As a guitarist of Wintersun, vocalist of Damnation Plan, vocalist of True Cult Club, and occasional troubadour, Asim Searah’s “irons in the fire” offer a unique window into the state of modern metal. Based in Helsinki, he’s stayed connected to fans and friends via the Twitch platform during the past two years of limited live music by streaming playthroughs, song requests, interviews with other artists, and video game play (looking at you, Horizon Forbidden West.)
In a lengthy chat with Metal Solstice on a particularly snowy Finnish day, Searah shed light on each of his current musical pursuits, offering perspective on realistic release timelines and the need for bands to adapt to new technology. In addition to these recurring themes, Searah didn’t shy away from sharing his candid thoughts on Adele’s work, a bevy of hidden talents, and the aspects of his projects which he considers to be outside his usual comfort zone.
Metal Solstice: You recently mentioned a new collaboration, and shortly after that the Epica podcast was released with you as a special guest. Was that a coincidence, and what’s the plan?
Asim Searah: Well, there is something in the camp happening with me and Rob from Epica.
MS: Is that a one-time thing?
Searah: We have no idea. This is all in the making, and we have no idea where it leads to, what’s going to happen. Let’s see, but it’s going to be very exciting. Rob and I got to meet properly when we played on 70,000 Tons of Metal because we did this all-star jam and Rob was beside me doing the AC/DC song. I thought we had great vibes, and of course the Wintersun guys had indirectly known the Epica guys. We hung out together and Rob and I decided after the all-star jam that it would be cool to make music sometime.
MS: This collaboration has been in the works for a little while then!
Searah: No, not really! It has been quite recent. I had Rob over on my Twitch channel for a chit-chat, but I was thinking, “Hey, we should definitely do something again!” and we decided let’s do it. But that’s as much as I can say for now.
MS: Regarding your Twitch streams: what has been one of the more memorable episodes for you, or perhaps a favorite guest that you’ve brought on to chat?
Searah: The most memorable for me would be my birthday stream in 2020. That was amazing, because I was asked by my moderators to play a video. I tend to do these streams where viewers request a song and I check it out, or give my reactions. Well, I wouldn’t actually call it reactions because I’m not a “reactor” kind of a guy, like, “Oh my god, it’s so beautiful!” No, I’m definitely not that type, more straightforward about things. They made a video of all the moderators and a community together, and they made a birthday video out of it; that was super, super sweet. So that was one of the memorable ones that I did.
Else than that, every stream is a memory of its own. There are so many good things that happened, along with so many technical difficulties, so every time it’s a great struggle for a streamer.
MS: Who usually turns up in the streams; do friends or fans often surprise you in the comments?
Searah: The biggest thing was when Mike Shinoda raided me; now that is something! He brought like 800, 900 people, like, “What just happened here?” I was actually playing “The Forest That Weeps” and all of a sudden, I see my screen go completely bonkers. And then my mod goes, “Mike Shinoda raided you.” Then I had to play a song; I played “Crawling” being all nervous, and that was a surprising moment.
Then from time to time, other people show up which are definitely good names around in the music industry. It’s great to see that the Twitch community is so tight-knit; it’s making the actual music industry better as well. Because the ego is going away, slowly and gradually, which is absolutely fantastic. You cannot live in the community of Twitch without each other. In some ways, the viewers are the same in that they jump from stream to stream, so you tend to keep the environment safe and nice. Everybody is willing to help you out as well. The gaming industry and the Twitch community have been something that has never felt like a competition. This is the beautiful thing.
MS: It’s interesting, because a lot of bands have done streaming over the last two years to survive. To maybe answer some questions from fans, or do an acoustic show just to “keep the lights on”. Why did you lean into it more? Do you think others should?
