Over here at V13, we love music that is a bit more adventurous, so when we were pitched the opportunity to speak to Finnish band Pharaoh Overlord about their new album, 6, we jumped at the chance. (Oh, and read our full album review here too.)
Taking influence from a raft of sources ranging from Italian electro-pop to Kraftwerk, 6 is out now via Rocket Recordings. We recently spoke with the duo of Tomi Leppänen and Jussi Lehtisalo to find out more about the recording, their experiences through lockdown, and working with longtime collaborator Aaron Turner (Sumac, Old Man Gloom).
Thanks for your time, how is life treating you at the moment?
“Life is good, we have a lot of projects together and are already making a new Pharaoh Overlord album as well at the moment.”
Your new album 6 is out now. It’s been an album inspired lyrically by separation. Was this the original inspiration or were they themes triggered by the global pandemic?
“When we started making the album the pandemic was not going on yet, so we didn’t have any pre-conception at all. But, as the situation changed, Aaron seemed to pick it up and bring in some themes regarding the pandemic.”
It’s also a record that looks at channelling the negatives into positive change. Firstly, dealing with the negatives, how have you coped with issues like separation and isolation due to lockdown?
“Coming from Finland, the separation and isolation is pretty much our basic state of being, so it has not really affected too much. We are also quite private people anyway, so everything feels surprisingly normal. At the same time, the effects of the pandemic around the world and the fact it seems to be here for a long time, is worrying of course.”
On a positive note, what changes have you made/seen in your life due to your experiences?
“The uncertainty, especially at the beginning of the pandemic seemed to brighten the senses and make it easier to focus only on the important things. Like being with the family, making music, learning and get inspired by art and culture and life in general.”
Mental health has been another big concern throughout lockdown. How have you kept your own mental health in check?
“When you realize that nothing is certain and written down, it gives you courage to do things more freely and full-on intensity. When everything can be cancelled, it makes things at the same time really important and not important at all. Also, the possibility to concentrate more on projects without distractions is very rewarding. Creating things, making music, and being able to release it and talk about is a good way of trying to keep your mental health too!”
In terms of the writing process for the record, has the raft of technology made things like working on music an easier process?
“Definitely. Working digitally is totally in line with our current objectives with Pharaoh Overlord. We started as a guitar band, but now we are very inspired by technology, and little by little we are trying to unplug the guitar and put it in the case for good. Until we need it again. But right now we are wearing the full synthetic cape.”
You worked with Aaron Turner again on this record. Again, was that the original plan, and what do you think he brings to the project with his vocals?
“We are very happy that we are working with Aaron again. With album 5, he was on an internship, and now he’s the leading actor. Our role is to be the mechanical steam machine operators in the background, but Aaron is the soul and the voice of a human being. His vocals are really integral for the album. He gives meaning to the music. At first, we were thinking to have part of the album instrumental, but Aaron delivered so strongly it had to be a full vocal album.”
Where are your thoughts on the direction the project will head in the future?
“We started 20 years ago and have since made twelve studio albums and five live albums. It’s always a little mystery where the direction is going. We constantly learn new things and take inspiration from them. With albums 5 and 6 we changed the core lineup from six persons to two persons and found a new way of working more synthetically and digitally. This is really inspiring and it will probably lead the vision forward. A lot of the process is improvisation, not necessarily musically but the way things develop freely. With album 6 we accidentally seemed to create this ‘Italo metal’ genre and will probably explore it more with the forthcoming album as well.
Our aim is to constantly find new inspiration and inspire others as well. The creation process is always a little different and open and we’ll try to give room for some random coincidences too.”
When people discuss your music, everything comes up, from ABBA to Killing Joke. Musically, do you think that range of acts is a fair basis for where you draw your sound from?
“Why not? Spiritually our main influence will always be CAN, whose perspective to experimental and pop music has been inspiring us from the beginning. Right now, we are trying to make music that has an overly positive edge to it. Synthetic, mechanic, electronic, and happy. Very non-rock n’ roll. You could say that at this point we are more interested in the shiny silky inner fabric of the leather jacket than the actual black leather side.”
Finally, as we’ve said, the album is out this week, but what are your thoughts on promoting it? Some bands are already looking at recording new material in 2021 due to the uncertainty of touring. What are your thoughts?
“We are not too worried about plans or tours getting cancelled. We love playing to people, but as well we love making new music, releasing it, and talking about it. It’s like an improvisation on life. Whatever comes in, we’ll take it and make it sound good enough!”
Pharoah Overlord’s new album, 6, is out now through Rocket Recordings and you can pick up your copy here.