-All right, so I’m here with Sarah and Shon from Smoulder that just came back from France from playing at Courts of Chaos Festival. So, how did that go?
Shon: It was good. A very long journey there. The scenery was beautiful once we got there. The beer was cold…
Sarah: The bands were great. Bütcher was amazing.
Shon: Bütcher was amazing. I think my favorite band had to have been Domine. Their vocalist sounded immaculate, still, after at least 30 years, I think, how long they’ve been going…. Yeah.
Sarah: Yeah, it was good.
-And how was your show? How was the reception from the people?
Shon: It was good. People were definitely into it. I think the crowd was a little smaller than we anticipated. But there was lots of dedicated people there. Multiple people who were also at Keep it True last month who saw us there and were here seeing us again.
Sarah: Yeah, it was kind of funny because you could tell that not that many people were familiar with us yet. So it was kind of funny watching the crowd from the stage. Because a lot of people were kind of very still. But they stayed the whole set. So I was like, “OK, people are into it”. But it was just very funny because certain crowds in certain countries move a lot more. Versus it’s like playing a show in Finland like people are kind of like very still (laughs).
-Yes, yes. I understand.
Sarah: That’s the sense that I got from France. People were rather still but yeah it was great. The sound was really good and it was really nice and cold in the venue which makes the show itself way easier to play. And yeah, not only that but like it had been running late and the Herzel guys got on stage right after we did and we all got caught up to the normal time so that was good for everybody (laughs).
Shon: Yeah, there was at least two separate people who I think had never heard of us before and bought our records and immediately came to have them signed at our signing session. So that was pretty cool.
-And how has been the reception of the new album so far now that it has been out for… What? A month? A little bit less?
Sarah: Three weeks.
Shon: Not even a month yet.
Sarah: Yeah, it’s been really good. It’s just been like, I mean, the first press is sold out, which is really cool, obviously, and something that we want, especially because the first press was three times the size of the first press of the debut, so…
Shon: The vinyl, at least.
Sarah: Yeah, the vinyl, yeah. So that’s really good. And the reviews have been really positive. It’s been kind of funny seeing… You can tell the band is growing so quickly, because you can also see the ferocity of any kind of people who don’t like it has gotten a lot more aggressive (laughs). So that’s kind of interesting to witness. It’s like, “yeah, okay, yeah, you’re getting mad because other people like it, got it”. But you know, we don’t really pay that much attention to that part because everybody’s got an opinion and that’s fine. But it’s been nice. I think people get what we’re going for. You know, not only that, but the sound, I don’t think it changed that much, but everyone keeps talking about how much it changed. But I don’t think it’s changed at all.
Shon: Yeah, it’s been interesting seeing, reading in some of the reviews the various things that people are noticing that they claim to be different about the debut and this one like “oh like Sarah’s vocals are louder this time” or “Sarah’s vocals are quieter this time”.
Sarah: Or “Sarah’s vocals are more processed this time” (laughs).
Shon: So much focus on Sarah’s vocals being different or like most of the people are just saying that she’s improved, which is true.
Sarah: Yeah, but it’s just like that fixation on me. And I’m like, “what?!” (laughs). Everybody sounds better. Not just me, or worse, whatever you want to say. That part’s a little odd, but you know, it’s to be expected.
-I guess that as a woman in heavy metal, you kind of have the lens on you at all times.
Sarah: Yeah, you gotta have a pretty thick skin (laughs).
-Yeah, yeah. No, no. I get it. So, now that the reception for the album has been good and you are consolidating yourselves as one of the most well-liked, I would say, newer bands, at least for what I have been seeing, what are your plans for the near future?
Sarah: Well, our drummer arrives in Finland in three days to do some writing, which is really exciting. Mostly, well, not mostly, but we have like two members of the band who are currently about to have babies, neither of which is me (laughs). But yeah, two of our band members are about to have kids, so Kevin, who’s one of our primary songwriters alongside Vincent and myself, he’s going to come to Finland to do a week of songwriting. So that basically the rest of the band can catch up to him (laughs), because he’s about to fall into a baby vortex. You know, newborns take up a lot of time and energy and obviously we don’t want him to be doing anything other than being a new dad. So he’s coming to Finland and we’ll be writing for a couple weeks and then right after he leaves we start rehearsals for our first European tour. Our first real actual two weeks in a row everyday gig tour. Finally. Three years after the ill-fated Greek debacle (laughs). It’s finally happening. So that’s pretty exciting.
-I guess everybody’s a little bit traumatized after the whole COVID ordeal.
