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Amoral: exclusive interview with guitarist and founding member Ben Varon

By Pedro Pirani

 

Amoral is a band established by founders Ben Varon (guitars) and Juhana Karlsson (drums) in Helsinki, Finland in the late 90's. The band's music is best classified as “Classic Rock Of The 21st Century”: versatile, heavy and riff-driven, yet still melodic with a power groove. Skillful ensemble and crisp performance have characterized Amoral, which is internationally recognized as one of Finland's foremost bands.

 

Along with Ben and Juhana, Amoral counts with Pekka Johansson (bass), Ari Koivunen (vocals) and Masi Huraki (guitars).

 

We had the opportunity of interviewing the founding member and guitarist Ben Varon; you can check out the interview below:

 

ROCK BRIGADE: After listening to the new singles “If Not Here, Where?” and “No Familiar Faces”, I got really excited about your new album; it sounds different from your previous releases and still we can listen to classic Amoral touches. What can everyone expect from “Fallen Leaves & Dead Sparrows”?

Ben Varon: You just pretty much summed it up: something different with the classic Amoral touch! This album is a little less “hard rock”, which was a big part of our two previous albums, and leaning more towards progressive metal, with its long songs, intricate arrangements and having a continuous story throughout the album. We got really into this part of our style with a few songs on the previous album “Beneath”, and wanted to see if we could take it a bit further.

 

RB: Can you explain more about the concept of this new album and the journey that the protagonist is involved in?

BV: The story started evolving into its own once I realized I had a few sets of lyrics that complimented each other, and were dealing with similar topics. Some of the themes I kept coming back to were fear of aging and running out of time, addiction, nostalgia (both as a good source of inspiration as well as a weight holding you back) and the concept of non-reversible, life-changing choices.

So this is the starting point from which I started crafting the bigger picture. “Fallen Leaves & Dead Sparrows” ended up being a story of a man stuck in his old ways, turning to yesterday for answers. He makes the final, permanent leap to the past, and first everything is great, and it feels like just the right decision. He turns a deaf ear to any warnings or advice, but slowly he starts to realize he might have made a mistake. All is not what it seems, and turning back is no longer an option.

There's a lot of autobiographical elements in the lyrics, but many of them are mixed with events I've seen around me. I hope the lyrics can be interpreted in many different ways, and that people notice the interplay of the lyrics and the music. We put a lot of effort into both, as well as to making them work together, and I think the end result was worth the work.

 

RB: Ari Koivunen is an amazing singer, and in your previous release, “Beneath” (2011), he started using growls to sing songs. Can we expect songs like “(Won’t Go) Home” in “Fallen Leaves & Dead Sparrows”?

BV: There's a few spots where we used growling vocals, and those are actually used as one character in the story. So it also serves an extra purpose, in addition to boosting the music. But the majority of the vocals are clean this time as well. That's what we enjoy the most, after all.

 

RB: The band’s musical direction changed after having the new singer. Do you think that “Show Your Colors” (2009) was more an experiment than an actual release? I do know that “Year Of The Suckerpunch” was the most requested song of 2009 on the Finnish national radio station YleX, so we can agree that it was a very good experiment.

BV: Well, it was definitely a weird time for Amoral, in many ways. In hindsight, I can see that we were a bit overwhelmed by our “new-found freedom” with the songwriting, as for the first time ever we could write melodic stuff. All my long-due 80's cock rock fantasies were being unleashed, some of which might've been more at home on a side project CD instead than on an Amoral album. “Show Your Colors” is so full of everything, all kinds of songs thrown together into one weird album. I still enjoy most of the songs though, even if some of them were maybe a bit “too much” for Amoral. You need to remember that “Show Your Colors” was recorded only months after Ari had joined the band, so we were moving at a fast pace, and learning as we went along. It's now 2014, Ari has been in the band for about six years, and we're definitely more aware of what we want the band to sound like and what our strengths are.

 

RB: How was the studio and recordings during the sessions of “Fallen Leaves & Dead Sparrows”? Who composed the music and lyrics?

BV: The music was mostly written by myself and Masi, my guitar partner in crime. Our bass player Pekka also brought one riff to the table this time, which was cool. I'm responsible for the lyrics.

