Interview with Ville Rautakorpi: Dead End Scene’s “Lockdown Archives EP”

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Helsinki, Finland’s Dead End Scene recently made a splash with the late May release of the Lockdown Archives EP, their first major opus since 2017’s Dead End Scene EP.  The band—Mikko Kylmänen (vocals), Ville Rautakorpi (bass), Tuukka Hanhiniemi (drums), Olli Salmi (guitar), and Sulo Hohko (guitar)—took advantage of early pandemic seclusion to polish up this EP and work on their collective musical direction. While respecting their deep roots in Finnish heavy music, these up-and-comers have demonstrated they’re not afraid to take creative risks. The recipe for this release includes a pinch of rock, a dash of metal, and a sprinkling of progressive chord choices—and a boldly selected Sam Smith cover.

“Run for Your Life” flirts between rock and the band’s self-touted “modern metal”. It leaves the gate with hushed piano and background guitar, and gains momentum with elements that truly deserve each other: layers of choral vocals, floating keyboards, and punchy riffs. All of the band members have a chance to flourish in “Gates of Heaven”, but Kylmänen’s vocals are an especially welcome, raspy highlight in a song that fits more squarely into the hard rock category.

“Sacrifice” delivers even more choral elements and arpeggiated keyboards, choosing the occasional unexpected twist in chord progression. Ever so slightly more subdued than the two songs before it, this penultimate track offers a thoughtful change in dynamic on the EP. Having garnered over 158,000 plays on Spotify since its release, “Sacrifice” has earned its spot atop the Dead End Scene’s all-time listener leaderboard.

“Writing’s on the Wall” turned into something of a game for Dead End Scene, who provided quick sound clips to fans via social media in early 2021, offering an exclusive pre-listen in exchange for a correct guess. This one will be familiar to those who have seen the James Bond movie Spectre—and if you haven’t, don’t admit that to us. The task of translating a soulful, dramatic Sam Smith song into a hard rock cover was a tall order, but the band understood the assignment. They incorporated the Bond theme, as well as ominous horns and strings, into a unique, energetic homage to the original, capturing the shadowy mood of the song and presenting the best guitar solo of the EP at 2:26 to boot.

In an interview with Metal Solstice, Rautakorpi explained the choice of the Lockdown Archives EP’s name, the band’s hunt for a label to release their debut full-length, and their stance on the need for larger live events to resume in Finland. Rautakorpi also dared to share some of the band’s favorite (read: hilariously incorrect) guesses from the “Writing’s on the Wall” contest, which did not disappoint.

Metal Solstice: Dead End Scene has made it to the “New Blood” playlist on Spotify, congrats! You’re not newcomers anymore, though; how is the hunt going for a label to release your debut full-length? Is there a tentative time frame?

Ville Rautakorpi: Thank you so much! It’s always great to end up on official Spotify playlists. We’ve been really fortunate to get selected to a few big ones with the singles from our latest EP. It’s always a thrill as we’re still an independent band, so it’s never a given!

I guess we’re not quite “newcomers” anymore, huh? The hunt is going pretty well, nothing solid that we can report for now. The pandemic naturally had a negative effect on it, as everything was so confusing to everyone, labels and bands included and everything kind of shut down for a while. So that prolonged the whole process quite a bit, and had a lot to do with us ending up releasing the new Lockdown Archives EP.

Our management is still on the hunt for the perfect home for us. We’ve had some offers and interest, but we’re still looking and negotiating. We have been doing quite well independently, so we want to make sure that the label can take us to the next level. We don´t want to end up signing part of our rights away and end up doing just as good as we did independently. So, we have to plan this next step very carefully. It´s all about growth right now.

MS: Let’s talk about the Lockdown Archives EP, and why you chose that title. Was everything written/arranged during quarantine, perhaps partially inspired by the pandemic situation, or some combination of those?

Rautakorpi: The two singles released in early 2020, “Gates of Heaven” and “Sacrifice”, were written before the pandemic. They were supposed to be the first introduction to our debut album, but the pandemic forced us to change our plans a bit. After almost a year we felt those two singles had already been out for so long that they were starting to feel really disconnected from the album. They didn’t lead where they were supposed to. That was when we started to entertain the idea of this EP, so those two singles would lead up to something meaningful.

As for the two other songs, they were done during the pandemic. “Run For Your Life” was written to vent our frustrations with the whole situation, so it ended up being our heaviest track to date, with a very claustrophobic atmosphere and lyrics.

We wanted to make a statement with the EP title. We wanted to say that we survived this pandemic, we stayed active during it and in many ways thrived during it, all things considered. We wanted to leave our own mark on this very weird period of time, and a positive one instead of a negative.

MS: Please share a bit about the group’s collaboration process on this EP- including writing the original music, arranging the cover, and recording.

Rautakorpi: It was a very typical Dead End Scene process. Our guitarist Sulo is also a very proficient studio producer and engineer, so we’re able to make everything inside the band, from recording to mixing and mastering. This is how we also did our 2017 self-titled EP.

