I really can’t say enough about one of my favorite bands, Before The Dawn. They come to us from Finland led by the immensely talented singer/songwriter Tuomas Saukkonen. The band is finally getting the recognition they deserve, as they recently signed with Nuclear Blast, one of the biggest labels in heavy metal. After coming in third at the Finnish Metal Awards for best band, they released their latest album, Deathstar Rising, on May 3. Chances are you have never heard of them here in the U.S., but I would heavily advise you to check them out.
Mastermind Tuomas, who has founded and still plays in Black Sun Aeon and RoutaSielu, phoned in from Europe. I’m happy to say I became the first American to interview him. The conversation is as follows:
Seeing as how you play guitars, drums and keyboards in addition to singing, what would you say is your favorite instrument to play?
It’s always a battle between drums and guitar. With the keyboards and bass, I only do them mainly at the studio, except nowadays I have this Finnish melodic death metal band in which I do bass and vocals on stage also.
But mainly, on a daily basis, I play guitar and drums and I basically use both at a similar amount when I’m writing music. Even when I’m playing guitar, I play drums in my head or if I play drums, I have guitars in my head.
I always do arrangements, so if I have some riffs I need to go check them out with the drums also, which makes it always quite like a boring job for drummers for Before The Dawn because they always get like, well-arranged, ready packaged [drums]. Of course they can always add their own flavor but I’m very like—not strict—but I have a pretty clear vision how the drums should go.
How did it feel to win Instrumentalist of the Year in Finland this year?
That was quite a surprise, especially because my bands sell quite okay, but there are bigger bands like Amorphis, Children Of Bodom and Nightwish. It was the first time in five years that Alexi [Laiho] from Children Of Bodom didn’t win, which was kind of cool.
Just to give you a clear picture how big of a deal it actually was, I’m straight edge and I’ve never been drunk in my whole life, and the last time I even tasted a beer was about 15 years ago. Also, I don’t do any speeches on the stage while I’m playing with any of my bands; I just hate that kind of crap. Shouting to the audience, “Are you having fun?” blah blah.
Do you feel like signing with Nuclear Blast will make Before The Dawn a much more recognized band?
I hope so, I really do. It’s always a tricky and risky thing when you do a contract with a really, really big label.
I don’t know what the actual size of Nuclear Blast is in America, but in Europe it’s the leading one. And they have certain kinds of expectations also—where it comes to the album sales—so it can sometimes backfire but so far it has been really good.
The whole exposure in media is like, 10 times bigger with this release than with the previous ones because we have always been with real and weird indie labels. Like the first one was from Spain and there was only one guy who actually spoke English in the whole label and we did [our] first three albums there and none of those albums were ever released in Finland. And you have to wait like, one week to get an English reply from an email because the one guy who knows English was busy.
Comparing that to a label like Nuclear Blast, where everyone is professional and everybody knows what they are doing, things are running 100 times smoother but you never know what happens. In six months I will see what has happened and you can ask me again did anything happen.
How difficult is it to open up a show with another band before headlining the show with Before The Dawn?
Well, physically it’s not the easiest of evenings. And of course you have all the double annoying works like doing two sound checks in one evening.
With all of my bands I do all of the merchandise and the gig bookings so I need to take care of all the money and merchandise and with both bands it’s double the amount of work again. But actually, it makes things easier because, since I have four bands now and three of them are really active with playing gigs in Finland, I wouldn’t be able to play all the gigs I would want to if I had to separate the bands. So when I have two gigs in one evening it’s kind of like two flies in one hit because otherwise I would just run out of weekends.
In Finland, it doesn’t make any sense to play on the weekdays. Weekends are like, 10 times better. There wouldn’t be any point of my bands to play on Wednesdays or Thursdays, it’s only Friday and Saturday. And I only have 52 of those and there are some weekends I want to do something else than playing gigs but it does make things easier.
What has been your favorite venue to perform at?
Liquid Room in Tokyo, Japan. Mainly all of the professional venues are all the same; there is the stage, the backstage and everything is basically built in the same way.
But in there, the audience was something really special; really small and loved. They are a little bit smaller; especially if you are a tall enough Finnish guy, you feel like a basketball player there, walking through the streets and checking out the audience. But that was really cool, especially since it was our very first gig in Japan ever.
In Finland, we know there will be a good audience; in Europe we can pretty well know there will be a good audience so that wouldn’t be that big of a surprise. But when you go to a totally different part of the world and there are people that know you, that’s always a surprise.
How does it feel to finally have a record be released in the U.S.?
It’s really exciting. Actually, this is my very first interview to the United States. But yeah, this is my very first and it’s really exciting because the whole European metal scene, I know that really well because I’ve been releasing so many albums—most of the past 10 years—so I know most of the reporters, all the magazines, etc., it’s really routine.
When the album comes out, the certain same people contact me and we do the interviews and check out what has happened. It is kind of cool because some guys I’ve been doing eight interviews with already, so we kind of know each other in a way, but with America, I have no idea, everything is kind of new and exciting.
Do you have any interest in touring North America?
Yes, a lot. Then again, it’s not that easy. When bands from Europe come to North America there are a lot of things along the way. When bands from Finland go to Europe, you just take a car and go there, you don’t need anything.
I don’t know exactly what you need when you go to the United States, but there was a band who is friends of mine who were supposed to tour with Finntroll and Moonsorrow and they had all their flight tickets booked, they have to book those when you apply for a visa, then their visa was denied, so they lost 7,000 Euros.
And that was a band that was managed by King Foo, which is the biggest company in Finland, who works with Amorphis, Children Of Bodom and Nighwish, so they had strong machinery on the backend and still it was denied.
I know it would be a lot easier for us since people know Nuclear Blast. That gives some kind of guarantee to the officials in America that we are not northern drug smugglers about to invade America. I don’t know what they’re actually thinking, like what harm can a band do in America? Why do you need to deny a band coming from Finland?
And it’s also the flight cost and everything is quite much higher than usual travel on tours in Europe so it creates a little financial pressure that is usually not there when a band is touring. But that would be the coolest thing ever because the whole Europe thing, I don’t mean to sound arrogant or anything, but I’ve seen Germany many times, I’ve seen Netherlands. I’ve never been in America, even like as a holiday, so that is something totally new.
Before The Dawn’s latest album, Deathstar Rising, was released on May 3 via Nuclear Blast. You can buy it at any record store or download it on iTunes. Find more info at beforethedawn.com.