Sarah: (laughs) Yeah, everyone in the world I would say has gone through some serious shit. Yeah, it’s been an experience
-And I wanted to ask also; with so many new members of the family so to say, one would think that it has become a bit more complicated logistically, but for what I have seen, because I know you guys, it has been quite easy going, I guess.
Sarah: Yeah, I think so. I mean, like, we’re pretty lucky. Because even when we were based in Toronto, we had people coming and going. And I don’t know, like, at least for me, because I worked in the music industry my entire life, like, and I’ve seen bands make every single mistake. And I think it’s really easy, especially when you’re like a band that’s exploding, to put a lot of like internal pressure on yourself. But like my goal for the management of Smoulder has always been that band stuff is paid for by band money and when you’re in that position of extreme privilege, which I know it is because very few bands are able to profit from their own music, it means that everything that we do, because we have band funds to pay for it, it means it’s fun to play in the band. It’s fun for everyone. Like, everyone has been so generous with us because we’re generous in turn, you know, like we have a Finnish lineup, we’ve had multiple people playing in it, but everyone that we’re playing with, it’s like, okay, like, “oh, your other band’s doing something? You can’t come to this thing”. Or like, “oh, your partner’s pregnant and is about to give birth, that means that you’re not playing this and we’ll have someone else”. And that’s kind of the nice thing about being in a popular band is everybody wants to be in a popular band because it’s fun. It’s fun to play a festival where there’s 4,000 people screaming for you. So, you know, we’ve made it so that it’s like a very easygoing policy. Everybody is transparent about their schedules and about how everything works and because of that, you know, everyone prioritizes their time accordingly. And you know everyone also knows that it’s a priority for us to be tight on stage. And we have all of our music written in sheet music so if you need to learn it it’s very easy (laughs).
Shon: Just send the guitar pro files over and “okay these are your parts” . You know, it’s pretty pretty straightforward. Yeah. Usually whoever’s filling in on guitar can do whatever they want with the solos, but all the rhythms are there.
Sarah: Yeah, we have clear expectations and we’re very honest and generous with people. And I think because of that it’s really easy for us to find people who want to play with us. So, that part’s great.
Shon: And we’re really nice also.
Sarah: Yeah, we’re also generally pleasant (laughs).
-Yeah, that I have to agree. I also wanted to ask, because what it’s been about a year and a half since you guys moved to Finland?.
-How has the change been now that you guys have settled? I mean, I know, but the other people don’t (laughs).
Sarah: I don’t know. I mean it feels like living in paradise a lot of the time. I don’t know. I mean obviously Finland has like some issues, but just the reasons why we moved are all exactly what we like, you know, all the things that we needed to improve about our lives like I needed better health care. We needed better access to outdoor space. We wanted to be closer to Europe because this is really where our fans are. All of those things, like what we wanted to achieve with moving here, they’ve all come true. So that’s been fantastic. And not only that, but because we’re now in Europe, we’re getting way more show offers. Because it’s actually realistic for us to come out, which is fabulous. And we also have been doing lots of really wonderful traveling and we made lots of Friends. And we basically live in a forest. I’m quite happy with it.
-And do you feel that it has affected the music in any way now that you are, let’s say, with a better peace of mind, as it allows you to focus more on the music?
Shon: Yeah, I think in some ways. I mean, the 90% of the music for ‘Violent Creed of Vengeance’ was written before we even moved. Around the time we were moving we were rehearsing with our bassist Adam in Toronto in preparation for recording the next summer. And then, after we had moved and our stuff showed up and I was able to get my computer set up, we started making the demos for the album. You know, certain small things ended up changing over the course of us being here, but for the most part everything was already set in place. But I think looking forward now, we’re gonna get more interesting with our writing process, because there’s other members here. I mean, we’ve always written remotely anyways, but I think distance might have changed things, I don’t know.
Sarah: Well, I also think that because the standard of living in Finland is higher, and I think that this is just a general observation about Finland in general. It’s like people here… I think because they don’t have to worry about things that we did have to worry about in North America. And by that I mean like, you know, if I got really, really sick and I lost my job thenn we could have lost our home. Those aren’t things that you really have to worry about in Finland, and I think because of that people generally seem less stressed and maybe this, maybe it’s just a, you know, a figment of my imagination, but I don’t think it is. I think people are less stressed in Finland and I think that you can see it and you can hear it on the creative scenes, because of the consistency and quality of music and art that I. See in Finland. Is generally a lot higher than it was in North America. And I think it’s because artists are not in such a compromised position that they are in North America where it’s like, “oh, I have like, you know, unstable access to healthcare” or “I have like might not be able to pay my rent” or, you know, these types of things we don’t have to worry about anymore. And so it does, at least for me. I think the biggest impact has been because I do have a lot of health issues and Finland healthcare is a lot better and I’m able to focus more on my fitness and in improving as opposed to just maintaining. It’s made me a much better singer and I know that rehearsing consistently has also made me a much better singer. So I think the next album will be even weirder, at least vocally, because I now feel like I have space to explore, because I’m not so worried all the time about my health and the consequences of that on my voice. Because it does impact my voice, obviously, when I’m sick.
