Children Of Bodom's Alexi Laiho On New CD: 'Shred Your Fucking Ass Off'

artist: Children of Bodom date: 05/05/2006 category: interviews
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Children Of Bodom's Alexi Laiho On New CD: 'Shred Your Fucking Ass Off'
Four times an interview was arranged with Children of Bodom guitarist Alexi Laiho and three times it never happened. Once, he phoned in on a cellphone and the signal was dropped. Another time they were headed over to a Slayer rehearsal and cancelled. Finally, however, Ultimate-Guitar connected with the Wildchild and below is what transpired. Laiho may be a little loud, a little vulgar, and a little outspoken - but at least he's honest. Here, he talks about the new album, Are You Dead Yet, the nuances of metal, and the noises he creates. Ultimate-Guitar: Do you think the new album is a distillation of all the best elements of the earlier records? Are you better able to identify when a guitar riff really stands out or a vocal melody truly says something? Alexi Laiho: Well, I mean, yeah, you say that question, but everybody would say of course it's (the newest album) is always better. 'The new album is always the best, it's better than the last one' and shit like that. I mean I'm probably going to give you the f--king boring same answer that everyone does. But yeah, I think it is, I think it's better. We have all improved as musicians and stuff like that. You've learned how to more precisely capture the sound you want from the band? Yeah. We've had the guitar sound down for quite a long time and we really haven't changed it either. I mean, I love the sound that I got, I love the amps that I got (see sidebar). But it's like with all the guys in the band, after every album we're just more confident. So it (the album) was way quicker and way less painless (he means painful).
"With all the guys in the band, after every album we're just more confident."
Can you describe your guitar tone? It's the kind of guitar sound that, you know, if you're like 16 and into heavy metal, you're probably gonna hate it. It's true, dude, because it's the sort of sound when you're playing with a low volume, it doesn't really sound like anything. It's nothing special. But when you crank it up like when I play live or in the studio, that's when it really kicks in. It's like all midrange, you know? That's pretty much what it's all about. Is midrange, then, the key to the heavy metal guitar sound? Is that the tonality that tends to define the sound of this genre? Well, I guess it's a matter of taste but for me most of the metal bands and the guitar players sort of have like the smiley EQ - there's a bunch of low ends and a bunch of high ends and no midrange. And that's the kind of sound that could sound really cool when you're not crankin' it up. But when you crank it up, it really doesn't speak out through the other f--kin' instruments. Whereas a midrange kind of sound, as soon as you start playing a solo, it speaks out more. Were you following bands with twin guitarists? And for that matter groups with two guitars and a keyboard player? Yeah, always, yeah. Most of them, if there were two guitar players (I was listening to them). I was always into doing the double guitar thing like harmonies and stuff like that. As for the keyboard, that were something I know that we needed. Because if you have keyboards, it gives you so much more opportunities to do whatever the f--k you want. Because keyboards, you know, you can get anything out of it if you have the right equipment. You don't have to stick with the one sound, right? If you don't want to do the same shit you were doin' like 5 years ago, you can still use the keyboard but just do totally something different. Which leads us to the next point about how to use a keyboard in a black metal band and not make it sound like a heavy Yes? Do you sit down with Janne Jameson Warman (keyboards) and actually work out parts to achieve a less prog-oriented sound? We have long sessions with me and the keyboard player. Usually the keyboards are recorded separately from the other instruments (in the studio). Usually it's just me and the keyboard player. We're sitting down and we're going through what he should play. And especially with the sounds, like dude, I mean we spent so, so many nights, so many hours just figuring out what will be the right kind of sound for it (a specific track). And as far as the guitars, the same sort of thing except that like it's just always that before recording an album, we rehearse like f--kin' hell. We put out a schedule, it's kind of like we're going to work, you know what I'm saying? We had like every single day except Sunday we're gonna meet and rehearse until 3 o'clock and then we just work on the shit. And that sort of thing works really good. You are the main writer in the band? Yeah, I write all the songs and then I bring them to the other guys at the rehearsal space. Then we just work on them. They're more involved with like the arrangements and shit like that. Do you know the band Avenged Sevenfold? I know one of the big quotes in the story in Guitar Player magazine you did recently mentions that you are leaning toward the rockier or bluesier side as opposed to the stuff that players like Yngwie were doing. AD actually embraced that classical thing that Yngwie was doing. Was that type of playing an influence for you or were you listening to more kinds of rocks guys or bluesier guys? No, Yngwie definitely was a huge influence. It's just that the whole neo-classical thing, especially in Europe, it just got a little out of hand, I guess. Come on, you can't debate about him. He's a f--king kickass player. He knows how to f--king rock shit like that. For me, even when I was 17 years or so, it seemed there were just so, so many Yngwie copies out there. Everybody wanted to sound like him, and they all sounded like shit. I'm sorry, but they just f--king did.
