Interview by Si Smith
First-time viewers of the new album by Dotma will be presented with a fantastic vista of colour and imagery – but what are the forces at work behind the image, behind the polished artwork and powerful musicality? Not ones to be pigeon-holed or typecasted, Dotma tread the line between gothic and power metal with the skill and dexterity of players well-established in the world of female-fronted metal. Yet this is only their first full-length. To understand how this remarkable feat has been achieved, I spoke to singer and lyrical crafter Johanna Lesonen….
Biographies of Dotma seem to start as many band bios do, with guitarist and keyboardist Harri deciding to form a band surrounding a particular theme or genre. Johanna, how did you join up with these guys at the very beginning?
Well I had just started to take classical singing lessons, and I was very excited about singing. I wanted to try singing in a band and my friends had just founded one. I was the one who asked if I could sing in their band. They weren’t sure if they wanted a male singer, so they hesitated a little. But since there were no other singers around, I got the job! And it seems that it was a good decision! =)
Dotma has a strong image, both musically and artistically. This image seems to draw the listener/viewer into the heart of the band experience. What were your expectations of the band from the start? Did you know in which direction the band would be going from the time of the first demo?
At the beginning I really hadn’t any specific expectations for this band, I just wanted to sing. We started with power metal and after the first demo we came to the conclusion that we wanted to develop our style. We weren’t sure in what direction. We thought it will come naturally, if it’s meant to come. And so it did.
A second demo entitled “Dances With the Shadows” was released in 2009. How had the music progressed by this time? Were you happy with the end result?
We were much happier with the result than we were with the first demo. We had grown as musicians and the songs had developed into this style which felt more like ours. It was still power metal but there were these symphonic and atmospheric elements already to be heard. But still, the process continued till the recordings of the full-length album.
It seems that all lyrics are written by yourself at this time: how do you go about choosing themes for songs? Could you take us through your creative process for writing and/or perfecting your song lyrics?
Actually I have written most of the lyrics, except “Kingdom of the Sky” and “Memory Worth Dying For” which are written by Harri. My writing process starts when I hear the song. The song gives me a certain feeling and I start to imagine things in my head. I tend to think quite visually. When I hear music, pictures appear in my head and finally a story. There are few songs in which lyrics I have used old poems of mine. For example “The Cave” and “Reborn” are such songs that I had already written most of the lyrics and suddenly I realized that there were these poems that fit perfectly in the theme. After this I finished the lyrics automatically. “Indian Fall” is a ballad and when I listened the song, the lyrics came at once. “Whispering” didn’t get its final form until the vocal recordings! So it really depends on the song how the lyrics are being born.
In December 2009 you started to prepare to record your first full-length debut album involving Rockstar Productions (Finland) and Cutting Room Studios (Sweden). Was it difficult involving people from outside the band at this point? How did you communicate to them your own hopes and ideas for the finished product, to ensure that the album turned out how you wanted it?
Of course it’s always challenging to find the right people to work with this kind of project. It’s not possible to read other people minds, so I think the most important thing is to speak up. We negotiated a lot about the sound, arrangements and so on. We also were along in the whole process, including mixing and the mastering.
Coming to the debut album “Sleep Paralyses”, it is a remarkable epic journey through a series of emotional landscapes. Would you say there is a uniting theme or feeling to the album?
The uniting themes are probably the instability of human mind and the beauty and the ugliness of this surrounding world. Dreams and nightmares rules through the whole album and the main feelings are loneliness, fear and hope.
The fantasy image is still strong surrounding the band, yet the band is so much more than just the traditional fantasy and medieval themes. How has the music now developed beyond the “typical” Gothic and Power metal imagery and become something unique in the genre?
This is a difficult question for me because I cannot look objectively our music. I cannot define why the music is now unique because we just do what our heart tells and if that’s something new that differs our band from the others, we have done something right. If we talk about the concrete music, there is a big change from the early days; tempo. We have slowed down the songs and given more space to the atmosphere. I have also used my voice as versatile as it’s possible with my classical technique. We have done everything with a great passion.
The construction of this epic masterpiece included vocal and guitar contributions from members of other bands such as Thaurorod and Embassy of Silence. How did they fit into the overall vision of the band? Are there plans to use more guest musicians in the future?
They fitted perfectly because first of all they are all great musicians and their way of doing music is very passionate. We gave all the guest musicians free hands and we trusted them. And they did an amazing job!
The song “Reborn” blasts out triumphantly, almost as a decree that the band is itself is reborn with power and self-belief on this new release. Also your band’s logo has developed into a far more intricate and beautiful creation since the previous two albums. How are you going to keep up this newfound impetus and vigour? When things become stale or routine, how do you as a band keep yourselves fresh and enthusiastic?
I think we will be worrying about it when it happens. You cannot think and plan all the things beforehand. We live in the moment, and what happens in the future, we live along with it. We all love music and we will always do it some way or another. When things become stale or routine, we just wait until it will pass, and maybe concentrate on something else for a while, until the inspiration returns.
All the music for this album has been credited to Harri Koskela. Is this completely his own work, or do other members of the band have contributions and musical ideas as well? If so, how does this work? If not, wow! That is a big load on Harri‘s shoulders!! He surely is a master of his work! Does he present these musical pieces to you ready-made, or are they constantly-evolving works in progress?
That is a big load on Harri’s shoulders yes, because he does all the composing. We all are involved when the songs are being arranged, but before that Harri composes the songs from the beginning to the end. The songs get their final form in the studio where new visions wake up.There in the studio we all work with the songs, especially the vocal parts.
“Kingdom of The Sky” has been described as the masterpiece of the album. Could you tell us more about it, its meaning and also the other voices and ideas involved?
It’s a song that Harri composed as a dedication to his dear cousin who passed away. It’s a very personal song to him, so he did also the lyrics. Concerning the music, it’s quite an unusual composition. There are many different parts which describe the periods of life. The last choir part is in Finnish and it tells about the funeral. It’s a very intense and beautiful song.
As the date of the album’s release draws nearer, it seems that you have a number of live dates already set up for April/May 2011, many involving fellow Finns Beyond the Dream. How do you find the different stresses of performing live? Is there anything special we can expect from your live performances this year?
You can expect great interpretation of our songs and pretty costumes of mine! =D Heh well seriously, we love performing and giving the music to the people and we just hope it shows. We try to give people a musical experience that they feel alive. About the stress when performing live, it’s part of this job and we have learned to handle it, so it’s mainly positive anxiety and adrenaline flow.
You played in Russia towards the end of last year – that must have been quite an experience! How was the Russian audience?Were many already familiar with the band?
That was a great experience,they were so hospitable,all the arrangements worked perfectly and I just fell love with the audience.They were truly listening our music and I felt the connection with them.I want definitely to go back some day!
Finally, as you look forward beyond the new album into the future, are there any plans to extend the bands’ influence beyond Finland? If so, what are your plans for world domination??
I think the big market will be outside of Finland, so we hope to get a lot of gigs outside of Finland. About the world domination, it comes along with good shows. =) It only leaves to say thank you for this interview, I hope it has given people a chance to get to know the characters behind the image, the minds behind the lyrical soundscapes
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