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Finnish Metal webzine

Interview with KIUAS

This interview with members of Kiuas was made by Rockote face to face at Ravintolalaiva Wäiski, Helsinki on April 29th, 2005.

Kiuas was formed in 2000 when four original members (Mikko Salovaara, Markku Näreneva, Teemu Tuominen and Atte Tanskanen) found the new vocalist Ilja Jalkanen. The first self-produced-EP "The Discipline Of Steel" was recorded at the beginning of 2002 and the recordings of the next self-produced-EP started at the end of the same year. The "Born Under The Northern Lights"-EP was released in February 2003. In the same year Kiuas was amongst the 10 semifinalists in the "Young Metal Gods 2003" -competition organized by Noise.

In summer 2003 the band signed a worldwide record deal with an English company called Rage of Achilles Records. The first official release of Kiuas, the four track MCD "Winter In June" was released worldwide on the 29th of March 2004. The feedback was very positive, but then came some bad news from England; Rage of Achilles had gone bankcrupt. Kiuas decided anyway to start the recordings of the first album as planned. The situation changed rapidly and in September 2004 Kiuas made a deal with Spinefarm Records. And now they have just released their debut-album “The Spirit of Ukko”.

I met with the guitarist Mikko Salovaara and the drummer Markku Näreneva at Ravintolalaiva Wäiski just a couple of hours before their debut album releaseparty–gig.

****

So, where does the name of the band come from? (Kiuas = the things that heats up the sauna, metal container filled with hot rocks)

Mikko: The whole concept of Kiuas has got lots of influences from Finnish romantic nationalism and therefore that name fits very well to describe the whole atmosphere. Also the name associates with the heat and basic Finnish things, Finnishness, so we decided that it would fit well and also it would be easy to remember. But Kiuas has absolutely nothing to do with right wing nationalism!

Markku: Yes, right from the beginning we decided to do lyrics in English so we never thought that a Finnish band name would be any kind of obstacle but it could be rather a point to stand out from all the bands with names beginning with “dragon”, “frost” or “north” or alike.

I was coming up to the fact that you have a Finnish band name but your lyrics are in English?

Mikko: We don't let that bother us. Hopefully others don't either … besides some foreigners might get interested in us just because of this name. They start wondering what it means and so it sticks in their minds.

Then what about your music? If you should somehow categorize it, how would you do it?

Mikko: There's no need in categorizing it to any genre … well, there have been different kinds of definitions based upon each others own desires because we have combined many sub-genres of metal music into our concept … the main focus we have is to have melodies and also those crashing and speedy aspects of metal-music to make it sound metal … those little important things that makes it sound good. We have used some aspects from the toughest sub-genres of metal, like death metal for example.

The most obvious feature in your music is aggressivity?

Mikko: Yes, that's intentional!

Markku: This kind of music works better live!

Mikko: There's a lot of things happening all the time in our music and at the same time we have lots of melodies in our vocals which differs from most of the bands that are playing this tough death metal kind of stuff. In this kind of metal vocals are usually just roaring but we don't do that …

You started your recording career with Rage of Achilles Records, but then you changed to Spinefarm Records. What happened?

Markku: When we had finished our second demo we sent it to numerous record companies and we got all sorts of offers, but the best one came from Rage of Achilles Records and things went really fast towards a deal … they agreed to all the demands and changes we wanted to the deal. So we went for it. But finally this was too good to be true …

Mikko: Yeah, it didn't take a lone time.

Markku: They were too generous towards the bands and they probably took more bands than they could handle …

Mikko: They took lots of bands in a short period of time and offered really tasty deals to the bands, which was of course …

Markku: … bad to their wallet …

Mikko: Yeah, they got good bands - the problem wasn't that those albums wouldn't have sold in a long run but it all happened so fast that they didn't have enough resources for this after all.

Also some other bands changed into Spinefarm Records from Rage of Achilles?

Mikko: Actually besides us only Amoral. Omnium Gatherum is at Nuclear Blast for example …

Markku: … and also to other foreign labels. Anyway, we got the bad news from Rage of Achilles just when we were starting to record the debut album. We decided to record it anyway and after we had gathered enough material in the studio we did a four track promo which we sent again to the record companies … and we were very confident all the time that we would get a deal somewhere for sure and we really hoped to get it from Spinefarm Records. Luckily they were really interested in us. They hadn't really even heard that mini-cd we had done earlier ... they probably though recognized the bands name but luckily our promo was convincing enough.

So you didn't get a deal with Spinefarm Records because of that mini-cd you made with Rage of Achilles?

