Some groups initially favour writing more simplistic material during their earlier days, and later in their career, subsequently choose to pen more progressive fare. This isn't always the case, however, with some either favouring mainly one style during their entire career, or actually choosing to simplify their song structures following a more progressive path. Tarot
currently falls under the latter, taking their cue from inspirations like Black Sabbath
, Deep Purple
, and AC/DC
in composing their newer efforts.
Finnish metal group Tarot
's eighth studio full length, "Gravity Of Light
", had much of its demo work completed during August and September 2009 by vocalist / bassist Marco Hietala
(also of Nightwish
), guitarist Zachary Hietala
and keyboardist Janne Tolsa
, the outfit's primary writers. Tarot
had issued its inaugural DVD "Undead Indeed
" on June 11th, 2008, featuring a concert recorded at Rupla club, Kuopio, Finland on August 17th, 2007. In November of that year, recording commenced. Mixing was handled by Tolsa
and Mikko Tegelman
, where mastering was handled by Mika Jussila
at Finnvox studios, in January and February 2010. Janne
, who had previously designed artwork for 2003's "Suffer Our Pleasures
" and 2006's "Crows Fly Black
", returned to design artwork. To promote the album, a music video was filmed for the track "I Walk Forever
" in Cairo, Egypt.
Issued in Finland through King Foo Entertainment on March 10th, "Gravity Of Light
" entered the Finnish album charts at position two. A European release happened later on April 23rd via Nuclear Blast Records, while a North American release is due to occur on June 8th.
On April 13th at 14:00 GMT, Tarot
frontman Marco Hietala
telephoned Hit The Lights
' Robert Gray
to discuss "Gravity Of Light
Hello. This is Marco Hietala, calling from Finland. Is this Robert Gray?
That's correct. How are you Marco?
Would it be alright if I began the interview?
Tarot began demoing material for 'Gravity of Light' in August 2009. From there, how did the album take shape?
"I've always used the comparison that whereas Nightwish is kind of dark fantasy, Tarot is more like science-fiction."
I think we already had some stuff like a year back, let's say. We were doing shows with Tarot in February 2009. Zach had a couple of riffs, and I had a couple of ideas since I carry around an acoustic - even touring with Nightwish, I usually have it around backstage and everything, so I had some material. During the summer time, we demoed a couple of songs. In August, September when the Nightwish tour wound down, we got together and just started sifting through all the demo material, and looked out for which would be good from thereon. We ended up with a bunch of these songs. It was strangely quite fast, actually. Everybody had a lot of stuff to contribute.
When you carry your acoustic guitar on tour and compose parts, do you then decide which group's material those parts would best suit?
From the structures of the songs and riffs, I think it's pretty easy which song would go to Nightwish or which one would go to Tarot. I mean, they do have the basic differences there. I've always used the comparison that whereas Nightwish is kind of dark fantasy, Tarot is more like science-fiction.
Whether you lean towards writing more Tarot or more Nightwish type material depends on your mood, would you say?
Yeah. I think the moodier you get, the more easier it is to take it to the Nightwish side of things. If you tend to play a little bit more straight rock 'n' roll type music, then it's more into the Tarot side of things.
What does the album's title - 'Gravity of Light' - mean to you?
It's a theme that goes through different songs on 'Gravity of Light', where the light has waned. It's a kind of light that doesn't really make flowers grow, and is more an oppressive kind of light; take for instance political or religious people who think they have their systems and philosophies, and try to get you into it - I just find it arrogant and oppressive.
Is that opinion also reflective of the lyrical topics you tackle on 'Gravity of Light'?
Are there specific examples you can provide?
Let me think... For instance, take the song "Rise!"; of course it's dressed up in the basic heavy metal premise that the dead will rise and everything, but in this case, the dead might also be a metaphor for these downtrodden, forsaken and rejected people.
Would you say that you aren't a great fan of religion?
