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Heavy Metal Perse

Line up:

Matias Palm - vocals, lead, rhythm & acoustic guitars, guitar synth
Juha Leikkainen - lead, rhythm & acoustic guitars
Heikki Romppainen - drums
Harri Leinonen - bass

It’s Christmas season. In a cold monday evening, I am headed towards this pub in the center of Helsinki to meet with two other people: Matias Palm and Heikki Romppainen, singer/guitar player and drummer of Heavy Metal Perse, respectively.
The two have temporarily transformed this small corner of the pub into their own office, packing promo material to be sent out for the release of their new album, "Aikakirjat". Between a couple of beers, pub food and some good laughter, we talked about the origins of the band, their new record, and other curiosities:

Marco: So, here we are. You have just released your second album, "Aikakirjat", but before talking about that I would like you to introduce the band to the audience, as they might not be so familiar with it abroad.
Heikki: Yeah. We started about ten years ago…
Matias: Twelve.
H: Twelve… to play traditional heavy metal, and the first idea was to sing in Finnish, because there were no bands doing that at the time. It was just for mutual fun. We didn’t have any plans. We were in the same school and we just thought that we might record a few songs and make a demo tape, for fun.
But then it spread out in the internet somehow, by word of mouth. And people thought that this was kind of hilarious and good music at the same time. Because it was something unheard of.

M: In a sense it was a sort of "Myspace-effect" then, like that which affected many other small bands in those years?
H: Yeah, even though there was no Myspace at the time. I don’t even know anymore what was the way to do it back then! I was still copying stuff on tape, and trading them with my friends. I’m from the stone age! [laughs]
But something happened, and it turned out that now we are pretty well known everywhere in Finland. We had to change a bit our plans then because it was so much fun to have fans, that we made our second demo tape. Then we couldn’t stop, because of Mape Ollila from Imperiumi, the website, wanted to release a compilation. Which then he didn’t, but he released our first single. One thing lead to another, and here we are, ten years later!
M: [To Matias] Do you want to add something or do you want to keep un-taping those envelopes? [preparing promos to be sent out]
M: I don’t know, that was pretty much it!

M: Ok, and who came up with the name ["heavy metal perse"]?
H: I did! We have to remember that it was at the time when we didn’t have any big plans… I don’t even remember what it was about, it was meant to be humoristic.

M: It seems like it!
H: Of course it is fun, because it is absurd. There are stuff that had amazed me, like this song called "Kirvesperseet" by YUP, a famous Finnish band. I don’t know if it has anything to do with that, but…
M: The way I have been thinking about it is that the name is like… the people that you can call "Heavy Metal Perse" could be sort of "heavy metal idiots" or something like that.
H: Yeah, but "idiot" in a good way.
M: Yes, so that’s basically it.
H: We are all people who like, eat and breath heavy metal! Well, we are not really like that, but when we did the band, we turned into people like that!

M: And a lot of bands have often changed their name, so congratulations for NOT doing that!
M: At some point it was too late.
H: Yeah, exactly! And then it has been like a two-headed sword, because everybody has to admit that it sticks to your mind, once people have heard it, they will never forget it. And the t-shirts spread like hell! The minute we started making them, there were a lot of people walking around like "living commercials" for the band. And in the end of the day there are a lot of band names which are ridiculous, but after a few years nobody gives a fuck. Like Apulanta is one of the most famous band in Finland now… Led Zeppelin first thought about calling themselves The Whoopee Cushion, etc.

M: And there are a lot of bands which are ridiculous without even having a ridiculous name!
H: Exactly! maybe Hammerfall has a cooler name than we do
M: Or maybe they don’t!
H: But we are more… [laughs]
M: At least you didn’t make a national anthem for the curling team!
H: Yes, that’s where you draw the line! [laughs]
Or we don’t make any christmas record songs!

M: Alright! But let’s talk now about this "Aikakirjat", or "Chronicles" in English. What can you tell us about the new record?
H: That it is not new to us because we started writing immediately after we did the first one [2008]
M: Actually some of the songs were written the same year that we released the debut album, but then we had a break, and two years ago we gathered together in Kajaani, our hometown, and composed the rest of the album. So we had about half of the album ready by then, and then we did in a few days there all the rest.
H: Yeah, it took a few years maybe to do the writing, but then it was a matter of weeks to actually do the songs. I started writing the lyrics straight after the first album, but because nothing was happening then I just put them in my drawer.

