It hasn't taken long for Children of Bodom
guitarist Alexi Laiho
to emerge as one of the leading proponents of melodic death metal. Zakk Wylde
chose COB to accompany him on his 2011 Berzerkus Tour and he has appeared on the covers of numerous prestigious guitar mags. He has a style that brings together mad sweep picking with a manic vibrato bar style and on Relentless Reckless Forever
, Children of Bodom's seventh album, these techniques inform all ten tracks.
Produced by Matt Hyde
someone who has worked with everyone from Slayer and Monster Magnet to No Doubt and Jonny Lang the album is a brutal showcase of guitar that runs the gamut from the doom of Not My Funeral
to the twin-guitar attack of Alexi and Roope Latvala on Roundtrip to Hell and Back
Laiho talks about the new record, who he was listening to, and what he plays.
UG: Let's talk about your early days a bit. When you listen to your playing back in IneartheD, how would you characterize it?
That's all I wanted to do. I wanted to be one of those guys I would look up to whether it was Slash or Steve Vai or everything in between. That was my objective.
Were you looking for your voice as a guitar player?
Well, I guess so. I was just so f-cking eager to learn every technique that there was in the world. I went to music school and stuff like that. I learned about musical theory and stuff like that. Whenever I heard any kind of guitar playing, I was always observing what they do whether it be arpeggios or melody. I mastered in my opinion is the hardest technique ever if you want to do it right pure and clean is the sweep pick. I mastered that way before I got my alternate picking right. It's a funny thing, but I don't think I'm the only guy who does that. Then the alternate picking thing, it's pretty f-cking hard. You really have to keep up with it. You have to practice every day just to keep up with the technique just to do it right. That's the thing that comes down to the music. It's about the riffs. When I discovered like Zakk Wyldeor Randy Rhoads. When I heard him playing those riffs, they were so chunky and accurate with the rhythm guitars. The rhythm guitars were something for me that were a necessary evil. I don't give a sh-t about that. I just wanted to play fast. I paid more attention to that and then I thought, Maybe I should incorporate this particular thing into my solos.
What was it about Steve Vai that attracted you?
He's coming from a different place with his material being primarily instrumental.
I know. The guy is totally from Mars or something. The first things I ever heard from the guy was, I think, Passion and Warfare. I think it was 1991. I saw the video for For the Love of God. I was like, Holy f-cking sh-t. Everything he was doing, especially how he would do amazing sh-t with the whammy bar. He didn't just use it as something to jerk off with. He would actually do melodies and have a chorus with it. There were those little pinch harmonic thingies and when he slides down. There were just so many things with that f-cking guy.
When you brought in a second guitar player, did your playing change a little bit?
"I was just so eager to learn every technique that there was in the world."
No, actually it didn't. The second guitar player (Roope Latvala), he was a guy that used to be one of my favorite guitar players, too. He still is. He used to play in this band called Stone. It was like super f-cking popular thrash metal band in the 80s. That dude was just wailing. He was definitely one of my favorites. I had another band with him before Children of Bodom. It was this thing called Sinergy. It doesn't exist anymore, but I've known the guy for a long time. Then Alexander (Kuoppola), he was a major part of the band. He just decided to bail out. Then Roope just called me up and said, Do you want to play? He wanted to know if he should starting learning our songs. We had all these f-cking gigs and this f-cking asshole just bailed out on my ass. So I was like, Yeah. He learned 17 songs in two days. He showed up and f-cking nailed them. The cool thing is that this guy, he's such a f-cking amazing guitar player. We have a little friendly competitive thing. It's healthy. It makes me want to practice more. You always want to be better than he is. It's not like ego sh-t.
With Zakk and Berzerkus, is there a friendly competition there as well?
Well, I guess so. Yeah. I wouldn't use the word competition with him. I've kind of known Zakk since 2005 since we did a photo shoot for Guitar World Magazine. It was him and Steve Vai. I was just this f-cking dude from Finland. Zakk, he actually knew who I was. He said, You're the f-cking guy who is going to keep Randy Rhoads alive. He just went on and on and on. That was probably the only time in my life that I was star struck. It just came to the point where we would hang out, drink beers, and talk about guitars and whatever. Anyway, on this tour he was asking Children of Bodom to do this tour. I said we definitely would as a guitar player and as a member of Children of Bodom. It was pretty f-cking cool.
How did you get into recording mode for the Relentless Reckless Forever record? Are you someone who woodsheds ideas?
