Korpiklaani in Billings. Really?

Sean Lynch at Manny's in Billings, Montana deserves serious metal cred at this point. He's managed to pull in Sepultura and Skeleton Witch to Billings despite its relatvely small population base. Last night continued the trend with a monster lineup of Korpiklaani, Moonsorrow, Týr and Metsatöll. The tour stopped in Billings right between its dates in Denver and Salt Lake City, further accentuating how impressive it is that Sean managed to bring the bands into Billings on a Wednesday night.

Thanks to Sean's promotional efforts, the fans from Billings and Bozeman experienced a great and widely varied show. I had done my research into each of the bands in advance, including some focused time digging through YouTube videos. Generally speaking, I was well-prepared but Estonian band, Metsatöll, quickly proved themselves quite different from my YouTube impression. Their videos tend to focus on Markus "Rabapagan" Teeäär, who sings most of the lead vocals, and downplay the rest of the band. Seeing them live, I realized how much Lauri "Varulven" Õunapuu contributes to the band's sound and personality. With perhaps the deepest voice I've ever heard live, a rich booming delivery and somewhat foreboding personality, it's impossible to walk away from Metsatöll's performance without thinking of Lauri. He also won the the prize last night (and as far back as I can remember) for greatest variety of instruments played in a single set. You might think of him as a Geddy Lee of traditional instruments, many of them you've never heard of before.

The show started really early, and it was not even dark for Metsatöll's set. However, Týr had the cover of darkness and took full advantage, kicking the evening into high gear. Týr won the prize last night for most focused and cohesive set. Combining layered vocals with interwoven guitar lines, Týr's set was a guitar player's dream. Sporting what may be the world's only Ibanez 3-octave 7-string, the minute the band hit the stage it was obvious their songs revolve around intricate guitar work. Those of us in front of the stage were rewarded throughout the set with a bird's eye view of the finger work. Their mastery of the English language also helped Týr communicate effectively with the audience, and made it easier for yours truly to follow their progress through the set. Still, it was their musical attention to detail, and their straight ahead, get-it-done delivery that impressed me the most. I would love to see these guys headlining and would travel for the opportunity. I don't know if they ever play in their original homeland, the Faroe Islands, but if they do, I'd love to make that trek. Somehow, traveling out into the middle of the ocean to experience their Nordic and mythologically-influenced set would capture the whole picture. Who knows...?

The next band of the evening, Moonsorrow, took a very different approach to their performance, something that was immediately obvious as they went through sound check with hoodies only partially disguising their facial and torso corpse paint. Moonsorrow's set meandered stylistically quite a bit, including everything from black metal and blast beats to pulsing landscapes and audience sing-alongs. Punctuated by their death and futility theme and a sort of semi-contempt for and semi-comraderie with the audience, they instigated the moshing, which continued through into Korpiklaani's set. One of my Bozeman metalhead brethren screamed out, "this is the best mosh pit ever" and I have no reason to argue with him. It was a full-force mosh with no animosity, truly the best combination when people are pounding each other with that force and velocity.

After Moonsorrow wrapped up their set, I really wasn't sure what to expect. Could the crowd keep it going? Korpiklaani is very different from Moonsorrow and perhaps there'd be an energy let down. Nope, thanks to Jonne Järvelä, Korpiklaani's vocalist and frontman, things got even crazier during their set. Continuing the madcap turmoil that had begun onstage with Moonsorrow, Jonne and guitarist, Kalle "Cane" Savijärvi twirled, danced and grinned their way through the best party set I've ever seen. They showed no disappointment at the small size of the venue or the fact that it's split into "drinking" and "all ages" areas, with half the audience huddle far back from the stage in the dark, nursing their drinks. No, they just amped up the energy and convinced half the sitters to get up and come down to the dance floor. From now on, my motto is , "Who needs Top-40 cover bands? The world already has Korpiklaani!" and they get an audience going better than any cover band I've ever seen. With songs like "Tequila", "Beer Beer", "Happy Little Boozer" and "Vodka", perhaps it's not a complete surprise after all. In fact, "Vodka" provided one of the real highlights of the evening, when Jonne decided to work on the last remaining audience members in the far off drinking area. Hopping down off the stage, carrying his wireless microphone, he proceeded over to the bar, gathering crowd with him. Then he sang "Vodka" while standing on top of the bar and being served a shot in a plastic beer cup. Korpiklaani's stage antics and energy showed everyone the reason they are headlining this tour. The 10 or so folks that made the 4-hour round trip from Bozeman got their (ticket and gas) money's worth, no question.

