Since my first contact with The Chant back in 2008, I have kept a curious eye on the development of this promising Atmospheric / Progressive Rock act. Sure, they haven't grown into a big name of the Finnish music scene and their cruising radius as a live band has been pretty much limited to their hometown Helsinki so far. Nevertheless, over the years they have become one of the most interesting musical forces hailing from the Thousand Lakes. My fellow countrymen from Lifeforce Records obviously agree and so the Leipzig-based Metal(core) label is going to release the band's new opus "A Healing Place" worldwide on August 22nd. It is the band's third record but the first that's officially published outside of Finland.
And truly, the time is ripe. 13 years after the The Chant's foundation the world seems to notice for the first time on a larger scale what a great band has grown in Helsinki-Vantaa during the last decade. A pleasant (and badly needed) anti-thesis to the flashy creatures the music business is spitting out everywhere nowadays. So - who are the architects of this soundscape-driven, cinematic Rock music that achieves a depth seldom to be heard these days? What keeps them going? What are their ultimate goals with The Chant? And what's the lyrical message behind "A Healing Place"? Time to share a few words with main songwriter / band leader Jussi Hämäläinen (guitars, backing vocals), and the two band-lyricists Mari Jämbäck (keys, piano) and Ilpo Paasela (lead vocals)...
2012 is quite an interesting year for fans of atmospheric and progressive Rock music (because of the new albums by Anathema, Katatonia and Steven Wilson/ Mikael Akerfeldt). Now your new record "A Healing Place" is joining in. In a situation like this, I remember the Katatonia and Anathema-references you made when your debut album "Ghostlines" came out in 2008. Do you still feel you share the same spirit and even essential musical similarities with these bands nowadays? For those among our readers who don’t know you yet: Fans of what bands will most probably like "A Healing Place"?
Jussi: I believe that both Katatonia and Anathema share the similar thinking about music as we do… at least that’s the impression I’ve had. But I don’t feel that there are much of those musical similarities any more. Katatonia is way more Metal than us and Anathema…well we both have acoustic instruments and vocal harmonies but that’s it in my opinion. A Perfect Circle and Porcupine Tree are good references, too, but I would give emphasis to the general spirit of the music. If you like music that lasts and you have time to really listen to, you should definitely find out what The Chant has to offer.
In comparison to the previous record, which had a similar style, the warmer and more organic sound of "A Healing Place" caught my attention. As on your debut "Ghostlines", you are using quite a lot of acoustic guitar parts on "A Healing Place". Would you agree that "This Is The World We Know" was quite a "cold"-sounding record (probably because of all the lyrical negativity)? And was the warmer sound of "A Healing Place" a conscious decision?
Jussi: The main idea musically on "This Is The World We Know" was to record what we could play live. This time there weren’t such restrictions. On "A Healing Place" we wanted to use warmer sounds, especially on guitars, to get rid of that basic Metal-oriented sound. We also have three guitars now and we want them to sound big but we still need them to leave room for other instruments as well. So yes, it was a very conscious decision.
In an age of artificially shortened attention-spans with YouTube, iTunes etc. it is quite a statement to make a record that demands as much focus and attention from the listener as "A Healing Place" does. In my review, I call you an "anti-mainstream band". How do you feel about that term and in how far do you consciously rebel against the shallow music consumption of our time (both as musicians and as listeners)?
Jussi: "Anti-mainstream-band" sounds quite nice actually. AHP lasts almost an hour or so and I’m fully aware that there will be a lot of people who cannot handle it. But that’s their loss. Personally, I think I had that rebellious attitude in the back of mind the whole recording session. If we needed to make the song longer in order to get everything said lyrically and musically then we would do just that. But as much as I hate that “shallow music consumption” we don’t make songs longer just to annoy people.
You have always had the tendency to present the band as a collective, where no one stands out. This idea of collectivity is even expressed in the booklet: No songwriting credits are mentioned, no pictures of you guys were included, not even the instruments the members play are explicitely mentioned. Since it's quite an unusual approach - even in Rock and Metal: What's the reason to let the music speak so clearly for itself?
