Now that my longtime project has been released, I have to write some of my thoughts down and, in a way, attempt to reach a bit of closure.
For those of you who don't know, my debut album Reflections & Realizations came out yesterday, with a release party held at my apartment on Friday the 8th. This album took me five years to make from scratch all on my own with the exception of the brilliant artwork and piano touches by my good friend Justine F. In fact, Cyan Lie, the fourth track on the album, was written over 1800 days ago. That is a quarter of my entire life. Of course, the reasons as to why it took so long to have everything finished had little to do with creative ripening or hard work and instead more to do with a lack of motivation and time. But all around, the album is obviously a result of hundreds if not thousands of hours of work and somewhat of a testament to persistence.
The real importance of the notion of the time it took me to make the album is that it wasn't just any 5 year-period in my life, it was my latter teenage years. I identify with myself and the world very differently now and have hopefully evolved into a more confident, independent, mature, self-acknowledging, socially comfortable, mentally powerful and all around open-minded individual. With that comes the wish that I'm also a more refined artist than I was back then, with band and live performance experiences under my belt, a broad yet focused interest in different styles and areas of art and an ever-growing ability and will to analyze existence.
In conclusion, I feel that with the release of the album, I've finally become an adult. Surely there's never one specific moment in time when you reach that state, but it feels like this is the last step I had to take besides moving from high school to university through non-military service, building a solid vision of what I want to do in life and becoming the one and only person to take care of myself on an everyday basis. There are always going to be things that I may not be able to cope with perfectly, but who's to say an adult should be like that. To me, an adult is not someone who doesn't suffer from crises, but one who has found independence, stability, control and direction - in other words determination - unlike one's teenage self. And I truly feel like I am starting to grasp all that.
What remains now is the one part of the process I have very little say in: finding listeners and getting some reactions. It's up to you, dear reader, to promote the album to your friends if you feel like it, because my resources let alone my circle of contacts is very limited. I do believe that the album is worth hearing for its diversity no matter the taste. Production-wise it might still sound unprofessional, but I have tried my best to polish everything and the songs themselves are genuinely good songs in my opinion. Having said that, the newer songs I've been working on are going to be superior. And those will be the adult Joona expressing himself.
Down below I will talk more about the album and its concepts as well as a little bit about each song I've just released to the world. I could talk forever about meanings, but I'll try to keep it concise. If you wish to interpret everything on your own terms, I suggest you don't continue much further. However, I'd be more than happy to hear what your thoughts are, because there's always going to be as many interpretations as there are interpreters, and that's one of the things that makes art so wonderful. Another such thing is influence, which for most of the songs is rather evident from my perspective. So, I have compiled a playlist with one influential track for each of the songs on the album, and will discuss those as well a few paragraphs down the road.
The concept for the entire record was to make a two-folded entirety in which every song has a reflection, hence the title Reflections & Realizations. This also affected the tracklisting so that the two sides are mirrored, meaning that opposite tracks (such as 1 and 17) are connected. This idea didn't remain "pure", however, since some of the tracks have a connection to more than one other song. In addition, the number of tracks was reduced from 18 to 17 due to time constraints on a CD and the fact that the instrumental bass symphony Awaiting The Great Depression works better as a one-time deal in my opinion, without a counterpart that is, making it a kind of interlude and watershed. This meant dropping off another track with a similar technique. There were also other tracks that I dismissed, my initial plan being that an EP with b-sides would be put out at the same time as the album. The EP included tracks such as Blue-Fragmented Pilgrimage and Let Go, which together with Cyan Lie completed a trilogy of songs telling a story. Since then, I have decided to put the EP on hold.
Another important conceptual element about the record is the artwork. Every song has an illustration which me and Justine brainstormed together and she produced beautifully. These illustrations are valuable on their own. At the same time they are representations of the atmospheres, stories, thoughts and emotions that I have embedded into the songs. This emphasizes how not a single thing on this album (writing-wise at least) was not carefully considered. Today, I would maybe redo a naive lyric here or a riff too straightforward there. But that wouldn't be staying true to what I meant at the time, and anyway the final result is still a fairly cohesive piece of work I can somewhat proudly call my own. And I doubt that there will ever be a release day when I'm wholesomely convinced of the perfection of my work. It's part of being an evolving artist. What matters is that there comes a time when the work is good enough of a representation of who you are and what you want to express to be set free.
All in all, diversity is the key to this album. It's prominent where the long and layered meet the short and simple, the fragile and contemplative meet the aggressive and primitive, and the desperate and romantic meet the hopeful and realistic. At the same time the frames are clear. Within is a compilation of things that had been growing inside me and through this process of realization will be more or less streamlined in the future.
Now, onto the tracks and their backstories. The songs are listed in chronological order.