Searah: Eventually they will have to. I mean it has to become a hybrid culture in that sense. Right before Covid as well, a couple of months before in early 2019, I already had the idea of Patreon. The idea of Patreon was developing in the Wintersun camp as well; we did it as a band and that was much better. But the Twitch thing just occurred to me as an individual. I keep on saying to myself that I’m an idiot that I did not get into it earlier, because I could have stepped into it much earlier. There are so many people that I know, some have even been my guests, but they initially said, “This is the reason the music industry is dying.” But the same people are doing absolutely great on Twitch today.
It’s not that I’m patting my shoulder, and saying, “Hey, told you!” but I think if you adapt to it, it can be very beneficial. It’s a great platform to get in touch with your fan base, especially when you can’t travel and you don’t have gigs. The “mystery times” are done; people say, “Don’t you want to keep more mystery?” but I think we do enough of that anyway. I’m not saying you have to do complete concerts or pushing our hard work for free, I mean, the earnings of Twitch are ridiculously difficult. It just keeps you going. If you were a musician, say, 20 years ago and you did not start adapting to the internet world, you were left out. And if you were a guitar teacher who did not adapt to online teaching when the pandemic started, you were not able to sustain yourself financially at all.
MS: Since we agreed to discuss a little bit of everything, let’s run through your current CV. [Laughs.] Damnation Plan has been radio silent since September 25. The last post I saw promised news of upcoming recordings; where are things, and when will the wheels be in motion?
Searah: Most of the part of Damnation Plan being delayed is on me; I’m the last piece of the puzzle. Always have been and probably always will be, because I’m the vocalist and so on, and direct certain ways of how the production should go. This time I took a completely different route than the previous album, but then by the time we were doing it, Wintersun was active as well. A lot of my time went to Wintersun in that way, and when I did have time to invest, certain things were not ready. Then all of a sudden personal matters happened in my life as well and I was completely demotivated with the music scene, and the pandemic world, so then the creative process became completely different.
Frankly speaking, when it comes to making music, with Damnation Plan, we don’t make any money. It’s pure joy, pure hobby, pure for the love of music. There’s no financial returns from Damnation Plan. We had to get some equipment for doing our live shows which we were thinking of doing, but things went a different way. So the last section after 2020 lands on me, and due to my personal situation, I did not decide to quit the music industry, but I did definitely put a pause on the creative part of things. But now finally I’m getting back to it with the new studio space that I have, pushing things forward. This year things are happening, and there will be new Damnation Plan in the streets!
MS: And you plan to play live, too?
Searah: Absolutely. We haven’t disbanded, nobody’s leaving the band, and we played Dark River Festival last year. I played with both of my bands, True Cult Club and Damnation Plan, and that was great. I just hold myself accountable for the delay. It’s the lack of motivation, lack of creative juice. In these hard times, concentrating on trying to survive somehow financially, and then you’re like, “Oh my god, I need to do this as well?”
To be very frank, I don’t want to hide anything from the people anymore, as many artists do. “Oh you know, we were trying to make this album so great and it was so difficult for us…” Fuck no. The material had been written already, there were so many lyrical ideas I had written particularly in 2019. Now we’re talking in 2022. It’s going to be a great album, that’s for sure, but who wouldn’t say that about their album or their band? Honestly speaking, this took a little more time to come to fruition.
MS: Now, you said you worked on this album completely differently. What did you do?
Searah: This time, I completely let the band finish everything that they were doing, and then give me the product. I noticed that it really helped me out anyway, when I was working with my black metal band The Circle from Germany. The Circle stuff I really came up with very fast; those were four songs, and production-wise, it just poured out. And I thought that could be helpful with Damnation Plan as well.
Of course Jarkko [Lunnas, Damnation Plan drummer] and I work closely together on the arrangement, and now I’m recording the stuff completely by myself, so I thought. But then for two songs, at least, I required the help of Jarkko. One time in December I called him and said that I really can’t do this alone; I needed some company to sit down and do this together. He came over, and for a couple of days we did that. So, certain methods changed in doing this. Production-wise I’ll try to keep the same vibe as to what the vocals have been in the past two albums, but a little more flavor to them. Slightly different themes of songs; some of them are coming out from personal backgrounds, more to do with my things in life and what has happened that people would be able to relate to. Stepping away from a few different ways that we approached the previous album.