Shon: Yeah, I think that, like you said, people have less to worry about. So there’s more time to dedicate to music. I know it’s definitely been true for me since since moving, and not only because I haven’t really been working, but just because I have more motivation, I guess too.
Sarah: And we have more time to relax. So much more time to relax. It’s wonderful.
-Yeah, I feel that in Finland, your hobbies, although for sure this is more than a hobby, are actively encouraged for the formation and identity of people. The Finnish state, government mentality, whatever you want to call it, actively encourages the pursuit of of creative endeavors, yeah. Definitely. I I feel it’s it’s a really great thing.
Shon: Yeah, like having the free recording studio and the public library in downtown Helsinki.
Sarah: But also the proximity to nature, because like just from a mental health perspective, people who spend time outside are like noticeably statistically less stressed out, because they have more time to be, you know… To think and to relax and to, like, get those endorphins and all that other kind of stuff.
-To be human in general (laughs).
Sarah: Yeah! Like as I said, Finland’s not perfect, but a lot of things they’ve figured out much, much better than other countries. So we’re very lucky to live somewhere with such good state supports.
-So coming back to the new album, I wanted to ask; have there been very different influences compared to the first album? Because as you guys said, it’s not that different, but I feel like it’s more of a continuation and a progression of your sound. So what would you say is the biggest difference compared to your previous releases?
Shon: I would say it’s. Faster and more aggressive.
Sarah: It’s also more progressive and unusual, like, there’s a lot less repeating choruses and verse, chorus, verse kind of like expected song structures. And I think that that in particular like you know, if you’re talking about what prog looks like, it’s not obviously like Dream Theatre or Porcupine Tree prog. It’s like, you know, Fates Warning prog or like some sort of German power metal prog, where it looks like Scanner, that kind of stuff is, I what we love and some of it was on the debut. But I think it’s more obvious.
Shon: So yeah, like there’s a specific style of song structure that I really like, that I prefer the most and if you think about a song like, uhm, ‘Master of the Temple’ by Magister Templi or ‘An Oath Sworn in Hell’ by Hammes of Misfortune. Those kind of songs that, yeah, like Sarah mentioned have few repeating parts and are more story oriented. So there’s a few reps that happen and then you know, it morphs into the next part of the song where you don’t hear those riffs again. But you know, the things are similar and I really think that kind of structure makes for a more interesting and rewarding experience.
Sarah: It’s also more dynamic and it fits better with our narrative flow because even on the debut I didn’t like using a lot of repeating courses. Obviously there’s repeating choruses and songs like ‘The Sword Woman’, but then when you hear songs like ‘Bastard Steel’ the choruses are never the same, they all shift bit by bit and it’s because I just, I don’t really like… Some songs obviously work really well to have the same words over and over and over and over, but for me as a writer and a singer, I prefer more differentiation. I think it’s more interesting.
Shon: Yeah, I like. I like making the song feel like it’s a story.
Sarah: A quest (laughs).
Shon: You know with, you know when if you listen to it maybe like two or three times and like you go to sing the chorus, you’re like, “wait, it changed slightly”, you know, you might have to go look at the lyrics and read along to it to just gain another level of appreciation for it. And lots of my favorite music is like that.
-Definitely Slough Feg comes to mind.
Sarah: Yeah, it’s like Smoulder, it’s like onion (laughs).
-Like an onion.
Sarah: Yeah, yeah! Smoulder is like onion; stinky and hairs? No, layers! It has layers! (laughs)
-So pretty much is Shrek for music. Really ties everything together.
Sarah: Yes, that’s the real secret. I would agree that ‘Violent Creed of Vengeance’ is a concept album about Shrek.
-Wow, now everything makes sense. Well, thinking about the future, what what kind of sound do you aim to have? Do you wanna keep progressing this same style or can we expect some different stuff for the future?
