Lighten The Load

Newcomers Skein attempt to dispose of some personal issues via forthcoming album Deadweight.

A conversation Famous Last Words (FLW) once held with a band member from an emerging punk-rock group, who along with his fellow band cohorts had devised a manifesto that was set to change the musical landscape forever, or so they thought, proved rather pivotal much later on.

Despite the lack of an overall breakthrough for the aforementioned band and accompanying rock and roll start-up manual, there was one particular moment during this conversation hauled from the memory bank that still lingers to this day. What proved key during the discussion was the admission that, “I could listen to a hundred new bands every week” in response to FLWs’ comment about the then music scene being somewhat overwhelming in terms of trying to keep abreast with the never-ending supply of up and coming new bands.

So whenever a new band is thrust under our noses in the current musical climate, the opinion form these quarters is more in line with the “…hundred new bands every week” comment because all it takes is one or two tracks every week from emerging new talent to convince us that there’s always something else waiting around the corner that will shift our opinion to new and greater heights; meaning that our appetite for “new bands” has completely shifted from an opinion of more is certainly greater now.

The latest artist to fall into such a category is Finnish alternative metal band Skein. Far from being an unknown commodity in their homeland, this five-piece from the precise location of Tampere have gradually built up a following performing live, in addition to opening their recording account via an EP ‘Children Of Light’ (2012), and followed by debut album ‘Of Wings Unfolding’ (2014), and the soon-to-be released ‘Deadweight’ long player.

It remains a fact, however, that Skein is a relatively fresh name when it comes to audiences outside of Finland, and one that is certainly a welcome newcomer after hearing the first snippet of new material under the heading, ‘Rapier’, which FLW later discovers has been omitted from the band’s forthcoming album.

With a slow and steady delivery of near hushed vocals from singer Sami Silvennoinen, who finds the perfect partner in Lina Kyttänen on backing vocals, Skein’s current single tries to make sense of the fragmented emotions by steadily piecing them back together via a steely yet restrained rhythm section that builds to a dramatic conclusion where clean vocals give way to blood curdling growls, deep in knowledge that letting go of certain events in one’s past is a difficult task. Just take a look at the lyrics to see for yourself: “Raise the curtain, the show’s about to begin, cue the actors for their moment is at hand reenacting what I cannot leave behind alone…”

Once FLW catches up with Skein in order to get the lowdown on the band, the first issue to address is the above mentioned song ‘Rapier’ because it comes as a huge surprise to this very music paper as to why this magnificent single has been excluded from the band’s imminent LP.

“‘Rapier’ will not appear on ‘Deadweight’ as it was an individual digital single published in between the two long players,” reply Skein to FLWs’ query regarding the omission of this new song. “We recognized that the process of making our next album would take some time, and we wanted to release something for our listeners in the meantime. One reason for making ‘Rapier’ was to introduce guitarist Hiski [Marstio], who joined the band at this phase. It was after some test practices that we called Hiski and asked him to join Skein, and told him that the first step as a member of Skein would be [a] studio trip. He was, as usual, ready and did a great job.”

With the current single ‘Rapier’ not making the cut in terms of Skein’s next album, FLW sees no reason to not prod the band further in order to gain more knowledge of the outstanding merits of this track; including great expertise when it comes to writing the lyrics for this particular song.

“‘Rapier’ is about the effect of words that have been used in a fight of sorts between two close friends, and written from the perspective of the unforgiving party who has been scarred by the things said and done. It reminds that there are different ways of handling stuff and that words might have long term effects. Also, it’s an exploration of a certain personality trait, which makes it hard to let things go.”

If letting go of any lingering emotional baggage is proving a tricky task for Skein, then at least the band can rely on each other to resolve any issues after a longstanding bond having developed between the band members over the years as they explain:

“The band has a long history and it took some time for the current line up to form. Our bassist Juha [Höyssä] knew guitarist Jarno [Ojala] from way back in childhood, and had played with Hiski and drummer Kari [Ruissalo] in other bands in the Tampere underground scene. Sami was introduced to the band by a mutual friend when Skein was looking for a singer.”

With a few recordings to their name as mentioned earlier, the next instalment for Skein will be the album ‘Deadweight’ that is scheduled for release later this September.

“We started the actual recording of the album during the fall of 2016 at Electric Fox Studios in Vaajakoski,” explain Skein in relation to the recording of the forthcoming ‘Deadweight’ album. “All the main instruments and vocals were recorded during an intense two week period, and soon after that we added some backing vocals, percussion, effects and keyboards. So the actual recording did not take too long. The mixing and mastering were ready in the spring of 2017.”