MS: Great. Next up: True Cult Club; what’s going on?
Searah: We have weekly remote sessions, me and Miiro [Varjus, True Cult Club guitarist]. Basically when it comes to the lyrical ideas, they come to me very fast, but then we write lyrics together as we go along. We just fit the puzzle pieces together. There was a lack of motivation, and disappointment in 2020 completely…because that was the band I was going to push to the top then. We already kind of proved it with the first show that we did. It was supposed to be an “uphill-to-the-top-of-Everest” kind of vibe, but we got smacked in the face by everything that happened. So it brought disappointment in the enthusiasm in the band, so it set us back a little bit.
Then we were able to do one show in Dark River Festival last year, and we were excited about that. Since then we’ve been working on more stuff and we have plans for this year. There are some things happening recording-wise that we constantly do every week. New stuff, new news coming out this year from True Cult Club as well. Concerts-wise, no idea, no promises, nothing to be expected. “When are we going to see you live?” Well, are we seeing really anybody live at the moment?
MS: I’m sure those same comments come up in your streams a lot too, like, “When are you playing in X country?”
Searah: Yeah, guys, are you kidding? Are you seriously kidding? The biggest bands are postponing their entire tours and we can’t even play next door here, and you’re asking us to “#ComeToChile”? No thank you, can’t happen. Definitely good stuff will happen, but in due time.
Weirdly, in a way I’m relieved that Damnation and True Cult Club will not release anything out there just yet. For instance, if we would have released Damnation’s album in 2020, we would have been under the sea already. Nobody would have noticed it. Then the argument on the other side is, what about when the gates open, and everybody releases everything at the same time? I’m like, “Hey, let’s work smarter; let’s use the platforms in a way that other bands are not yet doing.”
MS: I think the vinyl shortage is stopping some people from releasing at this point, too, because in some cases there is a wait until 2023.
Searah: Adele took everything.
MS: Or her management.
Searah: She’s a brand, so you’ve got to refer to the brand.
Searah: No, I love Adele, there’s no question about that. I’m a huge fan; I’m a fucking huge fan! This December when I was visiting Germany, I listened to her entire album. There are freaking amazing songs out of that. My favorite songs are “My Little Love” and “Oh My God”. They are completely different from what Adele did previously. “Easy on Me” is great, but that’s typical Adele that you can expect. I like her, but she should probably should shut up about her exes. I mean, for fuck’s sake, just because you have a platform you can speak about your exes like that? Maybe you should give your exes the platform to speak about you as well. It’s some one-sided bullshit.
But that’s just me, it’s the way I candidly talk on my Twitch as well, but maybe less rants nowadays. That is the culture we are living in; we hide so much of the other side of things, and people are like sheep, so they say, “You did such a great job!” What about the poor bastard you just fucked up? I think she writes great material and has emotional songs, but then publicly claiming you were the best thing that ever happened in your ex’s life…maybe not.
MS: I hear you. Next one on the list: the troubadour shows!
Searah: I was fortunate enough that that was one of the biggest achievements in my career, that I opened for Nightwish. That was insane, incredible, and I did not grasp that it happened until I got off the stage. I was so concerned and concentrating on the fact that I wanted to do the show properly.
MS: That was in Oulu, right?
Searah: Yes, it was in Oulu, a sold-out show for 3,000 people. And after that I wanted to pursue more troubadour shows, but we know what happened.
MS: But that’s probably something you can pick up again, whenever you want to, outside of an album cycle.
Searah: True! Yeah, exactly. I’ve always wanted to make an acoustic album as well, but I would rather make the albums that are on hold already for a long time. First I’ll finish them, then I’ll think of something else.
MS: That touches on something I was going to ask next; what other sorts of creative pursuits do you have in mind, besides these that are already in progress?
