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February 1, 2011

Interview with Kimmo Kuusniemi and Tanja Karttunen of Sarcofagus / Promised Land of Heavy Metal

Brutal Tunes, Metal Movies, Metal News, Tr00 Metal Life

Maybe you’ve heard of Sarcofagus – the Finnish band that broke ground during the 80s with their classic heavy metal sound, then moved to England when it was clear the Finns weren’t quite ready for metal to broach their shores. Now Kimmo Kuusniemi and his wife Tanja return to their homeland to explore the metal scene that sprung up in their absence. In Promised Land of Heavy Metal (which I WILL be reviewing later on this week) Kimmo and Tanja talk to hundreds of metal musicians, music professionals and metal fans about why the Finns have gone metal mad.

And, because Kimmo and Tanja are totally awesome, they’re giving all you folk the chance to buy the Promised Land of Heavy Metal DVD for £9.50+P&P (New Zealand Postage from UK is £2.50) = total cost £12 English Sterling. If you want it – and you should – send Kimmo an email at info@promisedlandofmetal.com, quoting “STEFF”, and they’ll send you a Paypal invoice and fling you your own copy.

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Kimmo interviewing the Finnish President about Lordi

We really enjoyed the film, especially because, in a lot of ways, Finland seems quite similar to NZ. You interviewed some of our favorite bands, so that’s always interesting. The bonus guide especially was helpful. We’re looking forward to visiting Finland and going to Tuska! Perhaps we will meet up for a beer.

Thank you – the good feedback has been phenomenal from all around the world. The international distribution is only STARTING NOW! Yes, it can be that slow for an independent film. So we still need every encouraging word and review we can muster!

Just after moving here to UK we quickly made some NZ friends, and we all also have agreed that Finland and New Zealand have similar features (that’s why we got along so well in the first place!) Lots of beautiful countryside, not that many people (5 million in Finland) far away from everyone else … there’s this “do it yourself” culture in both of the countries. Get on with it! Build it! Mend it! Maybe this explains the success of heavy metal as well.

Good to hear we covered some of your favourite bands in the documentary – that’s cool. As such the “selection” didn’t represent our taste exactly (our personal music taste is maybe more extreme) but we wanted to have a presentation of the most popular metal bands in Finland. And the whole subject of the film is the mainstream metal of Finland! And unfortunately not everyone can be included in one film! There has to be a limit.

Cool if you can visit Finland, it’s a lovely country, many wonderful festivals around there – during the whole summer … hope to see you there!

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Tell us how the idea for the film came about?

A few years ago a Finnish producer Sakari Heiskanen from Finnish (BBC) YLE contacted us, wanting to make a personal portrait documentary of Kimmo Kuusniemi and his role as the “grand father” of Finnish metal. Unfortunately for us Sakari got an another role within the company, as the Head of Entertainment, and that documentary didn’t get made. But the idea still lingered and after visiting Finland a few times and witnessing the growth of the Finnish metal scene, we thought there could be a documentary in this, but with a wider subject: keeping Kimmo’s viewpoint – telling the world about the Finnish Metal Phenomenon!

Sakari helped us to get some funding from YLE (the film is still made and produced by us) and they were a good source for archive material.

The subject is – to put it mildly – close to our hearts! And that’s what they say: you should make films about what you know! At the same time we had been living in UK for ages (and made films professionally all that time) so we thought we could also provide a “outsider’s point of view” into the subject matter.

Tell us what has changed in Finland – both good and bad – since you left 18 years ago?

The biggest surprise to us is the massive success of Heavy Metal in Finland. It was nowhere to be seen or heard 20 years ago, when we left, and even less so 30 years ago when Kimmo was making his first heavy rock albums. The neighborhood in the part of Helsinki where we used to live has changed a lot! Sort of lucky that all those rock and metal bars weren’t there when we were … because we would still be leaning to those bar counters, haha!

But all in all Finland has become a much more international and jollier place. Especially young people are a lot more open minded and more talkative (also in English) than they used to be :) People travel a lot more and know more.

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Kimmo with Marco from Nightwish

Who was your favourite person to interview? Who was your least favourite?

