Cinematic Story Tellers DARK SARAH are due to unleash an eagerly anticipated tale. Grim tells the story of Luna in a universe with orbs, rabbit-headed people and a new nemesis Mörk. Rock Out Stand Out’s Lotty Whittingham speaks to lead vocalist and founder Heidi Parviainen about this new tale, her hopes about fans finding the answers they seek and how she has been coping with lockdown.
First off, all congratulations on getting to 100% on your Kickstarter campaign. That is brilliant.
Thank you, during this time I was very surprised because I was mentally prepared for the fact that we might not achieve it this time. I am really happy that we did, it makes things much simpler.
I am a backer for this campaign and I found from previous times, it has been worth it as you treated to exclusive content.
Yes, but this time we had a different approach to our crowdfunding due to being signed to a new label. We couldn’t print the digi-packs anymore so that was something we couldn’t do anything about but I understand why that is. I am still happy that our fans found a product that they liked in our campaign.
I suppose particularly during lockdown and COVID-19, I think it’s nice having something to help us escape and that’s what your music does.
Yes. Actually, when I started Dark Sarah, I wanted to create that but you never know how people will react to that. Will they find everything that you want them to find? Will they see the story? Will they read it right? How does the music work with the story? Even if it works for you, it might not work for other people so I have been really fortunate, lucky and happy that people found the depth of our art.
So, your upcoming album Grim, I have listened to it and it’s fantastic. It’s a different story completely, your last album The Golden Moth ended on a sad note. Could you tell us more about why you decided on a different story?
I already knew since The Puzzle album that the first three Dark Sarah albums would be a trilogy and there would be a proper ending for this trilogy. Also, during the making of The Golden Moth, I felt I had this big change in me. I kind of didn’t bond with Dark Sarah that much anymore so that’s why I wrote a sad ending to The Golden Moth. I wanted to have something new coming out of it, like a butterfly it’s a transformation.
So, something different came out of The Golden Moth, a transformation process. On Grim and this new storyline, Luna is a reincarnation of Dark Sarah. So, in that way it’s kind of leads on and it doesn’t have the same band name. The memory of Dark Sarah lives in Luna.
That answers one of my questions. I picked up in the lyrics of Melancholia “I truly feel I am in a different time” so I did wonder if that was a reference to Dark Sarah but in a different universe.
Yes, and everything gets an explanation in the story. I have been explaining a lot to journalists about why Luna is there, the wolf and who is the wolf. The storybook will explain everything you need to know as you can’t tell a proper story with just lyrics. It’s why I always add a short novel and this time, a poem book. It’s written in poetry like rhymes, the proof-reader said it reminded him of nursery rhymes [laughs].
So, it could be dark nursery rhymes.
Yes, it was born that way. I started making rhymes, it’s what I normally do when I write lyrics so it was a natural continuation for that.
With this change in the story, I noticed some changes within your music as well. Not so much so you lose the original Dark Sarah sound but there are some differences. Was this intentional?
Yes, it was because I felt that it’s like you push all the books off the table and the papers are on the floor and you start a new thing. My music writing has developed a lot over the years with Dark Sarah and I wrote the first demos for Grim a couple of years ago. The last part of demo process changed a lot. I was changing, my music style was changing and the trilogy was ending. So, I felt this was a good moment to release subtle changes in our music. We want to make soft change for our fans too. I wanted this album to be a good transport to a new story and adding something from the last albums.
People want a conclusion on what happened to Dragon and Sarah so I felt like I owed them this proper ending. This album will give the answers they are looking for whilst starting something new. So, it’s a mix of old and new, this is the easiest way to say it.
It’s a very exciting album. I think it’s good to use this album as a way to find out what works and what doesn’t then apply that to the next album.
Yes of course. That’s something we would like to try with this album. I have changed my singing style too; I am sure there are some people who don’t like it as they expect me to sing operatic all the time. I am usually against using a pop sound or voice but then suddenly with this album, I felt OK with it and I practiced a lot in the studio. We really did work on it. I think it suits this album a lot. There are subtle changes in many ways.
Indeed, especially in All Ears! and Mörk where Jassa Jatala provides growls that I haven’t heard in a Dark Sarah track before.
Yes, he is a new to the band. I saw him on the television a year ago, he was in the show Voice Of Finland. I saw him and thought ‘wow, that guy can really sing and does absolutely crazy growls.’ Since I already knew what I was going to write, I head hunt artists for the new roles. I felt that he was a newcomer in the metal scene and I felt that he would be interested in this. I asked him over Facebook if he was like to sing on my album and he was happy to do it. He has been really excited about this collaboration and so have I. Who knows, he could come back as a different character on another album.
I suppose Jassa could be the new JP [Leppäluoto] as JP was the Dragon for the last two albums and now, he’s the Wolf on this one. So it could be that sort of scenario.
Yes, that could happen. Everything is possible, it’s just like writing stories. Everything is possible with stories. When it comes to JP and having another vocalist, I think having that combo is really hard. Especially when musicians have their solo careers and everything like that. It’s hard for a combo to carry on when that happens, everything builds on these two people. I spoke with JP about this album and we both agreed he would take the time to time to build up his own solo career. I support him one hundred percent and we are still really good friends.
When you write songs, do you have in mind which musicians you would like in each song? I remember you had Netta Skog on your last album.