Track: Cyan Lie
Influence: Deftones - Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away) [Around The Fur, 1997]
- This was the first song I wrote for the record that also made the final cut. Separated from the rest of the trilogy, it speaks about the dissonance of regret. Deftones was more or less a general influence on the song, but it's Be Quiet And Drive that sounds the most like Cyan Lie.
Influence: Opeth - The Leper Affinity [Blackwater Park, 2001]
- First conceived in June 2010, Allergy/Anemia is one of the longest and most gyrating tracks on the record and quite blatantly speaks about an obsessive love interest. It's rather romantic in tone at a time when I didn't recognize myself as having such a style yet. The influence of The Leper Affinity comes across in the structure, the theme of obsession as well as the bass- and guitarwork in the semi-rapped middle section.
Track: The Black
Influence: Deftones - My Own Summer [Around The Fur, 1997]
- The Black was an unchallenged choice as the opening track for the album ever since I started working on it in the summer of 2010. The build-up at the start is a kind of variation of the basslines found in My Own Summer. At the same time there's some kinship between the way of reflecting on an excruciating heat wave in the latter and "a pessimist's dread scenario" on how the apocalypse might look like, sung in The Black.
Track: Baptism Of Fire
Influence: Tool - The Grudge [Lateralus, 2001]
- Tool's progressive outlook and sophistication is something I looked up to a lot in the few years before the making of this album and at the very start of the process. Later their influence has waned, but Baptism Of Fire actually started as an attempt to recreate the infectious rhythm of some of the riffs on Lateralus, mainly the main riff in The Grudge. The lyrics are even more similar, for Baptism Of Fire is about paranoia and reservedness that can also be seen as relating to Tool lyricist Maynard James Keenan's concept of grudge-holding.
Influence: Cult Of Luna - Waiting For You [Salvation, 2004]
- The initial conceptual influence for Half-Heart was Christian music, P.O.D. in particular with songs like Alive and their spiritual praise. At the end of the day I felt that worship was not really my thing, so instead I did some improvised vocal takes that resemble a pitiful inner monologue that could also be perceived as a prayer, later covered in the music to enhance the intimacy and mystery. Cult Of Luna's influence, then, was the relatively hypnotic structure and the melancholic, clean yet powerchord-infused riffing.
Track: The White
Influence: Deftones - Fist [Adrenaline, 1995]
- The White is notable for making the album a full circle as it starts with the riff that The Black ends with, a riff that in itself is similar to Opeth's Bleak. However, the biggest influence on the dynamic and sensitive grandiosity I attempted to create with this song comes from the hidden track on Deftones' debut album Adrenaline entitled Fist. The theme is a direct continuation over the one in The Black, with The White resembling both the vacuity of old existence and the purity of a new dimension.
Track: (Unholy) Months For Affection
Influence: Agalloch - Not Unlike The Waves [Ashes Against The Grain, 2006]
- The song that is the closest to doom metal out of the songs I've released so far and a kind of prelude to my upcoming Ravinethrall record at that. Unholy was the first song I did in 2011 and drew a lot of its inspiration from Not Unlike The Waves, most prominent in the main riff of the latter and the middle section of the former. Both also share a very winter-esque atmosphere, which is a deliberate context for the continuation of the story started in Allergy/Anemia.
Track: Wallow In Life
Influence: Korn - Here To Stay [Untouchables, 2002]
- Wallow In Life was influenced by so many things that I'm wondering if I even remember them all anymore. The musical backdrop is a fusion of Nostromo's chaotic metalcore, Korn's low riffing that utilizes sudden ascends and descends on the notes of a chromatic scale and yet again the style of Cult Of Luna where simple yet emotive and steadily strummed chord progressions reign. Lyrically we have the ideology of Arthur Schopenhauer seen through the eyes of my teenage self, actually resulting in a rather similar message than Here To Stay portrays.
Influence: P.O.D. - Youth Of The Nation [Satellite, 2001]
- Grain is one of the harder songs to place an influence on, but as the reflection for Cyan Lie it definitely draws from the Deftones sound, as well as once again Nostromo's work. The little solo follows the notes of the one in Youth Of The Nation quite closely though, and in closer examination the spirit of the clean parts is not so far away from this P.O.D. hit single. I wrote about three different versions of lyrics for this song, but all of them had the similar theme continuing from Cyan Lie - after regret and acceptance towards your mistakes it's time to learn from them and ask for atonement, which sometimes requires you to change your ways in a drastic way.
Influence: Korn - Lies [Korn, 1994]
- Polarity, as suggested in the title, is loosely based on a character suffering from bipolar disorder, but for sure the shifts in mind I am describing through the song should be more easy to relate to than just that. Including rapping and a very sinister atmosphere, this song drew its biggest influence from Korn due to this being the only song on the whole album to go as low as Drop A tuning. A part in the song Lies quite directly inspired the muddy riff in the middle with ringing notes creating a haunting dissonance.
