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PRESSURE POINTS: Spotlights on progressive metal from Finland!

Interview with vocalist/lead guitarist Kari Olli and drummer Vili Auvinen by Vera in August 2015

Pressure Points might be considered a hidden gem of Finland, but that will hopefully change with the release of their sophomore album ‘False Lights’. In their home country they are already quite an established name, but now the rest of Europe should wake up, because ‘False Lights’ is really an exceptional amazing album in progressive metal style. With a wide spectrum of growls and clean chants, moving guitar solos and proper heaviness within their instrumental tour-de-forces, these five Finnish guys left us in awe. Thus we contacted their manager and put up an interview with singer/guitarist Kari Olli and drummer Vili Auvinen, both founder members of this new revelation!

The band was founded in 2004. What has led to its conception, who were the founding members and what were the initial purposes?
Kari: I & Vili used to hang out that summer through common friends we had. Shortly we realized we dig the same artists and at the same time were frustrated of not having a proper channel for more creative stuff. It all started by our hour-long drum/guitar jams. Actually those fruitful sessions led to produce many riffs for our debut album as well... First of all, there were no very serious intentions about what we were doing, but of course, when some ideas started to work out pretty well, it was obvious to pursue for a full line-up.

Vili: I remember one anecdote about this. A mutual friend we had introduced us to each other while we were hanging out on a small beach in our hometown. Naturally we spoke about music. I was amazed when I found out that Kari also likes Rush. I had recently discovered the band and was in a life-changing process consuming everything the band had ever done. I was in a total musical isolation with Rush. I couldn't share the enthusiasm with anyone because no-one of my age knew the band. So I was really fortunate to find another “Rush outcast”. Soon after noticing we shared many similar interests, we agreed to go and jam together (and we still jam every time with the band when we practice). That's where Kari's story above settles in.

What bands or musicians can be seen as influences to start the band – or broader – to be a musician yourself?
Kari: Camel, Rush, ELP, Focus, Deep Purple, King Crimson etc. Late 60's & early seventies prog has a special place in my heart. Then there's a sleazy side of 80's hard rock and hair metal with hints of modern death metal and gloomy atmosphere. That all molds into a weird combination in Pressure Points's music. Over the years every member has brought their own spices into the soup. Most songs that I have thought to be ready on the table, have still gone through a serious producing process before they end up being on the record.

Vili: Around the time of founding the band, bands like Rush, Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree, Dimmu Borgir, Strapping Young Lad & Devin Townsend, Symphony X were contemporary groups on my playlist. But unlike many would think, we also shared a big passion for Akercocke with Kari. I think some of those vibes transcended into our music as well. During the early phases of my teens John Otto from Limp Bizkit and his groovy style of playing had a big influence on me. Later on I found the likes of Mike Portnoy and Gavin Harrison, and then especially Neil Peart, who inspired me not only drum-wise but also lyrically.

In the early days you did some demos and a single. So please tell a bit more details about these early time activities…
Vili: I think Kari had one song ready when we started to practice and write our own material. In the early days there was a lot of jamming. We used to come into our training crib on cold winter nights and jam to get the chill out of our bodies. Soon we noticed we have a track on the table. At the time we did not pay so much attention to details and arrangements as we do now, a lot of it was flow-based, so songs were coming ready quite fast. There is a lot of strong material in our catalog, so who knows we might use some of it in the future.

In 2010 you released your first album ‘Remorses To Remember’. What did you achieve after the release and can you compare this debut with the sound of the current Pressure Points?
Kari: With our debut we achieved a very good reception in the media and were fortunate to support the album with many gigs. Of course, at that time everything was new for us and when you operate the band with DIY-way it's not so easy all the time. Considering the circumstances it was a very active and funny phase in PP's history. Before and after 'Remorses To Remember' we made a big bunch of great gigs in Finland and abroad ending up to be a very entertaining and well-received live act. We also made some good contacts in a professional way and became friends with many other bands. The biggest change between ‘Remorses To Remember’ and ‘False Lights’ happened in producing, which now took at least twice the time compared to our first album. The song structures and the overall sound has matured and started to take more natural and maybe more personal aspects into it. So, in that way we are like a bottle of good wine or whiskey. Let's see what it is in the next ten years hehe.

