A couple of weeks ago, at the Beyond The Gates-festival in Bergen, Norway, I met guitarist and song writer Tommi to get the latest on Chevalier who recently put out their second demo, “Chapitre II”, a release which has already made its way on to various physical formats.
Since we are at festival which combines bands from the heavy metal scene with more Extreme stuff, I have to ask if there is any inspiration to be found from the more Extreme metal in the musical expression of Chevalier?
– Well, not like straight inspiration, but I guess it comes through unconsciously, because I have been listening to this kind of stuff for longer than I have enjoyed heavy metal. Some people have already mentioned that they hear some Master’s Hammer-influences in Chevalier’s music.
We had a chat on these pages after you released your first demo, “A Call To Arms”, that’s a year and a half ago now. Are you surprised that Chevalier have come this far in what is a relatively short period of time?
– Yeah, everything started to happen really fast, surprisingly fast, I would say. I at least, didn’t have much ambition to begin with. I just wrote the songs and then we got them out, and suddenly we started getting gigs and offers from labels. Things just went on. Having the right kind of contacts helped a lot. Finnish bands have always been so isolated. Finnish people, most of them, don’t travel much, they don’t have the contacts or stuff. There are bands here, good ones too, but nobody knows about them, so they just play small, local shows. I guess all my travelling around to festivals, getting to know promoters and other people have paid off for us.
It seems to be a demand for the kind of metal Chevalier performs, fast, powerful and unpolished. Is the band a way to say fuck you to the current metal scene?
– In a way it is, but more like a natural thing for us to do. We have the equipment, we can set up a few microphones in the rehearsal Space, press record and play.
When you listen to the new demo “Chapitre II”, it’s easy to hear that some things have happened since the first release. There are much more to the songs in my opinion. Did you set out to improve something specific from the first recording?
– On the first release, I already, in some songs at least, included some progressive elements. A few tracks had this kind of storytelling thing with parts with different kind of moods and stuff. That’s what I have been focusing on when writing new songs, instead of this typical structure with verse then chorus then verse again before the chorus and the end of the song.
Timmo feels the band can change a little and still sound like Chevalier.
– Even if you wouldn’t expect a speed metal band to get progressive and have slower parts, I think our expression still has the same essence. Every song still has this, at least in some parts, wild atmosphere and fast pace.
I know you have inspirations like Omen and Brocas Helm, but these more progressive elements, where do they come from?
– I listen a lot to bands like Fates Warning and Sacred Blade. I wanted to include that kind of stuff to the mix as well, and not only to focus on one style of music.
When we spoke last time, you told me you wanted to use the material you recorded on “A Call To Arms”, to try to improve the songwriting by going back and evaluating it. Did you use that strategy for the new songs?
– Yeah, I did. I listened to those old songs and figured out what I think are the best aspects about them, and chose to focus on those. Also, when you listen to stuff you have recorded yourself, you always pay attention to the mistakes, which other people probably don’t even hear. Then you try not to do the same mistakes again. I think it’s natural to be critical towards your own music. In every field of art, the driving force is to never be satisfied with what you have done. You want to create the perfect thing, so you always look forward instead of thinking: “This is perfect, there is no need to do anything”.
Timmo says he isn’t sure it’s possible to reach that type of goal.
– I don’t think so. According to all the older musicians I have spoken with, it doesn’t seem like something that is ever going to happen.
How much has performing a lot of concerts since the first demo was released influenced the way you sound on this new recording?
– At least we learnt to play tighter together. Also, the new demo is recorded live too, apart from the vocals and solos, that is. When you are going to record something like that live, you really have to know the stuff and be able to play it well together. Playing concerts is always helpful, especially because our drummer always play so fast live, that we have to improve, and every instrument have to stay to the pace.
This strategy, of recording everything apart from the vocals and the solos live, seems to be a thing that really works for you?
– Yeah, but it can also be annoying, when you do a perfect take, and then some other guy says: “That is not going to do, I made a mistake”. You have no other choice than to do it again, and then it’s your turn to play shitty, because you have already made the perfect take. I think doing it like this preserves the feeling of the music. With my other band, Demon’s Gate, I have done it the traditional way, tracking instrument by instrument. It’s easier, but it doesn’t feel the same when you are recording.
For the split single you released with Legionnaire, you used a studio for the first time, something you can clearly hear when you listen to the song.
