Greetings over there! Thank you very much for giving this opportunity to interview you! It has been years since I wanted to interview one of the members of a band that its releases really made my days. Please, I’d like to ask you to introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Mitja Harvilahti, i play guitar in Moonsorrow.
I joined the band in the late 1999 after they had recorded the first album Suden Uni.
So basically i´ve been member during the years we´ve played live.
Well, first I’d like to ask you how everything is going with Moonsorrow as well as if you guys are already working on some new music after the release of the great album Varjoina kuljemme kuolleiden maassa in 2011.
We are quite busy right now, writing new material and also preparing for the release of our massive 14LP box set.
Writing the new album has already taken longer than we thought, but we can´t rush things and release something that doesen´t completely match what we are aiming for.
We have somewhat renewed our approach to our music on every album and we can´t make an exception this time either. But the stuff that we have now sounds really good! Unfortunately i don´t want to tell about the direction, style or themes yet. It´s too early to reveal.
Moonsorrow is about to release what’s being called “the largest metal box set in history”. I believe that any Moonsorrow fan is expecting with highly anticipation this, in my humble opinion, historic release. Please, what can you tell to our readers about this memorable edition?
It´s a work of 2 years already. And it´s humongous piece of work and a stunning release in every aspect.
I can honestly say that this limited box set is something that no one will be disappointed with.
We are releasing info of the content day by day, so while we make this interview we have announced the albums, and artwork and a DVD.
More info on the DVD will follow soon, but for me personally, the DVD is the gem of the extras. I´m sure people will enjoy it very much.
There are 4 different kinds of sets available.
The band goes against all the trends, releasing very long songs, singing in its native language (which, even though it’s a very hard language to learn, it does sound very well), not playing happy tunes and still managed to reach an impressive level of popularity in the metal world. To what would you credit this?
Hmmm… That’s an interesting question.
We were always epic band with long songs and non-commercial language.
But I think people have grown with our music and learned to adapt lengthy songs with us.
During the first 3 albums we had relatively medium length songs. Like on Voimasta Ja Kunniasta.
If we would have released something like V: Hävitetty as our debut, i don´t think the popularity now would be the same.
We also had a learning curve of how to write big pieces of music with complicated structures.
In the beginning we had some negative feedback about the choice of language, and how it cannot work abroad.
But in the same time it was clear that the biggest demand for us was abroad, so we have been confident with our choice of “no compromise”.
What comes to popularity in general, it seems that our music has touched some “nerve” in many people.
We always made music only for ourselves, and if you do it well and from your heart, there will be someone else who will like it as well.
Still on Moonsorrow’s sound, let us know what are the most important characteristics it as well as which elements must always be present on a Moonsorrow record? And what inspires the band when it comes to creating music?
Elements that will always stick with us are simply:
Black Metal, Traditional Scandinavian music, Progressive Rock, Nature.
Nature not only as sounds but as spirit that somehow can be heard through all the music.
It’s the pagan core of the band and the what makes us pagan metal band. You don´t need lyrics to tell that.
Inspirations can come from almost anywhere, but we tend to get very inspired when we come up with the theme for the album. Then the music starts flowing out from us, especially Henri, who write most of the music.
This is a question I often ask band members, but with Moonsorrow there’s a special meaning for me. Just when Voimasta ja kunniasta was released, it was a very hard period of my life, I was just accepted on one of the best universities of my country as well as in one of the hardest courses. Everything was meant to be perfect, but I had a change of mind, non-acceptance from friends and family, relationship problems, a work that opened my eyes to all injustices in the world. All of this led me to a deep depression. And at the time, I used to listen Voimasta ja kunniasta on repeat mode, always listening to Sankarihauta three times in a row. I was taken away from all my troubles, it really helped me to go through this phase. I had to listen to this album when driving back home in order to feel (actually) happier. And so I’m very thankful to the band. Well, how do you feel when people tell you that your music helped them the way they helped me, that some of them love it so much that they tattoo the band’s logo, that your music is part of their lives?