Influence: God Is An Astronaut - Shadows [God Is An Astronaut, 2008]
- Reflection of Baptism Of Fire, with the character from that song recognizing the sentiment of loneliness in himself and taking a stand to open up to people more. Korn's Blame definitely had some impact on the piano riff I came up with for this song while in the sauna one night in the summer of 2011, but if it wasn't for God Is An Astronaut I wouldn't have dared to express it all in such a clean manner, with very post-rock -esque tremolo-picked lead guitars creating a crescendo near the end. The title, for the record, is pronounced a letter at a time, as it is first and foremost an abbreviation for something I have yet to reveal to anyone, but the reason I chose the title and its current form is how loneliness is so often, unfairly, associated with having multiple cats. :p
Track: Awaiting The Great Depression
Influence: Deftones - Needles And Pins [Deftones, 2003]
- The kind of brave and uncompromising decision that making an almost entirely bass-driven instrumental is wouldn't have even crossed my mind probably if it wasn't for various jam sessions on a distorted bass while listening to the self-titled Deftones record, an album where the sound is particularly huge and dark thanks to both Stephen Carpenter's Drop G# tuning and Chi Cheng's deep low end. I almost wanted to dedicate this song to Chi who unfortunately died in 2013, but it wouldn't do my favorite bassist's work any justice so that plan will remain an anecdote, as will the fact that I decided to not include drums (that had already been recorded) for most of the song only two nights before the release party. The name and illustration were inspired by the time that I wrote the song, its moaning and crushing atmosphere, as well as its placement in between a track rooted in summer (Allergy/Anemia) and one soaked in winter (Unholy) .
Influence: Deftones - Change (In The House Of Flies) [White Pony, 2000]
- Skies is the result of a funny incident where I took my 6-string Fender Squier, tuned it down to Drop C# to play along to the self-titled Deftones album and broke a string which I refused to change and developed the 5-string tuning of C# G# C# C# G#. Next thing I knew, I had the demo of Skies at hand which was and still is my weird idea of a pop song, resembling Change (In The House Of Flies) the most out of all of Deftones' work. Lyrically Skies is another tale of heartache and feelings of worthlessness that follow, while at the same time it's the hope aspect in love precisely that makes you get up in the morning.
Influence: Nostromo - Sunset Motel [Ecce Lex, 2002]
- The influence of this band and this particular track is quite immense on the album in comparison to how much I actually listen to them. Anyway, it also influenced the third riff in this track as well as some of the general feel of aggression, not to mention the wild pace. At the same time the short length and the style that's in-your-face yet very introverted and self-depricating in content pokes out from the rest of the album and carries along a nice dose of dynamicism, as the rapping, growling and pale clean vocals, the bass groove, the dissonant guitars and hard-hitting drumming evoke nothing else than utter angst.
Influence: Deftones - Battle-Axe [Deftones, 2003]
- The other song I played with my custom 5-string setting and lyrically a tribute and a thank you to the way music has saved my life, portraying it as a cure for both the existentialism in Wallow In Life and the moodiness in Polarity. The second riff in the song is close to the main one in Battle-Axe, and Drowning also has parts resembling The Grudge. This is a longtime favorite of myself and my closest friends who have had the opportunity to see it build from the demo stages to its final form, and in many ways this is perhaps a trademark song of mine with its progressive tendencies, leads of harmony and dissonance backed by slowly pulsing rhythms and ever-shifting structures and moods.
Track: Sip Of October
Influence: Opeth - The Drapery Falls [Blackwater Park, 2001]
- The counterpart of Half-Heart continues on the spiritual path contemplating evil and mental issues, with a very bittersweet tone. Besides the odd chords in The Drapery Falls that made me want to try some for this song, a part in the 20-minute mammoth Black Rose Immortal, also by Opeth, had a role in the way this song was shaped not to mention the length and structure that is again inspired by them. Even the title is not only a reference to October 2011 when I started writing the song but also a nod to Opeth titles such as Dirge For November and Forest Of October.
Influence: Fear And The Nervous System: Ambien [Fear And The Nervous System, 2011]
- The last song I wrote for the album but ironically the first one I started recording and pretty much finished was Precipitation, yet another piece reeking of doomed love and romanticism. This song is notable for its prominence in keyboards, all played by me as opposed to the rest of the piano work on the album that was done by Justine. The influence of Fear And The Nervous System's debut album released only a month or so prior to the making of this song in the fall of 2011 is quite clear in every way possible, from the emotion to the progression to the tone, and I believe there is a reason as to why the same friends who love Drowning credit this as an exceptional vocal performance in my catalogue.
That's it, I'm through. I've missed writing these things, can you tell? Either way, it's all starting to sink in, this project is finally out there and final. And I'm starting to get ready to move on to some new music. I will never stop... Because I can't.
Thanks for all the support.