– Yeah, the production on that single was…Well, we really didn’t know what to tell the studio guy to do. It’s not a disaster by any means, but not really what we were looking for. When we do our own recordings, our friend Jori from Cast Iron, who is now in Gentry Lord, handles the mix, and he knows exactly what we want. He is so easy do deal with. We are going to the same studio for the recording of the full length, but this time we’re taking Jori with us, so he can be in the middle of everything, communicating.
The song, “Greed Of The Cross”, was good though…
– It is quite a progressive one. When we started talking about doing this split with Legionnaire, and planned that we were going to use the same studio and go there to record during the same week, they expressed some worries that maybe our material would end up sounding too similar. I then decided to choose a song that doesn’t really sound like Legionnaire at all.
You have said that musically it was a very good idea to have Chevalier and Legionnaire on a split together, but you have also pointed out that you share some of the same mentality. Exactly what do you mean by this statement?
– Mostly the fact that the both of us are doing music our own way, while not trying to fit into some ongoing hype at the moment. When it comes to musical taste, we also share more or less the same favorite bands.
I remember in the very beginning of your career, you were using the term “medieval speed metal”. Is the term still valid, you think?
– Yeah, it is. We are probably going to continue using it.
You also told me you had the concept as well as the logo ready before you did anything else. If I am right, your singer Emma, is also contributing to the lyrics now. Do you have to instruct her on how to write lyrics within this concept you had when you formed Chevalier?
– Yeah, for the stuff that has been coming after the first release, she has done lyrics as well. I don’t have to tell her what to do or how to write, because she already understands it anyway. She comes up with stuff, and the only thing I have do, is to fit lyrics to the music, because she doesn’t have the experience on how to make the words fit to the song. Of course, if I write a really complicated track with lots of different parts, I have tell her that you can not philosophize in this part, because it has to have some action in it. Some songs she has written completely on her own, while we have made others together, and some I have written both the lyrics and the music for. I don’t think there is much difference between the lyrics we write. Maybe her lyrics are a bit more philosophical and atmospherical, compared to mine which often include something happening.
Is there a band that has influenced your lyrics , in the same manner that a band like for instance Omen has influenced your music?
– I’m not sure that there is such a band. At least, I have never thought while listening to a certain band, that I want to do that kind of lyrics. Maybe the old stuff from Hell? Dave Halliday was a real mastermind, kind of witty and clever with words. I think someone called them thinking man’s Venom back in the day.
On the vinyl version of “Chapitre II”, there is a cover of Brocas Helm’s “Fly High”. Tommi explains why the band choose to do that particular song…
– There have been many occasions where the drummer in Chevalier Joel, and I have been listening to that song, thinking how great it is. Then when Gates Of Hell asked us if we wanted to put that release out on vinyl as well, they said we could add a bonus track if we had one laying around. We decided to go for a cover version and “Fly High” was one of the first things that came to mind. We haven’t planned to record more cover versions at the moment, but we always try rehearse something interesting.
Have the guys from Brocas Helm heard your version?
– Not yet. We will send one copy to Bobby (Wright, vocals/guitars) though. I wasn’t completely sure about the main lead in the song, so I asked him on Facebook: “How the fuck does this go?” I then sent him a video and asked: “Is this right?” He answered: “No, no, no” and then sent me a video of how to perform it correctly. Haha!
When you listen to music, do you mainly go back to eighties and the releases from that era, or are there also some new bands that interest you?
– Yeah, there are a few good, new bands, but you have to dig through a lot of shit to find the diamonds, but there are good ones. Vultures Vengeance from Italy is one that I think is showing a lot of potential. So yeah, there are a few good newcomers, I am not too cynical about it really.
I know that you feel that power and energy is missing in a lot of today’s metal. Is that mainly due to the production, songwriting or musicianship?
– I think a combination of those. Most of these new heavy metal-bands are so obvious and boring in their riffs and songwriting. As they say themselves, they don’t try to reinvent the wheel, but then it just comes out stale and boring. In my opinion, there need to be some kind of surprise elements or some crazy stuff going on to grab the listener.
I guess the next step for Chevalier is a full length release. How far into the process of completing that one are you?
– All the songs have been written in a period from six months to one year ago. Now we are just rehearsing the material and the cover art is being done as we speak. We will record the album in November, and then hopefully it will be released through Gates Of Hell once again during the first quarter of the next year.
