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Interview with Jarkko Aaltonen of Korpiklaani

Korpiklaani performing at The Fillmore in San Francisco
Korpiklaani performing at The Fillmore in San Francisco
Miikka Skaffari

Finnish Korpiklaani is the main attraction in this year's Paganfest America. The other bands on the tour are Turisas also from Finland, Chthonic from Taiwan, Varg from Germany and the lone American band Winterhymn from Cincinnati, OH. I had a chance to sit down with Jarkko Aaltonen, the bassist for Korpiklaani before their show at The Fillmore in San Francisco on May 11.

Jarkko Aaltonen of Korpiklaani performing at The Fillmore in San Francisco
Miikka Skaffari

When the tour hit San Francisco the bands had been driving across America for two out of the total three weeks. Everything has been going good and there hasn’t been any problems on the way. Jarkko seemed to be in very good spirits even after a long drive from Portland, OR. He unlodges himself from a tiny two seater leather sofa where he had jammed himself for a nap. “Touring is mostly waiting. This is how we spend our time, I sleep and this one (pointing to guitarist Kalle "Cane" Savijärvi) plays words with friends or something” says Jarkko chuckling and continues “I used to go see the sights, but now that we have been through US few times I find myself being too lazy for that. I would have to plan and arrange transportation. It’s easier just to kill time at the venue or the bus”

Touring in the North America is similar to touring in Europe. The biggest differences are the distances between shows. The best concerts are on the coasts, but you have to cross the continent somehow and even when the tour goes through Canada there are evenings when you play really weird small venues just to recoup money for the busses for the day. “You have to spend a night somewhere so why not put up a show. That’s why we are here.” Having another Finnish band on the tour has been a lot of fun though they don’t spend all the time together. Korpiklaani and Turisas travel on different busses, but every day Turisas calls and informs Korpiklaani about current sailing weather. “I don’t know why they do that, it must be important to them” laughs Jarkko. It doesn’t seem to make a huge difference with the audience that there are two Finnish bands on the bill. “You always meet few fans that have started to learn our useless language but that’s about it.” On the other hand the language is not a huge barrier and the audiences all over are singing along with the Finnish songs.

Folk and pagan metal is on the rise in the US. Every year there are more people in the audience and the tour stops at bigger venues. Touring in the US is difficult for somewhat marginal band like Korpiklaani. “If we were on the next level, just playing venues like today we would actually be making money. As things are it would be financially better for us to just stick to Europe. Germany and German speaking countries around are the biggest market for us, though it feels that those are already saturated with all the tours and festivals. But there is still a lot of Europe left where we haven’t been too much and logistically that is so much easier for us”. Being part of Paganfest America is a great way to draw bigger crowds. On personal level, playing in US is not make it or break it goal for Jarkko, but he turned the question around and said, “then again since we are here, it would suck if we were playing for empty rooms.”

Korpiklaani released their latest album ‘Manala’ in 2012 and are due a new album. “We are going to studio in the fall and should have an album out still this year” speculates Jarkko. The band members don’t live in same town so arranging rehearsals can be challenging, but they like to have the material ready before they go to the studio. “We can’t waste time in the studio for writing. There will naturally be adjustment made to the material, but the content is pretty much locked down when we enter the studio. This time around we’ll try to spend even more time with our producer beforehand so that we can get right to recording.” Jarkko thinks that they have never recorded songs in the studio that didn’t make it to the album. “Some time back our vocalist Jonne went through old demo tapes to see if there was something we should use, but I don’t think anything came out of that exercise.”

The show itself was just awesome. The Fillmore was maybe three quarters full, but the audience was really into the music and participated more and more towards the end of the show.