Thank you so much for your words.
It’s a very humbling experience.
I don’t think there is anything more important and big achievement for musician but to hear how the music that you’ve made or played means so much to someone that it helped him or her through hardships, even disease like cancer.
We all have an album that got us through difficult times, so it’s amazingly grateful feeling, but on the other hand
hard to comprehend that your band’s music has done the same to someone else.
Unlike record sales, big shows or screaming fans, hearing that won’t make you cocky, inflated-ego rockstar, but a very humble dude!
Back to Moonsorrow’s releases one more time, this is perhaps a usual question, but I wanted to ask you this in a more detailed way. How would rank Moonsorrow’s releases and why? Which would be your favorite song from all of Moonsorrow discography and is there anything you’d change if you had to concerning your participation on each album?
I can’t really rank them, since they all have an equally important role as a step towards the next one.
But if I would listen to any of our albums, I would say Verisäkeet is number one.
Actually it’s the only album that i would consider listening to right now.
That and Tulimyrsky!
My favourite song would be Pimeä or Tulimyrsky.
There are just minor things that I would change. Mainly mixing issues, some balance between instruments, and some stuff that should be more audible.
Like the fly that’s buzzing on Verisäkeet! It should be fucking LOUD! But Henri said no. He’s claiming that it’s there, but I don’t hear it.
That summarizes nicely the all mixing disputes we have. Something is too quiet and people complain, hehe.
Tell us some of your best and worst memories when it comes to music, it can be about a show you attended when you started listening to music, learning how to play an instrument, the recordings and tours with Moonsorrow or any other and that you were/ a member of.
Ehhhh… Now these are so many to tell!
So why not, i´ll tell as many as i can!
Best ones, well you know, the times when i found metal and all the different bands was very exciting naturally.
Hearing Guns n´Roses, Metallica and Slayer when i was around nine changed my world totally!
Before that i was into Thin Lizzy and few hard rock bands and stuff like The Beatles that I’ve been fan since i was 4 years old. The Beatles made me to grab guitar in the first place.
Around the age of thirteen i got into Morbid Angel and other Death Metal bands and then the whole world of extreme metal opened to me. Especially Black Metal in the early-mid 90´s.
Emperor and Enslaved made a big influence on me since the very first time i heard them.
Also some shows are really memorable. Like seeing Slayer, Metallica, Satyricon etc. for the first time. Perfect shows from the bands in their best days.
Touring… i could seriously write a book about all the crazy absurd experiences we´ve had.
So many places we´ve played and so many different countries that i never thought it would happen to us.
Usually the best shows are in cities or countries where we´ve played for the first time, but where there has been a demand for us for years already.
Those shows always have some special enthusiasm that you won´t find in a place that you´ve toured already for years.
To list a few, i would say first times in: Hungary, Russia, Canada, China, France, Spain and some shows in the USA have been just nuts! And surprisingly our home town Helsinki have been almost always really good for us.
Touring in general i find very enjoyable. I like the atmosphere when you travel with your friends in a bus through a continent, every day at a new place. Some people find it exhausting but i always felt like home in a tour bus. And it´s a very free atmosphere too. Not too many obligations, except of playing shows as well as you can.
On tours where we haven´t headlined, like American tours, we only do line check usually, so it gives a lot of time for sight seeing. Few times the tour felt just as much a vacation as a tour. But summer festivals for example are very hectic, and we usually only see airports, highways and hotels.
I usually try to find a way to get to see some nature on tours. For example in Australia we had some days off before the tour, so i went to an island off Brisbane to snorkel around and enjoy the Australian nature. After all the hectic traveling it really gives me strength to go to walk in the woods when possible. I find it always better to venture out somewhere instead of sitting in the bus, sipping beer for 4 weeks in a row. Which can be nice too!