Netta came quite late into the production of things because we felt it would be a nice addition to the music. Since everything is possible in storytelling, even when it isn’t a proper figure or character in the story, it’s a role that’s heard but not seen. Netta was the fortune teller in this instance. So, every time you hear it, you know it’s something about the Dragon. It became his scene where the fortune teller is playing the accordion.
When I write the story, I know the characters; what they are going to be, what kind of roles they would need be and what voices they would need. That’s what I meant with the head hunting earlier. I can start with me hearing somebody and thinking ‘this is the exact voice I need.’ Then I start searching the internet, sometimes I know someone and I know they are great people who I love working with. So, there are many ways to do this casting.
As you have said before, you have a wide range of vocal styles. Do you already know which style you will use in the tracks?
That’s something we agreed with our producer Mikko P. Mustonen who has been working with us from the very start. He was the person I contacted when I first formed Dark Sarah. We do the co-writing together. So, sometimes I send him demos saying this would be the perfect song for this part of the story but I really can’t do the C part in this, can you do it please. So, it works like that.
Sometimes, he says to me ‘Heidi, I love this beginning but the rest of it is rubbish.’ So, then we take the other part of the demo to see if it fits or sometimes it just needs remaking. He has this really good hunch of what the song needs. He suggests when would be a good place to use the poppy vocals and try to use less vibrato. Without him, I couldn’t have done this change as I have sung classical and opera since I was fourteen so it’s really built in. So, I needed to work a lot on it. Now it’s been done, that chest has been opened and I will seek more from that chest.
Who are your personal influences?
This is a tricky question because I get it a lot. I think most people have their idols when they are young; musical idols and singing idols. I am a bit weird in this case because I have never had those idols. Maybe when I was a teenager, I had friends who were in love with their idols like Backstreet Boys and so on. For me, I was realistic and didn’t want to fall in love with someone I couldn’t have.
Of course, I do have influences. I read a lot of books when I was a teenager. I read fantasy novels like Dragon Lands, Edgar Allen Poe, J.R.R Tolkien and Harry Potter; they are my absolute favourites. I also love Agatha Christie. Books leave something on your back, it’s like a backpack of experiences and it’s the same thing with music. I hear something I love like musical theatre, for example Sweeney Todd, musically it may not be my favourite but I love the visuals. I also love Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of The Opera and Cats.
Of course, movies, lots of movies. Even though you don’t listen to the soundtrack without the movie but some parts are so good with the music. It flows through you and you can say afterwards when I am waiting for my moment to pay in the store and something strikes me. Inspiration can strike me anywhere; it can pop in my head at very weird times in weird places.
Everything starts from the title of the album, it’s like a mind map. For me, inspiration for music is always visual so in that way I am a little bit weird. I start with the title that just drops in my lap. Then I start thinking about what moods I want so it’s continuation of the last album. Then I start making a Pinterest page where I search for words and find pictures that speak to me. That’s how I build a story. It works really well.
When listening to the album, some parts did remind me of Tim Burton films.
Oh really, Tim Burton is my favourite. I would love to meet him one day. Maybe he is my grown-up idol.
So, at the moment, we are in lockdown due to COVID-19. Did you have any concerts planned to promote the album before they got postponed or cancelled?
Actually, when the COVID-19 situation came in, it was good and bad for us. We had just signed with Napalm Records and it was early this year. That’s the moment you start booking shows. But because of COVID-19 and lockdown, all the shows and all the tours were cancelled. We hadn’t booked any shows, our schedule was empty.
We are however are going to have an album release show in Helsinki, Finland. It’s still uncertain, if it’s going to be public or live stream but some kind of release show will be happening. Let’s see what happens after that because I know that summer shows are already off. No big festivals this year so we are in the same boat with other bands. This live stream will be available internationally. We have lots of fans from around the world, especially from the USA and we have never had the chance to go to the USA. It’s great that something great can come out of a time of misery and it’s these live stream opportunities that venues are trying to create for a band as they need money too.
How have you personally been coping with lockdown?
By drinking a lot of wine [laughs]. I have also been watching a lot of those Tik Tok videos where people make these wine videos and I laugh my ass off at those whilst gaining many pounds. That’s what I have been doing. Also, I have been teaching singing through Skype and Zoom, it has been possible for some of my students since March. It has been quite nice to be at home and my husband Sammi has been working from home.
I have also been doing a lot of gardening, which I love and it’s my hobby. Now it looks like a secret garden, it looks really beautiful and I am really happy with it. So, like I said earlier something so nice can come out of misery but we have been trying to avoid public places, staying at home and washing our hands. I saw my parents for the first time in three months yesterday, it’s a good thing people have stayed at home but now things are opening up and I am starting to teach again face to face. Hopefully it stays that way and we don’t need a lockdown anymore.
Do you have words of wisdom to your fans who may not be coping with lockdown?
Hang in there, try to stay safe and listen to Dark Sarah. It’s like an ear book and you can find the Chronicles, the whole story and the three CDs so you can have the full Dark Sarah experience. I want people to know that it is more than the music. So read the stories, watch all the videos and the teasers, I have done those a little bit differently and there are hints here and there. It’s a good thing to watch them through.
Thank you Heidi for chatting to us at Rock Out Stand Out today and best of luck with the album release.