North Pole Throwdown! An Interview With Children of Bodom’s Alexi Laiho

By Adrien Begrand

After years of hard work touring across North America, Children of Bodom’s efforts have finally started to pay off in recent years, but especially in Canada, as fans here have embraced their frozen friends from Finland in a way that hasn’t quite been equaled south of the border. Interestingly, though, despite making major headway in the metal market on this side of the Atlantic, their last couple albums have not exactly lived up to the enormous promise shown by their 1999-2003 period, which spawned such fan faves as Hatebreeder, Follow the Reaper, and Hate Crew Deathroll.

That’s all changed, though, with the forthcoming Relentless, Reckless Forever (Spinefarm/Universal), a record so rife with hooks that it quickly renders 2008′s Blooddrunk monochrome by comparison. Although all the familiar characteristics are there, from singer/guitarist Alexi Laiho’s distinct solos to the usual balancing act between tetchy staccato riffs and strong keyboard melodies, there’s a sense of melody on the new record that we haven’t heard from Bodom in ages. Led by such standouts as “Shovel Knockout”, “Round Trip to Hell and Back”, and “Not My Funeral”, it’s the first time we hear the band fully live up to all the promise they showed more than a decade ago, and has all the makings of a significant commercial breakthrough for the band. Hellbound caught up with the inimitable Mr. Laiho, who happily chatted, in his quirky, Finnish-accented Jeff Spicoli sort of way, about the new album. Dig past every “dude”, “like”, and “y’know”, and you’ll find a guy who not only feels creatively invigorated, but who’s gradually coming to grips with the public persona he created for himself.

I’ve been listening to the new album for a month now, and the first thing I thought when I heard it was how it feels so much more positive than anything you’ve put out lately. Was this album as fun to make as it sounds?

It was, yeah. It was fun to make, it was a little bit different than any of our other sessions in quite a while. This was recorded in Canada for a period of time, so we had to be really fast, we had to be efficient. It wasn’t too crazy, but it was good to get into that working zone. I think it made everybody play better, get more into being less distracted. But we had a good time, though.

How easily did it all come together, from the songwriting to the recording?

Songwriting-wise, it’s always stressful, but this time around we had a little bit more time to do that. So there was that, which was a really good thing. We did have a deadline, but it wasn’t that stressful, like the Are You Dead Yet album [was], where you had, like two months. This time we had about five months to write. We still worked really hard, we rehearsed every day, so none of that changed.

But we didn’t really have any time off exactly. We were on the road for two years in a row and there was just a month or two off. Then we started writing songs, going back on the road a little bit, we went into the studio, then went back on the road. That’s the funny thing, it’s kind of inevitable that it takes over two years for any album to come out. This time around I don’t know why it took such a long time for it to come out, because it was mixed and mastered last August. It’s a schedule thing, I don’t know. But I’m just glad that it’s finally coming out, I’ve just been so anxious for it, getting back on the road, and all that.

How did that whole experience compare to the making of Blooddrunk?

We had less time in the studio, especially with the guitars, bass, and keyboards. There were tighter schedules and less partying, I guess. [Laughing] We’re always professional in the studio, but we always have more time, so at the same time recording an album was always like a big party. But it was good to do it this way. And with Matt Hyde we had a producer for the first time ever. It was a breath of fresh air to work with another dude. That guy has such a good attitude, so it was good to have him around. He knew how to keep things going.

We used to have guys that were more like recording engineers as opposed to being producers. He was there to spice it up, he would throw out ideas here and there. He was involved from the very beginning when we did demo tapes, but he told us from the very beginning he was not going to be that involved with the songwriting. He knew that we know what we’re doing. Arrangement-wise he had a lot of ideas. He was a really good dude. For some reason he was working, like, 24-7. He was always up, slamming crazy amounts of those fucking energy drinks. [Laughing] He was always in a really good mood, so it was really cool, just for the fact that we had really different schedules with some of the guys. Some of the guys wake up at eight o’clock in the morning, and some guys go to sleep at eight o’clock in the morning. [Laughing] For example, I could call him up at five a.m. and tell him, ‘Dude, I just finished one song with lyrics,’ and he’d go, ‘Alright, let’s go record it.’ So that was good.

The tour in support of Blooddrunk was massive; you crossed North America several times. How draining was that whole experience?

It was draining, but I’m not complaining about it. It’s just the way it is. We can pull it off. Of course, sometimes you just get completely exhausted, but you can’t just fucking cry about it. Well, you can, but that won’t do any good for you. You might as well just find something to smile about, as opposed to bitching about the fact that you want to be at home. I like touring, I love being on the road, for me it’s never a problem.

Just the other day Janne [Wirman, keyboardist] commented that the Black Label Society tour last year didn’t go as well as he’d hoped. In your opinion, how was that whole experience?

That was the last thing that we did for the Blooddrunk album, so to speak. It was actually right after we had finished recording the new album. For me, it was a fun thing to do, a really awesome way to finish the whole cycle, the whole Blooddrunk period. I had a good time, we were supporting and stuff. I’m glad that we did it, that’s for sure.