M: Then one day you opened it to find some clothes, and you found them!
H: Yeah, exactly! [laughs]
Then I just had to go on from what I had, and I didn’t remember what the fuck I was thinking when I first wrote them… it was fun!

M: That’s the usual, I would say!
H: Yes. And maybe the most important part was when we all gathered in Kajaani, and in a matter of three days we wrote all of the music, the four of us together. Or better, I didn’t write any music, but we jammed together and so on.

M: Seems quite efficient!
H: Yeah, very intense.
M: And we will do the same with the next album I think. We will just gather without and…

M: Do whatever you feel like!
H: Like Metallica! [laughs] "Day 500: nothing done."

M: "James Hetfield ordered nachos today". But anyway, in the album to me it seems we can hear some strong influences like for example Running Wild…
H: Definitely.
M: And there is also a kind of folkish component. I was wondering while listening to it, how much the Finnish traditional or more popular music have maybe influenced yours.
H: I am not sure if the music had so much influence, maybe it was more the Celtic and English folk music, because many of our favorite records are there to be heard. But the Finnish folklore, in a mental way, like when writing the lyrics, is a big influence.
M: Running Wild has always been an obvious influence for us, because we all like it, and then also it’s nice to write some Running Wild-ish kind of stuff. In Finland no one else basically does anything like that. If you do that in Finnish, you kind of sound "original".
H: You pay respect to the tradition, but at the same time you are original.
M: And those Finnish bands that have influenced us, aren’t really metal bands. Not anything like this folkish metal thing. We don’t really listen to Ensiferum, or Finntroll, that much.

M: Ok, but that’s not really what I meant either, I mean more traditional Finnish music, in a sense.
M: Well yeah, traditional or not, but we like some bands such as Eppu Normaali and stuff, so maybe they have influenced us.
H: There are some bands, like Pohjannaula, which I don’t think they play anymore… but they started out with this folk traditional Finnish kind of music… I don’t know if it’s a straight influence, but we do listen to stuff like that.

M: Ok. And there is also this, actually pretty interesting version of Jethro Tull’s "Aqualung". A pretty good cover, I would say. It is also interesting to hear it in the context of Heavy Metal Perse, and it seems that it fits quite nicely in it.
M: Basically all we did was to translate the lyrics as they were. We didn’t come up with anything new. We used the original arrangement, with the instrumentation, and stuff like that. H: Me and Matias played maybe like, two or three times together, and then we pressed "REC"! [laughs]

M: That’s the way!
H: Yeah! [laughs] But it’s definitely one side of the band, that type of music, but maybe it hasn’t been so audible before this.
M: We don’t make things that complicated in our songs! [laughs]
H: But it is a big influence.

M: So you won’t start covering Pink Floyd or stuff like that?
M: No, no! I think we cannot make that kind of stuff! [laughs]

M: [to Matias] And it is actually the first time that I hear you singing in Finnish on record, even if this is probably your oldest band, isn’t it?
M: Yeah, it actually is! I don’t know, maybe you have been living in a barrel or something! [laughs] No, no…
H: We have been quiet for a few years. I think you were referring to the fact that Matias has also other bands, and I have other bands too… so we can keep ourselves busy even when HMP is having a "quiet life". It’s been a few years since we did the last album…

M: Yeah, I think the last show was maybe in 2010?
H: Yes it was, and it was a very small festival near Oulu. But back then it was like riding a dead horse, with no new material… and we had already played some of the major festivals and we toured with Skyclad and Blaze Bayley in Finland, so… not endlessly, but we have done our bit to promote that album.
M: But the funny thing is that since we have been on a tour break for over two years, it means that we have to learn to play our old stuff again! [laughs]
H: Maybe it’s like masturbating, once you know how to do it, you will never forget it!

M: I thought the saying was "when you learn riding a bicycle…"
H: Yeah, but we don’t know how to ride bikes! [laughs]
M: Fair enough! So, how do you think the new record has been received so far by the fans and the critics, since it has been out for about a month now?
M: I think it has been great, because we saw only one bad review, and even that one wasn’t too bad, because the guy who wrote it couldn’t even tell what was wrong with the music.
H: He basically said that he likes the music, but he didn’t really understand the band.
M: But everybody else has been saying that the album is great, so we are pretty satisfied with the reaction.
H: I think it’s selling OK, even if nowadays you never know what’s going to sell and what is not… So we have to thank the metalheads for that. They keep the record business alive! At least for their own scene.