Usually it's like it's always been. When you start from f-cking scratch, that's the toughest thing to do ever. Because when you have absolutely nothing and you know you have to create something better, that's a tricky situation. However, that's when you have to start thinking about it. You have to go, Okay, just grab your f-cking guitar and start playing. Do whatever it takes. The last time I was staring at my table and staring at my guitar for like almost four f-cking hours and I was like, Dude, I have nothing. It was horrible. Then I put a CD on. You know the band Europe? I had their compilation. I put that on and just starting riffing on that album. I had a great f-cking time doing that. I just liked playing along with it. Then before you know it, I would come up with melodies and things like that. I mean, they weren't stolen from them. It helped me to start the process. Sometimes you need to do stuff like that.
Not My Funeral has a pretty brutal riff, but off the bat you also hear the keyboards. How did that song come together?
I don't even know if that was the first song I ever wrote for this album. I don't know. I guess it's a gut feeling. I guess that's the key word. Don't f-cking think. Just do it. Do it by your f-cking gut feeling. It was a Slayerish thrash metal riff. Then instantly I knew that we had to have a break with the keyboards. It's really so hard to explain how I do that. It happens. Sometimes it does take a lot of work. The basic idea is to combine the keyboards, which excuse my f-cking language, sometimes they sound f-cking beautiful. But we as a band, we don't want to sound beautiful. When you combine something like that with the heaviest f-cking sh-t in the background, I think that's a cocktail that I would definitely drink.
Shovel Knockout does have those Zakk Wylde pinch harmonics.
It could be a Zakk thing, but everybody's done it nowadays. I don't take offense if you call it a Zakk Wylde-sounding thing. I know the part you're talking about.
There are cool changes. Are you always looking to expand the harmonic content in terms of going in and out of keys?
When it comes to the harmonies, I want to do it in a super wacky way. If I come up with a riff that is heavy but has some melodic part, I don't want to do the obvious, which would be like adding the third or the fifth. It's almost like a crapshoot, what I do with my parts. Not a crapshootI just try out so many things. You've got your flat fives or your major sevenths and all these creative things that have nothing to do with the actual key or even the history of Western music. That's what Slayer did back in the day. When you think of the riff from Angel of Death or whatever. Nothing was following anything, and I think it was just one example. That's how I like to do things. I don't want to do it the obvious way. But then I'll have the melody with long notes or whatever. Sometimes it's good to pull that out with the harmonies that are theoretically right.
Talk about Roundtrip To Hell and Back. How do you and Roope work out the parts? What would a Children of Bodom recording session look like?
"The rhythm guitars were something for me that were a necessary evil."
That's a pretty good example. When we have something like that going on and there are f-cking harmonies parts or melodies or what have you, we don't add any guitars in the background like a third guitar. We have the keyboards. It's also a really good contrast. With a song called Angels Don't Kill from the Hate Crew Deathroll album. There is the verse, but the riff from the verse is super f-cking happy. Then it goes into this melody and there are two guitar players and the keyboards. There aren't any added guitars or anything. If you know how to pick your moments, then you can pull it off like that. On a record it makes for an incredible contrast, the heavy sh-t and the gay sh-t. When you put them together, they make pretty good music.
Before you go into record guitars, your parts have already been rehearsed and written?
Yeah. We practice and rehearse. You should do that anyway, but it's a good f-cking way to save money. You shouldn't spend three f-cking months in the studio just to learn a song. In the studio when you hear it from a different point of you then you go, I want to try this and that. Of course, some new sh-t comes to life sometimes and we'll change a couple of things here and there. But yeah, everything is practiced or rehearsed before we hit the studio.
Your solo sections in Was It Worth It? were very cool. You talked about Steve Vai using the whammy bar, but you used some great things with the wah and the harmonics. Is that something you had already worked out?
That was actually one of my favorite things to do. On almost every album I have to do one of those Steve Vai whammy bar melodic thingies. I'm telling you, man, it's not easy. It's not like f-cked up with Pro Tools. I practice that sh-t. The only thing that sucks about it is that you can't be hung over when you do that. If you have shaky hands, it's not going to sound good.
Northpole Throwdown is a crazy tune with some wah thrown in there. Is that the crazy side of Alexi Laiho coming out?
Yeah, pretty much. The whole song, as far as the music and everything else, it's got really old school black metal/punk rock. Like it has this Metallica's Kill Em All feeling in it, which by the way, is one of my favorite records ever. The f-cking energy on that album is far beyond anything. It's insane. So that's the kind of solo I wanted to do. I wanted to do it right on the spot, so there was no f-cking around. I've got a wah pedal and I'll hit it.
Your approach to the effects is still pretty organic. Are you a non-effects guy still?
Yeah. The only thing was I used my pre-amp and the power amp. I wanted to have a natural chorus and not a chorus that was added afterward. I would run it through a studio chorus thing to give it that 80s sound. I love it. Yeah, that's pretty much it. No other effects whatsoever except for a wah pedal here and there.
You have about five or six ESP models out now, correct?
