Smackbound – Melodic, Energetic, and EmotionalThursday, 18th June 2020
So often nowadays you see bands haphazardly throwing music together just after forming, so it’s rare to see a more ‘realized’ effort that stems from really getting an understanding of the group and their vision/goals. Smackbound is one such case though, in that founder Netta Laurenne assembled the group of musicians that would become Smackbound, as well as started a cover band with them and played on the road together before writing music as a band. Five years later, we are given their debut, 20/20, and it’s clearly paid some dividends. 20/20 is very polished and as a debut, already showcases a playful personality that stands out amid the crowd. This was fertile ground to discuss when we were given the chance to speak with Laurenne herself, as well as her thoughts on the parallels between music and acting, as well as her involvement in writing scripts for the band’s music videos.
Dead Rhetoric: When Smackbound was founded, you also formed a cover band called Run for Cover. Do you feel that influenced the band’s sound at all? Or was it just a way for you all to practice together?
Netta Laurenne: It didn’t affect the sound or style that we did. We were playing ‘classics’ and hits of the ‘70s/’80s/’90s, and mostly ‘80s. We didn’t want to do a throwback to the ‘80s. The ‘80s were great and the bands were great, so why go back in time? But of course, there are influences from every kind of good music there is, no matter the genre. The whole point of Run for Cover was to test the waters on how we got along. So that influenced the band. If we had not gotten along well, we would have had a line-up change [laughs].
That was the main reason that we started playing together – to see how the dynamics of the group worked in different situations. Touring can be stressful and people act differently when they are tired and under pressure. I really wanted to make sure that we were with the right people. I don’t want to lose a second of my life being in the wrong crowd. It’s too tiring to work in an atmosphere with people that don’t get along. But the end result was that we really enjoyed each other’s company. It’s good that I didn’t get kicked out from my own band [laughs]! I was scared for a bit, but happily we got along [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: Given that the band came together five years ago, was it tough to coordinate schedules to get a recording in?
Laurenne: It was! The first year, we mainly just did the cover gigs and checking out how we worked together. It was about a year of gigs and touring before we started songwriting. It was especially difficult with Rolf Pilve on drums and Teemu Mäntysaari on guitar, because they had a lot of tours with their other bands. Finding time to do things was a challenge, but not impossible because we are here [laughs]. We found a few days in a row and basically packed the car and drove to a summer camp. We locked the doors and stayed in until we had several songs.
We wrote the album in four songwriting camps in the woods, like Finnish people do [laughs]. It was fairly easy, and by the evening we always had a song ready. There was some wine and beer involved, and we went to bed and got up the next morning and sometimes decided to destroy all the evidence and start again [laughs]. But everything came out pretty easy and fast; we worked together really well. Scheduling the recording was a challenge by itself, but we did it in a few states. We would do drums for 3 songs one time, and then for the next four in another one.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you describe the sound of Smackbound to those who haven’t checked it out?
Laurenne: It is metal [laughs] in a wide sense of metal. There’s a wide spectrum of microgenres inside the genre, and the album is very versatile. It’s melodic, energetic, and emotional. That’s the label of this lemonade bottle. The short version/marketing version of what it is like. For us, it was important to have meaningful lyrics, melodic songs with great energy, and not too much technical stuff. We cut it out – we didn’t want to do this show-off record of everyone’s talent and technical mastery of their instruments. We wanted to do good songs.
Dead Rhetoric: I think that’s something I find a bit more attractive nowadays when I listen to metal. I want good songwriting, I don’t necessarily want something that is completely over-the-top anymore.
Laurenne: We have all listened to our Dream Theaters and everyone has tried to play and master those songs. We actually Dream Theater songs in our cover band, so we respect the technicality but for us, we really wanted the music to have the main role and not ourselves. So it happened that I was the executive producer since I am the founder of the band. We have a song called “Wind and Water” that had a great solo from Vili [Itäpelto] but it was a very technical one, and not so much an emotional one. I said that it needed to be done again, and just make it more simple and following the song. I did it for myself as well, trying not to do things for my ego but remember that it’s about the song. It’s the ‘kill your babies’ thing.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you say about the lyrical topics for the album?
Laurenne: It’s basically self-reflection, self-empowerment, and it’s about honesty, truth, and respect. It’s about cutting the bullshit and owning yourself in the good and the bad. Owning your mistakes and everything about you. Not being a coward and trying to fall into anyone else’s lap. It’s about having a backbone and turning inward so that you can find happiness. The happiness comes from self-acknowledgement and being honest to yourself. That’s what it is calling for, in different ways.
