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Interview With Smokebender

Smokebender are a doom metal band based in Finland. After releasing their debut EP earlier this year, they’ve wasted no time in working on a follow-up. We spoke with guitarist Tomi Lahtinen about their new EP, the Finnish music scene and what we can expect from the follow-up:
After starting as a doom metal band in 2008, you’ve had several lineup changes and now have a more rock-based sound. How do you think the changing lineup aided in the development of your sound? 
I tried to keep the band as a doom metal band as it originally was, but while the ship was sailing to the other direction, I understood there was no reason to hold it back. Songs started to became faster and faster, which I liked much more. I’ve listened bands such as W.A.S.P. since I was five, so I’m personally I’m really glad we moved on. There was also this hype going about doom/stoner and so on, which somehow felt kind of odd and it felt good to slide away from it. Development is still going on, we don’t think we should be caged to a certain genre and there might be some surprises coming.
Your new EP ‘Square Root of Zero’ features a selection of songs composed over the last six years. What made you choose these six songs in particular?
This is a good question. Many bands, such as us, compose and even record many songs and publish just a few. First we just picked up a song that seemed to deserve to be published, but because of your question, it’s interesting to find out a few similarities with each song that I didn’t think of earlier: Each of these songs are recorded with this line-up – I think it’s important for a band to present itself the way it sounds live, for good and for worse. Each of these songs were also recorded, mixed and mastered by the same guy; Danil Venho from Mobilestudio RedHouse. He’s not just a great guy and a mixer, but he also pushed us and presented creative ideas, so he basically was also co-producing. Kudos to him. Although we spent a long time recording these songs, the sound, feeling and the songs fit together because the pieces of the puzzle were the same.
The production on the EP is oustanding; can you give us a bit of an insight into your recording process? What advice would you offer to other aspiring artists?
Thanks, we are also very pleased about the “turbo-driven”-sound which simply kicks ass. The recording process on all songs was basically the same, we were all in the same room, played live and recorded the drums like that. As far as I remember, we did record bass and guitar at the same time, but I don’t think we used those so we re-recorded them. From recording live, we got the rehearsal and live-feeling to the songs. We are not that keen on metronomes or that kind of stuff, music should be alive and it’s an art to control the tempo – which also means to speed up or slow down when necessary.
I’ve recorded and mixed quite a lot during this lifetime and my advice is others is to get an “outside ear” and someone else to mix. It costs you money but saves you from a lot of trouble. Get a good set of microphones – unless you really know the sound you are after with bad ones – most likely you don’t. Don’t try to “fix it in the mix”. Try to record the sound that is wanted instead of mixing it. Try to figure out the sounds for the song while recording and not after. Try to use as few tracks as possible. Drink coffee and wipe your guitar neck. Gamble only the money you are willing to lose.
Tell us a little bit about the Finnish music scene and how you all got your start playing in bands
The Finnish music scene is very much alive but I think there are calmer times coming, or at least different ones. Of course there have always been many bands which don’t get enough credit but it also seems that bands in general doesn’t create interest like they used to. This may not be a bad thing, but I’ve been to many gigs as a player and a viewer to witness like ten people watching a band that should be playing in front of hundreds. The good thing is that this “erosion” will kill the business around it and hopefully leaves the people who genuinely love the music. The bad thing is that playing live gets harder all the time and the small venues are closing their doors. The whole thing is more and more DIY and it might be demanding, since musicians may not know how to make good sounding albums, or how to arrange gigs and so on. This creates a cycle where there might be fewer places to play, fewer gigs to witness and in the end no more bands to see. Venues have to raise their rents to compensate for the lack of an audience and drink sales which means that the risk to arrange gigs is bigger in financial terms. For small bands, it’s also more difficult to arrange gigs, which is a shame. Luckily there are still people doing this for the love of music and arranging shows, booking bands, helping them and so on.
As per audience, I feel bad for people who think that the greatest live experience is to go to see a multi-million dollar band playing at a stadium. Go and a see a hungry and wild band in a small sweaty club – you might get a more genuine rock’n’roll experience instead of big crowds and expensive beer. I could namedrop you some bands from the Finnish metal/rock-scene but I think Finnish folk artists would be much more interesting for you and your readers. I recommend listening to a band called “Rönsy” which is a female trio. They play kantele, harmonium and so on.
Regarding our own starts, I don’t know how the rest of the guys started playing in bands, but for me after listening to music my whole life it felt natural to start to make it on my own. The only reason I have to to play in a band is to make music that I’d like to listen to; all the other things are just great bonuses. It’s nice to know that no matter what happens, I will play and compose, because a good riff is a good riff regardless and if I bang my head for it, it’s already enough.
You’re currently in the process of recording a follow-up to ‘Square Root of Zero’. What can you tell us about the new album?  
It will be great of course! We’ve recorded drums for about six or seven songs and two more are yet to come. Yesterday we finished vocals for the first song and I’m in the middle of recording guitars for the second. There’s lots of work still to be done and I don’t believe the album will come out this year. We’ll most likely release the album two songs at a time. The songs are by far best we’ve ever written; there’s fast and catchy metal, psychedelic parts, crushing riffs, melodic songs, classic hard rock and so on. It certainly presents something people haven’t heard in a while or even before.
Most likely the first songs to be released are called “Ketflix and Pills” and “Beggars can be Choosers”. Those songs require an extra raw sound on the guitar tracks and I had to really check my pedals to get that. The first song title is an alternative term for the well-known dating term ‘Netflix and chill’ and tells a story about the other side of it. The second song is yet again an alternative term for a common phrase and it raises a question of quantity, equality, democracy and pissing in someone else’s cereal, so the song serves as a warning not to play with fire as you will get your fingers burnt.
In a meantime, go and purchase our songs from ‘Square Root of Zero’ on our Bandcamp. Each dollar will go towards the new album!
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