I don't know, man. I just wanted to put out a couple. If I ask for one, they want to make it as a model. It was just something for myself. But the funny thing was I put out this one that is always the same guitar. It's a Randy shape, 24 f-cking frets, one single pickup, the Floyd Rose, and the pinstripe. The only difference is the color. I wanted to do something super f-cking gnarly. I wanted to do a black guitar with pink pinstripes with a pink f-cking ESP logo on the headstock. The guys were like, Dude, are you f-cking kidding me? I was like, No, I'll pay for it. I want one of those because it's going to be f-cking awesome. Then I got one and I still play with it. It's one of my main guitars. When it came out, the guitar freaks were like, That's like the gayest f-cking thing ever. It's so funny, but at the end of the day everybody still wanted to have one. That ended up being the most sold model I ever put out.
You're an alder guy with the ebony fingerboard. Is that your thing?
Pretty much, yeah. Dude, when it comes to all this wood science, I don't make the guitars. I play them. They have poplar and alder or whatever, but yeah. Those guys make it for me. I only play live with the Japanese models. ESP in the States, they wanted to do the same sh-t, but for legal reasons they had to make it a little different so that it wouldn't look too much like the Jackson Randy Rhoads. They are still awesome guitars nonetheless. Even the LTD ones, they are so f-cking good. Personally, I like the Japanese ones.
Did you go through a period of working with Les Pauls or Strats?
I'm pretty much set in my ways. Not that I'm close-minded. I love to mess around with Strats or Telecasters or Les Pauls or pretty much everything. I love it. I think I'm just going to buy myself a f-cking Christmas gift. I'm going to get myself a real f-cking Stratocaster. I have one in mind, which I think I might find here in Los Angeles.
You do a cover of Eddie Murphy's Party All The Time. What drew you to the idea of doing a cover of an R&B song like that one?
"You have to practice every day just to keep up with the technique just to do it right."
Doing stupid-ass covers is one of our favorite hobbies. Eddie Murphy and Rick James are f-cking awesome. Have you seen the video for that one? That was looping over and over one night when we were partying. I think our bass player was like, That's the one we should cover. He made a good point. The thing is we had already done Britney Spears, so it wouldn't be as funny to cover f-cking Christina Aguilera or something like that. We had done Kenny Rogers, Slayer, and Pat Benatar. We had never done Eddie Murphy.
Did someone you cover like John Fogerty or Neal Schon excuse me, I mean Neil Giraldo from Benatar's band mean anything to you as a guitar player?
Neal SchonI love Journey as well.
That's right. You cover Don't Stop Believin' as well.
For a couple of seconds we'll play it, but I could never sing that song.
Did you listen to guitarists like that, though?
Yeah, that's one of the bands I digged real well. My dad was always playing Creedence. Yeah, Creedence and Dire Straits. Mark Knopfler is one of the reasons why I started playing guitar. When I heard the guitar riff for Money For Nothing I was like, Holy motherf-cking sh-t. I was like four years old. You want to hear what's funny? Still today I can't f-cking match that riff. He doesn't play with a pick and does weird fingering. Then he does this little pinch harmonics here and there. I don't think anyone in the world can actually match that riff. I could do it on the spot, but I can't make it sound the way it's supposed to sound.
At the end of the day when you listen to the record, did it hit all of the spots you wanted it to? Did it present the band in the way you truly are in 2011?
Oh, yeah. Absolutely. You pretty much said it all.
I read that you chose Matt Hyde because of his attitude and the way he responded to your music. Was that a big part of it?
Yeah, for me it was. It turned out to be a really good decision. He worked with Slayer and Monster Magnet, but I'm not into f-cking credentials. That sh-t doesn't impress me that much. If the producer is f-cking dick, then who cares if you sound like a Slayer record. I think him and me, we share a really similar love for music and the commitment to make an awesome album and sacrifice anything and everything just to make it sound good not matter what.
Are you a taskmaster in the studio?
When we're writing a song and stuff like that, I'll pretty much tell them what to play. If they can't get it down then I'll say, Take your time. I'm not a f-cking dick to every dude. These guys are my f-cking childhood friends. I trust them and they will get it down. I'm the guy who is going to be first in the studio and I'll be the last dude to be there. That doesn't mean I'm always there being a Nazi guy telling people what to do. I let them do their own thing. Sometimes I'll say a couple of things here and there. I think every band needs that. There has to be something that calls the shots at the end of the day. I take care of the writing of the music. Then there's a bass player that's taking care of the merch business. The keyboard player, with him I do a lot of stuff with music, but he knows the business. He works with the managers and stuff. Everybody does something. Everybody has a role. It just turned out to be that way.
Photo credit: Nany Scarface Vicious
Interview by Steven Rosen