There are still tons of great dates left on this tour, including tonight's show in Salt Lake City, then to the west coast of the US and Canada, back east in the US and then through Europe. Get off your rear, buy a ticket and go see the show nearest you. And be ready to let loose. This is a party!


Creativity: you don't grow out of it

Almost every one of us has had this experience at some level. Activities that used to fascinate and transfix you as a child eventually get pushed aside in favor of more practical and sensible activities. Maybe you loved building forts out of cardboard boxes, maybe you made up recipes using whatever you could find in the kitchen, maybe you wandered your backyard with a magnifying glass. In most of those cases, you look back and realize you don't do that as often as you used to.

It starts in grade school when you have to do your homework before you can play. Or you need to clean up the house first. Soon your parents and teachers don't have to say anything, it becomes ingrained in you. The process is gradual but highly effective; we learn to push all the responsible and "necessary" activities to the top of the list and barely notice as fort making, cartoon drawing and puppet shows get pushed farther and farther down the list. Eventually they're buried under so many other responsibilities that we forget them.

The problem with that eventuality (if my own experience is at all applicable to you) is that we don't really forget those things. They burn deep down, eating away from the inside while all the exterior forces scratch away from the outside. Despite the message that pummels us from the world around, "cut your hair, get a real job, stop wasting your time", the crazy, intense, youthful creativity that we start out with is still there and suppressing it hurts, literally.

For one, suppression is destructive because it makes us less effective in everything we do. Many of you know how much more difficult it is to teach your parents' generation about technology than it is to teach your kids. Just watch a 6 year old and a 60 year old, each with an iPad. The 6 year old will bang around, try things and learn from mistakes. They will ask you questions whenever something doesn't make sense ("Why does the picture keep flipping when I turn it?") but the minute you answer the question, they run with it (I constantly find my iPad with rotation lock active and I rarely, if ever, use it myself). Kids take these things very seriously (they want to learn as quickly as possible) and yet they approach everything with a wide open, playful sense that means they seldom get demoralized or frustrated.

The non-technical adults I interact with are quite different. Every challenge is a struggle, every quirk is a land mine. Even though adults have much more experience to draw on, seeing analogy in technology is much more difficult. Where kids revel in the newness, starting from complete lack of information and rapidly climbing the learning curve, adults get impatient. The first hurdle and they fall deep into the mud, sucking them down into mental gridlock. And, in my opinion, this is tied very closely to buried creativity.

You can't make creativity go away. If you do, you become less effective in so many ways. When you bury your creativity, you also bury your happiness, although this process is slow enough that you don't really notice until you are quite far down that road. It doesn't matter where your creativity naturally focuses. It's dangerous to bury it, assuming that more practical use of your hours will make up for it. Every one of us needs to find a balance: support yourself and your family without walling up your creativity behind brick and mortar. Your creativity is a fuel and a skill that facilitates everything you do. The more actively you exercise it, the more likely it will be available when you really need it.

For me, this means remembering that music, and specifically, guitar, drive me in a way that nothing else does. I am happy and energized when I give myself time to play my instrument. Listening to music isn't just a passive thing for me, it's enveloping and something I need to do regularly. Maybe it's cooking for you, or gardening or oil painting. Can you figure out how to restore the creative activities in your life? What is the key for you; what creative arena defines you?


You Know You're Not In Bozeman When... (Finnish Edition)

In my last post, I covered signs you are not in Bozeman, from the perspective of instead being in Sweden. This time, I'm going to cover signs that you are in Finland, instead of Bozeman, based on the week we spent in Helsinki. If you experience a few of the following, odds are you're in Finland:

- You're looking over transit maps, trying to plan a day trip and you encouner more umlauts than a double bill of Motörhead and Mötley Crüe.

