Back in 1999, when Tuomas Saukkonen felt the need to break his routines as a drummer of a local band, his new metal project called BEFORE THE DAWN was born. As soon as the studio was booked, the following demo session started a decade that brought 3 demos, 5 full length albums, 1 DVD and 2 mini albums. BEFORE THE DAWN also hit both single and album charts in the bands home country Finland many times. Their 6th album “Deathstar Rising” will be released on 25 February via Nuclear Blast.
Some weeks ago I had a nice long chat with Tuomas, in fact, instead of the allowed 30 minutes we talked about an hour… but there were too many interesting things to talk about, and it seemed the time flew with wings…
Hi Thomas, and welcome to Metal Shock! How things are going?
Thank you, Tarja, they’re going very good! There are plenty of so-called “good-alike-hurry”.
Can you tell us a brief description of who you are, that is, Before the Dawn members and their roles in the band?
As a Band, we’re about 12 years old, 4-piece Finnish heavy metal band. The project started as my solo project, but over the years new members jumped in. Our solo guitarist Juho Räihä is also our sound engineer, who recorded and mixed the latest album “Deathstar Rising”. I produced it, and I play guitar and I’m the lead singer. You know, while recording the album there were no “outsiders” there in the studio, but we handled everything by ourselves. Norwegian-Finnish Lars Eikind is our bassist / vocalist and has also done a lot of studio work. This completely “self-made” -pattern became gradually as our normal way to do, also because I’ve done for years everything by myself, as well as Juho has done these things for a long time. So, the work in the studio is going well and smoothly, as all of us can work in a professional way, so the result is the best possible, just the way we want, and quickly. Just think that the recordings went all in under two weeks’ time, plus mixing, but the time we spent in all for this album, were three and a half weeks, 8-10 hours a day, and the whole album was ready. After all, this is our sixth album, so we’ve practiced well and we’ve cut off the so-called useless mess.
Our fourth member is Atte Palokangas, he has been our session drummer for two years (and well over 100 gigs). To all of us it was already clear that Atte will stay in the band, but for some reasons his status was still “open”, so when we realized that he hadn’t yet been made permanent, we wanted to fix the situation right before entering the studio
By the way Tuomas, how and when did you find the music?
When I was very young. There were some photos taken at home where I built the drum kits with pans and kettles, I don’t even remember how young I was. I remember that I was 6 years when I got my first rock-cassette (Mötley Crüe and Doctor Feelgood).. soon I’ll be 31 years, so I found Rock almost a quarter of a century ago I listened to that cassette and learned the songs using a badminton racket or a car brush as a guitar hahahah. Pretty soon my parents bought me the first acoustic guitar, and at 7 years old I began taking guitar lessons. After 2 months I had to give a test to my guitar teacher, to show what I had learned so far, so I played him my own piece of song. I don’t remember at all how was it, but it must have been simple, as I couldn’t play many chords yet. But already then I made my own songs, and that’s how it’s been since then. Anyhow, it’s a pity I don’t remember my first songs any more. I stopped the basic guitar lessons after 2 months, the teacher was a good and clever guy, and realized immediately that I wasn’t interested to train the songs made by others. So he taught me just the basic techniques, which helped me to do my own songs, so the follow-up lessons were only to improve my techniques, the teacher didn’t want to limit my creativity. And that was a good thing!
What was your first band experience?
It was a rock band called “New Born George”, I was 16 years old. Actually, I went to the band as a drummer. When I was young I was living in a village of 5000 persons, so it wasn’t so easy to build up a rock band, so my first band experience was therefore quite late. So the previous years I only practiced playing and doing my own songs.
Talking about the band’s name, Before The Dawn, where it comes from?
It comes actually from my night life style. You know, generally, it is difficult to decide on the band’s name, all the fine words have already been invented, but back then, Before The Dawn, fit so comfortably in my way of life. This band started as a solo project, so I did everything by myself in the studio, you know, the original idea was just to make music. I just had to come up with the name of the music… and because I did all the songs at night, the name was fine with it, it seemed perfectly right and logical, because my music was born during the night hours.
And little by little the solo project turned to a band. In the early years line up changed quite often, infact, when the fourth album came out, we had aquired 16 ex-band members, probably also because the primary purpose was just to make gigs and not albums. But now, with this current line-up we have played for 6 years. And hopefully we can stay together for a long long time, because we are a good team.
…and where your inspirations and the topics to the songs are coming from?
Ah, now it would be good to give a profound and intelligent response lol. But the fact is that the songs just come out. I take my guitar and start to play riffs, and the birth of a new song starts. The topics are coming out in two ways, although to me they are inseparable, that is, making the music and the lyrics. I always do the music first, and in these last few years, I do the lyrics only when we enter the studio. You know, when the music is finished, the themes come out from the music vibes. For example, it is often so that when Lars is doing the vocal parts, I do the lyrics the same day, in the studio, as we’re proceeding with the album. The 10th song of the new album, “Wreith”, I did just moments before the recording. In fact, the idea came to me when Atte recorded the drum parts, I gave him only some advice to do “so and so” and at the same time I made the guitar parts on top of it.
