Here we go with the second interview in the Asia series where I chat with Finnish bands that have toured in Asia, hearing about their experiences and trying to discover why Finnish metal is so popular in these countries. For this interview, I talked with Jouni Valjakka, founder of the band Whispered. Whispered plays melodic death metal with oriental folk influences and symphonic elements. "True Finnish Samurai
Metal" as they call it. The band has released three albums already and is currently working on the next one. It should come to no ones surprise that the country Whispered have toured in is Japan.
The Metal Phenomenon: Where in Asia did you play and when?
Jouni Valjakka: We've played in Japan two times. First time in Tokyo 2013 and second time last year in Tokyo and Osaka.
TMP: How did that come about?
JV: We had the tour in talks with the promoter since 2016 I think and we finally had a chance to make it happen. Tour was organized by Evoken De Valhall Production. Lovely bunch of people! We joined to tour with Insomnium, Brymir, Dark Flood and Re-Armed. Shitloads of Finns wandering the far-east.
TMP: How did you prepare for it?
JV: Scooping out the best ramen restaurants, practicing and for the first time I thought it'd be great to make a proper tour video so I started to think ideas for that too. Oh, and we were also featured in a very popular music show BANANA ZERO MUSIC in Japanpanne national television so that got us some really nice exposure considering the tour.
TMP: Can you tell me about the experience?
JV: Well, considering what we do, it shouldn't come to as a surprise that Japan is a huge thing for me in many different ways. The whole trip went really well and the Japanese hospitality is one of a kind. Audiences are always very warm to foreign (maybe even especially Finnish) bands so the shows were truly a blast. It was also so great to see some ancient culture in the legendary Nara park before the shows.
TMP: How did you experience the metal scene there?
JV: I think metal scene in Japan has always been running strong, but some locals stated in a long conversation we had about the scene there, that it's actually gotten smaller and smaller. The issue was similar as with the global scale: Cheaper alternatives like DJ's are taking over the clubs, yet the live music culture in Japan in general is doing quite well. The scene loyalty is something that can be seen from various bars to the people themselves, so I'd believe that metal has always a strong standing in Japan too.
TMP: How does the scene and playing a show there differ from Finland/Europe?
JV: Well, I think the main difference to our experience is that in Japan the people seem to be very excited about just being at a live show. You don't necessarily have to "win the audience" so to speak. Fans were going nuts for every band we toured with and screams of excitement were heard even during the intro tracks.
TMP: How have people in Japan reacted to Whispered incorporating Japanese folk elements into the music and aesthetics of the band?
JV: That's something we are asked very often and I'm always glad to tell that people seem to get what we are doing. The first time when we played in Japan we had a great reception with some fans being curious about what's up, but the time last year was absolutely amazing. People were very thrilled about our concept and some fans found it very admiring that their culture is represented in such way. Things like "I'm from that town you sing about!!! So cool!!" etc. haha . We always try to match everything we do with the dedication we have for the music and just go insane with it.
TMP: What was your best experience ?
JV: There were many great things happening, but for me it was having a professional shamisen player to play with us on our own show at Tokyo. Masaru Yamakage-san contacted us through Facebook some months before the tour just saying "If you come to Japan, I will play shamisen." And so he did. We sent him few songs to practice on and he did his own arrangements based on ours and delivered a killer show. We've been in talks and it's pretty sure you'll be hearing his playing in our future releases too!
Whispered with Masaru Yamakage-san
TMP: What was the most difficult thing to deal with?
JV: Everything went surprisingly smoothly for us anyway. Maybe some language barriers were hard here and there, but nothing specific comes to mind.
TMP: What was the most surprising thing?
JV: Well for me it was receiving a man-sized bunch of flowers on our first show haha.
The founder of Sago New Material Guitars came to the show and provided us with gifts and an insane amount of flora. I've been using their Kabuki-themed guitar of theirs for a while now and it was amazing to finally meet the makers of my guitar.
TMP: Why do you think Finnish metal bands are liked so much in Asia?
JV: That's a really hard question but I'd dare to say that Japanese and Finnish sense of melody is quite similar. You can hear much similarity in Japanese enka music and in Finnish schlager music which both have a long history. Also in Japanese game music there are strong ties to melodic metal in general. Maybe those things have something to do about it.
Whispered in Japan
TMP: What is the craziest story you still tell today about this trip?
JV: We're not as crazy as a rockband should be so nothing so extreme to tell. Though when our previous drummer Jussi went to offer some salmiakki (Finnish salty liquorice) to some random people at a restaurant and they were absolutely disgusted by the stuff, that was very funny to watch.
TMP: What does the future hold?
JV: Currently, I'm writing new material and we'll see where we land with that. Our three album deal ended with our previous label, and we're currently building new connections and looking for the best options. Hopefully we'll be touring like crazy next year.
Keep your honor and listen to True Finnish Samurai Metal!
You can find Whispered online on the usual channels: Website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Spotify.
If you haven't read them yet, check out the other interviews of this series with Coprolith/Antagonist Zero, Torchia, Bob Malmström.