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In Words: Syven

- Aslak Tolonen - April 2012 - Lars Bjørn -


Aslak Tolonen - April 26th 2012

Syven is a band from Finland, one of the more exciting bands, mainman Aslak Tolonen, makes his own instruments, and the style is with a lot of the atmosphere from Lapland included in the music. We had the possibility to get some comments from Tolonen himself regarding his album Aikaintaite.

Please tell us about how the Syven project began! I'm asking because you are also involved with Nest and Doom Squirrel, and is there any special story of why the name Syven was chosen?

Syven was born some time after the last Nest album Trail Of The Unwary. I was composing new stuff, like I have a habit of doing, but this time around the material took a turn for the darker, heavier, and so demanded a new project to be set up for it. The name Syven means depth, as in the depths of the forests, the sea, of your mind, etc. The actual word is not found in any dictionary that I know of, but it has been used in the spoken language of at least my family for ages.

When did you start writing songs for the new album?

Right after the last Nest album. I seldom take long breaks in making music, so I'm almost constantly working on something new. Mind you, it does take me a long time to finish and release stuff, but that's because I want to keep working on things as long as I need to until I don't find anything in need of tweaking anymore. This is actually one of the best points of working in your home studio, without time constraints or anything of the like.

You're very inspired by the nature and wilderness, but are there other things that inspires you in the song writing?

I can find inspiration in many places. Nature, music, stories, concepts, simple thoughts, complex thoughts, how a certain sound feels etc. I'm very much inspired by just trying out new sounds, randomly tweaking synthesizers, improvising on the kantele and other instruments. I like to include plenty of randomness to the ideas and the compositional process. I feel this is a good way to break through stagnation, and the limits your conscious mind may impose on you. I also like to avoid excessively planning things. There's plenty of time for meticulous thinking when the time for arranging comes.

And just by the way: what bands / artists made you start playing? And which bands / artists are you listening to these days?

There are way too many to mention, but I can give the usual list of bands that gave me ideas I'd never even thought of. Amorphis, Skepticism, The 3rd And The Mortal, Raison d'tre - all introduced me to music I had never thought existed. With them I learned what it's like to combine traditional stuff with heaviness, how you didn't have to be constrained by the conventional speed and length of songs, how to layer multiple melodies and nuances on top of each other, how to include growling / atonal vocals / female vocals / etc. in you music, how to focus also on the soundscape instead of just melody / chord progression / rhythm, and such. I'm also a huge game / scene music fan, mostly of the Amiga era, and that is a nigh endless chest of wonders to peruse. There's an amazing amount of stuff there you'd never stumble upon on the radio, or other mainstream channels, and the culture of people just sharing the fruits of their labor with everyone is very welcoming.

How long did the recordings take? Where did you record the album? And who produced it?

It's hard to time the recordings. We record everything at our home studios, so we are free from time and monetary constraints. We can keep on working on recording for as long as we like, re-compose and re-arrange stuff, and then come back to re-record stuff later. If you just look at the start and stop points of the recordings, they took over a year, but that doesn't mean we recorded every day, every week, or even every month. If you count the hours spent, the final amount would probably be something like a month total, if you make each day worth 8 hours of recording. This might seem like a lot, but we came back to re-record plenty of stuff because we saw room for improvement several times in the course of making the album.

How is the albums artwork tied to the albums title?

The album's title and strongest themes refer to the passing of times, how things are born, change and die over the course of time. The album artwork is meant to support these themes loosely. It also depicts natural scenes and shamanic connections to such things. None of the pictures are meant to be directly connected to anything specific. I guess I could describe them as interpreting the themes of the album and individual songs indirectly. This is very much intentional. We implore that the listeners use their imaginations, and we'd actually like to hear from them what kind of interpretations they come up with.

Now the 5 songs are built in the same atmosphere, but is there a special song that you think represent the album best? And why?

There's not really any one song that can be taken as the sole representative of the album. All the songs complement each other, and are ordered to form a coherent narrative as a collection. However, there are certain songs that seem to have gotten the most appreciation from the listeners, and it has been interesting to see how people generally seem to like either the 2nd or the 3rd one are the best representatives of the album, with a smaller following going to the 5th one. This was actually expected, because the 1st and 4th songs are more like intros and interludes when compared to the others, and the 5th is the most peculiarly / experimental of the whole album.

Is there any reason that sometimes you do the vocals yourself, but in other projects you have help by somebody else to do the vocals?

Yep. There is always a reason. Not necessarily a profound one, but a reason nonetheless. Andy does the vocals in Syven is because I like his voice, he's talented, and a good friend. When he moved to Finland, and very close to where I live, it was natural to ask him to join Syven. I always wanted to try a deep male voice, which I feel could be used a lot more in the music I'm most interested in. When I do vocals myself, I keep them to a minimum. There are only a couple of vocals styles I feel I can do properly, and they are whispers, growls / snarls, and narration / voice acting. When no dedicated vocalist is involved I tend to concentrate on mostly instrumental stuff anyway. I'm friends with a bunch of good vocalists, and I like to involve them from time to time. I like working with friends, and at least to me it brings a nice companionship atmosphere when you can work with friends in such a free fashion.

What is the future for Syven? Compared to the other musical work you are involved in!!!

We very seldom plan anything ahead. I feel it limits your choices a bit too much. We just keep on creating new things and see where the flow takes us. Naturally we tend to do different stuff in Syven than in my other musical projects, and that's mostly because I doubt Syven will just go ahead and jump into the exact same category as the other ones. Each project fills a certain need for me, so they tend to stay different. Syven seems to be on the road to exploring the natural, shamanic, pre-histories, etc. stuff and at the moment no major change to that seems to be on the horizon.

I guess you already got some feedback. Are you satisfied so far?

We are very satisfied with the feedback. Many reviewers and listeners have understood the point of Syven very well, and it has been exhilarating reading the majority of reviews and comments especially the ones describing their own listening experiences in a more prosaic way. We have a habit of saying to say that we encourage the listeners to use their own imaginations and explore their own inner worlds when listening to our music.

How do you feel about the internet for promoting the music? Social network is both a blessing and a curse. What's your opinion about it?

I might be in the minority, but I do like being able to stay in touch with people interested in our work. Unfortunately I don't have as much time as I'd want, so I can't write lengthy answers to everyone. We do definitely like people being active on our Facebook, etc. We enjoy hearing stories and comments, see videos, pictures, etc. inspired by and connected to Syven. Keep 'em coming. I think the internet, social media, etc. is great for promoting small and even not so small bands. Being able to spread your music around so conveniently is definitely a boon in my book. Also, I've met a number of my best friends online, because of my musical projects. The negative aspects, like piracy, don't really affect us. We don't really make any money out of this. The only other really bothersome thing I can think of would be having to maintain profiles on multiple sites and services, but that's mitigated by us just concentrating on our official homepage and Facebook. When it comes to spending time, we choose making music over maintaining a bunch of stuff everywhere.

What's next on your schedule? Anything you want to add to the interview?

Next in my schedule I have the sauna this evening. Now there's a part of Finnish culture very much appreciated by me but not too well represented in Syven. Other than that, we'll keep on working on new stuff and release them when we're ready. Next up will be a conceptual audiovisual piece called Corpus Christi. It will be a 35 minute long song accompanied by a video, and it will be released in December 2012. We'll have a release party gig for it in Romania at that time, and we'll do a special acoustic / ambient performance for this occasion. Thank you for this interview. I wish you and your readers a splendid day.

We also thank Aslak for his words about this project and how he works. A pleasure to get some odd things enlightened.

Lars Bjørn


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