Mikko: No, at that point we had already practically made all the recordings of the debut album … just some little details were still to be made. From that material we gathered this four track promo which we sent to the record companies …

Markku: The idea was that as we didn't have a deal, we decided to make an album and then sell it to a record company. Spinefarm contacted us and wanted to hear the rest of the tracks. So we made some really raw mixings of the rest of the tracks for them and they liked them.

What kind of deal do you have now with Spinefarm Records – how many albums will we get?

Mikko: Can't really say anything too exactly about it …

Markku: More albums will come.

Mikko: Next album is most probably coming …

Markku: This is not a one album deal.

Mikko: No, it isn't … there's more to come.

Do you have any knowledge about how this “Winter In June” –MCD has been sold?

Markku: We don't know … but there were only one thousand copies made of this MCD, so that was one of the reasons why we thought that it would be justified to use those MCD-songs on the debut album as well, because not so many people have the MCD … but we didn't put them to the album straight from that MCD, we did record those songs again. They are now played better, they have better arrangements and better sounds. They are good songs and we didn't want to lose them …

Mikko: There are only these one thousand MCDs existing …

Markku: As far as we know these MCDs are sold out in Finland … the MCD's distributor Firebox doesn't have them anymore. Maybe there are some copies still available on some record stores …

So what about the album then? There are very different kinds of songs … was this intentional or did it just happen?

Mikko: Well, those songs were made during a quite long period of time so that's probably one reason … I have done most of the songs, in fact all except one, and it has been our purpose to make versatile material. You can't help it when you want to do different kinds of songs and you like to change styles and use different styles…

Markku: We do though have developed this very own “Kiuas-sound” which holds through the whole album, and the songs aren't really that different after all so that they wouldn't fit into the same album … but that sound is a thing that unites the songs as a unity.

Mikko: Also arrangements and the way the songs are played …

Markku: It's much nicer to play and compose more versatile music than just to make one song basically over and over again …

Mikko: Some guys do that very well, but we don't.

“Warrior Soul” is 45 seconds shorter on the album than it was on the MCD. What happened and why?

Mikko: Yes, we eliminated some unnecessary aspects of the song.

Markku: We produced it again …

Mikko: We made it a little more compact …

Markku: The intro was cut a little …

Mikko: The intro and the solo have been cut.

Is it that new version you will also play live from now on?

Mikko: Yes.

Markku: That's why it came to this album in this shorter version, because we had made it more compact for our live shows and it proved to work out well. So when we re-recorded it for the album we decided to record it in this more compact form. There was little too much spots where our vocalist didn't have anything to do …

How freely did Spinefarm let you decide about the content of the album?

Mikko: We had totally free hands. Spinefarm weren't the ones to decide about it.

Are you now satisfied with the outcome?

Mikko: Yes, we are completely satisfied. I wouldn't change anything at this point. This has been made for so long. We thought about doing things differently … even when we were mixing we did quite a lot pre-mixings of a couple of songs, and every time we just moved one track up or down a bit and felt like maybe this is a little better, but you can't really say …

Markku: We didn't have to hurry with mixing this … practically we had no time limit for this, so we could do it until we were satisfied with the result …

Are there any songs on the album that you're particularly proud of? Songs that proved out to become more than you planned?

Mikko: We are of course satisfied with all the songs, but maybe the last song (And The North Star Cried) because it's the most recent song and also the longest one and also most demanding. There's also a couple of violins, alto-violin and cello recorded, which makes it different also soundwise compared to the other songs. And we have taken that to our live-set as well and liked it a lot. It 's the freshest song for us and it still has some charm of novelty for us.

How do you start composing these songs? Do you start with guitar riffs, vocal melodies or with lyrics?

Mikko: There's always one thing first, but the most important thing is the certain mood. That's when all parts of the songs are growing together in that mood all the way … I somehow avoid that kind of unattached way of composing when you simply only have a guitar riff and then start thinking what can I add up to this, like melodies or lyrics. In my opinion songwriting should be started from a certain mood, a feeling or specific theme of which you want to make a song and then start to build it up concretely from one part to another so that the whole song is developing in one unity. Sometimes it can be a good riff or melody, but that certain mood or feeling has to be there from the beginning. Usually when you just start with a guitar riff you end up doing shit.

What are the biggest influences behind Kiuas' music?

Markku: I can't really say anything about composing, but the band has got influences for example from Guns n' Roses, Metallica and Pantera …

Mikko: There's so much music. The idea is to get an inspiration also elsewhere than just from metal music … and hopefully you can also hear it from our music that we want to have influences from other music styles as well, but the biggest influences are our own feelings. That's the most important thing and also other things like what's happening in the world and in other areas of art. Even if you don't want to, everything that you read about will influence you at least subconsciously if not directly …

What I noticed is that this “Until We Reach The Shore” –song has quite a lot influences from Metallica – in the beginning of the song anyway. What's your opinion on that?