We didn’t really have any favourites as such, everyone was so friendly and happy to talk with Kimmo (some of them were meeting their old idol!) Some were more talkative than others … and for anyone doing an interview someone who talks a lot is always great! We didn’t do traditional interviews but Kimmo more or less had a chat with every musician. So people came up with surprising stuff! The friendliness of the Black Metal representatives (Dimmu Borgir and Enochian Crescent) and the positive attitude of the youth psychiatrist were some of the surprises.

How did it feel interviewing the president of Finland?

It was exciting! The whole situation was intimidating but eventually quite informal. Madam President Tarja Halonen is really friendly, after the agreed interview we ended up chatting for a long while, and she is very pro culture and open minded. We are very proud of meeting her (and very proud that there are great women in positions of power in Finland – something we share with New Zealand, we gather?!)

Yes – that’s true. We’ve had two female Prime Ministers in recent years, and we were the first country in the world to give women the vote.

What did you learn about Finnish metal that you didn’t know before?

Most of the stories that are told in the documentary were news to us! We’ve been living and working abroad a long time and didn’t really follow the Finnish scene. The diversity of the music and the high standard of the musicians were a big revelation.

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Kimmo with guitar maker Tomi Korkalainen (Amfisound), Tom Gardiner (Hateform) and Kristian Ranta (Norther). All guitars made by Tom.

What were some of the biggest issues you had to deal with in the film’s production?

For an indie metal film maker it’s always two things: financing and distribution. For an experienced film maker making a documentary is pretty straightforward: organize – travel – film lots – edit edit edit…. but getting even the basic finances in check and distribution for an indie metal documentary – worldwide – takes it’s toll! We were only partly financed by the Finnish TV, the rest is from our pocket. And like we’ve said, the proper distribution is delayed and is only starting! All that is the real work load to deal with.

I’ve heard Finns can come across a bit shy. Did you find people were willing to talk about metal?

Absolutely, metal is a subject matter that people feel very passionately about, and we were mostly talking to proper metal headz… and the priest…. and the psychiatrist… and the president… and they all liked to talk about it!
Also it helped that most of them knew who Kimmo is :)

Many of the people who read this site would love to travel to Finland one day. To a lot of us who come from these small, remote areas of the world where metal is still very much underground, the concept of a nation embracing metal seems quite romantic. Is this really the case? Do you think Finland really IS the Promised Land of Heavy Metal?

Finland is a good country to visit – so please do so and feel free to make your own judgements about it’s “romance”. But we definitely think that at the moment Finland is the Promised Land of Metal, just because of the sheer number of good bands, venues, bars, and the whole attitude towards metal. Do not get us wrong – there are other things that are popular there as well, Finland is known for excellent Classical music, Tango, Folk and even Santa Claus lives there, there are many things going on. But Heavy metal is noticeable to us, and we live in England! England is supposed to be the cradle of Heavy Rock. Other countries like America and Japan have shared the limelight. So maybe the power also shifts and it will be some other country next? Who knows? Finland is IT, at the moment.

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Kimmo Kuusniemi

How was the film received at its debut at the Rokumentti Film Festival? What has been the response from fans and critics so far?

“Promised Land of Heavy Metal” documentary was a success at the Rokumentti film festival, we had a full house (sold out) and the audience stayed there for a long while for the QA. It was a cool festival! We just barely had the film ready for the event, we were sleep deprived and delirious, and the film was beamed straight from the hard drive in HD… a real mayhem to get the technical issues working!

The same Rokumentti people organize “Ilosaari Rock” Festival in the summertime, in the same town (close to where Tanja is from in Joensuu, Karelia, Finland).

The response to the film has been excellent, we get really nice emails all the time, people saying that they have watched the film several times already! Which is great and keeps us going. Also people who really don’t like metal find the documentary interesting, it explains the phenomenon to those who don’t “get it” or have thought metal is evil or bad for you.

The only tiny sour notes come from those who say “What is THAT band doing in this documentary” or “why didn’t you interview SO and SO!” Well … we included those who were there … and you cannot have everybody in one film. Or it would be 10 x 1 hour TV series! (We would be happy to make this happen with some background financing in place! Please do Apply Here!) As any film maker, you can only do your best at the time.

What do you think will happen to the Finnish metal scene over the next five years?

The quality is high. Competition is hard and those that will find an international audience will do well. Things do go in cycles so the popularity of metal will probably start evolving into something else. There’s already a lot of “fusion” music where different music genres use elements from metal. This will probably push the “real” metal back to underground … Internationally successful Finnish Metal will stay alive outside Finland.

