Last Friday, the gates of Grim opened for everyone to enter and absorb its magic. The old Sarah is gone, and it’s Luna’s turn to fight the evil (monster Mörk) now. This brand new horror/fantasy concept set in a mythical world full of magical orbs, ravens and rabbit-headed people will leave you restless and hungry for more. More of that fairytale-like symphonic metal driven by a gripping story, exceptional musicianship and outstanding vocals… Behind all of this is the amazing singer and songwriter Heidi Parviainen with whom we discuss Dark Sarah’s fourth studio album “Grim” in the following lines.
MG: Hello, Heidi! It’s so good having you. Thank you so much for your time. A lot is going on in the world of Dark Sarah at the moment both, musically and story-wise, that I don’t even know where to start.
Heidi: Thank you! Indeed a lot is going on and it feels really nice after two years of hard work on a new release!
MG: So let’s just dive in then. Your new album “Grim” just dropped. “Grim” not only starts a new concept but is also the first Dark Sarah album released through a label. What is the difference as compared to releasing the first trilogy? You’re known as a DIY band so did it make things easier for you, having Napalm Records on board this time?
Heidi: We had already finished our album when Napalm jumped in, so I can´t say much about how things will change with album making process. But what I can say is that there is a nice team of people working for us, and I have done a lot of interviews! Let´s hope there will be many new “Darklings” too!
MG: Musically, it sounds to me like you’re going a bit back to your roots, Dark Sarah’s debut, but with a new twist. I’m speaking of the more prominent use of synths and electronic elements, for example on “The Hex” and the closing track “The Dark Throne”. How would you describe the musical development from your latest work or direction on “Grim”? What was your aim to create this time?
Heidi: We wanted to replace some symphonic orchestrations this time with synth elements and try creating a more modern cinematic sound world with them. I´ve been listening to a lot of new retro wave music, my new find, and I think it affected my songwriting too!
MG: You’ve built a very complex world with unique characters once again. Which one of them was the hardest to create for you? The main character Luna, Wolf, Mörk… or was it the overall universe and props like magical orbs?
Heidi: I think it is always most difficult to build up a protagonist because it needs to have more depth in the personality and in the personal story too. And since we are making a music album that needs to work on stage by our official band line up without having guests, the character needs to be vivid with a lot of monologues! 😀 But I think story-wise, the characters come to life in dialogues and that is why I have tried to keep guests on our albums.
MG: Speaking of the characters and the special guests you invited to join you on the album… First, we have JP Leppäluoto who doesn’t need a further introduction. We all loved him as the Dragon. How has he embraced his new role as Wolf?
Heidi: He fits the role of the wolf perfectly. To me, he looks like one! 😀 On this album, he is only quickly appearing in one song.
MG: The second guest on the album is Jasse Jatala best known from the show Voice of Finland. How did you get in touch with him in the first place? Did you know each other? What was his reaction like when you told him you want him to be a part of this adventure? After all, it takes also a bit of “acting skills” and a lot of courage to record vocals for such a conceptual project, but I think he did his job brilliantly.
Heidi: I saw him on TV last year and since I had already been trying to find a suitable voice for the role of Mörk the monster, I knew he could be the one. I didn´t know him before and I contacted him through Facebook. He already knew Dark Sarah, and what kind of music we make. He was really interested in jumping into his role.
MG: This time you’re going even darker with the topic but also the visuals. As the album progresses, it shifts from nostalgic, sad towards darker direction musically and story-wise. It features your heaviest and most ambitious song to date dedicated to the mighty beast Mörk. Is this direction going to continue, hopefully, on the second album?
Heidi: We´re starting a new dark, horror fantasy themed continuing story with this album. But “Grim” only opens the dark curtain a bit. “Grim” starts with the introduction of Luna, her rebirth, and search for the orbs, the magic forces and we can hear the magic energy in songs like “Illuminate” etc. But the end of the album gives more idea of the mood where we´re heading with this storyline. The continuation of the story will be dark for sure. But as always, we do have some humor and theater in our songs. It is the contrasts that make dark seem darker and light seem lighter.
MG: Something that caught my ear is your fresh vocal style on “Grim”. You’re using less operatic style, and as opposed to the darker theme and visuals, your voice sounds very angelic, soaked with emotions, innocence and light. Is it possible you wanted to create this contrast to accentuate that eerie theme even more and also separate the good and the evil?
Heidi: Dark Sarah is about contrasts and fight between good and evil. We thought that most of the songs needed a different vocal style than pure operatic. This is something very new to me, and I´m eager to search more of this style too. Let´s see where it leads but I´m not giving up my operatic vocals either. That is what I´ve been studying for so many years. But I think it is good to have versatility.
MG: One of the phrases that describe your new work is “horror fantasy ”. I’m curious… if you had to choose one song that represents the fantasy element and one that represents the horror element the most, which would you choose?
