TEEMU MÄNTYSAARI (Wintersun): “The best part of show is when you see the audience reacting to music and feeling it“
Interview and photo: Martina Sestic | email@example.com
European North has given this world some of the most enchanting and darkest melodies ever written in the frames of metal music. Whatever the secret is – air, climate, water or something entirely different, the fact stays – the North carries special kind of melancholy that can’t be heard anywhere else. Finland, being ‘mecca’ for metalheads around the world, is home to some of the best acts of the scene. Wintersun is definitely one of those names. The band created by Jari Mäenpää quickly acquired lots of passionate followers and became one of those who’s albums are always highly anticipated. Even tough it takes a lot of time (pun intended) to create each and one of them.
With the new album “Forest Seasons” that was recently released, Wintersun dwelt deeper into the darker side of their audioscapes alongside the lyrics of the same sentiment.
Teemu Mäntysaari has been the band’s guitarist since 2004 and just recently became the lead guitarist taking over Jari’s parts.
“I like the challenge”, he admits and continues, “Some parts are tricky and some I’ve played before. I already tried playing them but it took couple of months of hard practise.”
As Jari decided to stop playing guitar in live shows, there was a need for a new guitar and that is why Asim Searah stepped in as a second live guitarist and Teemu explains how the two of them go way back: “I know Asim for a long time, used to be student of mine and I know his style. It’s been very nice playing with him. He has great musicianship and the connection is getting better and better.”
There is a special connection between teacher and his student, so I ask Teemu to tell me how shaping other guitarists and teaching them all that he’s learned throughout years helps him to grow as a musician. “For sure it’s rewarding. I started teaching in 2006 so it’s been kind of my day job for eleven years now. I do Skype lessons and in Helsinki private lessons. It has lots of challenges, trying to find different angles on how to approach certain things from another persons perspective and explain things in a way that makes sense. Sometimes you have to use few different ways…
Nowadays I get a lot of students who get lessons from Youtube. It has so much material so it’s hard to choose what is the correct way and then they come to a real teacher and have lessons in person.
“Sometimes there are some questions I don’t know the answer to and I have to do a bit of a research and try something new. And it makes me grow as a player as well.”
Even during the tour Teemu gives classes if the schedule allows it. “Some days there are more and sometimes there is not enough time. It’s nice to do because I get to sit with a guitar and work my fingers to playing speed. I have my set up for that purpose – with headphones and everything in case it gets louder during sound-check.”
When it comes to him and his educational path he says that music surfaced as a career option at an early age. “I went to normal school for until I was 13/14. At that point I got interested in music and school got left behind. Then I went to music high school, moved from a small village in Finland to Helsinki to pursue career in music. There in music high school I learned about music theory. Beside that I had private guitar teachers as well. I had a really great teacher in Tampere who was very inspiring.”
Which brought me to my next question about teacher who influenced him and helped him become the guitarist he is today. His first experience wasn’t the best but he wasn’t discouraged.
“My first teacher was a jazz player. My parents found him and it wasn’t very inspiring because I came there with Stratovarius album asking if could teach me that and he wasn’t into that style. I took two lessons from him which wasn’t the best experience for me.
“Little bit after that I found this guy who was into metal, couple of years older than me and knew all this shredding stuff I wanted to play so then it became very inspiring. Back then you couldn’t just go on Youtube and learn from there. So this guy, Tom Gardiner, he played in many bands with Rolf as well, who is now playing drums in Wintersun. He was one of the biggest influences in my early years.
But I did a lot of self learning. Just listening to music and playing it. Using my ear and finding my own style. Basically it was more learning in life than in school. I don’t have an official paper, no diploma.”
As I’ve mentioned above, Wintersun’s music has a special blend of spacy, mournful melodies that make you nostalgic for some magical things that never even existed in your life and it doesn’t come easy to interpret it live but when you live with music performance is something that comes naturally. The same is with Teemu and his approach to intepretation. “How you feel about each song can change from day to day and also depends on the audience when they start moving, singing along and when you see them feeling the songs or not feeling. For Jari that’s the biggest thing – interpreting lyrics and music so that the audience can feel it. It’s the best part of show when you see the audience reacting to music and feeling it.