Why do you think metal has become so popular in Finland? Is it a happy coincidence, or something to do with the Finnish culture or spirit?

This is exactly the question we went to ask and make this film about: WHY? And Why Finland? The film will answer many questions but just as well, many questions will remain unanswered. There must be some roots with the Finnish melancholic culture, tough conditions, long winters, and also the defiance!

“OK, let’s face it! Fuck You!” Metal shouts: “Life is hard” and the audience shouts back!

Metal accepts the fact that everything is not well. Everyone is not happy or beautiful. It speaks about the darker side … and maybe Finns are comfortable with that.

Do you have any “stories from the road” to share, either from the making of the film or from a Sarcofagus tour?

At the end of the interview we gave a copy of our latest Sarcofagus “Core Values” album to Madam President of Finland Tarja Halonen. She said: “Please, autograph it, so I’ll get more money for it in the Ebay!”

What are some of your favourite Finnish metal bands? (apart from Sarcofagus, of course)

We’ll try to stay as outsiders in this “favourite Finnish band” discussion, there are too many good Finnish Bands. It depends what you happen to like that day … Many of the famous bands mix classical or folk with metal, but also many excellent, less known Rock, Death and Black metal bands! What we’ve noticed is that many who get to know one Finnish band are soon following the bigger picture.

Of course our “child” Sarcofagus is always the prettiest :) We had “Back from the Dead” tour in Finland – after 30 years of mummified sleep :) The old band is doing well, we are mixing “Live in Studio 2010”, 13 tracks recorded in one day in October 2010, just after the Finnish tour. And all the old Sarcofagus LPs from 1979-1981 are re-released as luxury edition vinyls by the Finnish SVART Records. So we are busy again …

What was the best live show you’ve ever seen?

There’s been many … but Children of Bodom gig here in UK, London late 2009 was phenomenal. The band had been touring all year and it showed, they were like a machine, with soul! They were performing as the main act with the Finnish Diablo and the legendary American Cannibal Corpse … and they totally rocked the place. We also interviewed the fantastic COB guitarist Roope Latvala for our film extras. There was a great after party for the bands organized by the Terrorizer magazine in the London West End. And the same day the editor of Terrorizer Louise Brown handed us a copy of Terrorizer Magazine that included our interview about the “Promised Land of Heavy Metal” documentary! A day couldn’t get any better …

10 years ago we could not have believed that a Finnish Metal Band would be headlining a big London gig! Amazing!

If someone were just getting into metal and the metal scene, what would you recommend they do?

Wear black! Haha! This is not a fashion, don’t fake it, you’ve got to feel it to believe it! Metal is a state of mind. The style and music can be extreme but people in the scene are much friendlier than what they look like for a “civilian”, with a wicked sense of humour. You see: men and maidens of metal already have a let out for their anger and frustration through the music!

And lastly, any advice for musicians trying to make it in the metal scene today?

Learn to play/sing really well. The standard is high out there! Once you’ve become good, the real exercise is only starting. Expect hard work with no income for a long time. This is Heavy AND Metal – you chose it – expect it to be both! The real work is getting your band known … It is really heavy work …

Find Out More

You can read all about the DVD at the Promised Land of Heavy Metal website, and listen to some wicked music over at Sarcofagus.com. For more info for the rock bands and musicians please follow the development of Rock Aide. If you’re a techno geek and have an iPhone or iTouch, the “Promised Land of Heavy Metal” Film (shorter 1h version and no video extras) is available as an iApp for $2 US. There’s also a “Sarcofagus” iApp for FREE (with music, videos, info and photo galleries).

All the best and keep it HEAVY! From Kimmo Kuusniemi and Tanja Katinka Karttunen

Later on in the week Kimmo shares some great advice for metalheads wanting to travel to Finland. Hell yes!

Perkele \m/

2 Comments on “Interview with Kimmo Kuusniemi and Tanja Karttunen of Sarcofagus / Promised Land of Heavy Metal

Islander
February 3, 2011 at 6:05 am

OK — I can see the questions now!

Islander
February 2, 2011 at 7:00 am

oooohhh, I want dis! However — maybe it’s my own browser fucking up, but I can’t see your questions in the interview Steff, just the answers.

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