"I always consider myself to be a guitar player. I was never a singer."
So who were some of these people you were listening to when you were younger? Did you listen to people like Hendrix, Jeff Beck, or David Gilmour? Oh, Hendrix definitely. I was always more into more old school blues like Muddy Waters or John Lee Hooker. And I know you couldn't hear them while playing, and it doesn't really make any sense, but I just like the whole feeling that you can capture from that kind of music. There's just one dude and one guitar, and you can hear the tapping of his foot. I think that's f--king beautiful. What is the attraction of bands from Europe to this kind of metal? What is it about it that those countries drift toward this kind of music? You love the blues, so how come you're not playing like a Stevie Ray Vaughn thing? I know what you mean, but I don't really have an answer for you. So many people ask me, especially cause I'm from Scandinavia, like the kinds you just mentioned. Is it something to do with the fact that it's so cold in there? That it's so dark? And I'm just like, I don't know. It might be. But then again, people when they come from foreign countries to Finland and Sweden - during wintertime, it's always dark. Then in summertime it's just always light. You never get f--king darkness. Someone was asking, It's something to do with that? And I was like, You know what? They have the same shit in Alaska, but there's not a bunch of f--king metal bands coming out from Alaska. I mean, it just can't be so simple that it has something to do with that. Maybe it's just some sort of Scandinavian mentality. Do you consider yourself a guitar-playing singer? Or a singer who plays guitar? I always consider myself to be a guitar player. I was never a singer. The only reason I'm still singing is that when we started the band when we were 13, 14 years old, no one else wanted to do it. Everybody was too shy and I don't want to sing. And I was, Well f--k it then! I'll do it. Then I just kind of got stuck with it. Singing for me, it's definitely secondary. I'm a guitar player, really. And at this point in time, playing guitar and singing those lines you're singing is just second nature, in terms of coordinating the vocal with the playing? It's a matter of getting used to it. If you've been doing it for many years, it just gets easier and easier. From our last record Are You Dead Yet, there were a couple of parts where I actually had to sit down at home on my couch and do it really slowly. Just play the riffs and just talk or whisper the vocals on top of it just to get the rhythm down. But on the new album, there's f--ked-up rhythms with the guitars and f--ked rhythms with the vocals. I think it's a cool thing that the rhythms of the vocals clash with the rhythms of the guitars. I always get it down pretty easily though because I've been doing for quite a long time anyway. So obviously vocals go on last when you guys are recording? Oh, yeah. Definitely. While we're on the album, were you fans of The Ramones (the band covers the Ramones chestnut, Somebody Put Something In My Drink)? Oh, yeah. Well punk rock and The Ramones was that kind of shit that I grew up with anyway. Sex Pistols and all those kinds of bands? Well, yeah. My favorites were always like The Ramones and The Sex Pistols.
"If I play a guitar without whammy bar, I'm always like reaching for it."