- You can visit a local recording studio (Sonic Pump) and meet both Nino Laurenne (ThunderstoneHevisaurus) and Teemu Mäntysaari (Wintersun). Better yet, you can hear them playing on soon-to-be-released masters.

- You can visit a different recording studio (Finnvox) where almost all of your favorite metal albums were recorded (including releases from SentencedCharonNightwishHIMLullacryEdguy and Stratovarius). Literally, stand in the the room where the drums were tracked...

- You can visit a local music store (Musamaailma) and find a room filled with Bogner, Blackstar, VHT, Krank and Orange amps. No disrespect to our great local music store, Music Villa, but sometimes a metalhead needs to be surrounded by Heavy gear.

- You can walk a couple blocks from your hotel and visit a record store (Record Shop X) that has all those import albums that are marked as "Temporarily out of stock." on Amazon. On the window of the store, you see a concert flyer for Crucified Barbara (Swedish) headlining over Warner Drive (American).

Apocalyptica is playing in the main tent of city's big festival. You are disappointed because the tickets are already sold out.

- Wandering through town you stumble onto a part of the "200 years as capital" celebration, which includes a massive chain of oversized dominos. They're all stone, no wood involved...

- You visit a zoo, a historical fortress and an outdoor museum, all on islands and all reached easily without a car.

- In less than a week you have great Nepalese, Cuban and Malaysian dinners. You also have a great pasta dinner while watching people eat quick dinners at a table hanging from crane.

- You're at the airport at 6 in the morning, eating a killer croissant when you glance over your shoulder and notice a familiar face. Long blond hair, blond (almost white) long beard and immediately familiar from wall photos at a studio you just visited. Further iPhone digging confirms that it's Marco Hietala (bass, vocals) of Nightwish, grabbing a bite of food before catching a flight. Not long after, you realize that Tuomas Holopainen (keyboards) and Emppu Vuorinen (guitar) are with him. A little more digging confirms they are headed to Trondheim, Norway for a show that night. Yes, that night. You are impressed that they are up early in morning flying two hops to this coastal city in Norway to play a big headlining show. Makes me tired just thinking about it...

There you have it, Helsinki, you rock! Special thanks to Nino Laurenne and Risto Hemmi for taking time out of their busy days to talk to me about the concept and implementation for my next musical project. It's an absolute pleasure interacting with people that know metal, and share my love for great songs and stellar production. For those of you out there looking for a recording studio, and Finland is convenient, or at least feasible, I highly recommend both Sonic Pump and Finnvox!


You Know You're Not In Bozeman When… (Swedish Edition)

Having taken a couple weeks off from blogging to fully enjoy our vacation in Scandinavia, our return to Bozeman has helped highlight a number of distinctions between our experiences in Sweden and our daily lives in Bozeman. In today's article I will explore (in no particular order) some clear signs you are in Sweden, not Bozeman.

- You encounter water craft taller than most of the municipal skyline. In both Stockholm and Gothenburg, on any given day you are likely to see massive cruise ships that are unbelievably tall, in many cases dwarfing the city's buildings.

- You pass Amon AmarthIn Flames and Katatonia T-shirts in less than 5 minutes walking around downtown. Yes, I know folks in Bozeman that might have at least one or two of those shirts, but I've only seen a concentration of serious metal T's at local metal shows (e.g. Agalloch at the Zebra Lounge).

- You wander along a tourist-packed street in the old town, check out the first record store you find and more than 25% of the selection falls under the "Heavy/Death/Black/Thrash/Doom" section. I'm not knocking Cactus Records, but Sound Pollution in Stockholm (on Gamla Stan) is about a quarter the size and has nearly every band I'd every want to play on my radio show.

- You can ride a roller coaster and see Amaranthe within a few hundred meters of each other, on the same day. To be fair, the first half of that is sufficient, i.e. you can't even ride a real roller coaster in Bozeman, but even if you relax the comparison, in Bozeman, you can't ride any amusement park ride and see a heavy metal band at the same venue, not even at the county fair.

- You go for 7 days without noticing a single pickup truck or SUV. Nothing but Eurovans of all sizes from any number of manufacturers (e.g. Mercedes, Ford, Opel, Citroen, Fiat).

