Before the Dawn – Back From the Dark

Sunday, 25th June 2023

Photo Credit: Teppo Ristola

A decade ago, multi-instrumentalist Tuomas Saukkonen put to rest numerous bands to focus solely on Wolfheart. Slowly but surely, the resurrection of his other bands has begun – Dawn of Solace now releasing two albums since reforming in 2019, and the surprising comeback for Before the Dawn. You’ll learn all about the story from Tuomas behind the latest album Stormbringers, along with talk about his move to the drummer position for this band, their latest vocalist discovery from The Voice television show (Finnish edition), touring/ festival discussions, plans for the future, and how he threw himself into work during the pandemic shutdowns.

Dead Rhetoric: Before the Dawn is now back after originally dissolving the group in 2013 – what circumstances took place to resurrect this outfit, and how did you assemble the players including newest vocalist Paavo Laapotti?

Tuomas Saukkonen: It was a series of unforeseen events that led to this whole comeback. The first event was the whole pandemic, because me and the longest standing guitar player Juho Räihä, suddenly we lost over two hundred gigs. He plays guitar in Swallow the Sun, and I have a lot of tours booked with Wolfheart so for the first time in fifteen years there was an empty calendar which is a bit of a problem as an artist. We had a lot of time to think of things to do, so we decided to do a vinyl edition of one of our old albums – Deadlight, which was released in 2006. We wanted to make something special for the fans, so we wrote one new song, after like ten years to have something extra special, not just the same release.

That was super fun to be in the studio, but then we didn’t have any discussion about a comeback until Paavo the new vocalist performed “Deadsong” from the same album on The Voice of Finland show. That started the domino effect. I sent him messages through Instagram, I complimented him on how the song was with his vocals. When the competition was done, he was second at the end. I suggested that we should try to do something musical together, I had some ideas that would fit his voice. The whole idea was to do a solo project for Paavo, and I would be in the background as a songwriter. We went into the studio, we got the song done, and when I was driving home with the raw mix of the song the whole idea came to me that this sounds like Before the Dawn. And then I started calling the last members of the lineup in 2013. I called the bass player, one of the front of house guys, label guys, everybody who was in the inner circle of the band back in the day, asking if this was a crazy idea I had in my head, check out the song. Everyone agreed it sounded like Before the Dawn, and we should ask him to be the vocalist. That’s how accidental the whole comeback was. We wrote the song before we even knew it would be for Before the Dawn.

Dead Rhetoric: And then how did the work go behind the scenes for the new album?

Saukkonen: It started, we wanted to do the song “Downhearted” and release it as a stand alone single, test the waters a little bit. Two weeks after the single was out, we got an offer from Napalm for the contract, a booking agency from Finland started booking things as we are doing festivals now. And then we hit the studio. It felt like out of control in a good way. Usually, you need to push a lot of things to happen, force people to do favors and that’s how the music business works. Nothing happens on its own, especially good things. In this case, it was a lot of stones that started rolling down the hill and suddenly we were in the studio going, ‘what is happening?’.

Dead Rhetoric: Stormbringers is the latest studio record. Where do you see this material sitting in the discography of the band – did you have any apprehensions going into this as far as where you wanted to go stylistically compared to the previous material, or is it just intuition and feeling that guides the process most?

Saukkonen: The only thing I wanted to do is avoid the songwriting and sound of the last album Rise of the Phoenix. That was basically already the first Wolfheart album, growling, lots of blast beats, elements of melodic death and harsher metal. I didn’t want to steer Before the Dawn into the Wolfheart direction. Any song off the new album would fit any of the older albums for Before the Dawn. Going back to the basics with Before the Dawn.

Dead Rhetoric: The videos for the record showcase the band in performance footage either from the studio or stage – is it important to portray the band differently based on the style present, as you’ve always embraced the importance of the visual medium to attract a global audience beyond your live performances?

