Interview – Juha Raivio (Hallatar/Swallow the Sun/Trees of Eternity)
Photos – The Nightingale plays Aleah and Hallatar- 23.2.2018 – Turku, Finland
Interview and Photos by Serena Solomon
I had the amazing opportunity to meet with Juha Raivio in the cold, quiet, graffiti covered back stage loft of Gong in Turku, Finland, and discuss the present and future of Hallatar, the meaning behind the music and future plans for Juha and the music Aleah left behind for us.
How has the tour been so far?
Well to think we rehearsed for the first time, the full set together as a band, at Tavastia [Helsinki], during the soundcheck before the first gig…with that in mind, everything has been going really good. The music is so… not the easiest songs to play live, and we didn’t have any time to rehearse before that, so it was quite nerve wracking but it went quite alright. We’ve played half of the shows on this tour this past week, at Lutakko [Jyväskylä] and Joensuu, they were quite fantastic. Tavastia was still a bit hard…you know, it’s hard for me to get the grip of saying much about the shows because I get into it on stage, kind of like getting into a survival state, so it’s hard to say much about it. It’s kind of like opening up and being in a survival state at the same time and confronting the music and lyrics. It’s ultimately good and bad, its a very strange feeling.
But that is what music is meant to be, you have to feel it in your guts and your heart. There’s a time for all the music – the pop music and the music that doesn’t matter. I like pop music that doesn’t have any meaning too, it’s fine, but it’s not something I would want to listen live, you need to feel the music then. This music has lots of feeling for sure. That’s a long answer, but really it’s hard to say about the gigs, they’re on the edge of heaven and hell.
-I saw the gig in Helsinki and it was great, so emotional and intense, and I’m interested to see how it has evolved since then…
Well you know Gas isn’t playing tonight which is making this, again, so nerve wracking but now we’ve got Pasi Pasanen, ex drummer of Swallow the Sun, so he’s doing the show straight, again we just rehearsed once for the first time in the soundcheck. So again, more stress, though it went ok in the soundcheck but Gas will be back for the next few shows.
– Have you an idea of what the opening act tonight, The Nightingale plays Aleah, will be like? What they have in store?
Yeah I have, I asked them to open these shows but I asked first for a couple more songs after I heard the cover they posted on YouTube of “Sinking Ships”. I really liked this singer. It’s ultimately really hard to do Aleah’s songs in the first place, and nobody can, of course, do them just like she did but this vocalist has the same kind of something… This fragile, beautiful edge on her voice that I really like. I haven’t heard her live yet but what they sent and recorded for me was fantastic. I’m looking forward to that.
Did you imagine Hallatar would be gaining so much momentum when you first began this project? The Emma award nomination, the tour, playing festivals…
No, of course not, the music and the lyrics are the main thing. Whatever happens around it is a plus, in a way. It’s going to be difficult to play many shows with Hallatar because Tomi is going to be so busy, and Gas, and I’m going to be busy myself, in the next few years, but I’m kind of like, if there aren’t too many shows, I’m quite happy. It’s kind of like stabbing myself in the heart when I go on stage so, in a way. If there aren’t a hundred gigs from this album, totally fine with me. There isn’t really more expectation than to get the music and these lyrics out in the world. Now that the album is out, I’m very happy and taken that the people are not afraid to listen to it and really feel it. It’s not easy for people, to feel, to feel it’s togetherness, it’s unity, but that’s what music is for, to feel as if you’re in that same core.
Were Tomi and Gas your first choices when you formed Hallatar?
Yes they were definitely my first choices. I’m a huge HIM fan, I’ve always been a huge HIM fan. A fan of Gas Lipstick and his drumming and same with Tomi and Amorphis. I just can’t believe I’m playing with these guys, it’s such an honor for me… but it’s more than their abilities as vocalist and drummer, it was much more about their heart, cause I know both of them more personally, than musically, if you can say that. I know that both of them have a huge heart and they feel the music, and live the music. It’s not just them and the music, it’s together- them within the music. So it was more important for me to get good, wonderful people who I know can put their heart and soul into the music and not just play. And it’s unbelievable, you can just see how they are on stage and you know there’s no faking. It’s a big honor for me to have them on an album and being able to play shows with them.
