Groupe:

Wheel

Date:

28 Avril 2021

Interviewer:

Didier

Interview Santeri

Hello, thanks for taking the time for this interview for French webzine AuxPortesDuMetal.com, we will publish this interview in French and in English. Can you first present the band to our readers?

Hi and thanks for having us!We are a four-piece band based in Helsinki, Finland, playing progressive music. We started back in 2015 and so far we have released two EPs and two albums.

How did you come up with that band name?

First of all, we wanted to find a name with only one word. It was not a very easy task since most words have been used for band names already. Wheel was originally a song title but the word felt like it represented our whole ideology of making art. It’s a continuation but always looking to the future as well as to the past. A symbol of movement, exploring new territories and ideas, both in music and in life in general. Frequently coming back to the starting point but always moving forward.

What would you consider your biggest music influences?

We are four guys and we all have our personal influences and a lot of them we also share. We have elements of progressive rock and metal, grunge and even jazz and we try to mix a wide range of styles and different influences into something that eventually would sound like Wheel. But I like to think of bands and artists as inspirational sources instead of straight influences because that leaves out all the stylistic factors. I could name for example Type O Negative, Iron Maiden, Pat Metheny, The Mars Volta, Sting and Danzig as such artists to me.

Can you share a little bit about the current line-up, for example I noticed that Roni was not listed as a band member anymore.

Yeah, we had a few changes during the last 18 months or so. Mikko, our former bassist, was replaced by Aki Virta in the autumn of 2019, just before the making of Resident Human started. Around the same time Roni announced that he will be leaving the band to concentrate on his teaching career and his family and so we found JC Halttunen to replace him after a short while. JC played an European tour with us and soon after that we found out that things were not really working the way we wanted. And don’t get me wrong, he is a great guy and a great musician and we are still on good terms but he just wasn’t the right match for Wheel. So we were left as a trio in the middle of the recordings and in the end James played all the guitars for the album except the solo on Hyperion, which we asked Roni to do. But then, during last summer we did a few rehearsal sessions with Jussi Turunen and he fit right in and joined the band in August 2020.

I know James moved to Finland to start this band, does this mean it’s easier to live as a musician in Finland than it is in England nowadays? England used to be the place to make music, is it not anymore?

Well, I guess, making music and making a living out of music should be considered as separate issues. For sure England has a lot more going on compared to the small, distant Finland. But actually James first came here to work as a hired musician and in that sense Finland is the easier of the two countries. We have a lot of talented musicians here but still the pay you get is way better than in the UK, as far as I know. So, for a freelancer, Finland is a good country to be in. Starting a band playing your own music is always a challenge, no matter where you come from. The scene for progressive music is very small in Finland and that is why our target from the very start has been to tour mostly outside of Finland.

I reviewed your fist album, Moving Backward, and it was already a weekly favourite, then I put it in my top 5 Discoveries of 2019. How was the first album received by the press and commercially? Retroactively, do you consider some imperfections or mistakes in it?

It was received extremely well in the media, as well as by the audience, we got mostly excellent feedback for it. It was our first full length album and we are still happy with it. We are looking to move forward all the time and that album represents Wheel at that point. We won’t make another album like that again but that doesn’t mean that we regret anything about it. It’s a snapshot of the band from that era.

You started touring for Moving Backward in 2019, opening for bands such as Katatonia, Soen, how was the experience for you being on stage, promoting that first album? How was the reaction from the audience?

Honestly, it was really amazing. We went on those tours with little expectations but on most occasions we got a warm welcome from the audience. There were lots of people each night that hadn’t even heard of us before our show but they were usually screaming for more at the end of our set and so we did make a lot of new fans. Both headliners you mentioned were naturally very good matches for us, there’s a lot of potential Wheel fans in those audiences.

Unfortunately in 2020 you had to cancel all your remaining dates, wasn’t this really frustrating, not being able to promote your first album like you intended?

Actually we were lucky to be able to complete our headline tour in Europe just a few weeks before the pandemic broke and at that point we had already started to work on the follow up album. But of course there were still a lot more shows to come and yes, it felt really bad to see them getting canceled or postponed, one by one. One of the saddest news was the cancellation of two shows opening for Meshuggah and Devin Townsend. Also, a big tour with Apocalyptica and Epica was initially supposed to happen in late 2020, then it was postponed to Spring 2021 and in the end it has now been scheduled for the beginning of 2022. We are very much hoping that it will happen. Not knowing when the touring could start again is the worst.