Not really. Let's say I'm rather an individual who likes to live and let anybody else live. I'm just happy if nobody else barges into my business (laughs).
Musically speaking, would you say that 'Gravity of Light' sounds like a combination of Tarot's three previous albums?
Hmm.. Well, I think of course you recognise the guys in Tarot, and who's doing what. I don't know if 'Gravity of Light' is a combination. The album is something that we came up with this time (laughs). When we write songs and put them together, we tend to go towards that place which pleases us most instead of thinking about what it's gonna sound like, or if it's gonna be something too old or anything. We just go for something we ourselves like first.
In an interview, Zachary said he felt that 'Gravity of Light' was a combination of Tarot's three previous albums.
Yeah, well, ok. So he sees the album that way (laughs).
I just wondered if you shared the same viewpoint, that's all.
I think 'Gravity of Light' is part of the continuum that we started with 'Suffer Our Pleasures'; there was a five-year period before that album where we didn't really do anything, except a few live shows. Of course then came 'Crows Fly Black', and now this album. I see them continuing where their previous album left off.
You said that 'Gravity of Light' has "quite a heavy modern sound, but you can hear Tarot's roots from seventies heavy metal". Could you expand upon that description? That description was translated from Finnish, so I'm unsure of whether it's an exact translation or not.
We have roots; when I was a kid, I grew up with Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, and bands like that. I like to keep those things alive. Most especially, I think with ProTools and everything these days, and all kinds of things where you can fix things up, you tend to lose the groove of a real rock band really. That is something which we really want to keep from the early days. After all, I think when you go to see a band like AC/DC live, the thing that you mostly enjoy is how they really, really know how to make things move, and this comes from the groove that they have from the old days. It's something that I really like to take care of, but then of course, we're living in 2010 now. I do listen to modern sounding bands, so we like to dress this whole thing up that we have in a somewhat updated sound.
You made reference to Black Sabbath, and you're actually part of a Finnish Black Sabbath tribute group called Sapattivuosi.
Yeah, I am. We just haven't done anything recently. The band has done three albums; two albums covering the Ozzy era of Black Sabbath, and this one album which I am on covering the Ronnie James Dio era. It's all done in Finnish. I found it a really funny and nice experience because like I said, I've been a huge Black Sabbath fan ever since I was nine years old or something.
April 2010 marks the thirtieth anniversary of 'Heaven and Hell''s release, Ronnie James Dio's first album as a member of Black Sabbath. What are your thoughts on that record?
'Heaven and Hell' was one of my really big influences when I was a kid. I really loved that album, and listened to it like a billion times or something like that. Yeah, it probably made a really big impact on me, and you can probably still hear that era in some of Tarot's songwriting.
You said that 'Gravity of Light''s material came together pretty quickly. Were there any reasons for that?
I have no idea. I wish I did, because for instance, the lyrical side was something that I had bits and pieces of. I just started writing, and in almost two weeks, I had everything done, which is the quickest I've ever got an album's worth of lyrics done. Some things usually take months to write, but this was just like opening a floodgate or something, and it all came out really, really fast. I wish I could do that more (laughs).
(Laughs) Considering the writing period for 'Gravity of Light' was so fruitful, was any other material recorded but left off of the album?
No, not really. We got this one bonus song that's gonna be coming out on the European and I suppose the US release, but that's what me and Janne (Tolsa, keyboards) did out of an old demo song - it was a demo which was something like three to four years old which we changed totally into an atmospheric, industrial thing. We had ten songs written already. There's been these happenings in the past where if you're not satisfied, you're gonna scrap some songs and then start over. We were satisfied with this bunch of ten, so we just started immediately recording the album after that.
Have there been any writing sessions since the recording of 'Gravity of Light'?
No, not really, because we're already touring in Finland. We had four shows last week, five shows the week before, and got four coming up starting tomorrow.
Thus far, how has 'Gravity of Light''s material been received by live audiences?
