|We thought the album was so good that we would be able to get a contract with some of those so called major labels.|
On the 25th of March, 2002, a shocking message appeared on the website of Finnish doom band Unholy: *Unholy is now officially DEAD!* Being one of the most original and probably also one of the most controversial bands in the scene, they have released 4 albums and had to call it quits during the negotiations for a record deal for their 5th album. Doom-metal.com spoke to guitar player Ismo Toivonen and asked him what had happened.|
Greetings Ismo! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview with doom-metal.com, because as most people can imagine right now, your frustration and disappointment must be really huge! The shocking statement 'Everything went wrong' on your site sounds very embittered and hopeless. Can you tell us what exactly went so wrong that you decided to disband Unholy? Was there one event that lay at the cause of this decision, or was it rather a whole chain of negative/frustrating events?
"There are many reasons. The first one was the lack of success of "Gracefallen". I think it's the best album we ever made and yet it sold the worst. It was too trendy to our old school fans and not trendy enough to be a mainstream album and to rise us to mainstream. We were, or should I say "I was", rather bored to be an underground band because we hate all those phenomena connected to the underground: bad production, bad arrangements, stupid black metal lyrics, shit music, black metal etc... People didn't understand that "Gracefallen" should not be compared to Rapture or any other album we've made. It's a new direction of music. So, "Gracefallen" sold bad!
Another drawback came up when we were trying to get gigs. Nobody wanted us because we were too unknown to mainstream gig organizers. And on the other hand, we were bored to play live for free or for travelling costs (that's really normal in the underground business!). Our music needs too much attention and preparations to be played for free. We'd have to live from our music to be able to give the audience what it needs, good shows and music. It doesn't work if we all have to get a normal job to have enough money to buy guitar strings and drum sticks.
The third step back: We thought the album was so good that we would be able to get a contract with some of those so called "major labels". And that would help us to get gigs because it's possible to get more publicity with a bigger label. We were wrong! We sent that album to every imaginable big label and got negotiations started with one of them only. We thought everything was ok, and that we would get a contract with them. Maybe we would have, I still don't know! That's because the negotiations lasted too long... way too long. When one and a half years passed we thought that's enough for us. If that's how much they wanted us, we'd better say no thanks!
That all affected our creativity, we simply had too many "outside music" things to worry about; the band spirit suffered. We completed 5 songs that were completely different compared to any other Unholy stuff, even to "Gracefallen". That would have been our biggest style change ever and that new style was so unique that we were maybe setting too much hope on the contract. That's why the frustration was so huge after things went wrong.
After this all, a split-up was the only chance. We had things to give to the world of music but we didn't have a chance to make it true!"
Did Unholy actually ever play live gigs? We read some years ago on the official site that Unholy hired a booking manager, but we never heard anything about any Unholy gigs.
"Ever? Yeah, we played live here in Finland in early 90's during many years and we SHOULD have played live again after "Gracefallen". Our manager was not able to get us any gigs so we didn't need him. And we were not able to get gigs without a manager either. So we actually had a few gigs but not many of them."
Until that recent statement on your site, we had not heard anything from Unholy in years... This is not the first time in Unholy's history that such things happen, since the band has been inactive between 1994 and 1997 as well. Do you see any similarities between the reasons that led Unholy to inactivity then and the reason you decided to break up now?
"Yeah, after all this I have thought about that and there are many similarities but the situation is not completely the same. In '95 the main reason was Jarkko and his alcohol problem and lack of interest in music and rehearsing. This time there's nothing like that. But there's one big thing that remains the same: frustration."
Maybe it's too early to tell right now, but are there any plans of Unholy members to continue making music under another name? If yes, in what kind of projects/styles are the Unholy members involved right now?