You're main guitar is that ESP Signature V. How did you come to play a V? It's a pretty obscure guitar in terms of a shape - it's not like a Les Paul or a Strat. It's like the rock n' roll shape. It was always my thing. I don't know how, that always just looked so f--king cool for me. From people like, obviously Randy, Chris Holmes from WASP. Michael Schenker? Well the thing is, Michael Schenker was playing the Flying V and I was never into the Flying V or even King V. I was into the Randy shape, with the lower wings are shorter. Then there was Anthrax, for example. The way it kind of sits around your shoulders and how your hand kind of goes through it - it didn't take any kind of getting used to the shape at all? It did definitely. When I first started playing my first guitar was a Tokai Strat, which is an okay guitar. But once I actually learned how to play, or at least when back in the day I knew how to play, after one year or so I was like, I need f--king 24 frets, I need a f--king Floyd rose, I need this and that. I was all about Steve Vai. I got an Ibanez and I remember thinking, I worked my f--king ass off. I was still a kid, so I had to do chores and shit like that to get the guitar. I played with the Ibanez for a while, but I always liked the f--king Randy shape, the Jackson f--king V or whatever. One time I just kind of accidentally tried out one of those, it was a custom-made Jackson Randy shaped. One-bridge pickup, 24 frets, Floyd rose, and I was just, Dude, this is a f--king guitar, man. By that time, I actually had a job and was just saving money so that I could f--king buy that guitar. And I did. It was weird at first when you get that shaped guitar because it feels so different than a Strat shape, especially when you're sitting down. But nowadays, I don't even know how to play anything else. I buy guitars and like playing with different shapes for fun. I've got a Les Paul, for example, and I've got a Strat. But when you're sitting down especially, I'm so uncomfortable with anything but the V shapes. How did the ESP Alexi 600 happen? When I got hooked up with ESP, it was ESP Japan. They made me two guitars and they became signature models. The thing was, they couldn't sell those in the U.S. because it was too much like Randy's Jackson. They were afraid they were going to get sued or something like that. So we just thought we'd change the body shape a little bit, but it's not that different. It's surprisingly good-looking because I was not happy with that decision. But I know we had to do that anyway. It actually does look really good and it's a good guitar definitely. Is the whammy bar a big part of your playing? If I play a guitar without it, I'm always like reaching for it. I'm like, Where the f--k is it? Punch Me I Bleed is kind of the ballad on the record? The solo on that was very cool. Is there a different kind of approach or mindset soloing over a half-time song or slower song opposed to an up-tempo thing? Definitely, yeah. With a fast song, you just want to f--king shred your f--king ass off. With the solo, try to serve the song to make it sound better. With a slower-tempo song, maybe just play more with feeling. It ends up to be more melodic. I guess there's just more feeling to it. When you lay down solos, have you walked in and sort of composed the solo in your head? Do you know what you're going to play or is it just sort of off the cuff? Usually, per album I have probably one solo composed. Usually what I do is when I start doing the leads, in the studio I just take the lead part and loop it over and over. And I'll play and record, sort of improvise. Then I just listen to it, and if there's anything I liked about, then I'm like, That was cool, so I'm going to use that. I'll do that again. I'll listen to it and if there was anything I liked about it, same shit. I kind of do that for quite a few times and then I sort of just put the stuff I liked together and it becomes a solo. But then there are a few songs that I'm like, Let's just go! Which songs specifically on the new record? On the new record at least the third track, If You Want PeacePrepare For War. They were like I was just talking about - like pure, f--king shredding. You don't even have to think about anything, feelings or anything. Just go for it. You know, it's an aggressive song and it's an aggressive solo background, so just put it out and go. It took me three or four takes, and I was actually done with the damn thing. Do you take input from the other guys about your solos? If you put something down that you like and they don't like, will you defer to them or is it you who has the final say? It's always up to me with the solos. Oh yeah, definitely. I don't want to sound like an asshole, but I don't want anybody to tell me what I should do with the leads.
"I don't care if there's people around when I record. But when I do leads, I just want everybody to f--k off totally."