By the way, how did you decide on the band name Pressure Points?
Kari: It was seriously inspired by Camel's live album, which made quite an impression at some point of my life, heheh. Of course there's a deeper meaning too. Somehow it encapsulates how our music (or music overall) kind of makes you feel different emotions, sometimes penetrating so deep, that it can bring up memories all good and bad.

Since 2007 you played live as well. Was it easy or difficult to get some connection with the promoters and venues in Finland, a country with many bands? How do you look back at the first gigs?
Vili: We did an incredibly large amount of shows during the early days. We did not have high standards (a beginner band should not have) for the place or day of week or whatever, and thus we played in all kinds of places anytime during the week. When we recruited the last missing piece of our line-up, keyboard player Wellu, he turned out to be not only a great keyboard player, but a greedy gig booker. He spontaneously started to book gigs since there were not many volunteers in the band for that task. It was all about sending hundreds of e-mails to other bands and venues. And when you do that, you will inevitably come across some good contacts at some point. It's not easy to find and make good connections, you need to work for it. You also need luck – the harder you work, the luckier you will be. The band gained plenty of experience through the shows. It is partly because of these times that helped us gain the reputation of being a tight-playing and an entertaining live act.

But in 2011 there was a Northern Europe tour with Nile. Please share your experiences about that trip with us. It seems a kind of different audience… did it work out?
Kari: The tour was filled with funny happenings and silly stories (aren't they all?) I think we reached the audience quite well on that leg. Beforehand it felt that, damn, we are in a very wrong scene here, hehheh. The line-up had other not so fast-tech-grinding acts as well, so there was a good spot for everyone. We totally made some new fans there. Baltic gigs of that tour were the best for us. Still wanna thank you crazy people!

One year before that you did a Finland trip with Keep Of Kalessin. What about that experience?
Vili: It was cool. That was the first proper tour that we were a part of. As I mentioned earlier, the more you put your name out there and play shows, the more chances you will get. During this mini-tour, I think it was four gigs or so, we started to collaborate with Toni Törrönen, who is our manager at the moment.

Now let us focus on the new record ‘False Lights’. How do you look back on the writing process? Who are the main songwriters? Did you have some intentions about sound or direction before you started or not?
Kari: The writing process itself was way faster than with our debut. When the first album is quite often a collection of best riffs you've done in a long period of time, the successor opens a window for that particular moment in band's history. I had some skeletons of ‘False Lights’'s songs done in early 2011, so it was pretty damn fast after our debut. I would say I'm still the main songwriter of the band, but our producing is very democratic and a wide process. Songs often change quite bit of what they have been in a 1.0 version. During this period 2011-15 we had serious issues in line-up changes which also influenced the FL's permanent form somehow... our long-time friend and the other guitarist Juho Suortti parted ways with us in 2011. After Juho left we were fortunate to have Timo Ruokola handling the guitar duties for some time. Both of these guys have a significant musical impact on the album as Juho wrote one song almost all by himself and Timo helped us in many songs with excellent riffs and ideas.

Where comes the inspiration for the lyrics usually from, and now more precisely on this CD?
Vili: It is hard to pinpoint where the inspiration usually comes from, because it comes from everywhere. It can be a headline in the newspaper, a nice movie you saw, a good book that you read, or a conversation at a coffee table, something someone said. It can be an emotion: anger, frustration, amazement. Inspiration can strike you when you are on your way to the grocery store. Then the thought has to be memorized somehow, and the idea has to be played with and maybe improved later on – if there's utility in it. In the beginning Neil Peart from Rush was the greatest influence to me, both as a drummer and a lyricist. Lately there have been other influences, even outside of music. It's a sad thing to say but not that many bands pay a lot of attention to lyrics. Such waste of an artistic medium! The original inspiration for ‘False Lights’ came from legends saying that ships were lured into danger by the display of false lights. That thought nicely summarizes the zeitgeist of the modern world. The ones with power are leading (or luring?) us somewhere, while the less powerful struggle to stay on board. The themes on the album are quite universal, including approaches to topics like power and inequality. These subjects are tackled from a global and an individual perspective. The album has a strong lyrical coherency, so some might even consider it a concept album.

