it turned out to be just a little bit more than we could handle, at least during a thunder storm… Suvi says that she actually saw the flash of light from the corner of her eye, going through Beepo while he was playing at rehearsals. Then he just stopped playing, his face even paler than usual, and said that his fingers were tingling funnily. We immediately packed up our stuff and stormed out of the door.
The whole demo process was such a combination of disasters that we faced it with morbid fascination rather than losing heart… And we carried on! It wasn’t like starting from nothing again, you learn something new from every recording, even though recording the same riff or phrase for the millionth time can get to your nerves… So one of the reasons why we are happy about Succumbra is that we never have to record those songs again!
When we finished the demo we sent out copies and distributed one of the songs through the net. Producer Lars Ratz and thrash metal legend Sabina Classen heard the song and got us invited to perform at Wacken Open Air in a band contest with twelve other bands. We jumped to the opportunity, of course, almost unable to believe our ears. We were more than happy just to go play a gig in another country and get to go to Wacken, and then, as an unbelievable bonus, we won! And here we are now.
What was the recording of "Succumbra" like?
It was great to record our debut album abroad far from distractions. If we would have recorded it here, it would never have been the same. Everybody’s “real life” would have interfered. There are seven people in our band, so somebody would always have been somewhere else, doing something else – this was a great way of making us concentrate solely on the recording, because basically, it was the only thing we could think of without having to ponder upon the going-ons in Helsinki. And Hamburg is a great place for a metal band to hang out. The recordings took almost a month’s time, and during that time the town, or at least Altona and St. Pauli, became like a second home to us. And of course it gave us great motivation to taste a bit of the rock&roll-lifestyle – flying to a different country to play metal on someone else’s expense!
Yeah, we had a lot of them. For instance our guitar player played all his parts in gigantic pink, fuzzy slippers, Suvi and I got so addicted to Salbeiblätter Tee - which is great for a vocalist’s throat – that we probably can never again record or go on stage without it, we always had a Finnish vodka shot to celebrate when a part was done, and nobody was allowed to record our Japanese bonus track “Paranoid” completely sober!
Having a cello in a metal band is not a very common instrument, but it fits very well to your style. How did you come up with the idea of this? Was it there from the beginning or did you add it later?
To most of us your music is a mixture between Gothic & Symphonic metal with some influences of other genres. But how would you describe your music yourself?
Yes, that’s pretty much it. We aimed to combine the best parts from gothic, doom, symphonic and touches of extreme metal. A kind of chimaira of different aspects of the metal genre. We don’t want to say the cliché: ”We don’t want to label ourselves, we just play what feels right”, but we have to admit it’s a bit difficult to put us in a box labelled something. Mostly our band is mentioned as a gothic or dark metal band.
You took part in the Metal Battle contest at Wacken Open Air last year and won it. Do you think it was a tough competition considering the other bands that played there?
How did you feel about winning this Metal Battle? Since not many bands record their first full length album after only one demo.
Is such a band contest a good way for new bands to get some more attention?
How was it being backstage at a big festival like Wacken?
It was brilliant! It was truly cool to be in an isle of tranquillity in the middle of the roaring festival chaos. We shared a cool of space with our country men Eläkeläiset. And of course it felt great for, at the time a demo band, to be surrounded by great bands and legends. Our guitar player actually borrowed his guitar strap to Mayhem – it’s needless to say that that strap has become somewhat of a relic now…
This far the support from Armageddon has been great! No complaints. They treat us like family members. The people there are musicians themselves and have vast amounts of first-hand experience about everything. They let us do our own thing but still take care of us when needed. And our friends who have bands and record deals of their own tell us that it’s highly uncommon to be in contact with your record company sometimes many times in one day…
We knew exactly how we wanted it to sound. We always had a pretty clear vision of our sound and even though it never turns out exactly like you want, it is pretty close to what we aimed for. One misconception that people, especially reviewers, have is that Lars produced our record. But the fact is that we as a band produced it with the help of Victor Bullock, Christian Jungebluth and Lars Ratz. We didn’t have a producer per se.
Some songs on Succumbra are very, very old. We haven’t thrown a single song out yet, so there is our first song we ever did and one song we finished just a couple of weeks before entering the studio – all on the same album. So we have found our own way of making songs early on. This doesn’t mean there isn’t room for growth – quite the opposite. We can focus all our creativity and energy in broadening our arsenal and strengthening our style. We are only getting bigger and I believe the next album will sound more majestic, but still keeping the black heart and raw force which always drove us on. Add a bit of passion and beauty and you’ll have our style in one sentence. We try to incorporate as much raw passion and desire – which we consider our life force – to anger, love and hatred which are the strongest human emotions around. That was our driving force for this album and it will be the inspiration for the coming albums as well.
Anything you would like to say to the readers of Finnish-Metal.net?
See you all in Wacken!
Thanks yourself, and on the behalf of Finnish metal bands, especially us, for the whole site!
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