Searah: Music-wise, an acoustic album would be completely something that I would love to do, because I tend to do that a lot; me and just the guitar. Already there was one song I made in 2015 with a friend of mine from Estonia. So, very much open to ideas like that. Else than that what I recently started to do, Conquering Dystopia is the project with Keith Merrow and Jeff Loomis. It was an instrumental band, and I just brought the vocals to it without letting them know. I showed it to Jeff in 2018 on the tour. He liked it very much, then showed it to Keith who liked it very much, and then eventually I released it on YouTube also. So this was something I’m thinking as well; picking up the instrumental songs of different artists and bring vocals to them. I have a plan to do that for Andy Gillion’s song as well, but I can’t expose which one. He’s a buddy of mine, and I gave him a heads up that someday it might happen. Instead of doing cover songs, I would rather do something like that, or even over electronic music. I’m a big electronic music fan.
MS: Looking back, which of your creations would you consider to be outside of your comfort zone, or even a risk?
Searah: Hell yeah, there have been many! I mean, some of the True Cult Club songs that were made, and the way that I sang them and wrote the lyrics, they were completely out of my comfort zone. But I had my reasons to do it, very strong reasons to do it. It keeps things fresh. Regarding the risk factor, what is there to lose? We ain’t making no money anyway, so what is there to lose? [Laughs.]
There are some things I pursue knowing that it will work. Let’s say True Cult Club was a complete risk, because that’s what I wanted to do. Based on the promo picture we released, everyone was thinking it was going to be heavy, crazy, black metal music. When we released music, people were like, “What the fuck is this?” And I was like, “Ta da!!!” So it’s a risky business to promote something like that, but we’re doing it knowingly.
MS: So the last stop on this interview tour is Wintersun: what is brewing in that camp?
Searah: We’ve got 19 podcast episodes out now. Really everything is brewing at headquarters and Jari is working on it.
MS: You mentioned recording an interesting podcast episode recently; what happened?
Searah: We get tons of questions from our Patreon community, so every podcast is a different podcast. We don’t have an agenda or do it for our own sake, but it’s all about answering the questions of whoever is interested enough to ask. This time we covered a lot of interesting stuff, like virtual reality and artificial intelligence and the impact it would have on the music industry. We talked about how Jari came up with “Death and the Healing” as a song, and a lot about the future, and our goals for the coming years.
MS: Are the topics things that you’d be talking about anyway?
Searah: Not really; some of them are very new! For instance, we haven’t discussed virtual reality before, but it was interesting to start a discussion about it. Some questions are the same old, as we all know, but there’s no point in repeating them. But some are really cool, and our policy is this: whoever is hosting only gets to see the questions beforehand, so he can make a plan how to keep the flow of the podcast. But the other three of us do not have an idea which questions are coming, so we’re put on the spot. The podcast was patron-exclusive in the beginning, and they were comfortable with us releasing this later on YouTube. At the end of the day, we have developed a community which we want to keep the way it is.
MS: Saved a “fun one” for last; what are some things you focus on outside of music? Do you have any hidden talents?
Searah: I have awakened my inner geek joining Twitch as well, and it’s brought video gaming back into my life; I became a gamer again. I tend to play games and sometimes make money out of it from my Twitch channel. I’m very keen about understanding computer systems, and a lot of interesting software stuff. I used to be a chef, so that’s something that everybody who knows me already knows. I got into cardistry, magic stuff, a lot to do with cards. I got into it thanks to Troy [Donockley] of Nightwish, and he awakened that in me again. I opened for Nightwish and he was sitting down, and Troy is an insane magician. So, he sparked my inner little magician as well. I played cricket professionally as a teenager. Hidden talents…I guess I’m good at bullshitting! Maybe I’ll let others decide that. Most of the people didn’t know I was a vocalist, so maybe that’s a hidden talent, too.
Find True Cult Club on Spotify here:
Find Damnation Plan on Spotify here: