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It’s the year 2015. I was 18 years old and went into a store to buy some new CDs. Among the (veeeeery small) Metal collection is one album that has a Berserker on the cover and the band name is written in an elegant yet very Metal font. The name of the album was One Man Army by none other than ENSIFERUM. Now, seven years later, I finally got to sit down with their bass player Sami Hinkka to discuss my burning questions.
The amazing pictures are brought to you, as always, by the fabulous lightinmirror.de!
Shieldmaiden’s Voice: If you had to describe your musical style in three words, which would you choose?
Sami: I’m gonna be an asshole and copy something that someone actually said: Heroic Folk Metal. If I could use four words, I would say „Ironic Heroic Folk Metal“ because that was actually in one review a long, long time ago.
SV: How did you choose your band name?
Sami: That was Markus, the founder of the band and the guitar player, back in 1995, I guess… He was starting his own band and was very inspired by Folk music and Death Metal, especially Melodic Death Metal. At the times this particular genre was on the rise with albums like Tales of the Thousand Lakes by AMORPHIS. Markus then took a dictionary Latin-Finnish, Finnish-Latin, opened it, put a finger on a page and there it was: ENSIFERUM, the „sword-bearer“. It was such a good name for this band. It really fits us, but you have no idea how many spelling mistakes we have seen around the world and how many times we had to spell it to people.
SV: I also feel like there are 20 different versions of how to pronounce the name.
Sami: Yes! We always pronounce it like „Ensi-Ferrrum“ which is a very Finnish way of saying it. Germans tend to add another „i“ into it and say „Ensiferium“ and that is very cute!
[Side note: Sami pronounced it with heavy diction on the „r“ which I tried to incorporate into the text. In any case it is supposed to be the first syllable „Ensi“ followed by „Ferrum“ with the „e“ being a short vowel]
SV: What inspires your music the most?
Sami: I think we need Marcus for this question because he ist still the main songwriter even though we all bring in ideas and we all arrange together. It’s very rare for one of us to have a song that is completely ready. For Marcus, the inspiration seems to come from the unconscious. He sits down and just starts playing and when he finds something that is good he starts to develop it.
Lyric-wise I’d like to read and watch movies and that is an inspiration somehow. Lately I haven’t read that much and I’m a bit sad about that.
SV: What do you think distinguishes your music and your band from other artists in this genre?
Sami: I think it comes down to melodies because that tends to be the major cornerstone in our music. We have both long songs and those which are a bit more „Humpa“ and because of that you can’t really pinpoint the ONE traditional ENSIFERUM song. We also always had some Power Metal aspects in our music as well, to make it even more confusing. [laughs]
It’s also a good thing, because it keeps things interesting as a songwriter since you haven’t painted yourself in one corner. There are no boundaries for us.
SV: You’ve mentioned that this band was founded in 1995 and since then you have grown a lot in terms of fame. Do you feel pressured to be succeed even more with every new album that you release?
Sami: No. Of course, we wanna do our best, but there is no pressure from anyone. Management and the label are supportive of us and they know how we work. Maybe that is the thing with Metal music. In Pop it get’s quite rough if you don’t get enough attention. Metal fans are very loyal and we just keep writing stuff that we like and we already have a lot of raw songs for the next album. We also have raw songs for the album after that. The thing is that we’re slow composers and it takes us a long time before these songs are ready.
SV: What do you think has changed the most in the Metal scene since you first started making music?
Sami: Metal is still marginal music in the music business, even though it has become more mainstream. And Metalheads grow up. I was actually talking about this with Sami from FINNTROLL and Kai from NIGHTWISH that the time goes by so fucking fast.I’ve been working as a nurse for the last couple of years during the pandemic and I had clients who wore MOTÖRHEAD shirts and they were in their 60s and they started listening to them when they were in their 20s. I guess that this is what Metal and Rock used to be, where young people were rebellious and started making music. Metalheads are still young at heart though!
