Since reviewing the latest Malpractice album, Turning Tides, about a month ago, I've introduced a few people to the band's "Rust in Peace meets Racer X" blend of top-notch, thrash-tinged progressive metal; and their reactions have all been similar to my own: something to the effect of, "Holy shit! How had I never heard this band before!?"
An easy contender for metal album of the year, Turning Tides is available now through Sensory Records and the usual assortment of digital outlets. Here's a chat with the band's guitarist and chief songwriter, Joonas Koto, about perseverance, inspiration, and Malpractice being Finland's "best kept secret."
In the Turning Tides documentary video, it was mentioned that your previous label, Spinefarm, wasn't even interested in hearing the material that would eventually make up the album. I can't help but ask how that conversation went? What reason could they have possibly provided for such an ignorant decision!? Do you think they now regret having passed on such an incredible set of songs?
Basically, it went down like this: everyone we knew from Spinefarm/Universal either left or got the boot, and suddenly there was no one to take care of our business. We were totally awestruck by their decision to not even give a listen to the new material. We thought that the new stuff was awesome, and actually we were already planning on booking the studio for recordings, and then this happened. Personally, I took it quite hard, and the whole episode killed my interest in making the album for a while. I'm glad it was just a passing phase.
Yeah, at least everything worked out in the end! How did you hook up with Sensory Records, and in what ways has this new relationship been a positive move forward for the band?
We booked the studio for a demo session in late 2010 and started sending out promo CDs. For a long time it seemed that no one could care less, but then we hooked up with Sensory Records. Ken from Sensory sent us a message via our Facebook page telling us that they would be interested in putting out the album, and that set the ball rollin'. The overall exposure has been way better with Sensory than with Spinefarm. These guys really do their thing for the love of music and not just the dough.
Having built your own studio during the recording process for Turning Tides, do you think that will aid in increasing Malpractice's productivity in the future?
We recorded the drums at Astia Studio, which is one of the best studios in Finland, and that's where we also mixed and mastered the album. I handled all the recording duties at Astia and at the small recording facility I built in my house. Nowadays, it seems that almost everyone does recordings on their own equipment. Of course that's a financial issue, since the budgets for albums have gotten smaller and smaller. But it surely helps to have the possibility to make most of the recordings at your own place without strict deadlines. You just have to know what you're doing. I guess it will boost our productivity in the future. I guarantee it won't take another six years 'til the next album!
At what point during the album's creation did the lyrical concept and the idea of the "best kept secret" take shape? Were you already thinking about the story's parallels to the band's own experiences during the writing of the material, or did that correlation reveal itself only after your initial label woes began?
I think I had the storyline roughly figured out before the whole hassle with Spinefarm began. Most of the stuff going on with the main character's struggles is based on my own life experience, or those of someone I know. Of course, the story can also be related to Malpractice. We've had our fair share of obstacles and struggles during our career, but somehow we've managed to pull through without losing our sanity. Unlike the dude in the lyrics. He had it worse...
How close did you come to calling it quits and giving up the fight to get this record released? How did you manage to persevere and stick with it through all of the frustration behind the scenes?
I can tell you, it was pretty damn close at one point. We took a good six-month break to figure things out and to get over the fact that we just got dropped from our label. Finally, we decided to give it one more chance, because we thought the material was so strong and the world should hear it. If no label would have put the album out, we would have released it on our own. At one point we even discussed the option that we would just share the album for free on our webpage.
Along these lines, something that has come up repeatedly in conversations that I've had about Turning Tides is the fact that myself and several other new fans are shocked that we've never been exposed to Malpractice prior to this album. Do you feel that your underappreciated status may finally be starting to fade a bit?
It's about damn time! 20 years of hard work is finally paying off. We've always been quite well known in our own country, and we've even reached the official Top 40 charts here in Finland with our two latest albums. I also think we've been somewhat known in Europe, but now it seems that the rest of the world is finally getting to know us as well. I think it helps a lot to have a US-based label. Our previous albums were only available as imports outside of Europe, so it wasn't that easy to get decent exposure. When we released our previous album, Triangular, there was no Facebook or Twitter as we know them now either. It kinda reminds me of the time when we released our first album in 1998. Back then there was no internet to promote your stuff.
Are you a fan of any other bands—from Finland or elsewhere—that are also unjustly underrated and struggling to be heard, that you feel are worth mentioning in order to encourage more people to check out their music?
It's pretty hard to say which bands are known in which countries, but I have to mention a few very underrated bands who I think deserve to be more known. For example, It Bites, Haken, Mekong Delta, Nightingale, and Redemption should be way bigger than they are now. I know they are not totally obscure, but so what? My all-time favorite band is Stone, from Finland. They are actually disbanded, but they still play a few festival shows every year. Stone is the main reason I started to play guitar in the first place, and I think they're the most underrated band in the world. Luckily, their guitarist, Roope, plays in Children of Bodom now, and they have started to get a bit of recognition worldwide. I don't actually listen to new music that much. I tend to listen to the same favorite albums year after year. Occasionally, someone introduces me to a new and interesting band or album, and that's nice.
What impressed me the most about Turning Tides is the way the riffs combine technical and aggressive thrash with an almost hard rock type of melodic energy, which seems to be a pretty rare quality these days. I loosely described it as "Rust in Peace meets Racer X." Who are some of the guitar players whose riffs and songwriting you most admire and/or who have had the most significant impact on your own approach?
Like I mentioned before, Stone—and especially their guitarist, Roope Latvala, who is my ultimate guitar hero. I guess my main influences in songwriting come from Megadeth, Annihilator, Queensrÿche, and Fates Warning. But I think I've found my own voice during these past 20 years that I've been writing songs for Malpractice. I've always been a huge fan of '80s hard rock and Bay Area thrash metal. When you mix those two and throw in some of the '70s progressive stuff I just love, you have pretty much what defines the music of Malpractice.
I'm all about diversity, and am always interested in learning about the music that inspires musicians—especially music that extends beyond the bounds of their own genre(s). Is there any music outside of the metal realm that has been of significance in your life, either as an influence on your own writing or simply for personal listening enjoyment?
I grew up in a home where music was constantly present. My dad teaches classical guitar and used to be a touring musician in the early-'70s. He is also a huge progressive rock fan. So, my childhood soundtrack consisted pretty much of bands like Gentle Giant, Yes, Jethro Tull, Genesis, Rush, ELP, Dixie Dregs, Deep Purple, Camel, etc.—as well as classical music. I don't listen to classical that much, but all that '70s and '80s prog stuff is what I just love. Metal hasn't been my music of choice for a number of years now, even though I still enjoy it very much from time to time. At home, I listen to a lot of bands like Journey, Toto, Supertramp, and Styx, to mention a few. Progressive rock, metal, and AOR, to put it short.
Thanks so much for your time, I really appreciate it. If you have anything else to add, please feel free...
Thanks to everyone who has stuck with us during the years, and also YOU who has just discovered Malpractice. Let's make the "best kept secret" not so secret anymore!