"Actually, we had some projects during '95-'96 (that was actually the inactive time back then) and we have projects now too. Difference is that now we don't have time to be so active with these things because we have families, jobs etc. Pasi plays something with Jade, I don't know much about it. I have the same pop/rock-project as I and Jan and a couple of friends had in -95 too. Jan is not in that project now because I think he has enough to do with his studies for now. "
Imagine after some months or even years, when the world is better prepared for Unholy's music, a label offers you a satisfying deal for your unrecorded album. Is there any chance that you would reform Unholy under such circumstances?
"Everything is possible! But to be honest, the more time passes, the less possible it is to reform the band. We got stuck in "normal life" more and more every day and it's not easy to begin to play active again when we have jobs, families and WE'RE GETTING OLD, you should remember that too! But I never say never again ;-)" [ed.: let's hope so!!]
Unholy's sound has always been very different and 'special'. That makes me wonder if you ever had the feeling of belonging to a certain scene. Did Unholy have contact with other underground bands/artists? And do you consider Unholy to be part of a certain genre?
"We had some contact with some other bands, for example Skepticism and Esoteric, and we changed thoughts now and then. But I'm not very active to keep contacts fresh, so you could call me unsocial or a hermit, but I prefer to concentrate on music than being part of a scene or something. And about that scene thing, I never felt that I or Unholy belonged to any scene. Maybe those scene things are for the people who don't want or don't need to concentrate on music. Unholy plays such comprehensive music that there is no space to keep social contacts or think about scene things."
What is your opinion about the current metal scene anyway, both mainstream and underground? Are there any bands/artists in which you are interested? Are you going to follow their evolution in the future?
"I'm not interested in the metal scene. As the matter of fact, I don't listen to music very much today. And when I do, it's more often rock than metal. There just aren't any interesting bands in the scene anymore."
Veera Muhli has a very controversial voice, but in our opinion her voice fits perfectly with the sick, weird atmospheres created by Unholy. What were the reasons that made the band kick her out?
"Simple, she thought she was too perfect and too genius. She has talents but she was not able to use them because she didn't rehearse enough. And because of that, she screwed up a couple of gigs and a couple of days in the studio. And after this all, she acted like nothing happened and as if it was a normal thing to re-record two days' recordings because of a lack of rehearsing and because of the wrong attitude for doing music.
I am a really demanding musician. To play with me, you have to be as good as I am, or better! For example, Veera had studied playing the piano and she plays it really well. So I thought she would learn "Gracefallen" keyboard parts just like that. She said everything is ok and learned but in the studio she just fucked up everything and in the end I had to play myself many keyboard parts that were planned for her. That was a waste of time and I don't like it. If that "Ms. Big Artist" would have told me at the beginning that she cannot do the job I'd do that myself and would not have wasted time to teach her. And notice that I never had studied playing the piano!
Veera seems to be ok at the projects, like "Rapture" was for her, but she's not able to commit to a band with her whole soul and body, she has a too big ego for that. That's Veera's biggest problem!"
We had heard from 'insiders' that Unholy had very special plans for the next album, including multiple vocalists... Can you tell more about those plans? In which sense were they 'unworkable' according to the labels? Why was it such a big risk for them to release this Unholy album?
"I don't know about risk. Our music was actually something like rock music and jazz vocals mixed, melancholic and strange but still rock. My opinion is that it was not such a big risk as "Gracefallen" was. I think that was not the reason for our difficulties. The reasons are deeper in music business.
We got a new female singer who was really different from Veera. She has learned singing and knew how to use her voice. She brought some jazz feeling to our stuff. The music itself was lighter than on the earlier albums. Actually, the acoustic guitars played a bigger part in music than the distorted ones. Maybe you can imagine something about that. "
In an interview Roberto Mammarella from Avantgarde Music did with doom-metal.com some time ago, he said the following about Unholy: 'Unholy was a very expensive band to produce, not in vain because their records have a very good sound, but their sales decreased record after record, while they wanted almost double recording budget. They told me that they were sure to sign to a MAJOR label. Musicians are often NAIVE and out-of-reality: as a matter of fact, over two years have gone and nobody had the balls to sign them." Do you understand this logic from a label's point of view? Do you agree with it?
