We caught up with Ben Varon, founder and guitarist of the Finnish metal band, Amoral during his stay here in NYC. A wonderfully humble person that can really shred a guitar! Take a look at what he has to say about his expectations on their first US performance, differences between NYC and Helsinki, coffee, and their upcoming release, Beneath.
If you’re in Austin, TX on March 15th, make sure to check out their US debut appearance. You can find list of Nordic bands playing at SXSW 2012 that we recommend here.
Background on Amoral
Amoral is a band established by founders Ben Varon and Juhana Karlsson in Helsinki, Finland in the late 90’s.
The band’s production can be classified as technical, progressive and melodic metal, combined with rock elements. Amoral’s sound is heavy riff driven yet still has a melodic power groove. Skillful ensemble and crisp performance has characterized Amoral, which is internationally recognized as one of Finland’s foremost bands. The brave and independent development of their music can be heard throughout their four albums.
What are the big differences you find between New York and Helsinki?
The city is so much bigger with so many more opportunities and places to chose from – whether entertainment, restaurants, or bars – so that’s really cool. There are so many places to eat here that are open late night so you don’t have go, oh I only have two more hours to get a slice of pizza! In Helsinki, there are only a handful of places open after midnight because it just doesn’t make sense business-wise, there aren’t enough people walking the streets.
I found a great little deli where you can get salads and pizza and stuff, and everything is good. We don’t have that in Finland – where you can mix and match salads and things like that. Also you can find cheap breakfast here. It’s kind of like Tokyo. It’s not a cheap city, you can waste a lot of money going to fancy restaurants, yet you can buy a breakfast for two dollars – just a bagel and a coffee and you’re set for a few hours. You don’t have in Helsinki, in Helsinki everything is expensive. You go to a gas station and you pay more for a cup of coffee than my whole breakfast yesterday – it’s ridiculous.
I didn’t realize coffee was that expensive there.
Yeah, 3 bucks. You can’t find a cheaper cup of coffee…how is that possible? Here you pay 2 bucks for a bagel and coffee.
Aren’t Finns known a little bit for their coffee?
We love our coffee, everyone drinks tons of coffee, but we’re not particular about the quality, so people just drink a lot of coffee at gas stations – which is crazy expensive.
Let’s talk about touring. This is going to be your US debut at SXSW, which is really exciting! What are you looking forward to most and are you aware of the insanity that goes on down there?[laughs] People have been warning the band and me. So we’re getting an idea of the insanity that will go down. I hope we’re going to get a certain amount of people to the show. Hopefully some people will pull some strings, but the label is going to be there and our PR representatives. Other than that it will be cool to play a new place – a whole new country – and get your foot through the door, slowly but surely. It’s like here we are.
How long have you guys been thinking about playing the US?
Forever! All the bands I grew up listening to were American. I only started listening to Finnish bands later on. I was about 17 when I started hearing all these great Finnish bands. Over here [USA] people really appreciate the metal scene from Europe. It goes back and forth. For example, when we were kids, all we would hear is MTV and Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Aerosmith and stuff like that. So that’s our main influence coming from the states. You start writing a few songs. then albums, then a scene develops..like with all the Swedish and Finnish bands and NY…it goes back and forth, so it’s really cool.
What other countries have you been to that you really enjoy?
Personally, I just love travelling so I appreciate touring. I try to get out from the bus, van, or whatever I may be sleeping in and just go see the city. That is if we’re not located in some fucked up neighborhood or backstage at a gas station where there’s nothing to do. Spain has always been cool. There are a lot of people there that really enjoy the music…and they get pretty crazy.
Any horror stories from the road?
Oh man…Norway was tough. We were touring with a bunch of black metal bands and Norway is known for its black metal scene. We were playing Oslo as the first show of the tour. It was just the worst. People did not like us at all. We’re not black metal, we were kinda goofing around on stage, and they were dead serious…looking at us like get the fuck off the stage now. So luckily those are the minority of the shows.
What do you miss most about home while on tour?
Decent showers! And a bed…very much
If you were to put together your ultimate tour with any bands current or past, who would you play with?
Wow. Well let’s start with something current. A good band with big crowds…with the same kind of style so the fans would appreciate us also. Avenged Sevenfold would be a good choice for us, or Mastodon, who has many influences within their music and are melodic enough. So, Avenged Sevenfold, Mastodon, and Amoral would be a good lineup. But of course, if we go to the fantasy side of things, then anything from Led Zeppelin to Pantera, those you can’t get happening anymore. Opening for one of those guys would be awesome.
Let’s talk about the new album Beneath. During Show Your Colors, your sound went through changes – some acoustic songs and a more melodic sound. What can your fans expect from Beneath?
There are definitely some acoustic parts in there. We have one song that starts with a big acoustic section then evolves into a metal/hard rock piece and ends up a cool, moody, acoustic song with electronics in there. We had an all acoustic song on the last album and said let’s not repeat that. So we took an acoustic piece and added a little Nine Inch Nails style on top of it to get it moody and movie-like. I have a new writing partner, Masi. He was also a kid of the early 90s, so MTV un-plugged made an impression on us. We really like the acoustic stuff. We were even tooling around with the idea of making an acoustic E.P. at some point, but I don’t know if it would please anybody else but us.
When you approach writing, is it something you consciously say we need to do something different here?
I rarely go into it like, I need to do this or that. I try to keep it as natural as possible, so I pick up the guitar seeing what kind of mood I’m in. Sometimes I pick up a 7-string and riff it out for a while. I’m been doing this songwriter-based style writing, thinking about chords and melodies. Before, it was more about riffs and working like that, it’s cool putting them together.
Do you guys do jam sessions when writing?
We don’t really do that, we’re not the greatest jam band…we play stuff we already know. Especially with two guitars, I find it really hard to jam because it just gets into a boring cliché blues jam…[because it’s always in E?] Yeah so you just go around the blues chord changes. [laughs]
You kick off the album with the title track Beneath an 8-minute epic journey. Will there be more longer songs on the album, or a mixture?
There’s going to be both styles. I think it’s 50/50 with some shorter catchier-type songs and sing-along choruses – all that 80s stuff we love as well. I don’t want to do an album full of that, the guys would get tired of it too, so we like to do the longer more epic-type stuff. The first and last song on the album are like that.
What 3 songs define Amoral?
Well, the opening track Beneath because it shows the versatility there – different types of singing styles – that’s a good one. I guess Silhouette would represent more the rock/pop sound we like to do. And the third one would be Release on Show Your Colors. It’s a really good combination of memorable melodies in the chorus…and a long guitar solo which I always like to put in there [laughs]…and just lots of riffs.
If you weren’t performing music, what would you be doing?
I honestly have no idea. I’m the type of person that enjoys a lot of things but can only go through with it if I’m 100% into it. I get bored easily and will forget it. I’ve never really thought about it, I guess if I lost both my hands today I would start to think about it more seriously. Maybe something to do with underwater or nature. I love the stuff that goes on in oceans, like the shark business. So maybe I would learn more about that. I’m pretty envious of the guys who take the boats out for snorkeling trips. We had a holiday in Thailand, just snorkeling around…it was beautiful. I’m envious of the guy who does that for a living. He just takes people out for a few hours to watch the corals and fish…that’s like a dream job to me. So maybe I’ll be a snorkel-dive instructor in Thailand [laughs]…if I need to have something to fall back on.