This spontaneous way of working, for me, is natural and fun. I don’t want any “too thought-out”- stuff, but with this spontaneous the music stays really fresh. For me it’s very important in the music-making! And when I listen to songs after wards, even after many years, I can still remember well what I thought and what I was doing when the song was born, so I’m able to return to those moments, as it was yesterday.
In media your genre is described in many ways, but you’ve classified it as “Melancholic Scandinavian Metal “. What do you mean by that?
Many newspapers and journalists want to invent their own names to the music genres. This jungle of terms is quite impossible, so eventually nobody no longer understands anything about it. And I think that our music is not fitting into any of the actual terms. A big part of our music is melancholic, our metal is not sunny, but not purposely too dark either. I’ve got a lot of feedback from journalists and listeners, that our sound is very Finnish, and Scandinavian in a good way. So “Melancholic Scandinavian Metal” I think, is a very clear term to describe our music, where everyone can get a decent insight about our sound.
During these past 10 years you have toured in 19 countries, and you’ve opened concerts for bands like Katatonia, Moonspell, Swallow The Sun, Scar Symmetry and Amorphis. Can you tell which of these acts brings the most pleasant memories, and why?
I must say it’s the tour with Amorphis. Around that time, our band had a pretty gloomy mood, the fifth album had just come out and we had no tour coming up. For a while it seemed that the progress had stopped though we worked really hard. And of course, working hard started to tired us. Even if you make the music because of music, it’s also inevitably linked to the desire to honor. You do not rule a band without wanting to achieve also something. Many things seemed bad and the feelings got quite dark. We also knew that soon we’re gonna make a new album.
However, the band was in a low motivation, and the other projects began to interest more. But then came up as from “behind the tree” the tour with Amorphis, and it was actually our first full-length European tour. And the last tour we had had was about three years earlier. When we went on tour with Amorphis, no one could really expect anything, but it was in many ways a maximize success, even though we were a support band on the tour. And it brought us back a huge motivation. You know, if you get stuck here in Finland and play in the same places again and again, it’s really difficult to see if you move forward at all, and there is a risk that you close yourself in a box too small. But on the tour it was wonderful to notice that we have fans around the world. It does not matter if we’re in Germany, Greece, or where else, the fans knew our songs and the words by heart. And this came to us to a very important moment.
You know, all the band stuff goes by me, doing the songs, looking for the gigs and selling t-shirts etc, and even driving the band car, I realized that if my head hangs up, the whole thing risks to stop. And this brought me even more stress, forcing to do more, even if I wouldn’t like to. So the Amorphis tour came to the right moment, and from there we went forward with renewed strength.
Last year you toured around China and Japan with Stratovarius and Turisas. Tell us your best moments on this Asian tour.
Yes, the whole tour was one big peak moment for us, from the beginning to the end. We had made the arrangements “distance-wisely,” You know, generally, the farther you go the more time you spend in the hotel rooms. The most boring thing is that you go to a fantastic country, and all that you see there is only the hotel, the venue place, the backstage, and the airport …. but we arranged it so that in every gig town (Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo), we had one day off. Every gig, of course, had its own “high-lights”, in each gig there was incredibly much audience, and for example, in Tokyo where we had the first gig, it was sold out before the concert, so we knew that the feeling in the audience will be good. But the day off we woke up early and took two taxis and went around to visit the city’s attractions. For once, when you’re that far away, and in a different culture, it’s obvious that you want to see more than just the venues and hotels. And it certainly gave more boost to the gigs. I am very much interested in history and I’ve seen a huge amounts of films, such as “Forbidden City”, “The Last Emperor”, etc., so already through them I got an idea about the culture and customs. And then when you find yourself in the same landscapes and places where movies have been made, it gives you a great feeling, and you realize to be really far away from home, in good senses. And maybe also for this reason you’re able to get quite a different contact with people.
Your sixth album, “Deathstar Rising” comes out soon, the 25th February … each song has its own story? or is there some common thread linking the songs together?
Well, there is a common thread… but only for me, personally. The album was not written to be a concept-album, and the link between the songs cannot really be heard or understood than just by me. The songs tell about my own feelings which bind together the songs, like it was my personal diary. Actually, I’ve made each of my albums of all the bands and projects as they were a documentation of “that precise moment”.
What expectations do you have about this album?
To tour the whole world! Now that we’ve signed with Nuclear Blast, we don’t need to worry about the record company’s activities. And we know that BN handles the things as well as a record company can handle them. In advance you can never know how people will react to the new album, but I don’t even think about it, you know, it wouldn’t help at all. This is our sixth album, and we’ve played for 12 years. In the early days we had some problems with the record-companies, and we’ve learned that everything you want to achieve, it requires a lot of work and effort. But we’re glad of all the small things and achievements. So we have no list of things what we expect to happen. The band is satisfied with this album and now we only wait to confirm the gigs and tours.
