On a chilly day in April we at RMP had the pleasure to sit down with Sammi Hinkka, the bass player of the mighty Ensiferum for an enthusiastic chat in the cosiness of their tour bus. Right before their headlining show during the Return Of The One Man Army tour with Heidra and Fleshgod Apocalypse the cheerful bassist talked us through the recording process of their newest album, their label change, his love for kebab and much much more!
- First of all, welcome to Belgium! Your Return of the One Man Army tour has started two days ago in Germany and yesterday you played in The Netherlands.
Yeah, pretty much. Yesterday we just had the package. The first show was at Ragnarök festival in Germany and that was just us so frankly yesterday was the first real day of the tour.
- Are you psyched to tour again after the UK tour in February?
Yes, very much! The UK tour was just one week so it feels really good to be back on the road and proper tour and now with such a great package! I was thrilled yesterday; I was checking out both other bands, Heidra and Fleshgod Apocalypse, and there were awesome. I’m really excited to see how the tour is going to be.
- You’re touring with Heidra and Fleshgod Apocalypse. Has this been a conscious choice?
Our management came with some options and recommended them and of course when we saw Fleshgod we wanted tour with them. We wanted to do a tour that would be more diverse, so not just like folk and pagan metal so it would be a win-win situation for everyone. You can come to a show and see a band you probably never even heard of and also for bands, for us, Fleshgod and Heidra, we can meet new people. It’s, I think, also more interesting for fans. And we also wanted Heidra for the tour, because I already heard about them as ‘rising star of the folk metal scene’. I checked out their show yesterday and I was really surprised about how professional these guys are on stage and off stage.
- So there’s a really nice cooperation between the bands too?
Yes! We’re also on a really tight schedule. We only have like one day off and that’s also a travel day so I hope we can have some off time with all the bands together for a small party or so.
- You’re always performing with the famous war paint. When did this habit begin? And whose idea was it?
I think it was Markus (Toivoinen, guitars and backing vocals) … It started even before I joined the band, like 11 years go. We always use a really strong, heroic theme and it was a part of the guys who wanted to have some kind of ritual before the show to get into the right mood and that’s where it all started. I think it’s okay and I kind of feel sad for all the black metal bands with all the corpse paint and blood and stuff. We just quickly draw two stripes and we’re ready to go. I just saw a new Moonsorrow promo – I haven’t heard the album yet, but everybody says it’s excellent! – and I thought ‘Are they really going to wear corpse paint on stage too?’ because they were wearing some sort of bloody paint on the promo pictures. But they’re used to using blood on stage and so on so that’ll be just their problem [laughs]!
- Obviously this tour is meant to promote the release of your sixth studio album “One Man Army”, the album even reached the number 1 spot in the Finland album charts. How has the response been so far to the album?
Surprisingly positive, I mean, we did the first tour a year ago and it was really weird – in a good way – that people were already singing along while the album was just out for a month or something like that and were really enjoying the new songs. Usually it takes a few tours or some time for people to get into the new songs but for “One Man Army” it happened instantly and it felt really good. And it’s the same on this tour; we tried to change the set list a lot compared to the last tour, even though we play in different cities than last time. We know we have some hardcore fans who come to shows anyway so we wanted to change the set list as much as possible. Of course we’re still promoting the new album so we want to include some new songs but there also songs we haven’t played in years so it’s also a lot of fun for us to change the set list as much as possible. That’s what we usually do, we check out what we played last time, even on festivals, although that could be rather stupid because most of the time there are different people on different festivals but still we check out what we played last time and in cities nearby to keep it interesting for us and for the fans. We don’t want to be a band that when you go to see Ensiferum you pretty much know all the songs that we’ll definitely play.
- You really try to keep the mystery to the songs?
Yes! I think it’s also more interesting for band to not just rely on a few songs because we’re proud of every song. But it’s getting really difficult; I think it would be much easier if you only got like fifteen to twenty hit songs everyone really wants to hear from you and you really just play those. But with “One Man Army” it was really difficult to make a new set list because we want to promote the new album so we had to choose let’s say four or five songs from the new album and then you just had ten or eleven songs from the old albums and when you have like five other albums to choose from it becomes very difficult because we also want to play songs from every album.
- You had to choose very wisely then?
Yes, it’s always really tricky and we were already talking about this that when the next album will be released it will become even more difficult so maybe we should start playing two-hour shows or something.