Tommi confirms that Gates Of Hell is a good fit for Chevalier.
– Yeah, they are very appreciative and helpful with everything. Annick (Giroux) from Temple Of Mystery Records really wanted to put the new demo, “Chapitre II” on tape, and I was a bit worried of how Gates Of Hell would react to that. I told them it would be nice if Annick got to release it because she has done all the layout and she really likes our stuff as well.
Are you comfortable with your music being released on all formats available?
– If there is a demand for different formats, I am okay with it. I don’t even have a CD-player at the moment, so I never buy CD’s unless there is something you can’t get on any other formats. Still people are asking for a CD-pressing of the new demo for example, even though it is available in other formats as well. I am not really interested in putting out a three track CD, but if someone really wants to do it, maybe we can be convinced.
From what you said earlier, it seems like all the songs you have written for the full length are brand new? You must be quite creative.
– Sometimes inspiration comes, and when I get inspiration to do a song, and come up with one good riff, I really can’t stop playing guitar until I have the whole song ready, with guitars and already thinking about bass, drums and vocals as well. Then there can also be long periods where I am not doing anything at all. Actually “Chapitre II” was supposed to be a rough demo recording of songs that will appear on the full length only, but as the result turned out far much better than we expected, we now have replaced most of the songs with new ones for the full length release. The only one that will be on the album is “Curse Of The Dead Star”, because that’s the only song we can still improve a bit. We will be adding a few sound effects and that kind of stuff. It’s a sci-fi song, really inspired by Sacred Blade.
Chevalier recently did a concert with Manilla Road in Helsinki, and as Mark Shelton passed away a short time after, it turned into a special event in more than one way…
– When we were asked to warm up for them, it was just two days after we returned from the mini tour in Germany, Belgium and France, and it was a bit difficult for us to do the gig, because of some problems with work, mainly with our bassist. But I really wanted to do the gig, as it’s a special chance to warm up for Manilla Road, especially when performing in such a small venue. So we decided to do it, and it was a really great experience. We had some great talks with Mark and the other guys, and in hindsight the whole thing was very sentimental.
I’ve seen both Slough Feg and Portrait recently dedicating songs to Mark Shelton. He was an important figure in this underground scene, almost like a grandfather?
– Yeah, and that was how he also acted. It wasn’t only his music that was great, it was also the person he was. He was really supportive towards us, thanked us for the show and said he thought we had a great thing going on, which meant a lot coming from someone like him.
What is your favourite Manilla Road-album?
– The discography has so much different stuff with different atmospheres, so it’s hard to say really, but right now I would say “Out Of The Abyss” which I bought right after the show in Helsinki. I hadn’t even heard it before, I think. Some people had told me it’s the thrashiest album of Manilla Road, and I wasn’t really interested until I finally heard it and it blew my head off.
Recently there as an announcement about Heavy Metal Cauldron in Helsinki. Apparently the festival is no more, with one of the reasons being that bands crave too much money to perform there. What does it say about the underground movement?
– Now that this kind of heavy metal is more popular again, people who are greedy for money are showing up because they see there are some to be made here. Those people are controlling the bands, and they are like blood suckers. They are telling the bands to charge money, even if some bands would have played for free if they got flights and a hotel covered. With these type of advisors, the bands suddenly demands 10 000 dollars to do this type of festivals.
You are going to perform at this year’s edition of Harder Than Steel playing alongside Omen. I guess it will be special for you?
– Yeah, very special indeed. It really was one of the dreams right from the start. We spoke about having a gig in Finland, but in the end it didn’t work out. When Olli asked us to play at Harder Than Steel, I said that I was a bit unsure as Omen were planning to be in Europe at the time, but then he just booked Omen as well.
Speaking about Omen, they released a new song a short time ago. Did you enjoy it?
– I think the music is amazing and the singer is really good too. He fits Omen very well. The only thing is the production which frankly isn’t that good. I have already spoken to Kenny Powell about it, but we have different ideas on what is best for Omen. It’s his band of course and his decision. I even like “Hammer Damage” because there are some great tracks on the album, even if the drums are what they are. “The Curse” is still my fave Omen-album. It’s an album I spent some years with before I got to know the other ones, so the whole thing is deeply rooted inside me. If I try to put the nostalgic factor aside, I might prefer “Warning Of Danger”.