M: Yeah, that’s actually a thing you can really praise these people for. And can you actually tell us a bit more about the lyrics, for non-Finnish speakers, you know…
H: Well, many times they are combinations of real stuff, with folklore, and maybe some computer games or other pop culture. Like "Merirosvokaupunkiin", which means "To the pirate city". Well, the title is obviously influenced by Running Wild. At first I tried to write a "bluesy" kind of stuff… The opening is pretty much about some renegade who is not welcome anywhere, and everywhere he goes people is trying to kill him. But there is also this old computer game, "Monkey Island", so I just mixed those two together. Or "Vainolasta Vastaan"… I used to work in a museum, which is in an old painter’s house called Pekka Halonen, and Vainolasta Vastaan is one of his paintings, which is about a Kalevala thing where people go to war. All those serious subjects, I usually mix them with more light-hearted stuff.
M: The title track of the album is lyric-wise my absolute favorite one, because the story tells about the creation of the world, and it’s also here on the cover. So the Gods are us! They created the world, but they were drunk! So that’s why everything is fucked up! [laughs]
H: It’s based in a sort of… I don’t want to say "fantasy world", not like Rhapsody does, but something let’s say, imaginary, which still people can relate to. Many people have said that the lyrics are good, and that’s what makes me really happy!

M: And for what I can understand of Finnish, it seems so to me as well. [to Matias] But you threw a rope for my next question, which is, which songs of the new album do you like more to play? Probably yours is the title track.
M: [nods]
H: I like the title track too. I haven’t actually… we haven’t played those since we have put them on tape, so we have to play them, and then figure out what we actually CAN still play. Maybe those will be our favorites! [laughs]
M: Some of them at the beginning have been quite difficult because there is a lot of riffing and rhythms in the verses when I have to sing, and so that makes it quite complicated to play and sing at the same time! [laughs] So I think maybe we will play about six songs or something, we’ll see…

M: Or, you can have a live guitar player.
M: No! it would be too easy! [laughs]
H: And too complicated also!
M: You can ask Kasperi! [Heikkinen, from Merging Flare, ex-Amberian Dawn]
M: We could, but we don’t know… maybe he is too expensive for us! [laughs]
H: We are not planning to play all the new songs live, because we have lots of old material that people likes. But I like the opening track because it is so aggressive and "Aikakirjat" because it’s exactly the opposite.
M: Then we have "Pettureiden Portti", which is completely different, it’s slower stuff, and more like this eighties heavy metal… Like Judas Priest or Accept or something… Maybe it will be interesting to try that one!
H: It’s Finnish for "the traitor’s gate". It doesn’t mean the one in London, but I read about this guy who was locked up in the Kajaani castle, here in Finland. How miserable his life was. That was the main influence, but the "end product" doesn’t tell about that guy, even if it was the first idea.
M: Then there is this one song, "Hornan Koje", which was released as a single, and vinyl, two years ago… So we have played that one live a couple of times.
H: It’s the most Motorhead-kind of stuff we have ever done, or we will ever do! [laughs] I think that would be fun to play live again.

M: One of those "once in a lifetime" things?
H: Yeah, maybe!
M: So when will we see you guys hit the road, do you have already something booked?
M: We have some plans to play during the spring, maybe a couple of gigs… and then a summer festival or two. We will see, but it’s really hard because everybody is in different towns, and our daily jobs basically prevent us from doing anything! [laughs] So we have to set the dates like half a year beforehand.
M: You still have time maybe for Jalometalli!
M: We have some time for that but we don’t know if they want to get us there! [laughs]
H: Hopefully we will be like the Finnish band Eppu Normaali. They didn’t do any shows for like 5-10 years, or just very few… and their popularity became bigger and bigger! We don’t want to tire ourselves with touring, because as I said me and Matias have also other bands. We keep ourselves busy all the time anyway. I don’t mean to say that this is a side-project or anything, but we want to give our best for the little time we dedicate to it.

M: You focus on it when you actually have the time to, that’s good.
H: Yeah, exactly.

M: Alright. Is there anything else you want to say?
H: Listen to metal!
M: Well, if you ever see that we are going to play anywhere, please come because it will be probably an extraordinary happening. We don’t really do gigs that much, as we just said!

M: Well, as long as by extraordinary you don’t mean that you will play naked it’s fine!
M: We won’t! [laugh]
M: Alright then!
M: Thank you!

Intervista di  Marco Manzi

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