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Vanha - Interview

Interview with: Jan Johansson
Conducted by: T.V.

Vanha is a Swedish melancholic doom/death metal band created in early 2016 as a side project to black/death metal band Frostvang by vocalist/guitarist/composer Jan Johansson. The first recording, the demo Read The Scars, was released soon after and soon the drummer Jesse Oinas quickly joined. After that Vanha signed a deal with Swedish label Black Lion Records and the amazing debut album, Within The Mist of Sorrow, came out in December 2016 followed by huge acclaim from fans of the genre and media as well. There's no secret that Vanha is a band that will in the first place attract fans of 90s doom metal masters like My Dying Bride, early Anathema and Paradise Lost era Shades Of God and Gothic, but yet bands sound is contemporary enough by bringing in that special melancholic atmospheric sound that will enthuse also fans of bands like Shape Of Despair, Clouds, Doom:VS, Saturnus and likes. In 2017 Jesse left Vanha and Jan continues with Vanha as he started everything - as a one-man band. Now, a new album titled Melancholia is coming out very soon, exactly on 30th December again via Black Lion Records. It's a step forward and a new "must have" album for all fans of heavy melancholic and atmospheric doom sounds. And yet this is just the beginning for Vanha... Read this interesting interview with friendly Jan and discover more about Vanha.

T.V.: To start this interview, can you please say some words about Vanha to those who don't know the band yet?
: Well, Vanha is (now) run by myself, Jan Johansson. The music itself is at the moment called doom/death metal, portraying very heavy songs combined with equally heavy lyrics, in both growls and clean.

T.V.: Vanha means "old" in Finnish if my information is right. It sounds quite appropriate for this kind of music but still, why did you choose this name for the band? Do you feel old somehow or was there any other reason?
Jan: Yes, that is correct. One of the reasons was, I came across a black and white picture of an old homeless man, and the word "Old" stuck in my head. But, there are probably 1000 bands or projects out there called old, so I tried to think of a way to use the word "old" in a different way, and being half-Finnish, I went with the Finnish word for it. It sounds kind of serious when said and it has a kind of heavy feel to it. And me getting older, has some small part in it as well perhaps. Because when I'm old, -older-, I still want to be doing this, and know that I made a dent in this world.
T.V.: The new album is coming out very soon. Titled Melancholia... so, is there present even more melancholia and sorrow than on your debut Within The Mist Of Sorrow?
Jan: There is not more or less of it, it's just in a different shape and form. This was not a concept-album either in any way. In the end, I just called the album for what it is. I thought Melancholia fit the album very well.

T.V.: Since 2017 Vanha is an one-man band. Why did Jesse Oinas left, or it was this your decision to work alone?
Jan: Jesse left Vanha because he had other priorities in life, such as work, family etc. It had nothing to do with us or the music in any way. No bad blood.

T.V.: But is your intention to work alone in Vanha or to add also other members in the future, maybe to make it a full fledged band that can play live shows?
Jan: I would absolutely love to get people together and make this happen, live shows I mean. But I am very picky when it comes to band members, the chemistry within the band has to be right, otherwise it won't work. So, we'll see during 2019/2020 if Vanha goes live or not. That much I can tell you right now.

T.V.: The impressive cover artwork for Melancholia was done by Manfish inc. and I see a lot of symbolism there. Can you give us some insight into it and how does it connect to the album theme?
Jan: This image I, kind of, stumbled upon right after getting a tip from Oliver (Black Lion Records). He said that I should check them out, and so I did, and there it was, "The Angel of Death", and my immediate thought was "if Melancholia could summon itself as a being... that is what it would look like". The image fit the album perfectly. So there's really no back-story to anything, sometimes things just fall into place you know.

T.V.: What about the lyrics? The themes are pretty dark and sorrowful... what is the fountain of your inspiration?
Jan: It all comes from everyday life and if you have a heavy heart, that's what comes out. It's almost "sad" to say that, those kind of lyrics are natural for me to write, because it's all I know.

T.V.: So you consider yourself as a melancholic, dark minded and sorrowful person?
Jan: Yes. I definitely am.

T.V.: The new album is just like the debut released by Black Lion Records. Tell me how are you satisfisfied with the work they do for you?
Jan: The communication is great. It's easy, you know. Oliver has been very supportive and generous, and also given me that "artistic freedom", where there's no pressure in any way. I appreciate that a lot, which makes me want to continue carrying the Black Lion flag. So huge thumbs up for Black Lion Records!

T.V.: The music of yours comes described as doom/death metal, but to be truthful is much more than just that. How would you describe the music of Vanha by your own words?
Jan: The music and lyrics of Vanha was not set out to be anything specific. What you hear is from the heart. What people call it, it's up to them. For me it's Vanha. I can't describe it in any other way. Vanha can be brutal, heavy, depressive, yet calm and beautiful... using drums, bass, guitars, vocals, piano and adding orchestral bits for more drama and beauty. I do what feels needed, required, to make the vision come alive so to speak.