“Usually the stage performance is something that comes naturally. We don’t want to do choreographies, except for Autumn song – we wanted to put accent on music and there is not much jumping around – because we wanted to create melancholic, dark mood and there are also special lights during the song, makes a big part of the show.”
I further ask him how it feels to be a part of the band that has one mastermind who does everything by himself.
“For me personally it’s perfectly fine and for the other guys too. Nobody wants to change that. It’s perfect how it is. Maybe the birth process of each album is not easiest but I think everybody in the band is a big fan of Witersun and love the music. We have different projects and outlets… But we still function as a unit, as a band.”
And continues telling about how it affects his own artistic vision.
“Nothing is really stopping me from doing what I want. Of course, now is a busy time for Wintersun and we want to concentrate on the band. To get the most out of it. But whenever there is time between tours, beside giving lessons, I write my own music. Maybe one day I’ll make a solo album or start a new project. We have this one project with Rolf, Run for Cover band, and we have lots of shows in Helsinki area. Now we’re doing some our own song with that project. It’s a nice, a different thing.”
When I asked him about what he prefers doing – playing, teaching or composing, he tells how he likes it all but underlines the importance of balance in his activities. “Maybe I would get bored of doing the same thing so it’s nice to have balance. I enjoy doing all of it – playing live, recording in studio, teaching. Pretty much everything around guitars, setting them up and doing all the hand work, collecting them… I’ve got a lot of them. Too many probably.”
Touring is a part of every musician’s life, whether they like it or not. Travelling from city to city, country to country can be very exhausting but this doesn’t seem like a big issue for Teemu. “I don’t mind it. Sometimes the sleeping is not the easiest. The roads are not so smooth and can get bumpy. In general it is pretty nice. Like on this tour. Everything is well organized, we have enough crew, so we don’t have to do everything by ourselves. Venues are nice, we get to shower every night, eat local food. Usually after the show we go straight to the bus and wake up in a new city. So at times there is not enough time to browse around.
On this tour I been taking lots of short walks, we’ve done lots of sports. I try to do some bodyweight exercises after shows and in general at home I love doing sports. Lately it is badminton. I used to play ice hockey and football, but badminton is pretty hand safe.
We had sauna once on this tour, I think it was in Poland. But we didn’t have much time. It is nice to do it every once in a while. Just to relax a bit. Like today the massage was really nice. Whenever there is sauna or spa we always try to go.”
I was curious if maybe Wintersun has a special list of wishes when touring and Teemu says sincerely that they have some. “We ask of local promoter to give the address of nearest gym or spa but we don’t have anything super strange or special.”
But the biggest reward of touring life is meeting the fans and seeing their reaction to the songs. Hanging out with fans might not be every musician’s favourite way to spend time (because people can be and are strange and some fans do get a bit possessive of their beloved musican/band). On the other hand Teemu didn’t have any unpleasant experiences and I notice that he is quite fond of his fans. “I like it [meeting fans]. Whenever possible we do these VIP meet and greets and sometimes we go to merchandise stand after the show to talk to them. Usually the fans are very polite, especially after the show. They are euphoric just like us. And it is nice to talk about the show.
And they are very patient with us. We appreciate their support through crowdfunding campaign and it is great that we have such great fans which shows that the music has a deeper level of connection.”
Crowdfunding campaign has brought some minor issues for Wintersun. The opinions in media and between the fans were very polarized. The band and the label made a deal which is good for the both parties. But there is still a lot of people trying to disprove their intentions. The main issue lies in the fact that most of the people think that if you have a contract with a label that the label then pays and sponsors everything you do. But that is almost never the case. Teemu explains how it is in their case: “Label is paying of course, but the band has to pay back. They give you money to make an album, sometimes even support for tour, but of course they take the money back during the album sales. I mean, they have a lot of people working for them, lots of connections, magazine connections, distribution networks, they do a lot of work that is needed if you want to grow a band pass a certain level. But they can’t give money for free, there has to be a profit for the label, it’s business not a hobby.”