- What’s your favourite song on the album?
Oh, good question [sighs]. I really like how “Warrior Without A War” turned out: I remember we were sitting in the rehearsal room, going through ideas and it was just me and Markus – the others were off to smoke or taking a shit or something – and he said ‘Yeah, last night I came up with this kind of melody’ and he played it and I got goose bumps all over my body. I was like ‘That’s going to be the opening track! That’s so good!’. And then the guys came back and they loved it from the beginning. We made a demo and when we went to record with Anssi Kippo he made it even better because he came with such fresh ideas.
- You just mentioned Anssi Kippo, the same engineer who recorded three award-winning Children Of Bodom albums. Why did you think he was the man to go to for “One Man Army”?
We had a really strong vision for this album and we had a meeting with Anssi and explained what we wanted; just a few corner stones like one was that we wanted no triggers. The sound had to be as organic as possible. And the way I see it for Ensiferum, there has been a big gap if you listen to an album and you go see a show. I think we are a pretty different band when you come to live shows and we wanted to make that gap smaller. That was one thing we wanted; that it really sounded like the band was playing everything live but really tightly of course. Nowadays you have Protools and so and it’s so easy to edit everything so that it sounds perfect but in the end it doesn’t sound human anymore. Maybe it’s typical for us, old geezers, but we wanted to sound like human beings were actually playing so you can hear every guitar slide or even small mistakes or whatever and that’s music. Art is never perfect. Anssi totally understood that and we paid a high price for that because he really made us play a lot in the studio. I never played bass lines for three days for songs that I know. I think the fastest I ever played was three hours for a whole Rapture album. But the result is very good, we didn’t take like clips of a few seconds, we would play whole songs, or half songs when there would be some sort of gap. We liked really long takes so there would be a good vibe. But yes, he really kicked our ass and we really liked to work with him.
- We know you’re not scared to experiment with different genres or songs, like your cover of “Bamboleo”, “Battery” or “Finnish Medley”. “Two of Spades” features a very funky part. How did this idea come by?
I can’t remember how it exactly went but we are a very democratic band and we have a policy that everything has to be tried no matter how crazy the idea is. We would say ‘Okay let’s try to play this in R&B’ and we try our best to play it in R&B. I would guess, because me and Janne (Parviainen, drums), we have a background of playing a lot of different kinds of music; from funk to hiphop to downtempo, chill out stuff, whatever. Janne used to play in Waltari and that’s really experimental stuff. They’re pretty big actually in Germany. Anyway I would guess that the idea of the funky thing started when we were just jamming while people were going to grab some water or eat and me and Janne were just jamming and thinking ‘This sounds good! Maybe too good. We have to use it!’. There was never like a meeting with the band saying ‘Okay, we’re going to have a funk part in this song!’. You should’ve seen our manager’s face when he came to the studio and he had no idea about the song and it starts very heavy and he was like ‘Yeah, this sounds good!’ and then the funky part started he was like ‘What?’. And we we’re like ‘Haha, now we’ve got ya!’ [Laughing]. But that’s also how we want to keep making music: if something feels good, let’s just make it into a song. If you start thinking too much about what you can do, then you just pin yourself in a corner and you end up just repeating yourself. Sometimes you hear comments like ‘Yeah, you should do more stuff like you did on the “Iron” album.’, but that was done like ten years ago. That album is done, you know, we want to do something new. If you like “Iron”, just listen to it, it’s there!
- Talking about albums, you released this album through Metal Blade records; the previous ones by Spinefarm. Why the change of record label?
We’re still good friends with the Spinefarm people; we just emailed before the tour because they released a compilation and, I think in Copenhagen, we’re going to see a few of them so… I don’t know… in a way “One Man Army” was a kind of fresh start in many ways, like I said, for instance, we wanted the album to sound totally different, we changed the guy who makes the album cover and it kind of felt we had this urge to do things differently. The deal ended with Spinefarm and we had some options. Of course we talked with our management, which is really good by the way, they’re always giving advice, they never say ‘You have to do this or that,’ and we had a meeting with Metalblade on the US tour. They were really nice guys and… I don’t know… things just happened pretty naturally. It was natural to go with Metalblade and they’ve been doing a lot of good work and it feels really good that way. Actually yesterday we met our manager and it feels really good to hear that the label is really thinking about the future with the band. They’re not just asking when the new album is coming out and that’s it. If you have a label that really works and actually does something it feels good.
