Seasonal greetings one and all!
Here we go: the last issue of Amoral Times of the year. 2015 was largely a "behind the scenes" year for Amoral, with us mostly occupied with making the new album and rehearshing the new line-up. But now it's time to come out of our cave! 2016 begins with the release of our brand-new album "In Sequence", and a proper Finnish tour. You'll find more info on both below. We do have plans to tour outside Finland soon as well, and naturally we'll keep you posted on all confirmed tour activities, both here and on our websites.
We have a couple more guys to go with the the Street Team interviews, and this month it was my turn to sit down and answer all those questions that the team members have been wondering about. Let's get to it then...
BEN VARON - THE STREET TEAM INTERVIEW
Petr Janovský and Vitezslav Petr from Czech, Pauli Kettunen from Finland and Diana Magaña from Mexico got the chance to interview the main head of the band, the one who started everything with Juffi back then around 1997 and continues as the backbone of Amoral not only as guitarist, main composer and producer but also as the leader of this magnificent group of people that altogether leaves us speechless with their music. The one and only, Ben Varon!
Many years have gone since he finally got that Strat copy from his parents that started his history in music and that, we hope, will continue for many years more with his successful career within music, so let's know a bit more about Ben's life and thoughts!
(Vita): Your surname doesn't sound exactly Finnish, could you shed some light on origin of your roots and family? And by the way, is your full first name Benjamin? :)
Ben: Haha, no, it's not Benjamin, it really is just Ben. I have a Finnish mother and an Israeli father, so Varon comes from my dad's side. But I believe the Varon surname is from Spain originally. I have a lot of family both here in Finland and in Israel (where we lived when I was very young, though I was born in Helsinki), which is a blessing, and the reason I'm a very family-oriented person. There's also alot of musicians on my father's side of the family, though mainly in the classical and jazz fields. I'm the only one in the family carrying the rock and roll torch!
(Vita): Would you ever go scuba cage diving with great white sharks?
Ben: Oh yes, absolutely! I must see that magnificent animal up close at least once in this life. I was actually dead set on doing it in San Fransisco, on my first visit to California years ago. Apparently some of the biggest great whites in the world reside in the waters just a couple of hours outside of San Fran. But the catch was that the water is so murky over there, that the chance of actually seeing anything would have been very slim. Most likely I would have ended up paying 900 euros just for the pleasure of freezing my ass of in a cage for a couple of hours in ice-cold water! But it's on my things-to-do list, for sure.
(Petr J): What was your dream guitar when you were a teenager? Was it some crazy B. C. Rich or you were more for the classic Strat/LesPaul shape?
Ben: Well, at first it was a sunburst Gibson Les Paul. Of course. That's what Slash used, and he was my idol. But a few years later I began craving a Jackson (first a Strat-shaped one, then a Randy Rhoads model). My taste in guitars (or music!) has not changed much since then!
(Diana): Do you ever play guitar left handed or any other instruments?
Ben: I actually used to play air guitar left-handed, before I got my first guitar! But my friend's big brother, who was also a lefty and played guitar, told me that I should start playing right-handed, as it wouldn't make a difference in my beginning stages, and that I'd have a much easier time finding guitars in the future. So, listening to him, I just started to force myself to play air guitar right-handed! And when I got my first guitar a little later, it was a normal, right-handed guitar, and it felt quite natural to start practicing that way. So I think that was some solid advice from that guy! These days, whenever I even try strum a lefty guitar, it just feels like the weirdest thing in the world.
(Vita): You sometimes described your work in pre-production stage as with some black metal influences (I remember mentioning Immortal particularly). Although those were probably some tongue-in-cheek remarks and there aren't any direct references to black metal phraseology in Amoral music, what is your personal relation to black metal?
Ben: I think there are bits and pieces in our music that are definitely inspired by black metal. The ending of ”If Not Here, Where?”, for example, the blast beats Juffi uses occasionally... Same thing with this new album.
My biggest black metal ”phase” was around 1998-2003 I guess, when me, Juffi, Silver and our circle of friends discovered Dimmu Borgir, Emperor, Immortal, Ulver... that whole Norwegian scene. I still like those bands and especially the albums from that era. But to be honest, I haven't followed the genre in years now, as I kinda grew tired of it. But every now and then I just have to put ”At The Heart Of Winter” on and take another mental journey back to Blashyrkh!
(Petr J): Did you like Beherit or did you even see them live back in the days?' cause it was a big "cult" in the Finnish black metal underground in the 90's ;)
Ben: No, Beherit was never my thing. I always liked my black metal a bit more ”polished”.
(Diana): Do you have any rituals while composing, like listening to certain music before hand or eating/drinking something, etc?
Ben: No, nothing like that that I can think of.
(Petr J): How do you often compose new songs - are they coming more from jamming or you just took a couple of parts made home, or away, and put them together?
Ben: It used to be much more about writing riffs, and then putting pieces together later, choosing pieces of music that fit and building songs that way. But for many years now (I guess since writing for ”Show Your Colors”) I've been writing a bigger chunk of a song to begin with, kind of the main frames for a new track. So it's less about having a ”riff bank” to pull from, and more about listening back to what I have so far, and then continuing the writing according to that, letting the song dictate where it needs to go next.