Ilpo: There's no reason for us to bring forth any person because of the nature of The Chant's music. It's based more on the mood in its entirety so that kind of information in fact would be quite unnecessary or even harmful to the message we're putting out. In the end, in the music I listen to the main goal is to guide the listener away from reality and allow him or her to build a different one for a little while. After all, reality is a subjective thing for a person and anything can be "real" at the time it is experienced. Names, credits or band photos etc. don't matter then. But of course that only goes for the physical album as a piece of art of its own. Like the majority of the bands we are also obligated to use promo pictures etc. in another context such as interviews. So, one has to have that common sense to understand that promotion is only rational when seeking new people to hear your music.
Mari: I have a feeling that people who like to personify music into an artist, as in connecting the music to a face and a persona, will do just that regardless what the acknowledgements on the album cover are. If you think that kind of thing is important, now you have seven of us to choose from to be the “face of The Chant”. Personally, I think credits are unimportant for us, especially on this album, which in reality is quite personal and thus wanted to present itself in a more impersonal way.
Mari, what can you tell us about the lyrical concept this time? The words are again quite cryptic, but seem to have a partly more personal tone ("My Kin", "Spectral Light") - mental isolation was the big theme on the last album, what is it now?
Mari: There isn’t as big a theme as there was on "This Is The World We Know“. First we talked about different points of view on the subject of letting go of things; of the past, of the future, of dreams, of people etc. Lyrics such as “Outlines”, ”My Kin”, “Regret” and “Riverbed” represent this theme. While working on the album the essence of the music revealed itself in “The Black Corner” which became the key piece of the album lyrically as well. In this song “A Place of Healing” can be seen as a state of mind and as a state of being, one has to face in order to feel better. Almost all of the songs deal in some extent with the inevitable fact that sometimes you have to go through very dark stages in order to reach the surface. You could, very straightforwardly, compare “A Healing Place” to a hospital – nobody wants to be there given the choice but still many of us have to visit in order to get better and go on with our lives. Fortunately “The Ocean Speaks” is a song that gives us a glimpse on the brighter side of life. That is a side we are also familiar with – believe it or not, hehe.
In the early days, you - as the only lady in the band - and Jussi were the main songwriters, with Ilpo contributing his own lyrics to some songs. Nowadays you're a septet. The combination of three guitarists and a keyboardist are a good explanation for the extremely dense, cinematic sound you have established through the years. Still, it must be extremely difficult to find a musical direction for an album with 7 people being in the band. I can't imagine The Chant to be a truly democratic band, how should that work? Or are you? And your secret is the long friendship you share? Tell us a bit about your songwriting and interpersonal dynamics within the band.
Mari: Obviously not all seven of us have worked on the songwriting together. The basic songwriting on this album is by Jussi. After he presents his ideas to us we all try to contribute. We’ve each arranged most of our own instrument for many years now. The tricky part has been learning to listen to one another so well that everything comes together beautifully in the end. I guess you could say the musical direction wasn’t at all hard to find even with seven members. I think we all trust each other enormously musically and in taste, so it’s not hard to sometimes let someone else take the lead in “your area”.
Ilpo, in many bands the singers play quite a prominent role - even if they can't sing at all. With you it's the other way around. You're an extremely skilful singer with a wide range in style and sound (and, in that way, comparable to Amorphis frontman Tomi Joutsen), but you don't get to sing a lot of great hook lines with The Chant. On previous records there have been at least a few catchy songs ("Green Waters", "Ode To the End", "November 1987") and in your singulary project Abandoned In August (with Shamrain-bassist Matti Reinola), you were even singing a dark Pop-song. Is catchiness and a singalong-attitude of no importance to you or why has the role of your voice in The Chant changed so much?
Ilpo: Like I said before, those kinds of things don't matter to me. In everything we do, whether it's on stage, in a studio or in rehearsals, The Chant as a whole is the key thing here. The goal is to develop the band and yourself as a musician, not to build up egos. In my mind, maybe like 10 years ago it was cool to sing great choruses and aim for that "Rockstar" status, but nowadays all of us in the band know what The Chant is about. And that kind of a frontman-oriented thinking just doesn't fit to the The Chant's music. The vision is clear, so to speak.
Hendrik Behnisch - 11.08.2012
Photos: Kalle Pyythinen (1, 3, 4); Timo Kirkkala (2)
Last Updated (Tuesday, 08 January 2013 21:13)
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