For me, I told personal stories to give people courage for them to open up to themselves. To be able to reflect and move forward in their lives. To hear what you want to do, and who you really want to be in life. To go for that, and not listen to anyone else. There’s always tons of people giving us advice and telling us what to do, and it’s never the right way to go.
Dead Rhetoric: What are you most proud of when you think of 20/20?
Laurenne: That it’s finally ready [laughs]! Really, I’m proud of the fact that we were able to, in all of this chaos of schedules, that we were really able to find our own style and sound. Even though it’s a very wide range of songs and a versatile record, it all still comes together and has this Smackbound stamp to it. I’m proud of the fact that we were able to find this voice of Smackbound.
Dead Rhetoric: You are also an actress – what are some of the similarities and differences in being a frontwoman compared to acting and performing in theater?
Laurenne: In a way, you give away from yourself in both. That’s part of being a performer. You have to give something away from yourself. Otherwise, it doesn’t work. But it’s a different kind of field. It depends on if you are acting on a theater stage, or a camera production, which I am nowadays doing more of. I used to do more theater, but now I have shifted towards more camera work, because of many things [laughs]. If you compare camerawork, then there is no audience. It is trying to give away feelings and energy from yourself. I feel like that is the mutual thing to music. You give away your own energy and your own feelings. For me, being an actress, not when singing the album but in performing situations it helps me to relax. It has some kind of a shield, and I have to break it. I understand that I have to break it for the emotions to come through. It helps to have the tools for performing.
Dead Rhetoric: Does your work in front of the cameras help in doing music videos for the band?
Laurenne: Yeah, it helps. I think that’s where the two professions are mostly affected by each other. I think it helps the most during the videos. Of course, you know how to act around a camera and the technicalities of filming, and you also understand the way that you have to show emotions in a way that they can be seen on film.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you also do most of the write-ups for the videos before you shoot them?
Laurenne: Yes, I do all the scripts for the videos. I never tell the guys what they are doing. I only tell them a few hours before the shoot, so that they can’t run [laughs]! That’s probably why they hate me [laughs]! But it’s the only tactic that works. I just randomly, two hours before the shoot, say things like, “In this one, you have to be naked” [laughs]. They can’t do anything, because they know we don’t have the video twice, so they have to do whatever they are told to do. But really, the guys are great! They do understand that I have a vision that will come out in a good way.
Now I’m talking about “The Game,” where we were naked with clay. It was funny, because all of the guys and I were laughing our asses off because we had to put the clay on each other. No one could do themselves, so we were laughing because it was so weird. But then, when we got in front of the camera, because we had this back to back formation, like in a circle, it became a very vulnerable situation. It was a beautiful thing, that none of us can understand how it felt so strong. How humble we felt in that situation.
But yeah, “Drive it Like You Stole It,” I was thinking I would have to tell the guys that they had to dance. I asked if they are okay with it, since usually the metal guys don’t dance [laughs]! That’s like the last thing you do! I was trying to break that, since we want to be able to laugh and we took a dancing lesson one day before the shoot. It was disastrous! We were so bad [laughs]! But gladly, you can’t see it on the video because they are like half-second shots from the great choreography that we had. We had a choreographer that made this dance routine and we were able to do 10% of it [laughs]. But it’s been fun, and I love the guys for being able to be open with everything. They are always in to it, and that’s a good thing! That tells something about the group that we have.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve done guest spots for a number of bands over the years. What did you take from those experiences?
Laurenne: I never thought about that [laughs]. I probably took the experience and the knowledge of what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. I have done so many different things, for bands that are known globally as well as Finnish rap and from one end to the other. I think it’s just the overall experience as a musician. Knowing what works and what doesn’t in the studio. How to be efficient, and things like that.
Dead Rhetoric: What goals do you have for the band, moving forward from 20/20?
Laurenne: It’s an interesting question now that we still have this COVID-19 pandemic still going on. Nobody knows when and how the world will open up, so when all of the gigs got cancelled from this year, I’m not sure when we are going to do live shows again, or when the first one will be. We were laughing at the idea that this could be a situation that no one sees us live before the second album [laughs]? But hopefully that is not the case. Hopefully the world does open again sooner.
But right now, we have started writing a second album since we have time. That is our focus now. We want to use this time to really do this album, so that it doesn’t take another five years to get it done. We are more scheduled, and we have planned it now that we all have time. We are also eager to seeing what happens when the album is released. We are looking forward to how people are going to take it. It tells a lot about the future when we hear what people are thinking about the album. If they say that it’s the worst album in the universe [laughs, we might not be able to make a second one for this label.