T.V.:I guess that every musician has some bands/artists that influenced him/her. Which one are yours?
Jan: Oh... there is (was) one band out there that flipped my world, Sentenced. It was 1998 or 1999 when I saw their CD (Frozen) in a little grocery-shop in Muonio (Finland). The album was... grey. Not that common for me, so that intrigued me. The logo was cool, dark songtitles... and it cost me every penny I had in my pocket. So, I thought "fuck-it" and I bought it. (Now, I had never heard of Sentenced before.) I went over to my aunts house, and she had this little compact CD-player, so I took it. I sat down on the floor, put the CD in... listened through the intro and then... BAAAM. The guitar-style of playing, the lyrics... my only thought was "this sounds like... my head". I have found a band that I could kind of relate to, finally. Needless to say, I was hooked. They are house-gods to this very day. (R.I.P. Miika).

T.V.: Interesting that you mention Sentenced, great band of course, but due to the style of Vanha I somehow expected that you'll mention acts such as Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, Katatonia, Anathema, Draconian, Doom:VS,...
Jan: Yeah, I mean Sentenced was the band that kind of "kicked it off". I have listened a lot to Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, Katatonia, Skepticism, Doom:VS, Type O Negative, Amorphis, and loads of others. I've been inspired by many of the bands in many different ways. But I don't think I would be playing the guitar the way I do if it wasn't for Sentenced, which would mean that Vanha would not sound like Vanha.

T.V.: Fair enough! Vanha was in the first place considered to be a side project of yours, since your pivotal band is Frostvang. Why did you feel the urge to create Vanha, which seems to become bigger and bigger player inside the doom/death metal scene?
Jan: I was always recording stuff, all.the.time. So I was just thinking..."What haven't I tried yet...?" Well I suppose I did some doom-stuff back in 2012, but nothing serious. So I thought... how deep can I dig within myself? Read The Scars, the demo, became that starting point. Surprisingly enough, I felt right at home there! This is where I need to be. So going from an "experiment" of one demo to two full-lengths, feels good. I feel kind of home here. I can use whatever instrument I want to, to depict what comes from the heart. And that is what I want to show, and it is what I need to do. I'm not saying that Frostvang is dead or anything, although I enjoy it, I just feel more home with Vanha.

T.V.: Anything in the making under the name Frostvang? When can we expect something new, an album maybe in the near future?
Jan: Oh wow, I haven't really thought about that in a while. I've been so busy with Vanha and other stuff, that Frostvang kind of fell to the side for a little bit. So I don't really know when (or if) I'm going to start up any sort of work around Frostvang. Although, I did release a song called "Frid" pretty recently, that I actually recorded with my kids (Siri and Ville), which turned out really well! I think if I'm going to do another Frostvang album, it will probably be in the same vibe as that song, and hopefully with my kids on more tracks as well. They did an amazing job and I'm really proud of them.

T.V.: But yet Vanha and Frostvang are not the only acts that you are involved in, there's also a pretty interesting JJ Musicworks project. What can you tell me about this one?
Jan: Oh yeah, I'm a big fan of classical and cinematic type of music. With todays technology, plugins etc, I can sort of explore that world too. So there's anything from a calm piano piece, to adventures music, horror and even a waltz or two. Well known is that, metal and classical/neo-classical music, isn't far off from each other. So, my curiosity kicked in once more. I had to try, explore, create. I've done four albums now, and I have a fifth album on the way, cooperating with an absolutely amazing musician and dear friend Patrik Hübinette, and also the vocalist Chiara Di Mare of Aresea, who has the voice of an angel I might add! So we're sending each other tracks and ideas between Sweden and Italy, trying our very best to make this beautiful beast happen!

T.V.: Are there any plans to release a proper video or at least lyric video for any of the songs from new Vanha album?
Jan: A proper video would have been something to prefer, but right now in life, a lyric-video is more within a reach. So that might pop up, we'll see.

T.V.: The debut of yours, Within The Mist Of Sorrow, made it into the finals of Terra Relicta Dark Music Awards 2016. How were you satisfied with the result and support given from the fans?
Jan: I, as well as Jesse, we were beyond satisfied of the results! The amazing support we got, people who listened to the music, shared and voted. It was unreal to say the least. We were and are truly grateful and honored.

T.V. Masybe the story will repeat for awards 2018! Ok, the year 2018 is coming to an end and I wonder which album or which band/artist impressed you the most this year?
Jan: That would definitely be Amorphis with their album Queen Of Time. Not only that it is a great album, but the band keeps pumping out these amazing albums! I often wonder how the fuck it's possible. Haha, I just can't wrap my head around it. So the trophy goes to Amorphis, easily.

T.V.: Thank you for your time and answers! Any last thoughts at the end of this interview? 
Jan: You are very welcome, and thank you very much for the opportunity! To the readers: Thanks to you who listen to the music and support! And also, do not forget to check out Black Lion Records roster of bands and albums!

Photos by: Anki Johansson

Vanha links: Facebook
Pre-order the new Vanha album Melancholia at THIS LOCATION