On their current album „Moonflowers“ SWALLOW THE SUN show themselves more vulnerable than ever in various ways. From the artwork created by bandleader Juha Raivio from blood and dried flowers to his self-critical statements about the album and the interplay of melancholic music and lyrics – the Finnish death/doom band obviously has no interest in ostentatious metal posturing. In our interview, we asked drummer Juuso Raatikainen about his view of the band’s development, the difficulty of touring during a pandemic, and the stereoptype of the suffering artist, among other things.
The COVID-19 pandemic is still going on, lockdowns are still an issue in some places. Nevertheless, you have already planned tours again, one of which started in the USA before the end of November. How do you experience touring under the current circumstances?
It’s definitely more challenging mentally due to constant uncertainty. We were lucky to do a successful tour without any cancellations or covid cases. „Moonflowers“ was just released and it looks like spring is doomed once again. So, this successful North America tour was definitely needed.
On your USA tour you are accompanied by Abigail Williams and Wilderun – a stylistically quite diverse line-up. How did this come about and how has the audience reacted to this rather unusual constellation so far?
Touring line-ups are a sum of so many practical and financial arrangements that it’s difficult to say how this particular one was formed. Nevertheless, I like the diversity personally. Who has patience for three death/doom bands in a row anyway?
How worried are you that you will have to cancel the outstanding concerts or even cut a tour short halfway through?
That was the risk we took. Tour could end basically anytime. The easy way out is to not tour at all. We had the balls to try it at least and we were lucky. We just had a new album out and it’s not an option to just give up.
What are you most looking forward to when you return home at the end of a tour?
A steady bed. It gets quite bumpy in a bandwagon.
Your music reflects the widespread image of the tortured artist. According to it, great art comes primarily from great suffering. How much truth do you think there is in this stereotype?
I believe so 100%. Many artists who figured their shit out completely lost their touch and make mediocre albums after. There has to be certain amount of pain there. At least in heavy music this stands for sure.
You are known for your very melancholic sound, which you have kept for many years now. Is your music cathartic for you, or could it even be that it causes you to lose yourself in negative feelings more often?
Hm… Well, anyone who ends up writing or performing heavy gloomy music will have to find ways to balance that. It won’t be a very long career if the only thing one does is write about death and meaninglessness. I bet dwelling in there too much will eventually cause mental issues.
You seem to use clean vocals significantly more often on your newer records. Did guttural singing become too monotonous for you in the long run?
Screaming has its place and people tend to grow up. Usually this means a wider span of expression. Screaming is definitely monotonous and SWALLOW THE SUN is quite a dynamic band. There are big contrasts in the music and they also show in the vocals. Juha’s writing has been quite melodic these past albums, but who knows what happens in the future.
In general, your music has become a bit more gentle over time. Do you see this as the result of a maturing process?
Yes. Natural thing I’d say.
What goes through your mind when you think back to your early works like „The Morning Never Came“?
Back then I was a quite young fan of the band. I like playing those songs, for sure! They awaken certain nostalgia.
About your new album „Moonflowers“, songwriter Juha Raivio wrote in a statement that he hates the album for what it makes him feel. What is it about this album in particular that is so painful?
I don’t know many musicians who like their products right after the process. But in Juha’s case a lot of unpleasant feelings are involved and it’s only natural to avoid them. If an album is full of negative personal topics like dealing with loss and grief it might be challenging to return to it.
He also wrote that for him it was a reflection of a deep self-disappointment, that he had hoped to have more left in him. Why this dissatisfaction with „Moonflowers“?
I don’t know what he would mean by that exactly. Maybe the unability to let go of those topics.
One rarely reads such frank words in announcements about new albums – not even in metal, which otherwise always boasts of its truthfulness. How big is the pressure on a band like yours to constantly promote yourselves?
Social media has made it so, that it is expected. Our band is lazy about it and would like to concentrate on the music. Bigger bands have staff to take care of that which makes it easier. All in all it sucks, but has to be done.
Regarding the artwork of the record, you mentioned that it was created by Raivio himself from his own blood. That must have been quite a lot of blood – wasn’t that very painful or even a bit dangerous?
(Laughs) Who knows. Human body has quite a bit of it fortunately. Makes a good story though.
He also used flowers he had collected and dried for it. Did he collect the flowers specifically for the painting or is this a hobby for him?
I don’t believe it’s a hobby. Blood and flowers from the yard emphasize the personal nature of the album, I think. Also beauty and despair, which are very much topics through out SWALLOW THE SUN catalogue.
Strings can be heard again and again on the album, they also are heard more clearly than on „When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light“. Did you intend to put them a little more into focus this time?
Yes. Real strings bring a bit more melo-dramatic and organic mood to the album. „When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light“ was quite etheric and mellow with all the keyboard layers. In fact a string version of the whole new album is attached in the package. A group called Trio NOX was involved in the album process and their input was worthy to be released as stand-alone too.
Do you think strings have become an integral part of your music now?
I think programmed/keyboard strings have been there since the beginning, but real strings are definitely an upgrade.
Is there anything you haven’t incorporated into your music as a band before that you’d like to try (for example, a new instrument or a stylistic element from another genre)?
I would see this band doing a full orchestra album easily. Also some older finnish folk instruments would fit in for sure.
Finally, I’d like to go through our traditional Metal1.info brainstorming with you. What comes to your mind about the following keywords?
Bands on Cameo: Greed
Your musical guilty pleasure: ABBA
Writer’s block: Excuse
Something that always cheers you up: Beer
Your resolution for the upcoming year: More sugar, less gym
Thank you so much for the interview! Any last words you’d like to add?
Check out „Moonflowers“! If you like it, buy it!