Interview by Andy Axworthy
It is always more interesting when you get the view from the inside. Sometimes we need to be reminded that bands just do not normally manifest fully-formed with a distribution and record deal. Ability and a bit of luck might provide the opportunity but sheer hard work, belief and determination usually sustains it all, and with an album as strong as “Euphorialight”, Finland’s Embassy of Silence have the right ingredients to move everything to the next level. Femme Metal grabbed some quality time with vocalist Ines Lukkanen to talk, amongst other things, about the story so far, keeping it real, plans for world domination and Mediterranean cookery… Read on.
Hi Ines – a warm welcome from the inmates here at Femme Metal : ) How is the world treating you today?
Quite well, thanks for asking! Looking forward to my birthday bash, and although this is one hectic week, I’m happy to take this chance to sit down, relax and answer some questions. It’s been nearly a year since “Euphorialight” was released into the wild.
Has is been a headlong rush since then or have you managed to occasionally stop and smell the flowers along the way? What have been your personal highlights so far?
It’s been a lot of work, to be honest, both before and after the release. Can’t really say we’ve enjoyed leisurely rock star life so far, since performing live, advertising, composing new material doing the occasional interview and so forth (in addition to our other projects, personal life and day-jobs) take a lion’s share of our time. It’s a labour of love. Even though we’ve done interviews several pages long or gotten fabulous ratings and reviews, personal highlights of mine have been other things, like seeing people in the crowd sing along to our songs or having them come up to me after a show, saying they were so touched, they couldn’t help but cry. I may sound pretentious, but as a performer, that can’t be topped.
The album itself is a delicious blend of style and substance that is refreshingly difficult to pin down to any one rock genre and that alone is enough to set “Euphorialight” apart from the crowd. How would you describe the Embassy of Silence sound to those not lucky enough to have heard the album yet?
A dreaded question appears…this is one of those times you wish you had a patented answer. Although the style of our songs vary, there is always an undertow of slightly melancholic beauty, whether it be grandiose or subdued. Some songs are notoriously difficult to bore into, let alone whistle or hum along to, others open up quite easily without being fast-food. Our sound isn’t exactly rock or metal, and it’s not quite pop or goth either, but all of those things with a twist of progressiveness. Just when you think “hey, this kinda sounds like…” something happens, and you go “…no, wait…”.
I say ‘those not lucky enough…’ because the album is fiendishly difficult to track down in these parts, or at least to stumble upon if you are not already aware of EoS. Are there any plans with Supernova for wider release or availability in the near future and if so, which countries are likely to be next in line?
I really, really wish I’d know, so that I could tell you. We’d make our album available everywhere, if it were up to our resources! What I can say is that the country we’re trying to cover next – at least to some extent – is the U.S., but since that’ll have to be a result of our own arduous efforts, the future remains foggy. We’ll keep you guys posted!
Looking at the promo pictures on your website there is a juicy sense of humour at work in everything EoS. You have the slightly glazed expression of someone who just knows the rest of the band members are up to something unspeakable in the background. There’s nothing like working with a bunch of professionals! Could you introduce them and give our readers some background on how EoS came together?
Haha! To be perfectly honest, that glazed look is more due to the fact that I have no idea how to pose presentably, and would rather be mucking about in the background with the rest of the monkeys. This pack of baboons (warning; may include traces of nuts) are as follows: Tero Kalliomäki, the guitar-player, co-founder and main composer of EoS (also one of my best friends). Samu Lahtinen, bass-player and devil’s advocate, who’s been in the band since the beginning; our angelic-looking keyboard-player and kid-at-heart, Harri Koskela; Second guitar-player and side-crackingly funny, bear-like dude by the name of Jarno Suodenjoki; and lastly, our spanking-new drummer Make Lievonen, who’s not only a great drummer, but also a very likeable fellow. Yeah, and then there’s this red-headed midget who would croon into the microphone if she could reach it.
How about yourself? The EoS journey started back in 2007, but how did you originally get started with singing? Did you (and do you still) have any icons that have influenced your style?
I’ve always sang. Ever since I can remember. I sang at daycare, at school, and joined bands when I was old enough to do so! The closest I’ve gotten to a classical training was singing at a few choirs where I acquired the right breathing technique, but other than that it’s pretty much been a matter of learning by ear. I haven’t had any huge idols whose pictures I would’ve plastered all over my walls, but the vocalists I’ve admired and even learned things from have been Skin from Skunk Anansie, Dani Klein from Vaya Con Dios, Shirley Manson from Garbage and the jazz-singer Randy Crawford. Most of these phenomenal women remain my favorites to this day, with the addition of, for example, the amazing Kate Bush and Beth Gibbons from Portishead.
How about your musical influences? Could you share with us any particular tracks or albums that hit the spot every time where your personal tastes are concerned and maybe tell us a little about why you like them so much?
Damn, you ask things I could go on about forever and ever! If I’d be held at gunpoint I probably couldn’t be able to pinpoint just a couple of songs without having second thoughts afterward. Both I and Tero share some bands that have had some influence to our songs, such as Opeth, Type 0 Negative, Portishead, Ulver and Anathema. The songs “Chaos Path” or “Ad Astra” by Arcturus, the album “Murder Nature” by Head Control System and music by the Finnish band Poets of the Fall all vibrate on my frequency, so to speak. I should stop, but I haven’t mentioned Meshuggah or Rammstein or Ihsahn… The reason I like any of these is because they either evoke strong emotions for different reasons, be it raw power of the sound, ingenious lyrics or spine-chilling, insurmountably incredible composition work. I’ve once said in another interview, that some music is impossible to hide from if it passes the gates of your ears, where it quite shamelessly ravages your brain and inhabits your heart from the moment you let it in.