The recording was quite an ordeal: We started with recording the drums at Sound Supreme, where we've recorded most of our albums before. Then we went back to Helsinki and spent about a month at our home studios on the guitars, bass and keyboards, which were later re-amped at Sonic Pump Studios. For the vocals, me and Ari travelled to Kuopio, to spend a week at Marco Hietala's home studio. It was great having Marco as a co-producer for the vocals, and being in Kuopio away from all normal everyday-life distractions was stress-free and fun.

Once everything was in the can, we gave the material back to Janne Saksa at Sound Supreme for mixing, and he did an amazing job. Way beyond anything we've done together before. Finally Svante Forsbäck at Chartmakers mastered the album to give it its final boost.

All in all, this method of hopping from studio to studio was a hassle and a lot of work, but at the same time very rewarding, and it was nice trying new methods for a change.

 

RB: Aki Sitala made the cover artwork for “Fallen Leaves & Dead Sparrows”. He also did the cover from your older albums, “Decrowning” (2005) and “Reptile Ride” (2007). What were your feelings about working with him again?

BV: Aki and I have known each other since we were seven years old, so we go WAY back! It's funny, after every session we do together we both swear we'll never work together again, since we always argue like crazy when doing a cover, both fighting for their vision and opinions. But then a year or two passes, we forget the drama, and I call him up with a new idea. And the fighting starts all over...

But once again, it was totally worth it! Aki did such a stellar job with the cover this time; we've gotten nothing but compliments on it. Before he began drawing we sat down, I told him the story of the album and we started bouncing off ideas back and forth. It was fairly quick before we had the basic idea down, and he could start sketching.

 

RB: Do you intend to release any other new singles before the album is released in February? And how you choose which song to release as a single?

BV: We have one more song reserved as a single, for which we also shot a video. I think that one will be out around the release of the album in February.

The video song was fairly easy to choose this time: most of the songs on the album are just way too long for a video! It was either “No Familiar Faces” or “Blueprints”, and we went with “Blueprints” because we had a cool location for a chill, beautiful acoustic mood.

 

RB: What is your favorite song off the new album? Why?

BV: I have a few favorites, but if I had to choose one, I think it would be “Prolong A Stay”. I'm just really proud of how that one turned out; I love the mood of the song, Ari's vocal performance, the riffs and the lyrics.

 

RB: Would you say that “Fallen Leaves & Dead Sparrows” is the best Amoral album so far? If not, which one do you think it is? I haven’t listened to it in full yet, but as said, with the singles it feels like it.

BV: As lame as it is to say it, since every band says the same about their new album, I absolutely, honestly believe this to be our finest moment so far. No doubt about it. And it's been so good to hear those few who've heard it already say the same. The first few reviews I've seen so far have also been amazing, so I have a good feeling about this one...

 

RB: Can we expect Amoral shows in Brazil and/or South America this year? Or even maybe in 2015?

BV: The truth is, I have no idea! Believe me, we'd love nothing more than to finally play in South America, but it's not really up to us. If the album gets a good buzz going over there, then maybe a promoter notices it and books us to a festival or a club tour. But the demand needs to be there before anyone wants to fly a band over to play. But that's one of the reasons we're talking right now, as interviews like this are very helpful to get the word out there!

 

RB: Thanks a lot for your time to answer these questions. This is a space for you to speak with your Brazilian fans!

BV: Thanks for the interview, I enjoyed it! I hope you guys dig the new album, and if all goes well, we'll see you over there in the not-so-distant future!

 

Amoral will release their new studio album, "Fallen Leaves & Dead Sparrows", in February 14th in Finland and in March 31st in UK and rest of Europe, via Imperial Cassette. You can see the artwork and track listing of "Fallen Leaves & Dead Sparrows" below; the singles "If Not Here, Where?" and "No Familiar Faces" are also available for streaming:

 

01. On The Other Side Pt. I (7:14)

02. No Familiar Faces (4:07)

03. Prolong A Stay (7:39)

04. Blueprints (4:20)

05. If Not Here, Where? (9:15)

06. The Storm Arrives (6:25)

07. See This Through (6:39)

08. On The Other Side Pt. II (9:14)

 

 

 

 
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