Mikko: This is kind of strange. That's a new point of comparison. Well, that song is a bit more straightforward than the others so perhaps it could be compared to some more rocking songs of Metallica.

Markku: I think it's more technical stuff than Metallica. It's one of the oldest songs we have …

Mikko: It's the first song of Kiuas, yes.

Markku: And it has also changed a bit along the way, but it has that basic metal sound …

Mikko: That song is probably the one which has been mostly made with starting from a guitarriff … I didn't have same kind of overall thematic idea about the song when this was made, as I had with the other songs.

Do your band members have any side-projects?

Mikko: As a matter of fact, no.

(Vocalist Ilja runs through the backstage-room to the toilet laughing insanely)

Markku: Our vocalist has a blues project.

Mikko: Our vocalist is insane.

Markku: We have tried to cut off everything unnecessary and concentrate on this thing only. We don't really have own ambitions to satisfy other than this…

Mikko: I'm sure that most of us agree with that - that if you have time, you rehearse more. There's no point in using time to some meaningless projects just because friends have asked you to play with them. It's so difficult to say no, at least to some people it is very difficult …

About live shows then … how has Kiuas been taken by the audience?

Mikko: Really well.

Markku: Yes, we have had our first real gigs, earlier we had only some small gigs when our album wasn't yet released … considering that the audience has taken us very well.

Do you have any special memories from your gigs?

Mikko: For example in Tallinn, Estonia, where we were playing at one festival … at that time it was the biggest gig for us. There were about 500 people and lots of bands.

Markku: The happening was really well arranged by the festival organizers and it was cool to go and play in a foreign country. And the audience was incredible even though probably none of them had ever heard about Kiuas before.

Mikko: Also the first gig in Nosturi was great …

Markku: Yes, we had bombs in our first gig in Nosturi, that was great … we knew a pyro-technician, you know.

Mikko: But that was so long ago, after that we have played there couple of times and we're improving all the time … it has been nice to notice that we are getting better and learning to play better and better live shows.

Tokyo is calling in May …

Mikko: Yes, I was just about to say that we all will probably turn pale in there …

Do you know if this MCD has been sold in Japan?

Markku: Yes, we have tried to follow up where that MCD has been available, mainly with Google-engine, and we have found that MCD also available in Japan, but we don't have a real distributor there so it has been available only through some internet mailorder-companies. But we have also got some messages to our band's guestbook from Japan …

Mikko: And surely they have downloaded our songs from the internet quite a lot … everywhere.

When will this debut album be released in Japan?

Markku: In the beginning of June. It will be released by Universal Records in Japan and it will be promoted quite widely. So you never know what's going to happen but we have good feelings about this. Everything's set there in the record company and now we will also be promoting it there in May, so that's really great.

So how about Europe? Do you have any plans?

Mikko: Less.

Markku: I just asked about it from Spinefarm and they said that promos have been sent and they are now waiting for replies from different places to see if anyone wants to get a license or if Universal Records will do the distributing there. There's no release-date set yet, but if there won't be any unexpected delays, the release date should be the same as in Japan. But we haven't planned any gigs in Europe.

Mikko: This Japanese Universal Records connection is also kind of special because when we had this Finnish Metal Expo here in Helsinki, they sent people from Japan to visit the Expo and they also listened to our album here and obviously liked it and decided to take it … therefore there have been more talks between us, Spinefarm and Japanese Universal and things are clearer than the situation with Europe.

Markku: When we signed we also had talks already then that Japan would be our main target and that's where we would aim first. Finland for example is not our first market area … but we will also come to Central Europe as well.

Mikko: Sure, we will take over Central Europe. First Japan, then Central Europe.

And you also have your first Finnish Summer Festival–gig ahead?

Markku: Yes. It would have been completely wrong if we wouldn't have got to play in Sauna Open Air … that's also one thing we are looking forward to very very much. We haven't really played at any festivals before and we were afraid that we would be totally out from festivals this year as our album came out so late in spring but luckily there are still some reasonable festival promoters left which understand good music.

A little more about your debut album. It has been made in Studio Tauko, which is equivalent to Etelä-Espoon Musiikkikoulu?

Mikko: Not equivalent, but they have the same owner, yes.

Markku: And they are working in the same building.

And you're working/teaching in that Musiikkikoulu?

Mikko: Yes. Everything's organized as practical for us as possible.

And Alexander Kuoppala (ex-COB guitarist) is also teaching there?

