Sunlight, Steel, and Thunder: An Interview with Amberian Dawn

How many Amberian Dawn fans are there in the US?  The number grows every day as more people discover this unique symphonic metal band on the Rock Band Network. Amberian Dawn hasn't toured outside Europe yet, but thousands of people have braved the challenge of playing their powerful music on plastic guitars and drums.

After tackling the soaring vocals in "River of Tuoni," Carolyn VanEseltine (sometimes better known as HMXLachesis) instantly converted to Amberian Dawn fandom. In this interview, Heidi Parvianen (vocals), Tuomas Seppälä (keyboards and guitar), and Tommi Kuri (bass) chat with her about their music, their history, their upcoming third album, and their enthusiasm for the Rock Band Network.

Carolyn VanEseltine: There's a beautiful legend about the name Amberian Dawn on your website.  Which came first - the name, or the story?
Heidi Parvianen: The name came first, and because it actually doesn't mean anything, I thought it would be great to build a whole story for the meaning of the name Amberian Dawn. It is a fictional love story without any people in it - it is a love story of the earth and the sky.

CV: I understand that the founders of Amberian Dawn, Tuomas Seppälä and Tommi Kuri, were originally in the band Virtuocity together.  How did Tuomas and Tommi first meet?  How did the rest of the band come together?

Tuomas Seppälä: Me and Tommi played together in Virtuocity for a couple of years. It started when Virtuocity was preparing to record its second album, but there were no players in the band except guitarist Jarno and vocalist Peter James Goodman. Jarno asked Tommi to join the band as the bass player, and at the same he asked him whether he knows some good keyboard players. Tommi and I were in the same high school, and he knew that I’m a keyboard player. So I joined Virtuocity and we had some fun for a couple of years. When this band became disactive, Tommi and I decided to set up a new band which would be based on my songwriting. So we started to look for some players, and at first the guys were from kind of an inner circle. At first, I was playing guitar in AD and also keyboards in the studio. Later, I changed my role as keyboard player when performing live, but still I play guitar in the studio. The singer at first was Peter James Goodman, but soon we started to look for a female singer, and we found Heidi. Later, we had several changes in the lineup, and now we have gained a perfect combination.

CV: What brands of drums, keyboard, and guitar are you using?  How did you choose these instruments?

Amberian Dawn: Joonas uses Tama drums. He likes the brand and just got his brand new Tama Starclassic set. Emil, Kasperi and Tommi are using Ibanez guitars and basses and MesaBoogie amps.  They like the tightness of their sound. Tuomas uses Ruokangas and Ibanez guitars and Roland keyboards. Tuomas appreciates the “live-performance” features of Roland. The instruments are not the most important thing in making music, but you’ll definitely need good equipment when touring around the world. These brands we are using are offering great playing features, good sound and durability.

CV: Heidi, I understand that you use the Kalevala as inspiration for many songs' lyrics.  Are there other major sources of inspiration for you?

HP: Kalevala is only one inspirational source for me. I read a lot of myths, beliefs, folklore and legends, and sometimes I draw some themes into my lyrics. There are many lyrics based on my own stories too.

CV: How often do you rehearse?  What are your rehearsals like?

TS: Normally we play maybe twice a month. If we’re having a tour or an important gig ahead, we might do 3-4 training sessions during 10 days or something. In rehearsals, we don’t practice our stems.  We are concentrating more on playing tightly together. In our case, the rehearsals are not so much social meetings. It’s just playing about 90 percent at times and maybe catching up on the latest news if there are some actual matters in hand. When we are preparing to record an album, I compose the songs and produce a demo for the band in my home studio. I also write the vocal melodies for vocalist Heidi and play these melodies with guitar or keyboard for her. Then she makes the lyrics for these songs based on the mood and feelings she gets from this music.
CV: You've played many places in Finland and also toured Europe.  Do you have a favorite city or venue?

HP: I personally liked Paris Elysee Montmartre; we have had two great shows there with Epica. And one my biggest favorites from last tour was the venue in Touluse (Bikini) - we got really nice dinner there! 
CV: How did you learn about the Rock Band Network?

Tommi Kuri: We learned about RBN the best possible way. One of our fans told us that there is this great new addition to RB2 coming and you guys should definitely be part of it. Then she introduced us to RockGamerStudios and it took like 3 seconds to say "YES, we want to be part of this!"  We knew that our music would fit this game really well, and Rock Band rockers have really found us! We learned about RBN the best possible way.

: Why did you want to have your music in Rock Band?

TS:  I think that it’s a purpose of every band and composer to spread the awareness of their own music as wide as possible. Amberian Dawn has now released two albums, and the third is on its way to getting published, probably next fall. RBN is definitely a really great opportunity to us to obtain more listeners and there are a lot of potential fans among RBN players. It’s something new in the music business in a long time, and it’s really great that something like this happens.

CV: "River of Tuoni" and "He Sleeps in a Grove" were your first two songs released through the Rock Band Network, and "Valkyries" is coming soon!  [Edit: "Valkyries" arrived in the Rock Band Network store on Tuesday, May 18, 2010.] Why did you choose these songs to be your first songs in Rock Band?

TS: Personally I like those pieces and I think they are some of the best songs I have written. Those songs are also very much liked among our fans. Furthermore, we thought that these songs would also be very playable in RBN. I think that these songs are quite good samples that represents the music of AD in general. They are still not our fastest or hardest songs to play. There are some really difficult pieces coming to RBN later. During some period, we are bringing all our currently released songs to RBN.

CV: I hear you're working on your third album right now!  What can you tell us about this upcoming album?

TS: The third album is now at the mixing phase. This new album is going to be the darkest and most diverse AD album ever. There are some extremely fast songs and very technical solos on that album. On the other hand, there’s also, for example, one really slow and heavy song. Even one classical piece is going to be on that album. The sound has evolved again to a next level. I hope our fans will like it.

CV: Can you recommend some other artists that your fans might enjoy?

TS: I think that in our band everyone has a very different kind of taste in music. But personally, I like music written by Ritchie Blackmore [Deep Purple], Ronnie James Dio, and Yngwie Malmsteen for example. Among keyboard players, I like a lot of the work of Jens Johansson. He plays in Stratovarius. I feel pretty much myself as a kind of disciple of these guys.

CV: What advice do you have for up-and-coming musicians starting their own bands?

HP: Be patient and practice hard and always remember to have fun too!

TK: First of all, have fun, and then practice a lot. Never ever take it too seriously. Find the right group of people and start jamming. I think Rock Band is a great way to start playing, and also playing with co-op with friends and strangers has the same feeling as playing in a band. Brilliant stuff! I have many friends who have never ever even thought of picking up a guitar or drums to start playing. They thought it is too hard... and now they are playing the real guitar and real drums. And they are pretty old guys, haha! So when you have a band, find a song that everyone can play. Play it so much that it goes like a train. Don't be afraid to do your own stuff either.... Rock hard!

CV: Is there anything else you'd like to tell the Rock Band community?

TK: You guys rock! We are all really happy that we can be part of this community and we think all the support we've got from you. We have some new ideas for RBN and some ideas of having a few crazy songs that would not ever fit any of our albums but could be challenging for the top shredders. We are regularly active on the RBN forum and you can reach us also easily through if you want to contact us. Let's stay metal, and Amberian Dawn wants to give big thanks to everyone. You are the ones who make things happen!

Amberian Dawn - full band