So, this is our process basically: First Sulo and Mikko make the demos—which in our case are always already really high quality—and send them to the rest of the band. Then, we sit down with the band and start arranging the songs collectively. Sometimes the songs take a while to come to their final forms, and sometimes everyone’s already happy with the first demos. Then we proceed to record it in our training space that also acts as our studio. So it´s really easy and straightforward process with this band, as we don´t have to think about booking studios or anything like that.

The cover song was chosen by Mikko, as he had already been planning it in his head. So in just a week or so after we decided to do the song he had the basic arrangements and parts down, and then Sulo built on that foundation. This song took a little more tweaking than the rest, and we had a couple different versions of it until we were happy with the final result. And we are so pleased and proud of how it turned out!

When we decided to put together this EP, Sulo remixed the previously released songs, and we sent them to Rami Nykänen who did the mastering. Rami is a real studio wizard, who mastered the cover song first. Mastering is a really delicate artform, and Rami is the first person that we felt actually made the whole thing just sound better with his mastering. So, we decided to master the whole EP with him.

MS: About one-third of the band’s duration together has been during the pandemic. What are you most looking forward to at the next live performance (which is currently set for July 31 in Vantaa)? How are you preparing to play this new material live?

Just being able to play live in front of a live audience again feels ecstatic! So just being able to stand on the stage again vibing with the audience is something to look forward to. Just feeling that surge of adrenaline and energy again. And of course playing this new EP and some completely new and unreleased songs also gets us going!

We prepare like we always do: get together at our rehearsal space and just hammer it out until the set is as tight as it can be!

We were supposed to play our first ever festival gig on 16.7., but unfortunately the festival had to be canceled due to the pandemic. But luckily, we managed to get a gig so close to that date. So yes, on July 31st it’s time to party at Bar Rock Bear in Vantaa, Finland!

Dead End Scene, 2020.

MS: There was a recent demonstration in Helsinki to bring back arts & culture events. Did anyone in the band participate? How close do you feel that Finland is to reopening and allowing larger gigs to resume?

Rautakorpi: None of us managed to attend in person, but we’re all definitely supporting the cause! The reopening here has been pretty bizarre. To give you an example: You can drink beer or watch football outside on a huge screen with 1000 other people, but if there is a band instead of the screen, only 50 or so people can be at that same space. So what the event industry is asking for is equality and reason when it comes to reopening. And we are right behind them.

I feel that we can start having larger gigs in some form as early as July. Most of the planned larger events already got canceled though, due to such slow decision making from the government. Not to blame our government too much though, its definitely not an easy situation for them either and they have done an amazing job overall during this pandemic.

MS: What made you choose to cover “Writing’s on the Wall”? Also, did you get any acknowledgment of the cover from Sam Smith?

Rautakorpi: Well, we had entertained the idea of a cover song for a while, and even made a couple demos of different songs. We wanted to make something surprising, something not originally from the rock/metal world. I feel that if a metal band makes a cover of a metal song, it can sound kind of unexciting as there’s not too much you can do with it compared to the original. So we wanted a song that has enough room for us to build around and make it sound like Dead End Scene, you know?

Anyway, during the winter, Mikko and I were on a bus to band practice when I said now would be a perfect time to release a cover song, as we’re kind of between things. Mikko’s face lit up, and he said he’s been wanting to make a cover of Sam Smith’s “Writing’s On The Wall” for a while now. So the actual idea for the song came from Mikko. And off we went!

And no, Sam Smith never reached out to us haha! I doubt he has heard it. Sam, if you’re seeing this, let us know what you think!

MS: Let’s talk about the “cover guessing competition” earlier in the spring, around April Fools- what were some of the most incredibly incorrect or funny guesses submitted?

Rautakorpi: Going through the answers was really fun for us! Most frequent guesses were “Another Brick In The Wall”, either part 1 or 2 by Pink Floyd, and “Skyfall” by Adele. Also many more James Bond theme songs. All great songs and pretty close, but not quite!

My favorite answer after the last hint was “well now it’s OBVIOUSLY ‘Skyfall’, duh!”. Sorry to disappoint you!

The funniest ones were the Pokémon theme song, “Toxic” by Britney Spears, and “Boom Boom Boom” by Vengaboys; I kinda want to do a cover of each of those now!

MS: The EP’s cover art is pretty self-explanatory, but which artist created the cover and why did you choose them?

Rautakorpi: The artist behind that cover has done every cover art for this band so far. He’s a very close friend of Mikko’s from his hometown of Oulu. He is also super talented graphic designer who has always realized our vision 100%, and always delivers better results than we even had in our minds! So yeah, he’s been with us since the start of this band and has always delivered. It’s always great when you can keep this kind of stuff “in the family” so to speak.

We’re all really happy that he has started to gain some real recognition! Go and check out his work on Instagram (@owm_vision).

Thank you so much for having us!

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