Interviews

“Stories accompany us wherever we go.” – Interview with Ulli Perhonen of Snow White Blood

It’s that time of the year again! Yes, the festive season is here, and I absolutely can’t imagine it without watching Christmas fairytales I’ve seen hundreds of times already. But this year, German symphonic metal band Snow White Blood brought this Christmas atmosphere to my mind a bit earlier when they released their enthralling debut full-length album “Hope Springs Eternal” inspired by some of these magical stories on November 13. This uplifting message of seeing the light in spite of being surrounded by darkness (but also hope in its darker form) occurs throughout the entire album which couldn’t have come out at a better time, given these trying times that have been troubling us all recently. Together with her amazing teammates Christian Weber (guitar), Thomas Schmitt (bass guitar) and Max Rudolph (drums), the marvellous Ulli Perhonen (vocals, lyrics, orchestrations) created a magnificent album full of epic soundscapes and breathtaking moments. And you can now read all about it in our interview with Ulli herself. 

MG: Ulli, thank you so much for your time. You’ve just released a brilliant new album with Snow White Blood. Congratulations! How does it feel?

Ulli: Thank you! It feels absolutely fantastic to be able to finally hold this album in our hands. We’ve put so much blood, sweat and tears into “Hope Springs Eternal” and now that it’s released, it’s heartwarming to see all those positive reactions. It makes us incredibly happy as a band.

MG: Just like your debut EP, “Hope Springs Eternal” is also based on some of the most famous fairytales. When did this love for stories and fairytales of yours emerge?

Ulli: It’s always been there – I’d even say it’s an inherent wish of all human beings to listen to stories. Stories accompany us wherever we go, whether it be fairytales in our childhood or other stories in books, films and music.

MG: Your previous release „Once Upon A Fearytale“ was darker, driven by fear if I can say so. Now, the center of attention is hope. What led to this shift towards light?

Ulli: In addition to the fairytales as a main topic, we’ve picked a certain sensation as the leitmotif for our release. In the course of writing the first songs, it showed that the sensation of hope guided through the lyrics and the music, so we picked hope as a “golden thread” for our new album. Yet, it’s not a complete shift towards light – the hope we show on “Hope Springs Eternal” is depicted in different contexts and needs to be seen more discriminately. It can either be very harmonious as in the songs “Falling Stars” and “Never-Ending Waltz” but there is also a very desperate hope as in “You Belong To Me” and “Rising Of The Sun”.

MG: The cover of the album is inspired by Die Sterntaler (“The Star Talers”). Why did you decide to go with this one and not another fairytale?

Ulli: The song “Falling Stars” was still a draft at that time, but I had this vision of a whole artwork based on this fairytale. I already knew that the song would become a harmonious and emotional ballad about the Star Talers where in the end of the song, everything will be okay and covered in soothing gold. “Falling Stars” was planned as the very last song of the album in order to have this positive feeling in the very end which transports the all-embracing feeling of hope.

So in my mind, the thought developed that with this fairytale, we could visualise the hope that leads through our album. After having written the concepts and briefings, I worked closely together with Johannes Belach who put all of the ideas into effect and created a drawn artwork of the Star Talers which can be seen on our digipak. In addition, the golden star headpiece and dress which can be seen in our band photography refer to the Star Talers in a more abstract way and add to the golden thread. I had a close exchange of ideas with Liss from Eulenherz Artwork who took these wonderful photos. All in all, we are very happy with the results and the art we all created together.

MG: You yourself were part of a choir for many, many years and now you featured this amazing German a capella act/choir Stimmgewalt on two of the new tracks. How was working with them?

Ulli: I’ve always dreamt of working with a real choir for our album, but we didn’t have one on hand right away. Then it happened that I had a chit-chat with Jan (Stimmgewalt, Van Canto). I remembered the gig they had in Frankfurt together with Van Canto and InLegend which I attended some years ago and which I really liked. So Jan suggested that Stimmgewalt could record the choir sequences we had planned, and we happily agreed.

After that, I began to write the choir arrangements for “You Belong To Me” and “Falling Stars”. As Stimmgewalt are from Berlin and we from SWB live around Frankfurt, I sent them the needed song passages, arrangements and briefings on what to pay attention to when practising and recording. We think that the final choir passages suit the songs very well, they add magic and an epic atmosphere to the music.