As for how often I compose songs... hard to give you any specific numbers. Sometimes more often, sometimes less. It depends on how much free time I happen to have at any given period, and if there's something I'm supposed to be writing for (like say we have agreed to try and have the new Amoral album written by this or that month). It's definitely a case of ”the more you do it, the more you do it”, meaning that if I've been writing and playing alot for the past couple of days, chances are that I'll be continuing those ideas the following day as well, with all the ideas and melodies constantly chugging away in the back of my mind. I used to take long breaks from writing after we'd finished a new Amoral album, just to recharge my batteries and get some fresh ideas for the next batch of songs. But I've found out that it was just a break from AMORAL songs that I needed to have. I wrote all of the Alcyona Sky album right after we did ”Fallen Leaves & Dead Sparrows”, with no intention of writing anything really. And now with my new ”hobby” of writing score-type music, I'm pretty much always working on something. For example, right now my ongoing writing projects include an orchestral, Danny Elfman-esque, ”christmas horror” piece of music, a whole pile of new, mainly acoustic driven tunes for the second Alcyona Sky album, and a fast, grandiose metal song I believe is gonna be one of the highlights of the 8th Amoral album.
(Diana): On the same line of question: How's does your inspiration runs? Music comes first or lyrics? or both come from different sources and times?
Ben: I write music all the time, and lyrics more periodically. But I constanly write down ideas for song lyrics, lines, phrases etc. A lot of those little ideas find a home later with a piece of music I come up with. Many times I'll write the music for a song, then match it with an idea or some lyrics I have stashed, and then fine-tune the lyrics and finish writing them to that specific song, to match them with the rhythm and vocal melodies. But again, there's no one way, every song starts a bit different, which kees it interesting for me.
(Vita): Did any of the other members of the band contributed to the composing process of the new album by writing whole parts or even whole songs?
Ben: Less than on the previous album. Masi and I co-wrote the music to one of the new songs, but other than that I've written the rest of it. There's no real reason for why it went this way this time around, I just happened to have a lot of material all ready I guess. And you have to remember that arranging is a big part of making the songs come alive, and a lot of the arranging happens at the rehearshal room, with the whole band.
(Pauli): How are the parts divided between all the three guitarists, do you mainly play the solos or did you guys divide all the parts evenly?
Ben: I differs from song to song, and it's different on the album from than it is live. Often the three of us just sit down and say ”Niko, should you play this part, if Masi plays that...”. We also try to keep our strenghts in mind. For example, Masi is excellent at ”painting” additional guitar parts on top of the riffs, so he's doing a lot of those. And Niko is a super tight metal rhythm player, so when that is needed, he's often the guy to play that part.
There's one song on the new album where we have a crazy three-way solo battle, which is a lot of fun. But other than that, I play the leads on the album. There's not that many leads on there to begin with, and I think it helps giving the band and the album an additional ”fingerprint” if the leads are mainly handled by one guy. Besides, Masi is our guitarist / keyboard player / percussionist / sax player, and Niko is a singer / guitar player. I'm just a guitarist! C'mon man, let me at least play the fucking solos!
(Pauli): Can you expand little bit more in detail on what guitars, tunings and other gear was used on the new album?
Ben: My main guitars on this album were my Jackson 7-string Warrior, a 7-string PRS SE Custom 24 and an R8 Gibson Les Paul. Masi used his PRS and a Gibson SG, and Niko played mostly on his yellow Ibanez Universe. In addition to these, there was a Hagström 12-string, a Fender Eric Johnson Stratocaser and a Fender Bass VI. For acoustics we had a Taylor 12-string, Guild 6-strings and my old classical from the 60's.
Amp-wise, the main one was a EVH 5150 III 50W head through either a Marshall or a Krank cabinet. We also used the Slash AFD100 Marshall head, a Mesa/Boogie Mk VI and the Lee Jackson Perfect Connection preamp with a VHT power amp.
Most of the songs are in standard tuning, written for a seven-string, but there are a few songs played on a six-string that are tuned to drop D.
(Diana): Besides producing Amoral music and some of your other projects, how does your Production career will be developed in the near and not so near future?
Ben: That remains to be seen! But producing is definitely something I'm interested in. At the moment I'm producing and recording the debut album of a young Finnish band called Shiraz Lane, one of the best hard rock bands I've heard in ages. We've been working on it for a few weeks now, and still have a few more weeks of hard work to do, but it's been a lot of fun and a priviledge to be part of the making of such a killer debut album. The guys are great musicians and the songs are good, so that makes my job easy. And it's been very interesting for me to be involved in a musical project that I'm not playing in or writing for, where my only job is to try to get the best out of the band and their songs. I can give them ideas and suggestions as an outsider, which many times is a valuable thing.
(Diana): Have you ever thought about being full time producer on a bigger recording studio, yours or somebody else's?