You’ve always been influenced by classic 1980s metal, but the riffs on this album seem to really draw from that era. Was that the case?

I do agree, there’s a lot of ’80s hard rock guitar, especially with the guitar riffs, there’s a lot of influence from that type of music. I think it’s more out there with this album than it was on, say, Blooddrunk. I don’t know why, but that’s just how it turned out.

At times it feels like you’re channeling Warren DeMartini and George Lynch.

That can be the case. [Laughing] Those guys among many others. I grew up listening to it, and I still dig their stuff.

The interaction between guitar and keyboard has always been part of the band’s sound, but as the lead guitarist and songwriter, how hard is it for you to envision Janne’s keyboards as you’re writing a new song?

It’s always been a part of COB’s music, and I’m not a good keyboard player or anything. I know how to play well enough to at least come up with some keyboard stuff. Usually I don’t need keyboards like that, I’ll just play it in my head and just tell Janne what to do. And we’ve been working together for such a long time that it’s easy to communicate as far as telling him what to play and how to play it. He gets it at the snap of a fucking finger. As far as the keyboard solos, he improvises the stuff. It’s a cool thing, something different as opposed to two guitar players. And like you say, it’s always been a really big element in COB’s music.

The melodies on this album seem to come so naturally, nothing seems forced. Have you been noticing your own improvement in the actual craft of songwriting?

The working method was exactly the same, it always has been, and we’ve never sat down and talked to each other about what we should sound like. I just started writing, and whatever came up, came out naturally. We just like to keep it that way. I don’t know if people ever want to plan beforehand what they want to sound like, but we don’t. That spontaneity has always been part of our sound.

Hearing how strong these new songs are, did you have a different mindset at the time when you were writing them as opposed to previous albums?

Um…I don’t know! [Laughing] I do remember that this time around I had this fucking drive, I felt like that I really want to fucking kick ass. I’ve felt that same thing since I was fucking 19 years old. It felt like it was a time to show the whole world that we know how to fucking kick ass. That would definitely be a good thing. [Laughing]

Are there any new songs on the new album that stand out for you?

It changes all the time, but right now it’s probably the opening track. It’s a really good example of where the band is at musically right now. It’s got great solos, really catchy melodies in the chorus, all the elements that are required in a really good Children of Bodom song. ["North Pole Throwdown"], that’s like old school black metal-slash-punk or whatever. [Laughing] It’s a fun song, definitely. Fun to play and fun to write in general.

Blooddrunk debuted at #7 in Canada, and you’ve since gone on to be quite a big draw in this country. What are your thoughts on the reception you get every time you come to Canada?

It’s always great. And I’m just not saying it. It’s definitely always one of the highlights of playing the whole world, the Canadian dates. The crowds over there are just so fucking incredible, we’re always really looking forward to it.

Your choice of bonus track cover songs is getting more and more eclectic with every new album, and you did Eddie Murphy’s “Party All the Time” for this one. How much fun do you have deciding what to cover each time out?

Well, deciding it is actually not the fun part, but when we get to do the arrangements and the recording part, it’s always a lot of fun. It gets more difficult every goddamn time. We’re starting to run out of crazy ideas, since we’ve done everything from Slayer to Britney Spears [Laughing], so it’s really hard to shock people nowadays. But I think we did a pretty good job with the Eddie Murphy cover. [Laughing]

As you get more into your 30s, how much harder is it to keep up with the hard-partying lifestyle you led in your 20s?

I think now, and I’m only speaking for myself, I know how to get crazy, I still can be crazy and sometimes I do it too much, but also I know how to chill out. I don’t have to do that if I don’t want to. Five years ago I was always out there, I was always the craziest fuck. I’d always go have fun and go to bed. But I’ve been there already, I don’t have to do that. I’ve paid my dues, so it’s okay for me to go to bed really early. [Laughing]

So you know how to pace yourself now.

Yeah, I’m trying. I’m slowly learning to do that. My drinking started to kind of get out of hand for myself at some point. I didn’t notice it before, but it became more like medicating as opposed to just having fun. I didn’t notice it, but at some point I couldn’t even go out anywhere without at least five shots of vodka in my system, that’s when I felt normal. I couldn’t do anything before that. That’s not cool anymore and that’s not fun anymore. I just have to learn how to take it easy, and as usual I have to learn the hard way. I just had to realize that you can’t keep doing that forever.

As far as that lifestyle went, was there ever a point where you found yourself trying to live up to how people expected you to act?

That’s kind of one of the points, I don’t want to live up to anything. I want to act like how I feel. It did come to the point sometimes where people, when they saw me sober, just drinking a bottle of water, they’d come to me, like, ‘Dude, are you okay?’ [Laughing] ‘Yeah, I’m fucking fine.’ [Laughing] Then when they see me passed out on the floor holding an empty bottle of Jameson’s, then they’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s Alexi.’ [Laughing] I only have myself to blame.

Relentless, Reckless Forever is in stores on March 8th.

“Was it Worth It?” (video)

Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.