What were your reasons for choosing to work with producer Tuomas Kokko for the album ‘Deadweight’?

“We were looking at options to work with someone totally new to bring some new ideas to our music. Our two previous releases had been done with Janne Putkisaari, who did an awesome job on them. We didn’t know Tuomas from before, but had noticed him producing a couple of great Finnish metal albums of recent years; mainly his work on Ghost Brigade and Swallow the Sun caught our attention. So one night we just called him and everything seemed right from that instant.”

Would you say, therefore, that the recording of ‘Deadweight’ was a perfect match with producer Tuomas Kokko?

“We can’t underline the pleasure of working with Tuomas enough,” answer Skein with much enthusiasm before adding. “He provided good professional suggestions, including straight feedback and really committed to creating an album that would sound great, and sound like Skein. Of course the same sort of twisted humour as ours, accompanied by his warm-heartedness made the long days a really positive experience as well.

Tuomas travelled to work with us to our practice room in Tampere on many occasions before the recording, and we worked on individual songs, arrangements, structures as well as choosing material, which we had quite a lot of, with a clear vision that we wanted to create an album. Even though the songs on ‘Deadweight’ are more or less individual pieces than the songs on our previous two releases, Tuomas helped us a lot in terms of forming the bigger picture. The whole process was really great.”

Surely though, considering the artistic differences that can arise when writing and recording an album together, there must have been some negatives that Skein experienced when making ‘Deadweight’?

“The actual recording process was not frustrating at all,” is the honest reply without any hesitation. “Maybe the length of the [album] process was a bit nerve-racking from time to time for some of us, as we had already started making some of the songs in 2014, but that’s just the way it goes.”

Is the album title, ‘Deadweight’, referring to anything in particular in terms of Skein?

“Juha and Sami talked about the lyrical contents starting to form on the album one day, and referred to them as a sort of ‘cleansing’ documentation of some personal baggage that both were carrying at the time. We wrote stuff that was more personal than before as if trying to lift some weight from our shoulders – unnecessary deadweight. On the song ‘Deadweight’, depression is portrayed as [a] feeling of something dragging you underwater. So the title [of the song] was picked as the album title also, as it seemed to sum up some of the stuff we were trying to do with our lyrics this time.”

FLW is of the opinion that such feelings held within your lyrics are also expressed by the sounds you create as a band, where Skein appear to favour moving between moments of light and dark, to heavy with occasional softer tones and definitely lots of melodic moments in your music. Do you agree with such observations?

“We agree with your observations,” reply Skein. “We have always wanted to be versatile and dynamic, and provide changes and surprises both on record and when performing live. It’s kind of natural to us that there are changes in the atmosphere and loudness. I guess it keeps it interesting for us too. We usually have some ideas of parts and structures as we start working on a new song, but our sound comes from jamming together and trying different solutions. Some parts, compositions and riffs are naturally heavy or softer, but in a lot of cases we just experiment with different approaches until we find something that feels like Skein.”

That would explain the inclusion of Iina Kyttänen to provide, in this instance, the lighter shades during your current single ‘Rapier’?

“Iina Kyttänen has been a friend of ours for a long time and we’ve worked with her on previous releases also. Her dramatic and dark sound fits well with Sami’s voice and creates the kind of dynamics we were looking for on ‘Rapier’. On ‘Deadweight’, there are also some female backing vocals by both Iina Kyttänen and Iina Souru.”

Whilst on the subject of sound, where do you see Skein in terms of the labels that have been applied to the band, and the influences that have been drawn when it comes to comparing your music with other artists?

“Good question as this has always been tricky for us. We are metal and the ‘alternative’ part for us means that we explore rhythmic and mood variations that have non-traditional song structures and avoid some basic metal clichés such as solos, etc. We have heavy riffs. We have beautiful atmospheric parts, and we express our lyrics through both clean and screaming vocals. There are elements of post rock and metal, as well as more traditional heavy rock songs.”

Skein speak with much enthusiasm when they explain to FLW the variety of sources that help to inspire their sound where “extreme metal to electronic music and from movie soundtracks to punk,” can play their parts, just as much as bands ranging from “Tool, Isis, Nine Inch Nails and Meshuggah,” and less obvious candidates, “The Dillinger Escape Plan, Mew, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, CMX or Radiohead,” also contribute to their overall sound.

What’s it like being an alternative metal band (if that’s the description we’re using) from Tampere, and do you think you’re local environment has influenced your music?

