By Carl Begai
Four albums into his long suffering Warmen project and Children Of Bodom keyboardist Janne Wirman can officially say he has a second band. Not that he needs one. Bodom has grown from a little known Finnish punk-fried neo-death flavoured export to one of the most popular and equally loathed metal bands around, giving Janne very little free time between touring and the studio. Even so, he and his brother Antti (guitars) managed to spit out what is hands down the strongest album of Warmen’s career. A song-oriented platter rather than a showcase for Janne’s keyboard acrobatics – although there’s plenty of pseudo-ivory shred to be had – Japanese Hospitality sounds like a band effort. Straightforward and to the point, it touches on everything from rock and pop to a full metal racket that smacks more than a little of Children Of Bodom, yet keeps things streamlined and focused. No dicking around this time. At this point the music is easily identifiable as a Warmen album rather than an attempt by Janne to do something away from the comfort of home.
“Everybody’s been saying that Warmen finally sounds like a band with this one and I agree,” says Janne. “Warmen has found it’s path, I guess you could say.”
A path that was beginning to look like the one that swallowed the long-awaited and presently lost Sinergy album featuring Children Of Bodom vocalist / guitarist Alexi Laiho and guitarist Roope Latvala…
“(Laughs) The previous Warmen album (Accept The Fact from 2005) actually took more time. We started recording last fall. Before the tour we recorded the drums and my brother did his guitar parts while I was on the road. So, we really started writing songs for this over a year ago. We were just putting this one together between my touring, and at some points I got pretty fucking frustrated by having to do it that way. Touring is hard work so you really need a break, but between the tours I was in the studio doing this, to the point that I almost ran out of time getting it finished before the deadline.”
“It’s way more work than I expected,” Janne admits, “and this time we decided we were going to mix the album by ourselves as well. I’m really into studio stuff – recording, mixing and shit like that – so I decided it was time for me to start mixing my own stuff. That was one of the things that really delayed the schedule for this. It wasn’t as easy as one thinks (laughs). But I like the fact that I have control of everything in the project. It’s a lot of fun for me because I enjoy being in the studio with all the gadgets and gizmos.”
With Laiho traditionally doing the bulk of the songwriting for Children Of Bodom it’s safe to assume Warmen is something of a haven for Janne and his own musical ideas. Asked if he feels he’s taken on a reduced role with Children Of Bodom in the studio – the band’s 2006 album Are You Dead Yet? comes immediately to mind – he dismisses the suggestion as bullshit.
“A lot of people have asked me about that and I didn’t really know what they meant, but I went back and listened to the Are You Dead Yet? album and the production compared to Blooddrunk isn’t good at all. So now I understand why people ask me that because I think the keyboards on Are You Dead Yet? are too low in the mix at some points. I didn’t realize what people were talking about because I knew there was the same amount of keyboards on Are You Dead Yet? as the others. It was just mixed differently.”
Japanese Hospitality features the continued support of several singers known for lending a helping voice when a new Warmen album comes around. Stratovarius frontman Timo Kotipelto, ex-Thunderstone vocalist Pasi Rantanen and Finnish pop-star-turned-rock-chick Jonna Kosonen all return to play their roles as part of this extended family. According to Janne, who sings on what song is not something that needs to be planned out for the writing process.
“That just kind of happens when we get into writing the songs; ‘Hey, Timo should sing that song and Jonna should do that one…’ We know almost from the beginning which singer would be the best person to do certain songs.”
Laiho makes his presence known once again, having made his Warmen debut on Accept The Fact with a cover of the ‘80s pop hit ‘Somebody’s Watching Me. This time out he sings on one track – the COB flavoured ‘High Heels On Cobblestone’ – and wrote a song at Janne’s request which he doesn’t appear on.
“Alexi wrote the whole song ‘Don’t Bring Her Here’ for Jonna,” reveals Janne. “Me and Alexi, when we get drunk we like to listen to Lambretta and Pink, and one day I asked Alexi if I could order a Lambretta-type of party song for Jonna (laughs). He came up with ‘Don’t Bring Her Here’ and I think it’s pretty fucking cool. It was never meant to be a Bodom song, though; it was custom made for Jonna and Warmen.”
Japanese Hospitality also features what ranks as some of the fastest leads of Janne’s career on the instrumental ‘Switcheroo’. Jens Johansson, eat your heart out.
“Yeah, well, I have footage of me and my brother rehearsing it up to tempo, and dude… we thought we could pull it off and soon realized that the thing was way too fast (laughs). We had to rehearse our asses off to make that thing happen. We did a demo version but we didn’t really try to see if we could play at that tempo, then we recorded the drums at the real tempo for the track, went back to the studio to do the leads and were fucked because the tempo was way too high (laughs).”
With Children Of Bodom due to spend most of 2010 working on a new album, Janne has been giving some serious thought to taking Warmen out on the road if conditions are right.
“As you said, the line-up is constant and some of the singers are open to doing shows. I could see it happening, but the thing is that Warmen isn’t a known band at all so we’d have to do a mini-tour of some kind. I’d love to do it, and now that Bodom is going to have a break to write new material I’m going to see if there’s any possibilities for us to do a short tour.”
For the record, the Japanese Hospitality title is indeed a tongue-in-cheek take on Axl N’ Roses’ monumental stinker Chinese Democracy. As he explained in an interview with Children Of Bodom’s fan site earlier this year, “Japanese Hospitality was my idea for a Warmen album for years because Japanese hospitality exists, unlike Chinese democracy.”
Even as he works on the next steps for Warmen, Janne is out on the road with Children Of Bodom supporting the band’s new album, Skeletons In The Closet. A compilation of the cover songs issued by the band since the very beginning of their professional career, usually as B-sides, it is a treasure trove for younger fans. The diehards that have been on board for the last decade are likely not as thrilled given they’ve likely spent good money over the years on procuring what were considered rare limited release songs. Janne understands the complaints, but he insists the album wasn’t a record label cashgrab.
“We realized on our own that we’d done so many cover versions, why not put them out as one album? But, we didn’t want to do it the cheap way and just put out only stuff that’s already been released, so we recorded two new ones to make it more interesting. It wasn’t a case of the record company trying to make more money off us because we were fully behind the idea. All the songs were remastered but I don’t think they were remixed in any way. We did two new songs and we had to leave a few covers out on purpose, but they all wouldn’t have fit on one CD anyway.”
“It was fairly easy to do, but picking the two new songs to cover was difficult,” he adds, referring to the band’s versions of ‘Hell Is For Children’ (Pat Benatar) and ‘Antisocial’ (Anthrasx / Trust). I’m really happy with the way the Pat Benatar song turned out. It’s really cool. Everything but the drums was recorded in my studio for that song and it’s a nice atmosphere just doing it there. The new songs sound really fucking good.”
As for the future fans can expect a new Children Of Bodom studio album in early 2011, followed by a tour that, according to Janne, will make more sense.
“We’re doing this one last tour and then we’ll be concentrating on writing for a new album,” he reveals. “I think we kind of fucked up the touring for Blooddrunk in a way because we did too many US tours before going to headline a proper European tour. And right before the European tour we supported Slipknot in Europe, which definitely wasn’t a good decision. The way the tours were booked and organized was not good at all so we kind of bummed about that. We’re going to go into the studio, do the new album and make things better the next time we go out.”
Go to this location for audio samples from Japanese Hospitality.
Live pictures by Carl Begai. All rights reserved.