"It's a kind of light that doesn't really make flowers grow, and is more an oppressive kind of light."
Some people are looking at the band with their jaws open, probably because they haven't really heard 'Gravity of Light' that much yet. Some people have taken it really well though, so it's still a little bit mixed. So far though, from what I've seen most of the shows have really gone well.
"Toxic Angel" (Janne Pitknen) returned to handle 'Gravity of Light''s artwork. How would you describe the album's artwork?
Hmm... I like it (laughs). It was pretty much from the idea that I gave to him - having this old-fashioned moon and sun face done into something more modern. I think he did it pretty well. We wanted to have a nasty face there on it, and it is a nasty face. Like I said, it's a light which doesn't make flowers grow. I had no problems with that. He also did the last two covers for 'Crows Fly Black' and for 'Suffer Our Pleasures'. With 'Crows Fly Black', I was a little bit too late to notice that the hanged characters hanging from the storm clouds look a little bit too much like the cartoon or the movie character as well.
So usually, you just give "Toxic" an artwork idea and let him develop that idea alone?
Yeah, pretty much. The same thing happened with the live DVD.
How would you describe the musical relationship between you and Zachary, your brother?
Well, our musical relationship has been around for a long while. We started playing together when we were in our teens. Zach is a little older of course, but I guess I was.. what? Thirteen to fourteen when we were in the same band together, so it's been around for years and years. Of course, we were young dudes around their twenties getting their first album deal and everything, so there were a few areas where we were fighting for supremacy of Tarot and everything (laughs). Those days are actually long gone, though. I mean, I consider these bunch of guys - all of them - my brothers in a sense, because we've been together real long and we know each other really well. Tarot is a bunch of my best friends, and that's the same with Zach.
When you and Zach musically communicate, do you have certain quirks that only you two understand? Because you're brothers? For example, you might know what he's thinking before he speaks.
Occasionally yeah, but that also happens with the other guys (laughs). It's a fruitful situation, and anyway, most of Tarot's music is written by Zach, me, and Janne the keyboardist - the third wheel. I guess we communicate pretty well writing the music; it usually takes a sidewards glance from one another to say "That's something that really doesn't work", and when you see a certain kind of grin, then you know that that part definitely works. So yeah, there's a lot of communication where we don't really need to speak about things even.
You and Tommi travelled to Cairo, Egypt to film a music video for the track "I Walk Forever".
Yeah. That was a really fast trip, so no tourism there. Also, our planes were late travelling for the whole day; we got into Cairo somewhere between two to three in the night, and then at eight, we woke up and had some breakfast. We then went to the desert and the pyramids where it was twenty-eight degrees celsius, and shot some footage in black suits, so it was really sweaty. I had a very nice hangover as well, which was from all the aeroplanes and airports the previous day. That wasn't really that nice, but anyway, now that I've seen the video, I think it really captured a majestic longing with all the surroundings and everything. Yeah, I think it was pretty fun. I've never ridden a camel myself before, but I did that as well. The next day, we then went to different places in totem parks with nice pillars and some bizarre areas, which were shot for some parts of the video. Then at night time about three, we were already flying back to Finland, so it was pretty fast.
Will more music videos be filmed to promote 'Gravity of Light'?
I don't really know right now. We have to see how things go, because we're talking about a band and an album that's gonna be marginal in terms of its success. So far, from what I've seen in terms of the reviews and everything, they've been pretty good - most of them have been really good. We'll just have to see how 'Gravity of Light' goes down, and if it makes sense to invest in another video, I'd like to do that of course.
How would you compare Tarot's nineties material to the group's post-millennial material?
In the nineties, I guess we were a little bit more influenced by the progressive side. When we got to 2000 and beyond, I think we grew more straightforward, even though you can still hear progressive elements here and there as well - we like to provide atmosphere in the songs. I guess that the more straight rock 'n' roll side of the band has become more apparent.
