Interview: Markus Vanhala and Jukka Pelkonen of Omnium Gatherum

I know I’m probably going to end coining a cliche, but in all honesty it is a joy whenever I get to speak to Finnish musicians, no less ones that I have not seen in nigh on 3 years. After exchanging our “Hellos” and ordering some drinks, Markus, Jukka and myself headed over to one of the booths in Manchester’s Coyote Ugly for a catch-up chat and a case of déjà Vu…

It feels like an incredibly long time since we last spoke, so firstly how have you both been keeping?

Markus: Really good! We’ve been touring like hell and somehow we have been able to do a new album as well. Somehow we were able to fit it in and we just listened to the initial mixes before we came to this wonderful place.

Jukka: For me it was a lot of touring and for Markus it was a hell of a lot of touring! I’ve been pretty busy with the new songs. About a year and a half ago, Markus sent me some demos and ideas and I started coming up with some ideas and arranging things. And in the midst of that we’ve been touring and Markus has been touring with Insomnium as well.

Markus: I think when you have deadlines and the busier you are, the more you get done. For me it seems that way as when I have the lazy period I get nothing done. If I have lots of things going on then I’ll get things going.

Jukka: If you know the animated movie The Moving Castle, it’s kind of like the witch where if you do nothing you get depressed and bored. If we are doing something then it’s good but if we have nothing to do then it’s like that.

Grey Heaven’s came out nigh on 2 years ago now. How do you feel the response has been to it?

Jukka: I think it’s been fucking great! Lot of good tours, lot of good reviews. Since the release in February 2016 we’ve really been pushing it.

Markus: We’ve toured in 3 different continents and after that album we signed to Century Media which was great. Of course, that doesn’t really affect much regarding that album but going forward it should help us out.

Jukka: It’s kind of like a natural progression of the band really. You could say we have a better engine behind us now for promotion and stuff like that. But for us, we still do the same kind of music and if we keep having fun and the fans have fun then that’s mission accomplished for us.

Markus: And the new album is really fucking good.

Jukka: Just wait till you hear it!

Markus: We are really proud of the new album and we recorded a lot of songs for this album. We recorded a lot more songs so we’ve got the task of deciding which ones will be going on to the album.

Jukka: We’ve got a really cool new cover song as well. It’s a secret for now but it’s from the beginning of the 90s. It’s from a legendary band but not so legendary song.

And it’s Dan Swanö again for the mastering, is it?

Both: Yes!

Markus: At this very moment he is mixing it. He sent me a message about an hour ago saying that he was working on it. We heard some initial mixes and it sounds really good.

Jukka: We can always pull some more from him and we have a really good working relationship with him.

Markus: Dan’s been growing with us in a way in that as we’ve progressed, he has progressed as well. It’s not like we are being boring and using the same person, we’ve been working together for 10 years and it’s been working really well. If you compare The Redshift to the new one then you’d think it’s completely different.

Jukka: As Markus said earlier, we’ve recorded lots more songs than normal this time so we need to have a dialogue with the whole of the crew to choose the songs for the album to be released. After that, there’ll be releases with the bonus songs as well.

Omnium Gatherum (c) Bukavac Photography

Since we last spoke, has your guitar setup changed Markus?

Markus: It’s still all the same with the Jackson’s, EVH amps and the Axe Fx. We just reprogrammed the sound recently with our mixing guy who is like the magician for me. He’s like the 8th member of the band as we have Olli who does the artwork and now Sami is our soundguy. OG is more like a brotherhood to be honest as we have people which we love working with. But yeah, we just reprogrammed our Axe FX and it sounds so much better now.

As Jukka said earlier, you’ve been incredibly busy!

Markus: Yep, my wife hates me! But it’s been crazy for the past few years however these past 7 months have been really busy. Since summer last year I have done 4 European tours and 2 US tours with all of my bands and I think my booking agents hate me as I’m far too busy. I’m trying to break the record for how many gigs in a year a Finnish musician can play!

And also since we last spoke, you’ve gained a new drummer. How has he been fitting in?

Jukka: He’s been fitting in really really well. It was really natural and he started out as a session player.

Markus: He’s been with us about 3 years now.

Jukka: We already knew he was a good player as he’s played with loads of bands before and after rehearsing with him we thought “Ok, this is good, let’s see how will this work on tour” and it worked super well. He is one of the sweetest guys and he’s got that rock ‘n’ roll attitude but works really hard. Our previous drummer, Jarmo, was in the band for 18 years and again was a really lovely guy but I can’t think of a better replacement for Jarmo than Tuomo. Tuomo is the guy.

Markus: Like you said, Jarmo was in the band for 18 years and I always said “If we use Jarmo, then that’s the end of the band.” And then Jarmo just started to grow with the family and wasn’t able to tour any more due to a regular job and kids. It was a miracle we found Tuomo and he’s been the perfect fit for us.