– Did you have any concerns with Tomi’s distinct vocal sound being so associated with Amorphis?
No, when I was talking with Tomi about the vocals, I was talking about leaning into more black metal vocals and low growling, but then what ended up on the album was just like, it went way over my expectation with what he did. So, the music is quite far from Amorphis so I didn’t think about that too much. There isn’t that much clean singing to connect much with Amorphis. Which I wouldn’t mind at all but the music just doesn’t sound at all like Amorphis. I think we both have that Finnish core in the melodies, which might be something that connects the two bands but still, well I don’t know how it sounds on the outside, do you get a huge Amorphis feel?
-Well when I heard Tomi would be on vocals I was curious, because I associate his voice and sound so strongly with Amorphis, I was wondering how it would work, how he would interpret Hallatar’s sound separately. But I personally think it did work quite well.
Yeah, me too. When listening to the album, I’ve never heard him doing this…get that deep in all ends of his range. I know the mans range, his growls and that higher pitched black metal kind of screech. He did amazing things there, and I’m very happy and I don’t even mind if it sounds like Amorphis or HIM somewhere, if you can connect those bands too. I don’t mind.
The word “hallatar” can be seen previously in the lyrics for Swallow the Sun’s “Songs of the North”, can you explain what it means in English and maybe any further relevance to this albums music?
I just love the word hallatar, for no specific reason, it’s just a beautiful Finnish word. I used the word hallatar in that Swallow the Sun song, those were my first ever Finnish lyrics that I wrote, basically to my parents who have both passed away. So it’s kind of like a memorial theme for both of my parents and, in that chorus, the word hallatar is meant like “death”, if you translate it directly it’s like “queen of frost”and frost many times, you know, kills the crop on the fields, kills the flowers, when the seasons change…frost kind of represents the end of a cycle and the death of things, so I used it on that song as meaning death. Then of course, to connect to Aleah… it’s beautiful. It’s the female version of the word. Anytime you put “-tar” at the end of something in Finnish, it turns it to a female version of the word like “kanteletar” from Kalevala, so “hallatar” is just the female version of frost so it was clear to me to use and, unfortunately, represents death to me, but in a beautiful poetic way.
– Do you think you would write in Finnish for anything in the future?
I don’t know, I haven’t been thinking about it much. Finnish is quite a hard language. To think that chorus in “Songs of the North” was the first thing I wrote in Finnish, ever…in that way I’m pretty happy about what came out but then again, it’s not in me to write in Finnish. Maybe I’m just too young, maybe I need forty more years to have the license to write in Finnish. Who knows.
Is there any background insight you can give about the song “Dreams Burn Down”? What it was originally intended for?
I’ve been gathering a lot of Aleah’s recordings from her studio program and computer and hard drives and trying to keep everything safe. I found the chorus and he verse, as an unfinished song. I just took it and it was a lot like making a Trees of Eternity song, Aleah’s music just showed me what she had and I made the rest, except she wasn’t there to tell me how to fix it or do it another way…
-That also explains the “unknown lyrics” written in the text of the song…
Yeah, exactly, I really don’t know, I’ve been looking but couldn’t find any lyrics for it. And I seriously don’t know if it’s even English, because Aleah had her own language, she was making chants, like spiritual chants. It might just be something recorded so she could remember the melody but it also could be some language that I have no idea. Yeah, she was quite an interesting, mystical person so I can’t be sure.
I read that your writing process for this album was quite intense. Is it similar when you’re writing for Swallow the Sun or Trees of Eternity or other things?
