Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Collecting Scars Along the Road - A Conversation With Red Eleven

The Finnish powerhouse rock/metal hybrid Red Eleven is one of the planet's most versatile bands, and with three albums in four years of existence, also one of its busiest.  Fresh off the release of the blockbuster "Collect Your Scars," drummer Pasi Pasanen sat down with us to talk progress, sound and breaking from stereotypes.

D.M: Let’s start at the top – Describe “Collect Your Scars” to me.  What do you think of it, what does it mean to you?

PASI PASANEN - I think it is an even more versatile album than "Idiot Factory" or "Round II." There’s probably our heaviest song so far on the album, but then again, there’s one acoustic song. And for my part, this is the album I’m most proud of, including anything I’ve ever done in music. It’s an album full of epic metallic rock, with emotion, groove and songs that will make you go ”Whoa!”

D.M: What do you want the album to be?  What do you hope fans take away?

PP: I hope this will be the album that will bring Red Eleven closer to the front line, get us touring abroad and get us lots of new fans. As for the fans, I think they can find lots of different vibes there, the familiar R-11 melodies, hooks and everything, taken even further than on our previous albums.

D.M: Take me through the progression of your albums – what’s changed from “Idiot Factory” through “Round II” and now for “Collect Your Scars?”

PP: "Idiot Factory" was recorded after the band had existed for only two months. So even though we rehearsed a lot for those two months and did a good job with it, we didn’t actually get to focus on arranging the details of the songs that much, as just getting them rehearsed structurally. So there’s much improvisation on that album, which always seems to be the case with this band. And I must say I like working that way with this band, it gives a certain freshness to the music and the recording process. We recorded the album at Laukaa at a local rehearsal room. Teemu [Liekkala, guitar] recorded and mixed the album himself, and it still sounds fucking great in my own ears. The album is what gave us the final musical direction, and we knew instantly we’re on the right path while recording it. I think I.F is a great album, with quality rock/metal songs with versatility. I still love playing those songs live. While we were hoping to get the album released somehow and rehearsing new songs that Teemu had already wrote, Secret Entertainment offered to release "Idiot Factory" as a CD.

For "Round II" we booked a professional studio, SN Audio Productions, but still Teemu did the recording and mixing with the studio owner Sami Niittykoski. The songs were more ready when we hit the studio than with I.F. And when we had the album already mixed, Lifeforce Records offered us a record deal. So now we had a better distribution and promotion. This album is a natural continuum for I.F I would say, and while it sounds a bit heavier, you can still hear it’s the same dudes behind it.

"Collect Your Scars" was recorded in the same studio again, with Teemu and Sami. The recordings started less than a year after "Round II" was released. We had a new guitarist Tom [Gardiner] now, after J-V left the band in late 2015 to work solely with his own music. Also there was a lot of space left in the songs to improvise again; me and Teemu spent three days tracking the drums. We had two to three songs, which had already been performed live, that were pretty much ready with the drum arrangements, but there was again a lot of arranging going on while recording. I basically spent seven hours per day in the drum booth, throwing ideas back and forth with Teemu, and just playing. I think you can still very clearly recognize the familiar band here, even though this time the sound is more natural. And on C.Y.S we have some cool piano parts by Tom, which is something new, too. All of our albums were mastered at Chartmakers, the same mastering studio used by Rammstein, Amorphis, Volbeat and Apocalyptica to name a few.

D.M: How has Red Eleven changed over the years – has your songwriting process developed?  Have the themes you concentrate on changed?

PP: Not really that much, apart from the line-up change. The crew has gotten a bit bigger though. Teemu is still the main songwriter for C.Y.S with Tony [Kaikkonen, vocals], and there’s one song from J-V, which he wrote before he decided to concentrate on his own music. Now that Tom is aboard, who knows, maybe he has something in his sleeve too, we’ll see. The themes are pretty much the same, too. We’ve only been a band for four years now, with three albums out already, so not much has changed in that time.

D.M: Is there a message within “Collect Your Scars?”  What’s the central emotional theme of the album?

PP: There’s a line in the lyrics of "Yarn Of Life" that goes; ”Leave you mark and collect your scars” that pretty much sums the theme, according to Tony.

D.M: Three albums in four years, how do you keep up that writing pace?  What caused such frequent inspiration?

PP: Actually "Idiot Factory" was ready for a year before its release. We didn’t have any record label back then, so we 'sat on it' until someone wanted to release it. So when it was finally released, we were already rehearsing songs for "Round II". And when we started touring Finland after the second album, Teemu already had a couple of the C.Y.S songs written, and we even played two songs at a few last shows of that tour.

D.M: Looking around the musical landscape, there’s not a lot of other bands that are like Red Eleven – who do you think of as your contemporaries?

PP: Well, we’ve heard comparisons to Finnish bands like Kyyria or Suburban Tribe. Both have quit long ago. I’ve never listened to either of them much, but I’ve known about them and heard some songs. I can’t really say any direct contemporaries.

D.M: What influences your songwriting?  There’s such a dynamic mix of sounds and styles, what artists or styles do you draw from most?

PP: We listen to a big bunch of different styles of music, so all kinds of influences are welcome with Red Eleven. I can only speak for myself, so lately I’ve been listening to artists like Monuments, SikTh, Mary Komasa, Hacktivist, Tribulation, Carpenter Brut and Vildhjarta to name a few. And I know that Teemu, Tony and Petteri [Vaalimaa, bass] have Faith No More, Red Hot Chili Peppers in common with their likes. Other than that I really can’t say what everyone else in the band listens to.

D.M: When people think of Finnish rock and metal, invariably there’s thoughts of Children of Bodom or Turisas or the 69 Eyes.  Red Eleven doesn’t walk in the footsteps of any of those bands, is it difficult to stand out against those stereotypes?

PP: It seems to be so. The kind of music we make is not very popular at the moment anyway, I guess. But there’s no point doing what every other band does.

D.M: Describe your songwriting process – how do the elements come together?

PP: Teemu writes the music; guitar riffs, keyboards etc, Tony the vocal melodies and lyrics. Then Teemu makes a demo of a song and sends it to us to figure out, guitar solos, drum beats and different hooks and so on. After that, we hit the studio, that’s about all there is to it.

D.M: After “Round II,” many reviewers, myself sheepishly included, compared Red Eleven to Faith No More.  How do you feel about that comparison?

PP: I don’t mind at all, though I’ve never been a big fan of Faith No More. And I know, being huge Faith No More fans Teemu and Tony especially don’t mind! I think all the other guys are bigger fans than I am. But I feel our sound is way more heavier than Faith No More. It’s always a compliment to be compared to a unique band like Faith No More.

D.M: Part of Red Eleven’s distinctiveness is your guitar tone – how did you arrive at that sound, and what did you do to engineer it?

PP: It all comes down to Teemu’s touch in playing, and the down tuned (A) guitars. He uses Mesa Dual Rectifier and Bugera 333XL Infinium -heads, custom fuzz and other effects, different set ups for different situations, like studio and live. He just knows what he’s doing with the sound.

D.M: Throw me a bone here – will there be a US tour?

PP: I certainly hope so! At the moment we don’t have management, so that’d help us a lot. As well as a booking agency outside Finland. But we’re still a relatively small band even in Finland, so we need some outside contacts to get things rolling. Hope to spread our music all around the globe of course!

Do yourself a favor - find this band and spend some time with their music.  You will not be disappointed.

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