Saukkonen: I think it’s super important, and now the rules are a little bit different because for the first time I’m not doing any vocals in the band. I’m the drummer, so to me it’s a really good change. For the older fans it’s a big change, one guy replacing two vocalists. It’s important to show the band as thoroughly as possible. With the videos and the social media because it’s an old band and completely a new band. Presenting the whole lineup, I think a lot of the fans of the band are stuck in this 2005, 2006 era of the band with albums like Deadlight and Soundscape of Silence. A lot of people have noticed we have a different lineup on the last album. For most of the people, they only see Juho on guitar as a familiar thing. Now the main thing is to show the band in action, in the studio, and on the stage and to set up the videos as thoroughly as possible.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you think the response has been with the new lineup – as you’ve done some live shows in your home country recently to premiere the band?

Saukkonen: It’s been amazing. Like I mentioned, it feels like a stone rolling down the hill that’s not in my control. There are a lot of nice stories, like Paavo being a huge fan of the band, performing “Deadsong” and now being in the band. One of the other stories is that the first show of this lineup took place in the same venue as the last show we played in 2013. Right about ten years ago. It was the same venue, same producer, same crew – it completed the whole circle except we sold more tickets for the comeback show than we did on the last show. The feedback has been really good. We were a little nervous, not because of the music but because of knowing the people, fans that were fans of Lars or the singer for the first two albums Panu. When you replace growling vocals, it’s a lot easier – when you replace clean vocals, for some people that may be the theme of the band, no matter what the songwriting is or what the lyrics are about. It feels really good, and I’m super happy about it.

Dead Rhetoric: What was the lyrical content like for the new record? Did you try to keep similar themes as you’ve had with Before the Dawn previously?

Saukkonen: Yes, pretty much the same. As with Wolfheart, I pretty much go with a theme-album type of thing. It was refreshing to go back to this song-by-song approach with the lyrics, not that everything needs to be connected to a whole big story. It narrows the options with the lyrics, you are very tied to the theme.

Dead Rhetoric: You worked with Greek artist Nikos Stavridakis on the cover art for Stormbringers – who has worked as well with your other acts Wolfheart and Dawn of Solace in this capacity. What do you enjoy most regarding his work, and what he was able to come up for Before the Dawn this time around?

Saukkonen: Mainly I like his flexibility. Me and my ideas, and my schedules and deadlines, are very unprofessional sometimes. I get some ideas at the very last minute, but he’s the most flexible and professional guy I can think of. And also, I’m from Finland, he’s from Greece, we’ve met only once, and we see the very ordinate things very differently. That’s why I love his work on Wolfheart, he sees winter differently than I do. Same with Before the Dawn, everything I explain to him his imagination adds something special or exotic. Just because of the culture and being from another side of the world.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you assess your abilities as a drummer over the years compared to your skills as a singer and guitarist? What seems easiest for you to handle, and what requires more energy (either physically or mentally) to achieve between the instruments?

Saukkonen: Guitar I’ve been playing for thirty-five years. That’s not really a challenge when it comes to performing my own songs. Drums were a huge challenge. I played three gigs on drums in the past eight years as a drummer, some very random studio work. Now doing over one-hour sets, playing songs not super technical or difficult but the drummers we used to have, Ukri our last drummer plays now with Abbath, Joonas was one of the drummers, he plays in Wolfheart, Atti, one of the drummers plays in Beast in Black. So, there’s only been amazing drummers in the band, I have big boots to fill. I have been training at a minimum four to five times a week for the past five months. Physically it is a lot more demanding than any other instrument I would say. I could play easier, but that doesn’t feel the same so.

It’s going to prove a challenge in the winter when we do both tours with Wolfheart and Before the Dawn. I need to be in a very good condition, I need to stay fit and healthy to be able to pull that off.