Are they there when you solo? No. I don't care if there's people around when I record. I don't even care if there's people around when I sing because I know some people are very shy about that. But when I do leads, I just want everybody to f--k off totally. Is there any one solo that was particularly difficult to play? Yeah, there's always that one. I think the hardest one to actually get done was the first part of the solo in We're Not Gonna Fall. And I don't know why, but it starts with this arpeggio. And arpeggios for me, they are always a piece of cake. I don't have to work on technique so much that I can actually pull it off. The picking part is actually harder for me. And the tempo is super fast. There was just this picking lick that I just couldn't get down. And then I was trying to record it and trying to get it down, and then I got pissed off and had to go out for a cigarette andIf you get more pissed off, it's guaranteed that you're not going to get it down. That means you have to calm down a little bit. I did and then I pulled it off. Is there a point where rhythms and tempos can't get any faster? Is it possible that COB could play tracks any faster than this? I don't know if you can, but I think we've pretty much pushed the limits where you can actually handle it. And also, that it's not beyond the point that it just gets ridiculous. Because you know there are certain guitar players - or a certain guitar playerOh, f--k it. You know Chris Impellitteri? He's got instructional videos going on or something like that. This motherf--ker, dude, he was so fast with the picking that it, even though it was smooth, it didn't sound good anymore. Like when he did a f--king A minor from an ascending scale, it was like a chord. It was just a fraction of a second and then it was done. Okay, yeah, he worked on it and he's really good, but it's not very musical at that point anymore. So I think that the tempos that we've had so far, I think we have reached the limits - at least for myself. I know that I can do sixteenths on 210 and I think that's even stupid. The keyboard player and you trade licks. Had you ever heard Jeff Beck and Jan Hammer do that kind of stuff? Where you almost can't tell where the keyboard is and where the guitar is? Actually, I'm a big fan of Jan Hammer. I'm a big fan of Miami Vice, too. I never heard the stuff he did with Jeff Beck, though. But as far as the trading licks, maybe more from Yngwie Malmsteen. In a perfect world, would you like to have COB recognized as like the modern-day version of like what Judas Priest or Iron Maiden was back in the day? To be seen as the definition of heavy metal in 2000's? Is that ultimately what you would like to strive for and sell 5 million records and have that kind of integrity about you? No, there was never anything that I wanted to do with music. We wouldn't want to be a version of anything. Also, I was never reaching for any certain status like to be these guys, they were the f--king shit at that time or whatever. You know, just doing gigs and you have a good crowd and have fun, you know the people are having fun and that's pretty much what I want to do. I think if you're trying to reach for something like that you're never going to get it. Is this your first tour of the U.S.? No, by now I think we've done like six.
"The U.S. is like sort of a new territory for us."
What's the reaction been like with the new record? Can you feel it growing and gaining momentum? Oh yeah, definitely. The first three tours that we did, we were just an opening act. We would play for like 30 minutes or whatever. And these three tours that were pretty much almost in a row, you can really see from the first one to the third one that we actually gained a lot of new fans by playing live and touring so f--king much. Pretty much after that, our management said, Yeah, you guys should definitely headline in the States. We were like, No f--king way. That's going to be ridiculous! No one is going to show up. But then we did, and most of the f--king venues were actually sold out, which was very nice. Because for us, the U.S. is like sort of a new territory. So obviously, we are working on it. But here, you've got to tour your f--king ass off all the time. First of all, just to get recognized and just to be remembered. There's so many bands out here. And this country, I don't think I'll ever be able to comprehend the size of the country. That's why I don't understand why we would have to tour so much in here. But it is a huge, f--king country, and that's the way it is and that's why we've got to do it. There are a lot of bands obviously over here. Are there a lot of good bands? I think there are definitely enough good bands touring here that if you don't get off your ass and just go play gigs, then people probably will forget about you. Nowadays, there's like whatever - f--king metalcore. I was never into these labels and I'll never be into categorizing Children of Bodom under any f--king label. Especially here, people like to do that a lot. This is like metalcore, hardcore, grindcore, emo, screamo, whatever the motherf--king bullshit It's all f--king metal. The point is that Lamb of God, Shadows Fall, God Forbid, I like them a lot.

Alexi's Arsenal

Alexi Laiho is a man easily satisfied. Hi go-to guitar is the ESP custom made modified V shape with 24 frets, an EMG-HZ model H-4 bridge pickup, and built-in gain boost. This is plugged into a Lee Jackson Perfect Connection preamp and Ampeg SVT poweramp. Effects are minimal and include a Rocktron Intelliflex (chorus) and a Dunlop DB-01 Dimebag CryBaby From Hell (wah-wah). The instrument is kept in a perpetually tuned down C mode (string running order from low to high: C, G, C, F, A, D).
Steven Rosen 2006
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