Mikko: Yes, he's also there.

Markku: We also have Kimmo Blom there, the new vocalist of Dyecrest. So it's a very heavy-orientated music institute. Mikko is actually doing more there, because of his own studies to become professional musician and teacher. I'm there just one night per week …

The album was mixed in Sonic Pump Studios by Nino Laurenne of Thunderstone. I have heard comments and also some critics about this sound created there for power metal bands like Thunderstone … the sound in your MCD is darker and thicker than in this album, so was this your idea to make the sound brighter?

Mikko: I would say the MCD's sounds are … “little worse” … No, of course we knew what kind of sounds Nino would do and we thought about different options, but there are not so many options that Spinefarm was prepared to accept. Even some well known studios were eliminated by Spinefarm.

Markku: Nino is a new rising talent in mixing. He has done lots of albums already but not yet any really big ones but now as they are opening new Sonic Pump Studios in a new location – he joined forces with Timo Tolkki and there will be a really great studio with really brilliant equipment. The sound on our album has little something from Nino, but it also is what we wanted. Certainly we would have told him if we wouldn't have agreed to it …

Mikko: We knew how Nino sounds and that it would fit into this very well. When everything was recorded and Nino started mixing, I remember visiting there the same day, he started to do one song and after he had made it for maybe three hours and I came back to the studio and heard what he has done, I thought that that's it …

Markku: And of course the basic sounds were done in Studio Tauko while recording the songs. Mostly Nino worked with the drums, making the whole album sound consistent.

For me it was a big surprise that “Winter In June” was dropped out from the album and is heard only as a bonus track on the Japanese release. Why?

Markku: That song was made to that MCD. Rage of Achilles originally wanted to release our demo-EP, but we didn't agree to that and wanted to go to the studio and record the songs again. That was ok with them and we thought that we also should have one more song apart from the songs that were on that demo-EP and so it happened that we came up with this new song and we decided to put that on the MCD, too. Somehow the song wasn't … maybe because it's so difficult to play. We also have taken it back to our live set now.

Mikko: We also had that song in our live set before but it usually went pretty poorly …it's a quite speedy song, you know.

Markku: We also thought that we didn't want to release the whole MCD again in our debut album, instead of that we wanted to have more new songs in it …

Mikko: That was probably the main reason, yes. At least one song had to be dropped out …

Markku: “Across the snows” and “Warrior Soul” couldn't be dropped …

Mikko: Yes, we wanted those two songs anyway. So the two other songs were dropped out. “Winter in June” and “Song for the fells”, which was clearly much slower song and from those we thought that we could spare them to some collection or one of them as a bonus track. Finally we decided to use “Winter in June” as a bonus track because it fits better there as it is much faster. So that one song was left over but we'll see.

There is actually one truly fantastic bonus track. For once the Japanese are truly getting something for their money?

Mikko: Yeah, they said that the bonus track for the Japanese should be a fast one …

When will the next album be released? Or is it too early to say something about it now?

Mikko: No, it's not …

Markku: Quite exactly one year from now. Not earlier anyway. We have to see first what happens after the release of this album. If we get more gigs and so on then it will move further to the future, but something will be released next spring … perhaps a single or something …

Do you have any new material ready?

Mikko: We are constantly working on it. We will start rehearsing new songs this summer and …

Markku: …and we'll do some demos …

Mikko: Generally it would be possible to go to the studio in September, but that depends on the situation we are in then.

Markku: There's no hurry. We finally got this album out and now we'll see what happens …

Mikko: Now it feels like after giving a birth, but it won't take long before we get that feeling that we should do something new again … we have played these songs so much …

Isn't it more difficult to do the second album as for the first one you could make songs during many years but for the second you should come up with the ideas in less than a year?

Mikko: On the other hand, we will have more feedback. We know what people think about it … we know what we want and how we'd like to sound, but at this point it feels pretty easy to make the second album because there are things that are easy to make better. For example the sound, now that we know how we can make the sound better, we can promise and we know that it will sound better. And also we know what we must do better arrangings in the songs. And also when we make the songs for the second album in a short period of time the material will also be more compact. I have already started thinking about the wholeness of the next album, how much and what kind of stuff I want to have on the next album. The album should be an album and not just a collection of separate pieces.

You have “only” one guitarist in the band. Does that make anything difficult when playing live?

Mikko: No!

Markku: Our bassist makes also enough noises, he uses overdrive while Mikko is playing guitar solos. Two guitarists are too much in a band, that's a fact, you can't cope with two guitarists at the same rehearsal place …

Maybe it depends on the guitarists?

Mikko: Sure it does …

Markku: For our band one guitarist is enough.