Heidi: I can´t really say which song, since the whole story is in the dark fantasy style and songs are just part of a bigger picture. Maybe “Illuminate” is the most fantasy one because it actually is about the magic orb, and “Mörk”, on the other hand, could be the most horrorish one. You must know the story to get the whole picture. The story is written in the “Grim Poems” book that is out also July 17th digitally, and books are available also in our webstore. “Grim” is an opening act for a new continuing story.
MG: The Dark Sarah trilogy ended with Sarah dying at the end of „The Golden Moth“ album, but you’ve left her story opened by turning her into this moth. Many fans hoped she’d not be completely gone and yes, she’s back! Now, reincarnated as Luna. Fans also loved the character of Dragon even though he had betrayed her. Obviously, we have JP back as Wolf now, but is there still some kind of hope for the Dragon?
Heidi: He is a very sneaky creature! While Luna is a reincarnation of Dark Sarah, the Wolf called Garmr is, in fact, Dragon himself. We know he is a shapeshifter. You will find out more in the storybook 😉
MG: Now that you look back on this past era you worked on for so many years, what are you most proud of? What do you miss about it?
Heidi: It feels like a decade, so many things happened during that time and I have changed a lot as a musician, songwriter and artist. I didn´t feel like Dark Sarah anymore when the trilogy was coming to an end. Maybe the whole trilogy has been more a picture of me that I´ve realized. But the change came at the right timing anyhow. I needed the change. I don´t miss anything about it, but I love it. It became complete and now it’s time for new things.
MG: “Grim” is your fourth Dark Sarah concept album, the second story just began but can you imagine writing just “regular” songs/album with no characters and plot in the future? For you, is focusing on a concept easier or harder when you create?
Heidi: It seems that I´ve always wanted to write like this. Even already in Amberian Dawn, I wanted to lyrically build up themed albums. To me, it seems harder to just write bits and pieces from here and there and then put them under one title. But I guess if there was only a single, it could be anything. I don´t always need to have characters but normally if someone is singing, there is a person who is telling some sort of a story.
MG: I have to say that I really love your storytelling style. If you weren’t a musician, could you imagine yourself as a full-time author? Or maybe as a concept writer? When it comes to creating characters and storylines, your work is astonishing. Have you ever thought of writing a piece that would be properly published, something not related to Dark Sarah?
Heidi: Wow, thank you! When I was younger I used to write a lot of poems, novels and I loved writing fiction and fantasy stories about elves etc. But a decade of studying and reading non-fiction academic literature took all the time and inspiration from me. Only when I joined Amberian Dawn, I started writing again, but it took years before I started writing my own stories. On early Amberian Dawn albums, I wrote about Kalevala, The Finnish epic. I´m not sure if I could become an author because now I can create a whole world with music, stories, visuals etc. and that is what I love very much. I think I would love to work with someone to make my stories into proper books, movies, comics, music theatre! Anything really! That would be great. I think my talent is in concept building.
MG: Dark Sarah is a band that’s not just about music. Besides the obvious added value thanks to the storytelling, it’s also a lot of DIY work such as costumes, props but also perks in your crowdfunding campaign. While many bands have their own brands of beer, whiskey and wine, you sell your brand of honey and even managed to connect it with the concept of the album. What inspired you to go this way?
Heidi: I´ve always been a creative person and loved beautiful things. I am a big bee lover and I think it is important to raise awareness of the situation of wild bees. When I was searching for nice perks from the mysterious world of the internet, I just accidentally bumped into Korpikuusikonhunaja´s website. I immediately fell in love with his story, the eco-packaging and his luxurious honey and so well made brand. I contacted Teemu Aittamaa from Korpikuusikonhunaja, the Korku himself, and asked if he would be interested in working with Dark Sarah for the new perks. We talked on the phone for hours and it was like we had known each other for years. We started brainstorming and then we came up with this character Korku, the beekeeper of Grim. The name Korku was Teemu´s idea for his name. Someone also told me later that in Turkish, Korku means “darkness” or something similar. Teemu and his friend from Pro Tips Production even wanted to shoot some photos and make a video for this character. It is a wonderful piece of art, you can watch it on our Youtube channel. We now have a sponsor beehive with dark northern bees in Finland and Teemu alias Korku makes honey which is collected from our own beehive. And to me THAT is cool!
MG: Unfortunately, the current situation is not in favour of touring musicians, but you have an album release show that will also be live-streamed coming up in August. Regarding shows, what’s your strategy for the setlist? You have two separate stories to tell, different characters, worlds, vibes and legacies… Do you already know how you’re gonna build a nice setlist that would intertwine both concepts?
Heidi: On our albums, we have many stories going on, but when it comes to the live shows, we can’t wait to make the best possible live setlist thinking about music. So we build up our setlist from the best songs from each album to create a good drive. When possible, we use video screens to build up some nice storytelling too. The live show and stream gig is taking place on August 7th and ticket sale is already open, so welcome to join!
MG: We’ll be there. Well, thank you very much for the interview, Heidi! All the best to you, your band and, of course, Luna.
Heidi: Thank you for the nice interview! Take care!