Ben: I don't know about full time, as that would mean less time with a guitar in my hand.. It's something I'm definitely interested in, and would like to do more production projects in the future, among other things. I like to do a lot of different stuff, so in a perfect world I would play and write songs in a band or two, produce other bands and also write songs for other people. I also want to start giving guitar lessons again soon, which is something I haven't done in years. I like the idea that via Skype you can have lessons with people all over the world. Anyone interested should contact me!
(Diana): What about composing film scores or soundtracks for movies?
Ben: I'm not waiting for Spielberg to call me anytime soon, but that whole musical world is another interest of mine, so I am going to pursue that path a bit as well, whether it's writing for commercials, short films, trailers, documents... We'll see! Me and my friend Lauri Koskenniemi recently did the music for the trailer of Hoth Con, a Star Wars convention held in Helsinki last month. It was a lot of fun going crazy with big Hollywood arrangements!
(Petr J): Could you share with us, what was the funniest moment in the whole Amoral history?
Ben: Oh man... that's impossible, choosing one moment above all others. There has been A LOT of laughs along the way. But I will say this: for whatever reason, quite a few of the funniest moments in the history of this band have happened in a city called Kuopio in Finland. There's been some epic moments backstage, on the streets, hotels and afterparties in Kuopio. Most of which I can't discuss in detail, mainly to protect the not-so-innocent...
(Diana): Do you consider yourself a methodical or spontaneous musician and why?
Ben: I think I can be both. When it comes to writing, I write songs by accident, strumming on an acoustic and hearing something I like, but I also sit down from time to time and intentionally try to finish a song that's not ready yet. I do believe being a musician requires some discipline as well. You can't just always sit around and wait for inspiration to hit. Sometimes you have to force yourself to practice when you know there's a show or studio coming up soon.
(Vita): When are you going to release some more detailed info about the new album In Sequence, like all the guests involved, etc.?
Ben: I'm sure by the time this is out some more info has already been revealed. Though I doubt the complete guest list will be announced separately. It's not like there's a big list of superstars to announce, that would help sell the album. But we did have the pleasure of inviting some very talented people to play with us on this one, and they make the album a whole lot better.
(Whole team): Do you have any personal mantra or life philosophy that rules your day by day?
Ben: Enjoy life, and be grateful for what you've got. With so many people in the world having real problems, I try to keep reminding myself how lucky I am, getting to do cool stuff for a living, and having a beautiful, healthy son, a nice home, a great woman by my side, a big family and awesome bandmates, amongst other things.
(Team): Thanks a lot for your time!
Ben: Thanks for the great questions!
"IN SEQUENCE" OUT SOON
Amoral, the Finnish progmetal sextet will release it's 7th studio album in early 2016. ”In Sequence”, the follow-up to the critically acclaimed ”Fallen Leaves & Dead Sparrows” album will come out in Japan on January 29th through Ward Records, and the rest of the world follows on February 5th through Imperial Cassette / Gordeon Music.
”We went into making the 7th album with an Yngwie Malmsteen state of mind: More is more! Once we got our original singer Niko Kalliojärvi back in the band - expanding the group into a six-headed monster, with two vocalists and three guitar players – it was time to start the writing process, which was one of the most inspiring ones for me so far”, guitarist and founder Ben Varon says. ”More guitar parts, more keyboards, more back and forth between clean and growling vocals.”
Another angle used to get a fresh touch for ”In Sequence” was the decision to invite a whole bunch of guest musicians to play on the album, which was a first for Amoral.
”The album is filled with stellar guest performances from many talented musicians, who added percussion, female vocals, analog syths and ouds to the songs, amongst other things. The guests definitely helped take the songs to the next level.”
The list of guest-starring musicians include percussionist Teho Majamäki, Indica singer Jonsu and Acyl singer/mastermind Amine Benotmane.
”To me, 'In Sequence' is the logical follow-up to 'Fallen Leaves & Dead Sparrows', on which we took our love for grandieuse prog to new hights. 'In Sequence' continues on that path, though the return of Niko gives the new material some of that old school Amoral vibe. And I think this one turned out a touch heavier as well, not least because of the real-life based concept of the album”, says Varon.
NEW SONG "RUDE AWAKENING" OUT NOW!
FINNISH TOUR DATES ANNOUNCED
The first batch of shows following the release of "In Sequence" have been announced. We'll be playing all over Finland during the spring. See the confirmed dates below. More to be announced!
13.02. Jyväskylä, Lutakko
05.03. Oulu, Rummer´s Club
04.03. Kuhmo, Hotelli Kainuu
11.03. Seinäjoki, Bar15
18.03. Kuopio, Henry´s Pub
19.03. Järvenpää, Blackpool
22.04. Loimaa, Seurahuone
23.04. Hämeenlinna, Aulanko
29.04. Helsinki, Virgin Oil
06.05. Turku, Logomo
XMAS SHOPPING AT THE AMORAL WEBSHOP
Nothing says "Happy Holidays!" like skull merchandise: get your last minute Christmas shopping done at the Amoral Webshop! Latest addition to the shop is this wicked coffee mug, which will turn you instantly into the coolest mofo at the office!
Alrighty, have a merry Christmas and a great new year everyone!
-Ben & the boys