Talking about the promo-tour… are your suitcases already packed?
Yeah, they are already packed, mentally, but yet we cannot reveal very much. In Finland the album-release-tour will start in late February. In May we are going to Turkey, for a Headliner-tour, which is again a completely different culture, referring to your earlier question. Also this tour we have prepared with day-offs, and we already have the car driver who knows the places well. So when we go to Turkey, we really go to Turkey, and not just to see the hotel and the venues. And immediately after Turkey we’re planning to come to Europe still the end of May. Then there is the festival-tour in the Central European countries, and it brings us to Italy, I don’t know yet when, but as soon as possible. Instead, about summer festivals we don’t have anything finalized yet.
I read from your Biography that you do not stay steady for a long, so what other plans do you have for this year?
I think this year will pass doing gigs. But knowing myself I bet that by the autumn I will start doing new songs. Usually I’m able to be for 7-8 months without writing very much, but as soon as I give myself the permission to do the first new song, from that moment the things are proceeding quickly to start to make a new album. It depends, of course, from the record company, but in fact I would be ready to enter the studio by the end of this year. lol
By the way, how has your sound changed in the past years?
It’s actually really interesting to notice that the sound has changed very little in recent years. Obviously it’s refined and developed, and I learn something from each new album. Also the whole band has become better, and learned to make better songs. But for example when I listen to our first demo from 1998, we could have taken a song from there to this new album. Actually, there is one acoustic bonus track, taken from our demo. But today we are just what we wanted to be and to play several years ago. And yet, our current line up is so good, and the level of the musicians is high, so that they are able to raise my ideas on a new level. I cannot even think that we should change something only because we should make something different. But some pressure comes also from the record company… for example, for this new video “DeathStar”, they would have wanted it become a so-called “radio hit” with a clean voices, a bit like our “Deadsong” some years ago. But in the studio “DeathStar” turned upside down, and there was no way to do it with the clean voices, ahah, it has too much growl, so we know that it won’t become another “radio hit” :D. But sure yes, the record companies are always trying, but they know that they can only suggest, and then we make our work in the studio, as we want. And of course, also in the agreement there is a paragraph that give us the full artistic freedom.
Do you have dreams that are still in a shell?
Quite a bad question … well, I really don’t have dreams. But always some new stuff I want to do, picks me up, either a new album, or another band project. I’m also interested doing videos. This our new video is completely made by me. But let’s say that dreams I have are on project basis. I cannot say where I’d like to be in five years from now. But I have a smooth and steady drive on to do new music and new projects. My dreams are in small gains and achievements.
Many of your songs have stayed a long on Finland’s official chart, on top positions. What do you think, that is the secret of your band?
In Finland to this fact has contributed the hard working, since our first album we’ve been very active doing the gigs. We’ve done a lot of videos and we are called as a fan-friendly band… we have a close, effective and long-standing relationship with our fans. And that is probably the secret of our band, if it can be called with that name.
Let’s talk now about your other projects…
Currently active gigging bands and that are releasing albums are “Before The Dawn”, “Black Sun Aeon” and “RoutaSielu” and all of these keep me busy… The debut of RoutaSielulta comes out the 16th february, just one week before the release of “Deathstar Rising” of Before The Dawn… and then the beginning of April will start the recordings of the 3rd album of Black Sun Aeon. I also have a death metal band “The Final Harvest” which released it debut album in 2009, but at the moment I don’t have enough time to run than only 3 bands. But probably in autumn we will enter the studio with The Final Harvest.
Your facebook profile says that besides these bands, in addition you are also a Professional Stage Manager for the big clubs and festivals … and yet, a Professional Producer, musician and song writer … Do you want to tell us something more about these?
I do all kinds of jobs related to music-scenes. In summer I work as a festival stage manager and technical producer besides of touring… and if I have time, during the weekdays I do some gardening. I’ve been doing gardening for 14 years and still am doing it in summers, time permitting. I have my studio where I record the most of my own music as well as the producing albums for other bands, whenever I meet with an interesting project. Then recently, I’ve interested in making the music videos and in generally the photographing. The last video of Before The Dawn has been directed, cutted and edited by me.
This of course means that you don’t have any leisure-time problems as you don’t have it … or do you?
hahah, yeah, I don’t need to think about the leisure-time a lot … Let’s say that I’ve quite enough to do..
Ok, I think our time has end… well actually already 30 minutes ago, lol … but do you want to say something to your fans and to those who read this interview?
Support your local underground and stay metal!
Thanks Tuomas, for this nice chat. Good vibes to Before The Dawn! Keep me updated about your news, and hopefully we’ll see you soon “on the road”.
Yes, thank you Tarja. Keep in touch and see you! Ciaooo!
Interview by Tarja Virmakari
BEFORE THE DAWN – Deathstar