MG: I have to admit I wasn’t really aware of Snow White Blood until you collaborated with Blackbriar. And I was blown away by how well your and Zora’s voices work together. I was sure nothing’s going to top that ever but then “Shared Hearts“ came … I was so wrong! You and Lilly Seth are just another magical combination, a perfect vocal match! How did you even get in touch with her and get an idea to have her featured on the track?

Ulli: I found Lilly’s band Aeranea online some years ago and instantly loved her voice. It can’t actually remember if I asked her for a duet online right away or when we played the first gigs together, but anyway, she said yes as you hear (grins). When I wrote the lyrics of “Shared Hearts” in 2017, I thought we should totally turn this song into a duet because the underlying fairytale is Snow White and Rose Red, and our different voices fit the description of the main characters very well. Furthermore, the song’s vocal lines are as entwined as roses grow which again perfectly fits the fairytale.

Fun fact: As I said, we wrote “Shared Hearts” in 2017. And then one day, a message from Zora popped up on my mobile, asking me if I’d be interested in singing a duet with Blackbriar. I was totally in, and then when she mentioned what the song was about, we both had to laugh really loudly because it was such a funny coincidence. But it’s not a problem at all, quite the reverse! With both bands, we have our unique interpretations and style and we like both versions of the fairytale very much.

MG: There are thousands of symphonic metal bands but Snow White Blood has this unique twist thanks to your magical concept orientation. Were there any offers from record labels? Or do you feel more comfortable releasing music on your own, knowing you can count on your fans who, by the way, supported the album release through crowdfunding?

Ulli: In 2016, we released our EP “Once Upon A Fearytale” on our own, supported by many dear fans in a crowdfunding campaign. In the following years, our fan base grew bigger and with it also the tasks which needed to be done. We love what we do and we always do it with all our heart and in the best quality possible, and we are at a stage now where we cannot manage all tasks on our own anymore, so we gladly signed with the record label 7hard in 2019. They perfectly support us in the promotional sector, yet a label is not a donor which is why most bands lead a crowdfunding campaign or do something else in order to fund their album – even though they have a label. So yes, we have our label 7hard and yes, we led a crowdfunding campaign for our new album “Hope Springs Eternal”. On top of the fan support, we were also supported by kulturMut which is a crowdfunding platform of Aventis Foundation and Kulturfonds Frankfurt RheinMain. We thank all our supporters without whom all of this wouldn’t have been possible!

MG: Do you keep a list of stories you would love to turn into songs? What is the songwriting process for Snow White Blood even like? You write the lyrics and vocal melodies but how do you guys agree on what fairytale the song is gonna be about and put the instrumentals and your lyrical work together?

Ulli: I have a digital notepad on my mobile phone where I write down the ideas that I find inspiring. It can be an interesting song or artist that I just heard, a drum fill, a style of singing, a chord progression, an instrument, a sound effect – everything can be an inspiration. It’s very important to write down these ideas because otherwise, they may be lost forever. Same goes for my own melody or fairytale/lyric ideas, I have tons of audio snippets on my mobile which I need to save while they are still on my mind. Ideas are volatile, therefore it’s absolutely necessary to save them so that you can open your “box of ideas” half a year later and still know what you were thinking the other day.

The songwriting is always a bit different for each song: Sometimes a (vocal) melody comes first, sometimes we have the lyrics first. Then again, Chris shows us some cool guitar riffs which lay the foundation of a song. It can also be more abstract: for example, “Rising Of The Sun” is based on the interval of the tritone and the idea of changing feelings all through the song, from desperate to hopeful and back again, so everything is built in order to match the atmosphere. Or it’s the other way round: You have a certain mood given by the guitar/bass/drums and then I decide which kind of fairytale fits this attitude. I love the fact that many roads lead to Rome, and this creates the variety in our songs. Besides, we rather tend not to stick to the known structural schemes in songwriting: for example, when the lyrics don’t allow a chorus because it just doesn’t fit storywise, then we move on with the second verse. Personally, I find this way of working on the songs less predictable and more interesting.

When the structure of the song is built, my part with the orchestration begins. For the last four years, I’ve been working hard on improving my orchestration skills but still, it takes a lot of time. On average, when I fully focus on the orchestrating process, I’d say that it takes around two months to finish the orchestra for one song. So yeah, I am known as the vocalist of Snow White Blood, but the funny thing is that I spend way less time on the vocals compared to the orchestrations in the whole creative process (laughs). I adore how you can create feelings and atmospheres by using certain instruments, crescendi, sound effects and tiny details, how you can paint with flutes, strings and trombones in other people’s minds. Taken together with the band, it creates a whole picture and takes our listeners to a magical world full of stories and fairytales.