- You look through the "services offered" flyers at the local record store and see Deicide and Iced Earth's guitarist offering up lessons. Yes, you're right, Ralph is Italian-American, but point being, he's offering guitar lessons in Stockholm, not in Bozeman.

- You stumble onto multiple flyers for local metal bands you've never heard of. Or artists like TriviumNikki Sixx and Soulfly, headlining big shows in the next month. Truth is, it's rare to see flyers for -any- metal bands in Bozeman. Maybe in Billings or Missoula...

- You see a British woman playing a percussion instrument you've never heard or seen before (Hang), and she's hanging out with about 10 guys from Chile with long black hair, shades and Wacken 2012 T-shirts.

Our visit to Sweden was great. Three generations of the Hearst/Reynolds clan, three cities, two countries and two weeks. Lots of scrambling to figure out public transportation, frantic searches for WC's and many great meals. All in all, an amazing experience!

Before I sign off, I want to thank Thomas at Roaddust for his hospitality and wonderful conversation. We had a great time at Liseberg and really appreciate everything you did to help us plan and carry out this trip. In Helsinki, I was talking to Kiley (my daughter) about what she enjoyed most during the trip and she said "...especially seeing Amaranthe and meeting their road manager, who's really, really awesome."

Next time, Finland...



But that's not new

I have this conversation with myself quite often. Don't worry, I keep it inside my own head most of the time. I lie awake at night trying to figure out what comes next for me musically. I struggle to develop an approach or concept that will drive the next batch of songs and set them apart both from my previous work and somehow allow them to stand apart from all music past and present. I'm not doing too well with those struggles and that bothered me quite a bit until I wrote The Pursuit Of New.

I feel a little better now. See, music can't always be completely new and absolutely unrelated to the music that preceded and surrounds it. Every musical work (and really any creative work) is a melding of influences both internal and external. Just the internal component alone pretty much guarantees that what I create will be different from anything ever created. There never has been and never will be anyone just like me, and if I simply channel who I am into the music, it really can't end up being like anything else. Then, on top of that, if I draw on the music I listen to, a unique, eclectic collection of influences, how could my next works not end up standing on their own?

It's amazing how music works that way. Most music is restricted to 12 notes, often 8 or less. Most popular music leverages 4-6 instruments, including the human voice and even orchestral music relies on a very well-defined, centuries-old collection of instruments. And yet, every song and every performance of that song is unique. Much like the complex genetic and developmental process that guarantees each of us are unique, similarly every musical performance stands alone. There are so many elements even when a power trio gets on stage, tempo variation, slight pitch variation, room response, audience response. Every single song performance is unique.

By the time I come to the table with a song that I've written... By the time I find other musicians to help me capture that performance live or recorded... By the time that performance reaches your ears... It is guaranteed to be unique. It may not be brand new and entirely unrelated to the music I've heard before. Maybe if I chose to play nothing but reggae-infused quarter-tone polka, leveraging only power tools as instruments, then maybe I'd completely distinguish myself from everything that came before. Even that, however, would not be completely unrelated. It would draw on reggae and polka; other musicians have composed with quarter-tones and power tools have been used as tone sources.

The more I listen to and enjoy music, the more I realize it's not about reinventing yourself. Food tastes good not because the latest big-name chef has decided to throw away all known ingredients and cook with only what is mopped off the floor at your local auto repair shop. Nope, tomatoes, potatoes, salt and pepper still taste good after all these years. A chef can cook a unique meal using known ingredients, without needing the chemists of tomorrow to continuously concoct brand new ingredients. Music is the same way, guitars, violins, drums and the human voice still make great music. Not everything needs to be newly synthesized and modeled, but it can be. It's more a question of how you put it all together.

I've got access to all the ingredients I need and can generate something uniquely David. Not only can I, but I will and I look forward to experiencing the results along with all of you. I also look forward to experiencing all of your unique creations. Life is fun when we experience things. That's really what newness is about, it's the freshness of experience. The more we can find in our day-to-day meanderings that we view through fresh, open eyes, the more interesting each day is. Some of those experiences aren't always fun, but the freshness is still a valuable source of drive and stimulation.

While you're out there experiencing each day with a fresh outlook, let me know what you discover. What are the key things that make your day interesting, and what music serves as the soundtrack?