You were part of a Finnish TV program in early called 'Kuorosota', which was a televised choir competition. Could you tell me about that?
Yeah. 'Kuorosota' was a funny thing; the program was this choir war, where they took six artists from different musical areas - rock, pop, and metal, and things like that. The artist then had to get themselves twenty people to sing in a choir, which went on for six weeks, and performed at live shows where the public voted for the best using their cell phones, and blah blah blah. I did that, and it was really nice because I really managed to get a bunch of people together who were really crazy, and ready for anything. So yeah, it was quite fun, and we came second in the end, which was a really good place anyway because the competition became hard by that point.
Will you be pursuing choir related activity further, whether it be in the form of touring or recording and so on?
Yeah, we had that idea. I think Tarot are gonna be doing at least two festival shows with the choir here in Finland in the summer time. We're gonna start making some of the arrangements in May, and of course, it would be fun to do it a little bit more. It's a little bit of a logistical problem to take twenty people out on the road though, and have the budget for that and everything. It's pretty hard, and again of course, the youngest was eighteen and the oldest was fifty-four. They have a lot of different jobs, and some are at school, university and things like that, so it's a little bit of a problem to get everyone together for touring or anything. Those two shows we're definitely gonna make though.
How did you approach selecting songs to arrange for 'Kuorosota'?
Pretty much just out of the air (laughs). The first one was this Queen classic - "We Are the Champions" - which I figured was something that with a choir, you could make sound pretty heavy and pretty big, and that's what happened. After that, I still played it safe, and we chose Guns N' Roses' "Paradise City". After that though, we just figured that "Ok, now it's time to do some shit that people wouldn't expect of us", because I'm such a face in the Finnish metal scene. For that reason, we did Madonna's "Like A Virgin" with guys singing in death metal masks (laughs). The next week, we then did this German Eurovision song - "Genghis Khan" - which the girls then sang. We did things like that just in order to have fun, and break up the preconceptions.
When your choir covered Guns N' Roses' "Paradise City", you wrote an extra verse for the track. What inspired you to write that extra verse?
"If you tend to play a little bit more straight rock 'n' roll type music, then it's more into the Tarot side of things."
I had to translate the last choruses into Finnish, and into this one Northern Savonian dialect, this local dialect which everybody else in Finland thinks is really funny. Since I'm from around there though, and the choir is from there, we just put it into that local dialect just in order to have some fun. I guess a lot of people found it funny as well, which was exactly what we meant it to be.
Where Nightwish is concerned, what are the group's current plans?
There's been some demoing, so we'll start listening to those, and thinking about arrangements and so on. We're then gonna start rehearsals halfway through July, and after that, we're gonna be doing some demoing, rehearsals. After that, it's gonna be studio time in winter.
In the media, there has been speculation which alleges that Anette isn't getting on with Nightwish's other members. What is your viewpoint on the press' speculation?
Speculation is speculation. I don't really care about speculation that much. I mean, we're gonna talk about this album with all five of us. We're gonna be meeting up in July, and seeing what comes up. There are no internal problems, and no special plans or anything. We're gonna be just recording an album, and of course Anette's also gonna have a kid during the start of July, so she'll probably be joining us at the rehearsal camp a little bit later on if we've started already halfway through July. Then again though, we're gonna rehearse the songs first, and then vocals will come when bits and pieces have already been written by the band.
Have you written anything for Nightwish' forthcoming seventh studio album, or can you not discuss that topic at this point?
I think there's a ninety-nine percent chance that one of the songs I've written will be on the album. I've also given some demos to Tuomas, but we still haven't figured out everything else.
In short then, the future is looking bright for Nightwish, and Anette being a part of Nightwish?
Yeah. Everything's good.
Ok. Thanks for the interview Marco, and all the best with both Tarot and Nightwish.
Ok. And all the best to you as well.
Take care. Bye.
You too. Bye.
Interview by Robert Gray