MG: Was or is there any fairytale that is really challenging for you to write about? Perhaps you wanted to write a song based on it but then it turned out impossible, so you moved on?

Ulli: Well, I think the fairytale of Rapunzel was a bit challenging because I originally had a completely different idea for the vocal lines. I tried to fit or rather squeeze them in somehow … but over time, I’ve learned to accept that sometimes, you just need to put ideas aside which don’t fit the song. You never know when they might be useful again, so I always keep them in my “mental songwriting drawer”.

MG: Now, this is just a fun question, not likely to happen anytime soon. What happens when you run out of fairytales to sing about? Would you consider writing your own stories?

Ulli: Actually we already have a song with a self-invented fairytale, it’s “The Court Jester”. It deals with the story of the court jester who always tells the truth. One day, the peasants see the sun darken and believe that this is caused by divine retribution. No one wants to hear the court jester’s rational explanation and he is banned from the court.

And “You Belong To Me” is the continuation of the well-known fairytale ending: “… and they lived happily ever after.” There is always a prince and a princess who have known each other for only a few minutes and then marry right away. Everything seems to be wonderful, and then the fairytale ends. But what if someone told what could happen next? In our song, the story takes a tragic turn because after the wedding, the princess realises that she is trapped in this relationship. At the same time, she both wants to escape but then again, she desperately hopes that in the end, the prince will change to the better.

MG: Okay, let’s finish with a quick “this or that“ round: Traditional fairytales or modern fairytales?

Ulli: Uh, both …? (laughs) I don’t know, it always depends on the story.

MG: Happy ends or sad ends?

Ulli: A good mixture of both. But I like sad ends a bit better because they move me more emotionally and I continue thinking about the plot and the underlying message.

MG: Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen?

Ulli: I can’t always answer “both”, can I? (laughs) So far, we’ve mostly treated the Brothers Grimm, but I also like Andersen’s “literary” fairytales a lot, especially when seen in their temporal context.

MG: Snow White or Cinderella?

Ulli: As I sang the role of Snow White twice, and with regard to my band’s name, guess my answer … (grins)

MG: Beauty and the Beast or Sleeping Beauty?

Ulli: Oh, I love Beauty and the Beast! Both the Disney version and the new real film adaptation are enchanting.

MG: Villains or heroes?

Ulli: Villains are the cooler characters.

MG: Ballads or heavy, fast songs?

Ulli: Heavy and fast!

MG: Rock vocals or operatic vocals?

Ulli: Rock vocals with some highlights in operatic vocals.

MG: Duets or solo singing?

Ulli: I absolutely adore singing and writing duets. As for our album, I was so happy that Danny Meyer and Lilly Seth joined us because I just love their strong voices and magnificent singing styles. Personally, I also enjoy listening to their bands Oversense (Danny) and Aeranea (Lilly) a lot.

Apart from SWB, I also try to join duet cooperations as often as possible because there are so many great bands and vocalists out there. Working with them is much fun and it also broadens your horizon. You have new influences and inspirations, plus you get out of your comfort zone and learn to do new styles and techniques. It’s challenging and wonderful. I did my last cooperations with the bands Vanden Plas, Kambrium, Mob Rules and, of course, Blackbriar. I’m also really looking forward to being featured on a song of the upcoming Oversense album.

MG: Writing lyrics or vocal melodies?

Ulli: Writing vocal melodies. As mentioned beforehand, I collect them anywhere anytime when they pass my mind.

MG: Shooting music videos or recording in a studio?

Ulli: Shooting music videos because you both hear the work that was created in the studio plus you have the visual component to underline the song’s message.

It’s incredibly exhausting, physically but mostly mentally. I remember that after having shot the video of “You Belong To Me”, I had problems with arriving in everyday life again for a whole week because I was so deep in character during the shot and the scenes we did were so emotional. But all of these efforts result in videos which I’m extremely proud of because you see our emotions, our heart and soul we poured in. Especially, Eulenherz Artwork really did an outstanding job as a film crew, and Danny Meyer was a very impressive duet partner, be it in singing or performing. 

MG: And that’s it! Ulli, thank you so much, it was a pleasure. All the best to you and the band!

Ulli: Thank you for having me as a guest and all the best to you as well!

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