Interview: Guitarist Jussi Wickström of Turisas Discusses Paganfest America Pt. III and Folk Metal
Although not too many bands step outside of the box in terms of metal classification, turisas, a “battle metal” band from Hämeenlinna, Finland, haVE demonstrated that folk music and metal can go hand in hand.
A year after their latest release, 2011's Stand Up and Fight (Century Media), the band are setting out on their first headlining tour in the U.S. -- Paganfest America Pt. III. The tour, which also features Alestorm, Arkona and Huntress, begins March 29 in Baltimore, Maryland, and wraps up April 19 in Tempe, Arizona.
Guitarist Jussi Wickström sat down to chat with Guitar World about the origins of Turisas, the inspiration for “battle metal” and what fans can expect from their next album.
GUITAR WORLD: Tell me bit about the history of Turisas.
Well, we started in 1997, and it began with our singer, Mathias Nygard and me. We were a couple of teenagers who just wanted to do something, so we decided to form a band. We started quite slow in the beginning, because we didn’t really know how to play any instruments. Everything took some time, and I think our first demo came out in 2001. Then we got a record deal with Century Media and the first real album came out in 2004. Since then, we’ve released two more albums and have been touring. Now it’s going quite well. We are starting to work on a new album in the summer after our US tour. It should be very cool.
What did you listen to while growing up that happened to inspire you on guitar?
When I was really young, I started with bands like Queen and Metallica. When I got into my teenage years, I got into more extreme metal and black metal bands like Pantera and bigger bands like that. Nowadays, I am into all kinds of music.
One can argue that “battle metal” is a pretty bold classification. What influenced to play this style of music?
When we started, the first few songs we had weren’t as symphonic as they eventually became. When we named our first album Battle Metal, it was something that came to mind when we were writing a song called “The Heart of Turisas.” So it kind of evolved from that. The label started the battle metal slogan, and it turned out to be quite a big thing for us.
Has the idea of folk metal always been a part of the band? Did you start Turisas with that sort of style in mind? How else has it evolved since 1997?
When we did the songs for the first demo, there weren’t any plans. We recorded one song in which we decided to have an accordion just to see how it would sound. It actually sounded quite nice, so we evolved from that. We have also been quite interested in different folk music from different countries. There aren’t many folk elements anymore, especially on the new album, but we will see what the future holds.
You guys released Stand Up and Fight a little over a year ago. Tell me a little bit about the new album you'll begin writing this summer.
We have been really slow on releasing new albums. There are almost three years between each album, so we decided to tour and then start working immediately. We have been touring quite a lot since the release, so we decided that we’d do this one American tour and then start working full blast on it. I hope it will be done by the end of this year and be released next year. But you never know, when we do albums, it usually takes a little too much time.
Would you say the new album is going to be a continuation of Stand Up and Fight, or are you guys trying to go in a different direction with it?
It’s kind of hard to say, but we’re always trying to do different thing. We’re not trying to sync up with our last album — it would be quite boring to work like that. I do think there will definitely be some new elements, but I of course don’t think we are going to do a disco album or anything like that [laughs]. It will be, in some ways, similar but will have new elements.
Are you self-taught on guitar, or did you have lessons whilst growing up?
I’ve been a self-learner. Our first keyboard player actually played guitar, so he kind of taught me some stuff when I was really young. As the band grew up, I learned more about guitar, and nowadays I know a bit more than when I began. I try to practice almost daily, but we are touring so much now, and I have so much work with the band, so I don’t usually have the time to practice everyday.
Have you been in bands in the past, or is Turisas your first?
This is the only real band I’ve been in. We had this punk band when I was ten years old, but it wasn’t a real band. We did do a few shows though. I played drums in that band. It was quite funny.
With Turisas being the only “real” band you’ve been in, how does it feel to have watched yourselves grow into an international touring band?
It’s quite difficult to see by myself. I’ve been in this band so long that it kind of just feels natural. I feel really good about it and kind of proud to have had some success and be able to tour outside of Finland. It’s really good. Hopefully it doesn’t end here!
You’re heading out for the Paganfest America tour on March 29th. Will this be your first time touring in the U.S.?
I think this will actually be our third or fourth time there. We did the Paganfest tour once about three years ago or so. Then we toured with Dragon Force and again with Cradle of Filth. This is kind of the first headlining tour.
For someone who has never been to Paganfest or heard of it, how would you describe it, and what can fans expect when they come to see you play?
For our shows, you can expect blood, sweat and tears. Of course, as a Finnish band touring in America, we can’t really take all of our stuff, because we usually have some special effects and huge backdrops among other things. In America, we still try to bring as much as possible for our show. And for the first time, we’ll actually be able to play a full show—like a normal scale 60-70 minute show. So that will be good. The other bands on that tour are actually quite good as well. I think Alestorm have done some tours in America already, so they have there own fans there. I think there is an overall good mood on the tour—the bands are somewhat similar, but they each have their own thing going on.
Would you say that your live performance is as cinematic and theatrical as on the recordings?
Yeah, I would say that. Of course, we wear these stage clothes that we also have on in our band photos, and we do all of the makeup with the blood and black color. We try to make the shows as entertaining as possible. Nowadays, people are not listening to albums as a whole as much as they used to, and it’s a good way to reach the audiences by playing live as much as possible. We try to create that feeling which the album has—not as it was made in the studio, but a bit more rough and not as polished.
What gear will you be using on the Paganfest tour?
For an amp, I have an Engl E 530 preamp, and I am running it through an Engl poweramp – 100 watts, with some Engl cabinets. I’m playing my two Ibanez guitars — I also have one that is an s5740 Prestige model that I made myself and modified a bit. Then there is a new model off the X series — I think it’s the only copy in the world. I got it from some display at Frankfurt Musikmesse last year.
Paganfest America Pt. III w/ Alestorm, Arkona, Huntress
3/29 – Baltimore, MD @ Sonar
3/30 – Worcester, MA @ Palladium
3/31 – New York, NY @ Gramercy Theatre
4/1 – Montreal, QC @ Club Soda **PaganFest with EX DEO**
4/2 – Toronto, ON @ The Opera House **PaganFest with EX DEO**
4/3 – Cleveland, OH @ Peabody’s
4/4 – Detroit, MI @ Blondie’s
4/5 – Chicago, IL @ Reggie’s Rock Club
4/6 – Saint Paul, MN @ Station 4
4/7 – Louisville, KY @ Vernon Club
4/8 – Charlotte, NC @ Tremont Music Hall
4/9 – Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade
4/11 – Dallas, TX @ Trees
4/12 – Lubbock, TX @ Jake’s
4/13 – Denver, CO @ The Marquis
4/15 – Seattle, WA @ Studio Seven
4/16 – Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theatre
4/17 – San Francisco, CA @ DNA Lounge
4/18 – West Hollywood, CA @ Key Club
4/19 – Tempe, AZ @ 910 Live