- You just mentioned the best-of album that was released on April, 1st. Why now? Was it because of the new start with Metalblade?
It was Spinefarm’s idea. It’s usual when a band goes to another label that the previous label releases a compilation. I think that’s somehow standard in music business. Spinefarm came up with the idea and, like I said we still have a really good relationship, so they said we could choose all the songs and we just worked together with all the text inside and so on.
- Was it hard to just choose 14 songs?
Yeah [laughs], because it had to fit in just one cd. On the other hand, it wasn’t because those are pretty much the biggest hits and we used pretty much the same method we use when we make set lists: we wanted to have songs from each album of course. It was funny; yesterday actually was the first day I had the cd in my hand and me and Petri (Lindroos, screams and guitars), we were watching the track list and there were only four songs we don’t play on this tour! So I was like ‘Okay, we’re actually also promoting the compilation!’. But let’s see how the future goes because I think for the next tours we’re going to change the set list again completely. I can tell you there is something going on in the background; some big things… maybe later this year so I can’t reveal any details yet. It’s politics, you know [laughs]. Anyway, I get carried away all the time; I’m going from compilation to future plans!
- The compilation album features the famous wooden shield we see on every album cover. Is there a story behind this shield or is it just some cool image?
It happened when the first album came out, the guys had certain ideas or elements they wanted to have on the cover, like this godlike ‘Ensiferum dude’ and then they had the Kalevala, our national poem or book which is one source of inspiration and also from back in the days because the old Amorphis had a lot to do when the whole band started. And I guess Markus wanted to have a Finnish flag in there and the shield seemed like a good place. The godlike guy is like our Eddie because we’re big Iron Maiden fans and it would be impossible to leave him out now. It’s like I said earlier about pinning ourselves in a corner; that much we pinned ourselves into a corner. On the album covers we need the shield and/or the ‘Ensiferum dude’ at least.
- You’ve recently announced that Emmi left the band due to family reasons. Of course we wish her the best of luck in the future. But now, Netta will take the accordion for her account. How is to work with another creative soul after almost 10 years?
It’s really weird but again things went very naturally. Netta helped us in the studio: she sings on “Neito Pohjolan” and “Cry For The Earth Bounds” and she just came to the studio and everything just… well we knew her of course because we did a tour with Turisas when she was in the band in like 2008 on some sort of Pagan Fest so we’ve known each other for years and she’s just an amazing person. She’s so happy, always in a good mood and good in talking with people and she’s a really easy person to get along with. But so was Emmi. I always said Emmi had the biggest balls of the band because she never complained about anything, not like us, the old guys, we complained much more. And it’s the same with Netta, she’s a really professional musician and an incredibly nice person. So it all went really smoothly. Let’s see maybe in the future it would be really cool to do shows where we could have both of them! That’s one plan; maybe when we do our next DVD. That’s one cool thing about Metalblad too. You know, we’ve had an idea for a next DVD for like six years, we’ve already shot material for it but then Spinefarm said ‘Nobody buys DVDs anymore so forget about it,’, which is understandable because it’s music business, not music charity. So last year we met the Metalblade guys in Germany and they said ‘Of course we’ll make a new DVD!’. We have this really cool idea for the DVD for not just like one show but… well you’ll see [laughs]!
- We also have some short questions from fans: what’s your favourite film?
All-time favourite movie? I’m going to be really cliché and say “Braveheart”.
- Your favourite food?
I have to say kebab; I mean I’ve been say kebab for years! I remember once we were playing a festival, it was raining like hell and we were having a signing session. People were all in a long cue getting really wet and we were under the tent and there comes a couple in front of me and they gave me a kebab. They were holding it under their jacket the whole time so it wouldn’t get wet. And some fans even make like a toy kebab for me, or a soft kebab where you can sit on [laughs]!
- Your favourite beverage?
Single malt whisky.
- What’s your all-time favourite band?
That has to be Iron Maiden. The classics! Like I said, I’m old. But you have to give them respect, you know, I mean they play long sets all around the world and it’s incredible. They’re really inspiring guys.
- Do you have any last words for our readers?
In case you haven’t heard our latest album, “One Man Army”: check it out. Summer festival season is coming so enjoy the Summer and go check out some live music; not just us, but Summer’s a good time to have a lot of fun with friends, get drinks and good music.