Obviously the whole Internet thing has changed a lot in the scene, especially with streaming. Looking at live concerts, I’d say Metal music is doing quite well. We played at Hellfest which was just huge and Tuuska Festival actually set a new visitor record this year. What I also really like is young bands coming up, so that it’s just not the dinosaur section playing. At the same time it’s also very inspiring to see guys 10 or 20 years older than us still rocking the stage.
SV: You briefly mentioned the pandemic. How did that affect your work with the band?
Sami: Well, it sucked. I was lucky enough to have studied two other professions, so I got a day job which meant that it wasn’t that big of a financial disaster for me. What really hit me hard was that I didn’t have time for music that much, because there were other obligations in life. Luckily we took a leap into the future and Markus finally got himself a good laptop and a recording software instead of recording with his phone and having a thousand different versions of the same song. He always had versions with different chords and when it came down to play it, he scrambled looking through his phone trying to find it. So that was a really big step ahead. It really helped in the composing process for the next album because without Markus’ effort to relearn new stuff I wouldn’t know where we would be. I just had a few ideas for like maybe three songs, but he came up with three almost complete songs.
I think the pandemic affected people differently, some people used the time to do something productive and others were passivated because everything changed. When the pandemic started you were like „Ok, it’s only the summer.“ and then it went into autumn and then winter and I believe no one thought it would last that long. But now we’re back again and the price has been very high globally.
SV: It has been indeed. Taking that into account, what does it feel like to finally be back on stage?
Sami: Amazing, really amazing! Last year, we had the privilege to do a streaming show with Hellfest and that was the biggest production we’ve ever had. We had pyros, smoke, cool lights and they had fucking drone cameras flying around, it was really beautiful, but there was no crowd and you could hear the crickets between the songs. It didn’t feel real like that. Once again thank you Hellfest for getting us there.
But it feels so good to be playing live again, because for me, ENISFERUM has always been a live band. I never saw us as a studio band. Some bands create phenomenal stuff in the studio and live performances might not be their thing. And it’s the opposite for us, we would never be able to capture our energy when there is no crowd. For us, it’s so much about the interaction with the audience. We just did a tour with DARK TRANQUILLITY and it was just insane! We very lucky with this tour because we were the international tour to happen in many of the places we played at after the lockdowns. Crowd-wise it was also very good, I mean the amount of people on the whole tour and it a lot of places there were people attending who had no idea who we were. They were just there because something was happening and they were just enjoying it. The people are craving live music.
SV: Do you prefer concerts or do you prefer festival shows?
Sami: There are pros and cons to both. Playing in front of 20.000 people, like at Rockharz, is a huge ego trip. Of course it feels fucking fantastic to have people chanting and it gives you goosebumps all over your body because they are louder than your PA system. The thing is though that these gigs are a bit anonymous. When you’re playing a small rock show you’re literally one meter away from the people and all the blood, spit, vomit and beer is flying in the air! This is more intense. Even though both are about playing live, I still consider them to be two very different things, a bit like asking someone if they prefer chocolate or ice cream. I personally like them both! So the answer to your question is „Yes!“ [laughs]
SV: What are your favorite songs to play live?
Sami: It’s not so much about what I like playing but how the crowd reacts. That is kinda the silver lining of Covid: We released our last album Thalassic back when the pandemic just began and people have had time to listen to it so they know the lyrics. Usually, when you release an album, you start the tour immediately, so people have heard it maybe once or twice but now you can feel that they listened very closely to the album and made the songs their own. From the last album, I’d say one of my favorites is Run from the crushing Tide. It’s a fast song and people just go crazy over it. Lai Lai Hei also seems to work in many situations, because it’s an easy song even if you don’t know the band. You don’t even need to know the lyrics. It was actually composed by Jari, our old singer [and founder of WINTERSUN] and Markus back in the day.
SV: As much fun as this has been, I unfortunately only have one question left: What is something you want to tell your fans right now?
Sami: First of all, I know that the Covid situation has gotten better, but still take care of yourself and your loved ones, enjoy this summer to the fullest and let’s keep Metal great, as we have done so far! Cheers!
I’m not gonna lie, I fangirled HARD over this interview! If you’re interested in more interviews from Rockharz festival, then stay tuned! There is still more to come!