Dead Rhetoric: I could see that being a challenge. Especially given the different styles between the two bands…

Saukkonen: I think it’s an advantage when I have two different things. If things were similar with the music with two sets in a row. It’s more physical, whatever instrument you play for more than two hours, you are going to end up really tired in the end. Just the endurance and being fit enough to actually pull off two gigs in a row.

Dead Rhetoric: In speaking with Steffen Kummerer of Obscura/Thulcandra recently for this site, he mentioned the great North American tour run recently completed with Fleshgod Apocalypse and Wolfheart. What were your thoughts on this run, special highlights, and did you feel that there’s a different level of appreciation for live entertainment now coming out of this prolonged absence of shows because of the pandemic?

Saukkonen: I literally saw and felt that people were very happy about the live shows coming back. It’s weirdly different in Europe at the moment. There are some huge challenges in central Europe which used to be the A market for the European tours. Of course, the Ukraine/Russia thing has a huge effect with the German economy which screws up a lot of things at the moment. After three years of struggle, cancellations, and everything, being able to be a part of that good of a tour in North America was at least the highlight of the past three years. The best possible touring company – we’ve done tours with Fleshgod Apocalypse before. It’s amazing how well Italian and Finnish people fit together on a tour bus. On paper, it shouldn’t work, but in real life, they are the best people to tour with.

One-third of the shows were sold out in advance. It was highlight after highlight. We came from three years with no tours at all. We did have the European tour, but that was a little more complicated. The ticket sales for that package tour, with us, Moonspell, Insomnium, and Borknagar. There were a few bad days on the tour because of the snowstorms cancelling the show, one of the buses drove off the road but nobody got hurt. It was just a lot of highlights for one month in a row.

Dead Rhetoric: Given Paavo’s exposure on the Finnish edition of The Voice, does this help Before the Dawn garner additional attention to maybe outliers who may not necessarily be as familiar with the band’s work? Has he also talked to you about his views and experiences being on the show?

Saukkonen: We have been talking about this experience. It can be very harsh, because the whole thing is built to make money for the labels, for the television station. It was never meant to be the most supportive way for the new artists to make a career. It’s a tough grinder that you put yourself into, you expose yourself to a lot of critics. He handled it really well. Because of the whole The Voice experience he’s been very relaxed when it comes to Before the Dawn. He’s never played festivals, he’s never done touring, he’s never been in a video production, or a proper studio environment to make an album, nothing shows that he is a first timer. The Voice of Finland was a really good school. Compared to a band environment, this is ten times easier.

I don’t think it helped much, because the style of the program and the performances. We didn’t want to underline this too much; we didn’t want to make this as the band with The Voice from Finland guy. When we started the first single promo, we didn’t underline it too much. We want to be known as a band and I didn’t want to take the cheap road. Also, Finland is five million people population – these kinds of programs don’t do many wonders to even the artists. The past three years, even the winner for The Voice of Finland didn’t get a single song out. That’s how little support the vocalists get from that. The audience watch the sixty-minute show once a week, they get entertained, but they don’t care who is doing what and when. It’s a part of your Friday night part of your entertainment, and I don’t think they see the competitors as artists. I don’t think it helped much, it gave us a new singer and a comeback.

Dead Rhetoric: How is the Tuomas of today handling the multiple band/project outlets compared to the person a decade ago who dissolved everything to focus solely on Wolfheart for a few years? Has your perspective changed to do as much as you can now while you have the creative energy and vitality to do this?

Saukkonen: It was a different time ten years ago. I have better labels, I have professional management, totally different people behind me. I made a promise to not have more than one band, and that was ten years ago. The situation is different – I focus only on the music and the basic social media stuff. The pandemic changed my mindset also. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have believed the whole career could go away like that. If something feels good, I don’t want to think too much about it, because nobody knows what’s going to happen next month, next year. We’ve been talking about that in Before the Dawn, Juho is busy with Swallow the Sun, but we take things a tour at a time. If it feels good, we are going to do it no matter what. Eventually we have to stop for some reason – who knows how long this is going to last.