Bad experiences? We have bunch of them as well. Nothing that harmed us too bad, but we’ve witnessed shootouts very close by and other not so nice activities. I don’t want to mention them here, since some of those fucktards might even read this interview, haha!
And what comes to music business we’ve been screwed couple times by festival promoters. We’ve been robbed also in Canada, where some junkie stole Janne’s guitar and all my belongings other than my instruments. Luckily we got the guitar back, but not my suit case with all my stuff. And many times things don’t go like you would have wanted, but that’s the nature of the “business”. You need to have a good sense of humor and lots of patience.
And it can be sis appointing when you’ve worked for something for a long time but then promotion etc. is just negligible in your opinion.
I’ve read that you also work as a cameraman, gaffer and a freelance photographer. Can you tell us a bit about this work? What led you into this type of work? And to anyone that would like to start on this business, what would be your main suggestions and tips?
At the high school that I was in, we had professional AVID video editing systems, so when I graduated I got a job at Helsinki University as video editor.
I studied TV and Cinema at couple of schools and started working as a cameraman and gaffer at the national broadcasting company. I also operate camera cranes do color correction and make nature footage. I have a nature series about reptiles in production.
I’ve done various kinds of promo photos and some fashion stuff and product photography as well. But I don’t find it natural for me to direct models for example. I feel like I’m violating their private zone, although it’s just me thinking that way. That’s why I find nature photography much more suitable for my personality! I enjoy nature and getting close to animals and i really like macro photography.
For anyone starting in the field of TV and cinema i can recommend to go to some school that have a long internship period in their curriculum, to get a good “hands on” -experience.
Connected to the previous question, what are your favorite cinematographers, photographers and movies? Are you familiar with the works of Sebastião Salgado, a social photographer? If not, I highly recommend his works for you. Still on this subject, I’ve watched some great Finnish movies, just to mention a few Äideistä parhain, Mies vailla menneisyytt, Tuntematon sotilas and Talvisota, just to name a few. Which other Finnish movies or director would you recommend to our readers?
Sebastião Salgado is one of my favourites!
His works are just amazing. I recently bought his landscape photography opus Genesis.
I like quite varying styles of photography but classic B/W photo has a place in my heart.
What comes to cinematography, i´m not a fanboy of cinematographers, but i respect those who have a good, sensitive eye to create the visual narrative of the story, instead of making everything a visually pumped and polished feast. Of the still active guys Emmanuel Lubezki, Rodrigo Prieto and especially Christopher Doyle´s work i really enjoy. Older masters like Sven Nykvist, Vittorio Storaro and Gianni di Venanzo are among my favourites as well.
Finnish cinema is usually not very popular outside our borders, but i think it will change. I recommend to keep an eye for a guy called Antti Heikki Pesonen. His feature film “Päin Seinää” will be released late this year. He has a great sense of black humor.
The usual question and perhaps also connected to the previous one, I would like to ask you to tell us some of your favorite activities outside music and touring. What are the things that you enjoy doing after a day of work or when you go back home after a tour?
Well i have quite many hobbies.
Photography we already talked about.
During the summer I can be found on my boat a lot of the time. I co-own an old 2 cabin wooden vessel with a friend of mine, and I really enjoy the sea, so living on the boat and traveling on it is a great activity for me. It’s like a summer cottage that you can sail away whenever you want.
I’ve always been very fascinated about reptiles, so i have different species of snakes at home.
I also travel a lot outside the band as well.
I’m trying to spend time in the nature as much as possible, but it’s not always working for me.
My family has a nice cabin in a national park, so I always try to find time to go there.
And so we reach this interview. I hope you have enjoyed answering as well as I wish the readers like this small conversation as well. One more time, thank you very much for this opportunity. Do you have any last words for our listeners?
Thanks for the interview it’s nice to answer some questions that are not so obvious!
I hope we will release our new album soon, so we can get on the road! We only have couple of summer festivals this year. Kilkim Zaibu in Lithuania and MetalDays in Slovenia, so I hope to see you there!May 24, 2014