It is hard to pick some favourites, because the ingeniously skillfulness is obvious, while the emotional impact is not missing. Yet ‘Electric Shadows’ is a stunner. Can you tell a bit more about that song?
Kari: 'Electric Shadows' has very strong melodic structure in it. I think majority of the song formed around Wellu's majestic piano ideas. Guitar parts were mainly composed with 7-strings so it kinda made different approach to not only the riffs, but the overall melody lines. Ear-worm-like chorus also took place in that song. That's not very common for us, so in that aspect, it's a good choice for a single. It seems that the softer parts of the song are not just "out there", feeling artificial, but reflecting well with the massive epic riffs and selected hooks here and there...Dream Theater once did their 'Learning To Live', now we did ours hehe.

In ‘Sleepwalk’ you really excel with dynamic long instrumental parts, going from nearly chaotic to very melodic. How did this come into being?
Kari: The most 80's influenced song on the album. Actually this one was mostly written by Juho, so I can't say much about that topic. What I know, is that I slammed down some static Steve Vai-vibe part in the middle and stayed in the same chord for nearly three minutes, because I had nothing better to do and had a can of beer in my left hand, hahahah..

Vili: I remember Juho said that, at the time of writing ‘Sleepwalk’, he had been listening to Devin Townsend, Megadeth and Nevermore. He humorously noted that “I just ripped their best riffs and put it into one song.” But to be honest, he was blossoming as a songwriter just before leaving the band. It really takes something to be able to compose that long, partly static, yet dynamic instrumental part in the middle of the song.

Not only early Opeth, but also Anathema (melancholic chants in ‘Dance Of Coincidence’) and Pink Floyd (some emotive leads) seems like an influence, or do I see this wrong?
Kari: You see it precisely right! Anathema and Pink Floyd have both been much bigger influence for me than Opeth ever has. Though I certainly dig those big O's around 2000-era stuff, it's more like similarities with Pressure Points and Opeth are coming from our mutual sources of inspiration and love towards old progrock...

In 2011 you got some help from the omnipresent Markus Vanhala. What is your connection and bond with this accomplished and active musician?
Kari: In a personal level we've been friends for a long time and there's always been a strong musical connection between me and him. Sometimes you just don't have to say a word when the other half gets what's going on. In Pressure Points-camp this has always been the issue and one of the greatest things to be in this band. Obviously it helps quite a lot with the songwriting process as well, especially when you do 10-minute-long songs. So we're in luck to have that kind of guy outside the band too. Schedules usually set some limits to how many projects or bands you can run at the same time. For many years we talked about putting up a new group, but what you can do. At this point it goes like Markus is doing feats in Pressure Points and I lately performed on two tours with his other active band Insomnium. Maybe some day...

Who did the artwork and can you tell something more about it?
Kari: He is a talented guy called Olli-Pekka Lappalainen. Travis Smith of Finland I have to say haha. Olli-Pekka has also done works for Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum. The cover art of ‘False Lights’ really ties the album's lyrical backbone into a great picture. Of course we had some kind of an idea what would it be, but OP really nailed it!

I see you start with a release show in September! Great. Can we hope for gigs outside Scandinavia to support ‘False Lights’?
Kari: Now since we are on a German label, I really wait for hitting the stages again in Central Europe and why not the rest of the globe as well. At least some special festival appearances and tours of course, if the financial specs and other schedules will give it a go.

Vili: We have no intentions of playing only in Finland. We will work hard to find good opportunities to play abroad.

What are the plans in general for the near future?
Kari: Be the biggest prog metal band in Finland and entertain people. Maybe write a couple more classic albums and die happy! (laughs)

If there is something I forgot to cover or something you want to add, feel free to do so…
Kari: Thanks for such a warm welcome for the new album and see you live in the near future!

Vili: Thanks for a great and extensive interview!

Geplaatst door Vera op zaterdag 12 september 2015 - 13:57:35
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