“We really love our audience here and respect the people who show enthusiasm for the thing we do,” answer Skein. “We do hope that we can spread our music more widely abroad too. Tampere is a great place with a really strong rock/metal scene and traditions, so it has been really easy to exist as a band here. Finland has probably brought a bit of melancholy to our songs as well. There’s an aspect of seriousness and “no bullshit” in what we do as a band, as there is in some Finnish mentality.”

With Skein sharing their experiences regarding their music in their homeland, not to mention expressing a desire to try further afield in order to experience new challenges, the forthcoming ‘Deadweight’ album might be the ticket to achieving such a goal. Therefore, what can we expect to hear once the imminent new long player is released to the masses?

“The new album is versatile and diverse,” begin Skein. “For example, ‘Deadweight’ includes some of the heaviest and darkest material we’ve ever made, in addition to the lightest and barest. There are some slow, heavy and growing songs, as well as some fast material in the mix. All in all, the album feels like a natural progression and step of evolution, with quite a lot of the characteristics we’ve had in our material always, but things are more refined.”

Do you think that the new album ‘Deadweight’ is a big departure in sound compared to your previous effort ‘Of Wings Unfolding’?

“[The album] ‘Of Wings Unfolding’ and ‘Deadweight’ feel like really different things, even though, musically, the progression is more subtle,” consider Skein. “We took a step forward as a band and musically with both albums and challenged ourselves differently. For example, ‘Of Wings Unfolding (OWU)’ is a concept album, which we built around a story that affected the compositions and arrangements on many levels. We practiced the idea of working like this on our EP “Children of Light” and, in a way, pushed the method a bit further. As ‘OWU’ was treated as a whole, the entire process on ‘Deadweight’ was different because we focused on each song individually and perhaps a bit more thoroughly. Also, the lyrical content – not following any ‘fictitious’ story – is now much more personal.”

Given the information earlier regarding the overall positive experiences of writing and recording ‘Deadweight’, the opinion here at FLW is that Skein sound rather proud of the new album, do you agree?

“We are really happy with the outcome. We’re quite critical when it comes to our own material, which makes us strive for better stuff all the time, so maybe there are little things here and there that we’ll do better next time. But as a snapshot of Skein during the last years, the album represents us 100% and we’re quite proud of the album.”

As Skein laydown the final preparations for their upcoming new album release and with thoughts turning to overseas possibilities to promote their music further, the current musical landscape may not be in its healthiest position right now when it comes to establishing new and emerging talent.

“The state of the music scene is a bit of a paradox in a way. There’s constantly new innovative stuff that is really great, as the making of music has become easier. At the same time, it seems that to make an actual living playing music that you’re passionate about is really tough. The sheer amount of new music also produces a side product of quite generic and non-inspirational stuff that emerges, but that has probably always been the case. All in all, there’s really a lot of great stuff happening with unbelievably talented bands and artists who continue to make music that really touches us as music lovers. We just hope that it would be easier for those small acts to surface, and of course for us too!”

Expect to see ‘Deadweight’ making an impact in the coming months because it promises much considering the magnificent impression stopgap single ‘Rapier’ has made on our lives, not to mention the positive vibes coming from the Skein camp in relation to the recording sessions and detailed explanations regarding the band’s overall progression in sound and individual topics helping to shape and inspire the lyrics. The new album, ‘Deadweight’, sounds like the real deal indeed.

“We try to express ourselves through our music, make significant material and stay true to ourselves,” conclude Skein regarding their final thoughts of the interview. “Even if we don’t underline it, our songs move in a certain space, which has a lot of recognizable characteristics. We like to challenge people with our musical solutions as well as with our lyrics. For example, on this album [‘Deadweight’] we handle themes such as misuse of power – both in political and religious contexts, openness, fear, loss, obsession with wealth and money, and then a lot of personal issues. We hope that people will think for themselves and recognize things happening around them.”

(Photography courtesy of Jani Muhonen)

FLW - From the Tapes

It’s not only the influence of other artists musical achievements that can help inspire new and emerging acts because there are plenty of other options to help create the desired results you’re looking for when making a brand new album. Just ask Finnish band Skein, who discovered that certain parts of furniture had an important role to play when recording their forthcoming album ‘Deadweight’.

“The whole process of recording was filled with quite a lot bad jokes and strange humour marinated with a lot of stuff that wouldn’t translate well if explained.
You can hear a sound of a drawer (yes the kind you keep your socks in) being demolished with a sledge hammer on one song on the album. Sami (lead vocalist) had a strange obsession about the idea, and bought a drawer from a flea market next to the studio but we didn’t have time to record it at the time. So we packed the drawer to the already filled-up car and brought it to our rehearsal space. A couple of weeks later Sami got to express himself as Tuomas (producer) recorded the mayhem in our parking hall.”

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