On the other end, I’m guessing that this dead period was probably good for creating new music. Is this what happened for Resident Human?

Indeed it was. Initially we were supposed to write and record the album on a very tight schedule between the tours but now we got some additional time to finish it and I believe the album turned out to be a lot better because of this.

The title is a little mysterious and can be interpreted in multiple ways, what’s your explanation for it?

It’s basically just saying that this album is about humans and humanity. “Resident Human” was originally just a working title for the song that goes by the same name but as the album process went on and James was writing the lyrics for all the songs, it felt like the title represented the album as a whole.

How did you compose music for this album? Did you do things differently from Moving Backward?

It was quite the same actually. Most songs started at James’ home studio, he wrote the cores of the songs but we did some arranging and structuring together as well. Then I arranged my drum parts at our rehearsal place and then we hit the studio. Not all the bits were ready so there is also some spontaneous stuff on the album, especially on the drums. Most of the lyrics and vocal melodies were written after the instruments were already recorded.

Like another favourite band of mine, Pain Of Salvation, you guys are masters in what I call sound contrasts. This capability to change from one second to another from quiet topure energy and violence, this is absolutely stunning. Do you spend a lot of time working on these contrasts?

The dynamics for the songs are being developed as the songs are taking their shape. It depends on many things like the length of the song and how much of different dynamics a particular song needs. Both ends are needed to keep it interesting and most of all we try to create strong experiences for the listeners.

There is also a subtile alternance of long progressive pieces and short, more direct ones. Was this done by design?

It’s good for the flow of the album to have some variance between the lengths of the songs. And some musical ideas fit naturally in a shorter structure and some work better for a longer development. But we always let the music take the lead, let the songs develop in their natural way.

Roni is credited for the solo of Hyperion, does this mean it was an older track?

I think I accidentally already answered this one :) So no, it was not an old track but it was the only one that needed a guitar solo.

James' voice is very impressing. It is often compared to the one of bands such as Tool or Karnivool. How does it feel to be compared to such singer as Ian Kenny or Maynard. And how much work is it to master it that way?

This one should be answered by James of course but instead I will throw in a couple thoughts. In my opinion the similarities between these singers are mostly related to the combination of the style of music and the range of their voices. I think they all have pretty unique singing tones of their own, but the context is similar. Grungy proggy rock and melodic voice on top. And not too much screaming or very high pitched singing included.

There is still a lot of melancholy and darkness in your music, who writes the lyrics and what are the themes of inspiration?

James writes all the lyrics for Wheel. A lot of the topics come basically from the world around us, societal problems, human behaviour, our place in the universe. This time there was also a book that James read during the period we were making the album, “Hyperion Cantos” by Dan Simmons and that was an inspiration for three songs.

In the first album, you were “moving backward”, in the second you sadly describe many negatives sides of human beings, do you picture yourself “moving forward” in the future, or is this not a good topic for your creativity?

We will always be moving forward in reality, being stuck in the past is never a good thing, even if it’s just a metaphore. We like to view the world from different angles and raise questions related to the past and the future but what lies ahead is always going to be the more interesting side. No one can change the past but we all can have an impact on the future of our world.

We are now in 2021, and it’s not much better in terms of live music. How difficult has it become for bands, and for yourselves to promote your music without being on tour? Do you think COVID will change forever the way bands interact with their fans?

Yeah, naturally it is difficult to promote an album without playing any shows, without having the direct interaction with the people. It’s all social media now. But there is nothing we can do about the pandemic and we just have to find new ways to reach the audience. A lot of bands are doing livestreams and all kinds of social media events and honestly I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of this stuff would still continue after covid.

What’s next for Wheel in the coming months? Year?

We have started writing new material already and that will be our main focus for the rest of the year. We have a hell of a chance to do that before the tours start happening again. Hopefully we could play a couple festival shows during the summer and possibly a coupleclub shows in the autumn... but that’s all just hopes, nobody knows how the situation will develop and how the vaccines will work. But latest at the beginning of next year we are supposed to hit the road again, very much looking forward to it!

Thanks a lot for taking the time, I’ll leave you the last words for our readers...

Thanks to everyone who read the interview all the way! See you on tour as soon as it becomes possible again, KEEP IT WHEEL!

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