Mikko: Maybe two alike me would be impossible to handle …

There's a huge metalwave going on in Finland. There are many new and really talented Finnish metal bands releasing debut albums and starting to conquer the world. What is the thing that makes Kiuas to rise above the average Finnish metal bands?

Mikko: That's very easy to say. We have our very own sound and clearly our very own style. I can't even see any competition in this same genre, because there really isn't any. I can honestly say that we have found and chosen our own style, that's the thing. For those who enjoy our style, there is no competition.

What do you think about us getting new metal bands all the time?

Mikko: As long as the bands are good there's no problem. But if it turns out that the quality is weakening … now standards are pretty high and record companies are demanding pretty much from the new bands … great sounds, great songs, great performance …

Markku: The more new bands will be there the better are the chances that there are some diamonds amongst the bands, too … and it's better this way than having talented bands playing in a basement…

Mikko: And the audience is very critical. They don't choose bands that can compete …

What are your plans for the near future and long distance goals for Kiuas?

Markku: We have planned to play a good gig tonight and have a small party to celebrate the album. Then more gigs, new songs. One goal would be that we could get created some kind of status as a metal band …

Mikko: And that this album would give us some kind of lift off …

Markku: And we're working on it. Another goal would be to reach the attention of people outside Finland, which would make it possible for us to continue this thing. We are realistic and the main thing of course is that we're having fun with this …

Mikko: The main thing is that we can do this thing.

Markku: We have already achieved something, but we're aiming forwards all the time.

In Central Europe I know there are markets for this kind of music, but the most difficult thing for Finnish bands in Europe seems to be promotion? Especially for Spinefarm artists?

Markku: It's pretty hard to say. Hopefully we will get enough promotion in Central Europe. However it's still open who will release our album in there, but I'm sure this thing will clear up in the near future. We hope that for example the success of Nightwish has been an eye-opener for those who are in charge of promotions there so that they will put even more resources and efforts than before to promoting metal bands. We have this strong feeling that this Kiuas-stuff could have good markets also in Central Europe.

You have promised some surprises for tonight's gig. Can you reveal anything about that?

Mikko: They wouldn't be any surprises if we would tell about them in advance.

Markku: We will have to think about that …

Mikko: We will think whether to play the gig or do something else, or both.

You have previously played cover songs from Ozzy Osbourne and Manowar in your gigs?

Mikko: Yes.

Markku: We will play some covers tonight also, but not Ozzy or Manowar, something more of a surprise.

Is there anything you would like to say to the readers of Finnish Metal Webzine?

Mikko: Actually there is one thing I would like to say. Previously this thing has not touched so concrete or personally, but now that we have reached this point we have been facing this, too. Our album was released on Wednesday, but of course all our songs have been available from internet for a couple of weeks and this is something that could be discussed about, because not everybody knows why this kind of thing eats up small and beginning bands. For example if it should happen that Kiuas would make a total flop because people who like our music don't bother to buy our album but download it from somewhere, and Spinefarm hence thinks that we have not sold enough and says that this looks really bad … these are the things that people should think about when downloading music, especially when Spinefarm albums costs 15 euros in Finland, which is less than normal album price.

Markku: The price of three mugs of beer.

Mikko: If you really like the band, you should think about this. How do the bands keep on working? It's not a question, that we … we won't see any amounts of money for a long time, but Spinefarm is looking after that and calculate whether to invest more to the band or not. Record companies need those sales … Even though, like we were in one site second most downloaded band couple of days ago, before the album was released, especially the new songs, that doesn't make us feel any good, on the contrary it tells us that this could end up badly. There are interest towards our music, but in what way … this is one thing that should be discussed about in these days, because …

I'm going to interview the guys of Manitou next Wednesday. Are there any hints what I should ask from them? Anything unpleasant?

Mikko: Alright, say hello to them. When was it … was it in Tuska Afterparty …

Markku: Ask Markus why his trousers don't stay up.

Mikko: Yeah, it looks good in a front of Tavastia Club …

Markku: That's a really brilliant band, great vocalist Markku Pihlaja is really good …

Mikko: And outstanding guitarist.

Markku: And also very good music. We will have joint-gigs with them next autumn for sure.

Any last words?

Mikko: Check out Kiuas. You haven't heard anything like it before, that I can honestly say, that if you would have wanted to get along with melodic gothic metal, there would be many bands where to choose, but that's not our cup of tea. We have this own saying… syökää lihaa ja palvokaa ukkoa!

OK! Thanks for the interview and good luck with the album!!

According to our sources in Japan the Japanese release-date (and also the European?) will be the 22nd of June.

Rockote 29.4.2005


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