Hailing from Turku, Finland, Callisto is a seven member post-metal band, which has established its unique musical character through four albums and many EPs, displaying a wide range of influences from jazz elements to sludge music.
For the past few years they have been extremely quiet, but not without a reason. They came back from this long sojourn last winter with Secret Youth, an album that honors their earlier musical roots yet defies their familiar sound, to make it a true rebirth for the band.
We got to chat with Callisto’s bassist Juho Niemelä, to get to know more about the inspiration and journey of Secret Youth, their latest line-up changes and their upcoming musical endeavors.
Almost 14 years and many records have passed since your first record. How did this project affect your lives through these years, and how do you manage to keep your enthusiasm and inspiration towards it vivid until now?
We started in early 2001 and released our first single/demo that year, then the first official release in 2002. It´s been a long way already and it feels like the years have passed so fast, especially the last few years, even though we weren´t highly active with Callisto during the few years before releasing our current album Secret Youth.
We have never done the band full time but it´s just something that is an essential part of our lives, always been, and it used to be even more – nowadays we have so much more in our lives, too.
We will continue making music as long as it feels relevant and as long as we feel we have something to give to ourselves and to the people with this band.
Secret Youth was a long but eventually rewarding process. Creating new music is the best part of this all, so I guess that is what keeps the band going even when we are less active with touring.
Managing a band is always a struggle, especially when you lead a normal work and family life parallel to it. How do you manage to do so, especially when you don’t live in the same city anymore?
It´s a good and important question for so many bands out there. In terms of Callisto, we haven´t taken any pressure of running this band, our label never set any pressure on us etc. so that has helped us in this situation.
Currently we are living in two different cities, half of us in Turku and half of us in the Helsinki region, so the distance is not a problem, it´s only two hours, but the busyness in our lives otherwise keeps us challenged in rehearsing often enough with the band.
Many bands compose only with one, maybe two members, and then they exchange demos over the web, but for us it has always been important to get together to the rehearsal place and compose through jamming together.
So, things are proceeding slowly sometimes, but good things take time. We´re ok with it, even though it´s a bit frustrating at times.
So let’s talk about your latest album Secret Youth. A lot of changes have taken place since the last record, with Tero Holopainen joining the band, and a lot of style shifts from the previous records. What was the recording journey for Secret Youth like, and what is special about this record for you?
It was a long, even painful process, but I always saw the finish line on the horizon. It was not about doubts if we are going to make it or not, but it just needed patience and time. The biggest change in the band was Tero replacing Johannes as one of the two guitarists. And we definitely lacked time to rehearse as the entire band, so everything just took a lot of time. On the other hand, we grew up a lot during those years, and I feel Secret Youth is the most mature record, in a good sense, in our history.
Musically I think it´s not that different to our previous works, even though many people tend to react in that way after listening to the album. It´s more straightforward and more cold-sounding than a couple of previous albums but on the other hand there is more “old Callisto” in some of the tracks there than what there was on Providence, for example. I think there are a couple of songs there where you can speak about “style differences”, and I´m actually very happy we managed to find new paths in our music, but overall I feel it´s not that different to what we´ve done before.
Secret Youth is actually the first Callisto album I´m completely satisfied with – I wouldn´t change anything on it. We quested for cold and crushing sound, and I think we found it on this records.
After six years of working on the new album, and I believe some of the tracks are even older than that, did it turn out to be as you expected, and did this long processing period affect your vision towards the tracks over the time?
It was surprising to see even the old parts of many tracks didn´t lose their relevance in the long run of completing this record. There are songs that have parts composed six years ago and parts composed just months before studio in the same song. We are happy with the album because it turned out to be very consistent in its overall sound – you kind of feel the old parts and the new parts suit very well together forming the overall sound of the album. The process was so slow that even the old parts stayed relevant during the way, even though we usually get bored of old things pretty easily. This time it was different.
One of the most interesting aspects for me in any record is its artwork, and Secret Youth’s cover stands out from your previous records. How was your collaboration with photographer Juha Metso, and what was the inspiration behind this work?
It was the president/manager of our record label who introduced Juha Metso (or his work) to us. He (the label manager) knew we were searching for a photo artist to collaborate with, so he came up with the idea of using Metso´s work. Metso agreed right away, and because we liked what we saw and felt these winter “desert” photos by him were a good match with the sound of Secret Youth, we decided to go with him. The album covers turned out perfect but the band promo shooting session was a bit too hectic.
You have just finished a long tour that lasted almost seven months in support of Secret Youth. What was this journey on the road like, and are there any special memories you care to share with us?
There are always so many special memories to share from the tour. This was our first long run for years, so we already have missed the touring a lot. We were not on the road all the time this year but we made a couple of hectic stints, first 10 shows around Finland in February (basically all the weekends and many week days, too) and then embarked on a few weeks European tour in March. Then we went to Russia to play St. Petersburg and Moscow in the Easter in April. But in the summer there were only a few shows in Finland, and then a few more in the autumn. So, for us it´s a lot (about 30 shows total), since we are not a full time touring band, but of course there are still so many places we want to go and haven´t played yet.
The European tour and Russia were the ones bringing the most memorable moments and we also got to play in many cities we haven´t played before (Rome, Florence, Brussels etc.). It´s a hard work for bands like us, touring with a van through long distances, not any night-liners, but it´s always worth it.
Your show in Blowup Festival in Helsinki could be the most anticipated show ever for you, with the giant lineup and your keyboardist Arto last ever appearance with Callisto. Can you tell us about this event and the reasons behind Arto’s departure, and do you have a replacement in mind yet?
Playing with this lineup is something we haven´t done before, so the show was a special one. We had a similar lineup in 2011 in our 10-year anniversary event but with slightly different approach, so we felt really enthusiastic about Blowup Festival with two drum kits and two synthesizer/sound landscape guys. It went really well and the sound was massive. But it´s important to understand that we didn´t want to create just a massive wall of sound. We wanted to bring interesting new elements to the set with the drummers playing somewhat differently, not only simultaneously with each other, as well as the sound landscape guys / keyboardists.
Arto made his decision to move on already in the summer of 2014 but he wanted to finish Secret Youth first, as well as do all the touring in the wake of it. So we had planned Blowup Festival would be his last show with the band and we wanted to honor that with the big lineup. Arto´s place will be taken by Janne Storm as a touring member at this point and it was Janne who was already on stage with Arto and us at Blowup Festival. Janne has been doing live sound for us in quite a lot of shows this year, and he´s a multi-instrumentalist who really likes our sound, so he was a natural choice to take Arto´s place at the moment.
The second drum kit was played by Miika Luoma from New Waters, who has been helping Ariel in additional drumming in Callisto also before.
I remember reading that you thought although your first album was your break into the scene; you always believed its sound undermined its potential. Did you ever think about recording it or any of your older records again?
We never thought about recording again but there will definitely be a vinyl release of True Nature Unfolds also.
So finally, what do you have planned for us next, any upcoming tours or projects maybe? Or will we have to wait another six years to hear a new Callisto record?
I hope not that long this time. But the creative process is just something we can´t estimate beforehand, especially in this situation. It will be challenging to find new ways of composing without Arto, who´s been an important part of the sound for the last ten years.
First we´re going to be on a touring break for the rest of the year 2015. Then we will probably get back on stage at some point in 2016. There are already some ideas for new music but for it´s difficult to say how much time it will take to record a possible new album.
I think we are still in some kind of an “after-state” of Secret Youth.