Children of Bodom: Alexi Laiho Discusses Berzerkus Tour
GW On Skeletons you covered “Talk Dirty to Me” by Poison. Did Eighties hair metal have an impact on you when you were growing up?
LAIHO Definitely. That’s where it started for me. Bands like Twisted Sister and Mötley Crüe, and guitarists like Van Halen and Randy Rhoads always had good guitar riffs and solos. It led to harder music like Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeth, and ultimately to death metal and black metal.
GW Can you give me some sense of how you progressed from listening to Van Halen or Randy Rhoads to embracing the music of a band like Obituary?
LAIHO I remember hearing “Arise” by Sepultura, and thinking, Holy fuck! Who are these guys? I was, like, 10 years old, and thought they were probably evil and crazy. They really had this appeal because they were so…I don’t know…just so fast and insane that it made a huge impact on me.
GW Were you playing guitar by then?
LAIHO I was just starting to play.
GW Did you hear American music all the time in Finland?
LAIHO Yeah, and then gradually the Nordic countries began developing their own metal underground. Swedish death metal bands like Entombed and Dismember and the whole Norwegian black metal scene began picking up steam. I really embraced that music when I was around 15. I was all about black metal, but in those circles you were not allowed to play lead guitar. Guitar solos are not allowed in true black metal. You pretty much have to play like shit! You know, turn the distortion and treble knob up to fucking 10, and go! [laughs] I loved it, but I kept practicing and secretly listening to Steve Vai, or whatever.
GW So what was that scene like when you were in your teens? Were guys in your neighborhood playing death metal?
LAIHO Yeah. There was a lot of pressure to conform, but then again, I just didn’t care about that. We’re talking about a really small underground metal circuit. I was definitely the best guitar player around. I could just kick anybody’s ass, and I was appreciated for that.
GW You must have been thrilled that people in your area of the world were creating something unique.
LAIHO It was great. Black metal was really a Nordic thing, you know. It just felt like that was our thing.
GW But ultimately you felt a little trapped by the musical limitations of the scene.
LAIHO Probably, yeah. Playing minor chords as fast as you can just wasn’t enough. Bodom was really my response to that. I took some of the elements I liked from traditional black metal and mixed it with the things that I liked in thrash metal. It has elements of both, but at the same time it’s neither.
GW How did you start playing guitar?
LAIHO I had a teacher, and he gave me an American [instructional] book, but I forget what it was called. I really started from the very beginning, going through each of the strings and what they’re called, and so on. My teacher was pretty cool, because he was a conservative dude, but he knew a lot of Metallica, Guns N’ Roses and what have you. So he promised me if I learned all the fundamentals of music he’d teach me Metallica’s “One,” or whatever. For the next five years that was his way to get me to practice stuff that at that time was boring for me. And believe me, I practiced my ass off.
His determination to make me learn music theory definitely helped me. When you’re a 15-year-old kid and you’re into Steve Vai, and someone says you have to learn to play some fucking bossa nova song or whatever, you’re going to think it sucks, but the song is not the point; it’s just important to know there is something else besides majors, minors and power chords.
GW Your signature ESP guitar has a Randy Rhoads vibe. Was he the crucial guy for you?
LAIHO Definitely. Ozzy Osbourne’s live Tribute album was the first time I heard Randy Rhoads. Technically, he wasn’t as advanced as Vai or Yngwie, but his sound really hit me. Tribute is still my favorite Ozzy album. Randy’s playing had that classical element, but it wasn’t overbearing. Randy and Slash are both players that I really admire. They play to serve the music and not themselves, and they compose guitar solos that any teenage girl can sing along to. Their solos are really just integral parts of the song, and that should be the object as a guitar player. That’s the sort of guitarist I’d like to be.