Well, writing for this album… I have no memory. And well, I don’t have that much memory of writing for Swallow the Sun albums either but I still remember a few things from then. For this album, it’s like either one of us could do the interview, I’m almost like an outsider, I remember as much as anybody else. It’s very strange, I just don’t remember and all of a sudden… there it is, the written album. I remember recording, of course, but writing… it came in like, one week. I remember I felt “I need to do something or I’m just gonna shoot myself, so better to take the guitar” and there it was, a week after. I don’t remember anything, but I knew I wasn’t going to change anything. When I started to record, I made this promise that whatever comes out, I’m not gonna change anything. That’s it. It’s been made exactly as it is in that moment and that’s how it ended up on the album. Even if I thought I could do it better or something, it was important not to go and fix it because then I would ruin whatever it was that the music came from, that’s what it is, very raw and unedited, unpolished. Hopefully you can hear and feel it.
So what of the future of Hallatar?
We’re gonna do the rest of this tour and with good luck there might be a few festivals and maybe a few other shows, but the harsh reality is Tomi is going to be very busy and I don’t want to make it so there’s pressure on anyone. Of course we would want to play more, specially I’m sure, after these shows, after we know the songs and can actually play them so it can be even easier to get into the feel… Which I’m also a little nervous cause even now I’m starting to get more into the zone with the songs. I don’t have to stress as much anymore, the first gig in Tavastia was great but in Joensuu, I was already starting to get so into it so much easier. I welcome more shows but again, if it doesn’t happen that’s fine. For me the most important thing is to get Aleah’s music out, even if I have to stab myself again and again, I’m going to do it. It feels right, it’s my promise to her.
-Thats where my next question kind of leads to, you have a bit more material from Aleah, enough for more Hallatar/Trees of Eternity? I read there might also be a solo album…
That solo album will mainly be her acoustic stuff. I’m gonna work on that soon but I need to have a little break after this Hallatar album and the Trees of Eternity album, I have some thing going on with Swallow the Sun too, but now I have to take a little time before I work on that again. Also, sometime in the future, there’s going to be the last demos from Trees of Eternity for the second album which is still very raw. Me and Aleah got to a point where we started on the second album but unfortunately, it ended very fast. There is still about thirty minutes of raw demo material I want to get out later on, record with the full lineup, with Kai and the Norrman brothers, not just release the demos as they are.
-I’m really looking forward to that.
Me too, but I need to take a break and also first work on Aleah’s solo album. I’ve done almost half of it already, but there’s still a lot to do.
And now for a few lighter questions – what music are you currently listening to/inspired by?
I don’t listen to too much metal music, like at home. I stick to my old favorites, I’m a huge Type O Negative fan,and a huge Marillion fan, Duran Duran…so I mostly listen to those. I can’t think what else, maybe it hasn’t been so good, that’s why I don’t remember.
Are there any songs or artists you’d like to cover or pay homage to?
I’ve always wanted to do a cover of “Save a Prayer”by Duran Duran, that would be great. And a Marillion cover maybe one day too.
And I heard you have a few animals at home?
Yeah, my babies…
– Do they inspire you at all? Help you write your music?
Oh yes, every time I try to record something, they’re on the keyboard. Always at that moment they want attention. Lots of horses and cats, lots of fur everywhere. Four Norwegian forest cats and eight horses. The horses are not all mine, but I’ve been taking care of them for years, now there’s four Friesian horses. There were five but one recently died. I was just riding yesterday in the forest, in the snow on this huge black horse, such amazing animals… they are not animals, they are friends, family members…
Is there anything else you’d like to contribute to the interview?
Just take care everyone, take care of your loved ones. If you can, face the fire. Don’t turn your face away. Even if the music might rip out your own wounds, just go for it. There’s a light at the end of the dark, that’s why we make this music and that’s why I hope people listen to it too.
THE NIGHTINGALE PLAYS ALEAH –
Also check out the full photo report form their first gig in Helsinki with Hanging Garden: https://darkartconspiracy.com/2018/02/16/photo-report-hallatar-hanging-garden/