Shon: I was joking with Shon last week that we were going to write like, by the fifth album, a Negative Plane style album. And Shon was like “yeah!!!”. (laughs) So I suspect things will get, you know…
Sarah: Well, like you know, when you think of bands that actually have stood the test of time. And when I say actually I mean bands that are still writing interesting, unique, different albums. I think of albums like or bands like Ulver or Darkthrone, where they didn’t stick to a genre and they kept doing things that were really engaging and rewarding. Because they themselves are clearly hardcore metal fanatics who wanted to explore different things. I would love to do that.
Shon: I think things will definitely get weirder. You know, a lot of bands say that they don’t want to make, like, write the same album twice and…
Sarah: Nobody wants to do that.
Shon: I think that’s, that’s what we’ll also try and do.
Sarah: The next album, though, will probably be like… All I can think it’s going to be like a German power metal album. There’ll be a German power metal album.
Shon: We’ve been talking for the last few years also about eventually doing a concept album so….
Sarah: It’ll be like a merging of like Helloween with Blind Guardian and Scanner. And that’ll be the next album (laughs). People would be like: “where’s that doom?!”. And it’d be like “shut up!” (laughs).
Sarah: You will like it.
Shon: Then pull over a Reverend Bizarre and do a two hour long song.
Sarah: Ohh yeah yeah, that would be great. We do still love doom and we will do a doom album eventually, but I kind of think about, you know, like even a band like Candlemass, if you think about the difference between the first three albums and the fourth one, they made a power metal album. Andd it’s funny because historically, a lot of people don’t really talk about that record. But it’s a great album.
-I agree. Or even in the Lowe era, ‘Death Magic Doom’, is one of the most underrated Candlemass albums. I don’t know if you guys love it as well.
Sarah: Yeah, I really like ‘King of the Grey Islands’ myself.
-It’s also fantastic.
Sarah: But yeah, it’s, you know, there’s so much for us to explore. And both Shon and I are really pretty fanatical about heavy metal and we like a lot of different styles and you know, as long as the music sounds good, we’ll keep making it.
-Simply put. I guess we’ll have to keep listening and see what you guys come up with.
Sarah: You will listen to it. You will like it. (laughs)
-I bet, I bet.
Sarah: Or not, that’s not for me to say. (laughs)
-Well, I mean if you guys release an Inepsy style album, I’ll be quite happy about it as well.
Sarah: I’d be thrilled about listening, and yeah, we would make it an Inepsy style album. That’d be awesome.
Shon: Instead of getting more complex just get more simple and make a rock’n’roll.
Sarah: And more aggressive. Like Inepsy and Chastain. Like merging.
-Well, you guys mentioned Darkthrone, so that’s something that comes to mind for sure.
Sarah: Yeah, that sounds pretty good. We really like Inepsy, so that would be fun. Plus that would be perfect because that means that I could become like also a reckless, alcoholic band dude because…
-Well, you’re in the perfect country for it.
Sarah: That kind of vocal style is like much easier when, because obviously with this style that I do now, I got to be careful about shows because it takes a lot. There’s a reason why vocalists who sing clean are considered prima donnas. It’s because you have to really take care of yourself to be able to do that. And la lot of the long standing vocalists, there’s a reason why they’re essentially Olympian level athletes. And so that’s what I’m working on right now. But maybe if we became Negative Planne I wouldn’t have to worry anymore (laughs). I’d just be screaming until I lose my voice. It’d be fun.
Shon: You never know what you’ll get with the next Smoulder album.
Sarah: But you will like it (laughs).
Shon: Life is like a Smoulder album.
Sarah: Pretty much, yeah.
-But yeah, before this derails too much and we spoil what the future holds, I think that if you guys want to say something to finish I will leave you guys alone.
Sarah: What you got there? Thanks? Thanks to everyone who bought it and who’s listening to it and talking about it? That’s what we need so that we can play bigger shows and grow and all that kind of stuff.
Shon: Yeah, definitely. Thanks.
Sarah: And if you want it go buy it. Go to www.smoulder.bandcamp.com
Shon: Follow us on Instagram and Facebook…
Shon: That’s bullshit
Sarah: By our merch! It helps… Oooh! Look at this huge bird! He’s so big. But it’s gonna sound so weird on camera, or video…
-Yeah, in case you guys were wondering, we are literally in the middle of the forest, so…
Sarah: There’s a bird feeder and there’s lots of birds traveling to the bird feeder. They are also shitting all over our backyard. (laughs) Lucky us.
-So yeah, if you guys made it this long, thank you for waiting. And well, give them your money.