The song titles on “Euphorialight” are very descriptive and almost tell a story in themselves. What comes first – the title, the lyrics or the inspiration – or do you find they seem to feed off each other and evolve as you write?
The title comes last, that’s for sure. There are even times when I only decide the name of a song at the very last minute, and until that moment, they’re still carrying childishly humorous working-titles along the lines of “Raisin” or “Poontang-reggae”. I know, I know. Anyway, there’s no certain way things progress, but usually I listen to the crude instrumental version, and catch the general vibe. Inspiration may come then, or sometimes I write lyrics first and ‘pimp’ them to match the song under construction.
There are some interesting themes running through your songs, and at times it is almost like you taken a look at the seven sins and spiced them up with a few more of your own : ) Where do you get your ideas and do you find you write with one theme or focus in mind or take a more kaleidoscopic approach with your thoughts and imagination?
Definitely the latter. Since songs aren’t composed during a short period of time, the moods and styles shift from one extreme to another, and I don’t tend to apply censorship or filter ideas, thinking “but these lyrics won’t fit the overall theme, to the bin with you lot, then”. Considering this, it’s quite astounding that the themes on “Euphorialight” really do seem to revolve around the “7 deadly sins; now with 25% more sin!” as you mentioned. On the other hand, what else is there to tell about besides the sins, love, good, evil, death and life, not just in music, but in literature and movies as well? So yes, I’m super random when it comes to writing.
In terms of tracks, a personal favourite is “Euphorialight”. To cunningly avoid the usual question here, which track do you think gets the best crowd reaction and which is the most satisfying to play live (and why) ?
The favorites of our audience seem to vary a lot, but the tunes that get the crowd to bounce or sing along more often than not are “Catherine and Heathcliff”, “Void”, “Soul-broken” and “Baron Samedi”. “Baron Samedi” is also the one song that seems to boost the band’s energy level, which is usually the reason we try to play it early at our shows. It’s an especially fun jingle to play!
There is an Escher-like quality to the cd artwork that reflects the songs on the album in that the harder you look/listen the more you actually see/hear. Can you tell us something of the ideas behind this?
We originally toyed with the slightly corny idea of a raven’s eye, in which there would have been a reflection of burning sugar on an absithe spoon. We trashed that one, but the raven remained as a symbolic figure. In the end we gave Kalle Pyyhtinen of UtuDesigns free reign with only the guideline that there might be the bird, and the general colour-theme would be teal. He came up with this result that perfectly captured what we were after, and what “Euphorialight” sounds like. I’m also totally impressed that you caught that, we’re always slightly uncertain whether we’re too subtle with these things.
Given your experiences with the two eps (“Wendigo Winter” and “Pristine”) and the current album, what will you take forward and what would you do differently next time you enter the studio?
As we’ve already made new songs, and are currently recording demo versions for some of them, I don’t have to think theoretically at all. What I’ve learned is that even though it’s sometimes frustrating to do many takes of one song, it’s not okay to let the feeling flatten, because that’ll affect the result. No matter how pissed off I may be, I’ll have to take that energy and convert it into something positive. I’ve also come to learn the ways my voice behaves, and what I’m able to do with it. One of the most important aspects of this is that I can use my “big girl gig-voice” during recording sessions.
You seem to have a pretty broad-minded approach with EoS. What’s your personal philosophy when it comes to dealing with the pace of change in everything the music business throws at you?
I think you wrote this question in the sense that music industry expects a certain image and a certain easy-to-chew recipe from all bands and their music, if they’re to be successful. This we can shrug off and do what feels right. When it comes to trusting the industry, that’s another story. It’s easy to get disappointed, and even easier to get screwed over. In the words of Pat Benatar, “we can’t afford to be innocent”.
Away from the microphone, do you have any hobbies or other interests that keep you going?? What do you do to chill out or warm up when you get some quality downtime?
I’m a busy gal! I exercise regularly (and at least pretend to enjoy it), read books, listen to music and watch movies, like the vast majority of people do from time to time. I also draw comics, play games (even tabletop RPG) and hang out with my friends and significant other. I love cooking, too. Lately I’ve been making Mediterranean food – you can’t go wrong with olive-oil and garlic!
How about a Plan B? If you were not singing what would you be doing instead?
Since EoS doesn’t put much bread on my table as it is, I suppose I’d be doing what I’m doing now – I’m a lowly office-rat – but with some other artistic outlet for my creative bursts. I might write more, and as I already write both poetry and journalistic texts, that’s probably what I’d be concentrating on.
2011 started well, with EoS getting best band and album for 2010 on Tuskasi – congratulations! What does the rest of the year hold for EoS and what can your fans look forward to?
World domination, hopefully! In all seriousness, though, next to conquering the international markets, our top priority at the moment is to compose and throw awesome gigs. It’s still pretty early, and part of the fun is not knowing. We can only do our best, right?
Ines, thanks for taking time out to talk to us. Is there anything else you would like to add for your fans and readers?
Don’t you dare give up on us, we’re not giving up on you either! We’re tirelessly toiling day and night to make our fresh produce available where you are, no matter how long it takes. Keep supporting us, check out our website www.embassyofsilence.net , listen to us through Spotify, and join our deranged family at Embassy of Silence‘s Facebook Group. We love you long time!