Jukka: Jarmo was a super drummer and super cool guy but he wasn’t able to commit so we parted in peace and Tuomo was the perfect fit. We only tried out Tuomo for the job and he fit perfectly. Because he’d played with us before it made it so much easier.

Markus: We had luck! And the new album is so full of drum porn. Tasty drum porn and not loads of just technical playing for the sake of being technical.

Jukka: We have some technical stuff in there but it fits perfectly with the songs. Jarmo and Tuomo are two completely different drummers, they are similar but how they approach the drums is really different. I think for us, it was a stroke of luck the way things happened the way they did. Tuomo also has a family but he makes everything work and is a touring machine.

Markus: Yeah, it’s not for everyone this lifestyle but we love it. We wouldn’t be doing it otherwise!

Over the past few years, it seems a though melodic death metal has been growing as a genre. Would you say that’s because some of the bigger bands are still churning out albums and playing shows or the fact that smaller bands are popping up everywhere and are persevering. What are you opinions on this idea?

Jukka: There’s a bigger truth in that and in our case we’ve been pushing ourselves for a long time and we’ve been touring and not giving up. Those kinds of thing you’ve mentioned do affect things but also the long-term slow growth of bands are also things we see.

Markus: We’ve actually been speaking with Dark Tranquility about this a few times. We’ve always been slowly growing over time and it’s been taking ages but we’ve always been growing. It’s always been uphill, just a bit slower. Some bands that started around our time that got good deals and other things dissolved out after a few years whereas we are still here.

Jukka: It’s kind of like digging a ditch. Like you maybe dig 20 metres of it first and it’s really hard work but if you keep persevering then you will be able to dig this ditch and finally get there. It reveals your strength and also who loves doing the music. We love doing this!

Markus: And that’s why we are still here as old men doing it. DT are about 6 or 7 years ahead of us and they still do it.

Jukka: I think for all the bands, DT, Insomnium & OG, it’s kind of like a love for the music we make which is the driving force. It’s almost the chemistry when we tour and meet new people. Like with us, we haven’t seen you in about 3 years and it’s great to catch up!

Markus: And of course, all the guys in all the bands are nice as well. We’ve had a long time relationship with DT as our first tour on a nightliner bus was with them.

Jukka: That was back in 2008 and we’ve toured with them a lot since. We love those Swedish fuckers!

Markus: The tour we have coming in the States is going to be amazing. With Amorphis and Moonspell as well, it’s going to be a great tour.

Jukka: When we were teenagers, we grew up listening to those bands and some of the guys are from the same suburb I’m from. It’s going to be so awesome to be touring with them as I remember listening to their classic albums when they came out.

Markus: It’s going to be like a timehop to our teenage years and we know some of the bands as well. They are some of the most lovely people as well.

Jukka: We are still the best band on the bill though!

[Disturbed’s cover of “The Sound of Silence” starts playing]

Markus: What song is this?

“The Sound of Silence” by Disturbed.

Jukka: I think the Nevermore cover version of this song is the best for me I think.

Markus: It’s the same lyrics but the only thing that connects it is the intro. The rest of it is so original.

Jukka: That reminds me of when we played in Seattle and Montreal in 2015 and the vocalist came out to see us. He came to the show and saw us and was front-row headbanging along and singing the lyrics as well. To me that was so cool to see as he was 50 years old and is a metal legend. It was so sad to me when he died.

Markus: I couldn’t believe it when died. I was coming back from tour when I heard about it. I remember when we met him and he was such a nice guy. In Seattle, our bus was parked on the corner and I had my Nevermore shorts with me and I jumped out the bus with them and there was Warrel Dane outside our bus. He was like “Hey, dude! I remember you from the Montreal show.” And then he was there in the front-row headbanging and singing along which was so incredible to see. For me as a huge Nevermore fan, it was incredible to see.

Jukka: He remembered the lyrics and we had been praising Nevermore for years so to see that was so incredible and beautiful. When he died I cried and was so sad about it. Those kinds of moments though are beautiful moments.

Markus: It’s always nice to meet the beautiful people behind the songs and sometimes the people are not beautiful but when they are it’s always amazing.

Coming onto the setlist tonight, what are you guys playing?

Markus: 70 minutes of something! You’ll have to watch it to see. I’m not going to reveal anything.

Jukka: We really want to play the new songs but we can’t play them.

Markus: The same as last time, actually. Déjà Vu!

As a band, what do you feel is one ambition you have yet to achieve yet?

Jukka: Planet-wide success! For real though, we have been doing this for so long and it’s really really hard to say. As kids, we dreamed about things which we have now achieved.

Markus: When we started, we had some mighty things we wanted to achieve as a band and then when you get the new ones you keep increasing them. Australia is one place we’ve not played yet which would be nice to play.

Jukka: We want to play live music for people who want to listen to it live.

Markus: At the moment we are enjoying the ride as we have a healthy relationship with everyone and with the fans. We are still going to  keep going on but we aren’t getting any younger!

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