The same with the whole musical thing. I want to do as much as I can and as much as I enjoy it. Now I know how it feels when it stops – it didn’t feel good. Now I want to do as much as I can, because there could be the second sign when things will halt, and I want to feel that I’ve done everything.

Dead Rhetoric: Is it a challenge with time management to juggle all the things you said, priorities with Wolfheart and your other projects against what Juho has with Swallow the Sun?

Saukkonen: This year we were pretty lucky. We have grown older and wiser, so you get more flexible. One show is not the end of the world, if we need to move one festival one year, not the end of the world. We acted differently when we were twenty-five or so. It’s a lot easier to juggle with the schedule. The whole year it looks like we will be able to do things with no overlapping for anybody. Schedule-wise, the Finnish and European tours with both bands – I’d rather do two gigs in a night then two different tours.

Dead Rhetoric: Has the festival situation worked itself out better this year? The last time we talked about the previous Wolfheart album, you thought it was crazy with the number of festivals and some weren’t selling very well, leading to cancellations…?

Saukkonen: It’s getting a little bit better. I thought this would be the first normal summer, but it may happen next year. Still bankruptcies have been announced. One huge UK festival, one German festival, they cancelled the whole festival. A lot of people were too eager to bring their own new festivals, and that will reflect things. It makes the whole comeback of the audience a little slower. They will buy tickets to festivals that get cancelled, so they get more and more worried. It’s less complicated, but far from normal.

Dead Rhetoric: What sort of goals do you set for yourself as a musician in the current marketplace that may have changed or differed from when you first started performing your own music in bands during your younger years?

Saukkonen: The guitar is still the same – I just want to be able to play my own songs. I don’t feel I have anything left to prove or show with the instruments. They are used as tools for songwriting. The drums, I’ve changed my perspective. Now I am staring at the big festival stages in Finland, like a touring drummer, I take it very seriously now. I approach things with an actual training program. I’m 43, if I want to be a really good drummer, this is my moment. As far as the guitar, my skill level I’m pretty much set.

Dead Rhetoric: What types of tools are you implementing to improve your abilities and technique as a drummer?

Saukkonen: YouTube. That’s the modern thing that is helping. Whatever new technique, trick, or fill, the training method you want to learn, you have dozens of insane drummers to help you. I get to play with an insane drummer, Joonas, several times a week. It gives me comparison points on a weekly basis. The same applies from every drummer, every bass player, every guitar player, keep your eyes and ears open, there are always better musicians around that you can learn from.

Dead Rhetoric: With the extended downtime, did you throw yourself more into gardening and your career activities?

Saukkonen: Yes. Too much. Which is why this year I will not be doing any gardening work. I want to focus on the music. I lost all the tours; I didn’t have the best attitude, so I basically buried myself into work. When you work seventy hours a week, you don’t really think about anything else except sleep and work. And when you do that two years in a row, that’s not good for your mental health or your playing abilities. I overdid it bad, but I was just coping with the situation.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next year or two shaping up for Before the Dawn, Dawn of Solace, Wolfheart, or any other activities?

Saukkonen: It looks like busy. We are locking down festivals in the summer of 2024. Before the Dawn we are looking at touring schedules. We are looking at recording another album for Dawn of Solace. All three are rolling forward very strongly over the next year. I’m still a little anxious to plan that far, but it feels good to have a lot of markings on the calendar and see that everything is actually happening. I would love to have Before the Dawn play in North America, but first we have to see how the album (reception) goes. There is a certain challenge of that fan base ten years ago, a lot of them at my age are not grounded in social media as much anymore. I don’t want to rush things; I’d rather wait one or two more years to do a proper tour than bring the band too early and have that backfire. Touring costs in North America and Europe have become very challenging, I don’t want to make any obstacles for the band(s) financially by touring too much too early.

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