"Of course doom metal is expensive music to produce because it's much harder to play slowly than fast, that's a fact. I'm kind of a perfectionist and I don't accept bad playing. You can check this thing by listening to "Gracefallen". There's NO SINGLE wrong tune in the guitars or keyboards (I of course speak only for myself). Everything is perfectly played as it is in Metallica's black album! And still, we spent as much time on the recording of our guitar parts as Metallica spent searching for guitar SOUNDS in their black album. So, it's a question of what you compare it to. If Avantgarde or any other label can get such a perfect production cheaper than that, I will apologise for my words. "
Do you think there is a way for underground bands with an unconventional sound to survive in a world of superficiality and mass productions? Perhaps the internet can be a tool to promote such artists in the future? Or do you think there are certain record labels left with enough courage to sign uncompromising bands like yours has been?
"There's no such a thing like an uncommercial label! They do that for a living. That's easy to accept but nobody seems to think that a BAND also does it FOR A LIVING! It's bad if a band plays commercial music but it's not so bad if a label releases commercial music.
I'm nowadays often thinking about the ways for ARTS to survive in this world, but my thoughts are still so raw that it's better not to answer yet."
It's pretty safe to say that Unholy's too weird and unconventional style led the band to its demise, because most of the listeners are obviously not ready yet for this 'difficult' and strange music. Would you do anything different if you had the chance to start again, now that you know all what happened? Would you perhaps create more 'direct' and 'conventional' songs? Or would you try to be part of the scene more than you did in the past?
"I wouldn't change any musical things. The only thing I maybe would do differently, is to work harder with publicity. It's the only thing that makes garage bands differ from big bands. Publicity and a way to handle press and TV is more than 50% of what you are today and in the future.
Maybe that would affect our music because we would have so much time to concentrate making music. So maybe it would become more simple but I wouldn't do that consciously. Maybe that's the reason people think that famous bands are commercial on purpose. They just have too much to do with these "outside music" things. "
In another statement on the Unholy site, you said that some unreleased Unholy tracks would be made available through KaZaA. We didn't find a trace of those tracks yet. Are they available at the moment? What kind of tracks are they? Rehearsal tracks, unreleased studio recordings, tracks that you were planning to release in the futur?
"There's one unreleased song (mixed but not mastered) called "Gone". It's made few years ago, it just didn't find its way to any album. So it's not our "new style", rather like "Gracefallen" style.
Other tracks are from our albums (36 songs in all). They should be available. If they're not, I don't know why. Most of them are in my personal computer and sharing works only if my computer is ON. So, that could be reason for the difficulty to find them. But the more people download them, the more results Kazaa will find when searching. Sometimes it helps if you search them for several times. If anyone has problems finding that stuff please contact me and I'll try to solve problems, ok? "
Unholy has certainly left its trace in the underground dark metal scene. How would you like the band to be remembered? What was Unholy's place in the 'big plan'?
"I would be happy if people would remember us after 10 or 20 years. Those commercial bands will be forgotten after 10 years because there's nothing to distinguish them from each other, but my dream is that original music will be remembered longer. And my personal dream is that my now 10 months old daughter will be proud of my past as a metal musician.
Unholy was maybe a protest against happiness. I'm not saying that people cannot be happy (believe it or not but I'm happy too sometimes..), I'm saying that people cannot forget or ignore those not so good feelings from their life. In mainstream pop music, bands are singing about love, happiness, friends, god, sex and family. Unholy is opposite for that eternal acting of happiness. I hope we will always remind people of this other side of life."
Doom-metal.com would like to thank you for the honour to have these final words with the original and influential band that is Unholy. Good luck with the future plans, and hopefully we will hear more of the talent that was behind Unholy in other dark music soon!
"Thanks to you for this interview and thanks to our fans who always remembered us! The only problem was that you were too few and that's not your fault. Thanks!"
Visit the Unholy bandpage.