Callisto | Interview with Markus Myllykangas and Arto Karvonen

Finnish group Callisto has evolved considerably since their formation in 2001. Their first record “True Nature Unfolds” from 2004 was consensually pigeonholed into a sludge/post-hardcore tag with names like Neurosis and Cult of Luna as the closest reference points. Its successor, “Noir” released in 2006 is however, a far more challenging and difficult record to categorize since it saw the Turku-based act branching into the fairly wide-ranging post-rock genre, combining dark-sounding and elegant harmonies with furious bursts of aggression. Now surges “Providence”, an audacious release that definitely marks a new and even bolder chapter in their ever-changing and unpredictable career. With a new singer named Jani Ala-Hukkala fully integrated into the Finnish-collective, “Providence” marks a departure from the band's more instrumental-driven style and sets out to break away from any genre standards exploring a wide array of sonorities ranging from progressive-rock to experimental jazz.
We’ve approached the band thru e-mail to ask them what kind of intentions and inspirations were the driving forces behind the creation of their latest work “Providence”. Both guitarist/vocalist Markus Myllykangas and keyboardist Arto Karvonen agreed to shed some light on the subject.


I’m curious to find out if the notorious changes that occurred between “Providence” and Callisto’s previous work “Noir” were a conscious move on your part?

Arto: It’s hard to say how conscious the changes are. We just write the songs and try be as open minded as possible. The new album is different from its predecessor but still we don’t find the change as huge as everyone else does. For us the songs are pretty much similar as they were in “Noir” but now we have a new instrument, the vocals, in the band.

Callisto has always manifested their reluctance to fall into genre patterns or stereotypes, always trying not to go back and repeat themselves or others over and over again. I assume this is kind of a guiding principle for the band whenever you start writing a new record right?

Arto: Genres can have a very limiting affect on music in general.
Music and bands should be considered as individuals and not members of some post-prog-sludge-etc-etc group. Art shouldn’t be branded! Ok, you need some kind of adjectives to talk about music and to describe it but the big downside of genres is that artists might be afraid to extend their art because of the limits and rules what you can do in the particular genre. I still wouldn’t say that this "genre avoiding" is intentional for us. We don’t write songs thinking that we have to break stereotypes as we just write the songs that we want and see how they sound trying to be free from limits.

I see that you’re all long time friends with some mutual interests and objectives, which is a rare thing in modern music, where it’s becoming incredibly common to see band members composing and recording individually and only getting together to play live. Do you think the interpersonal relationships in Callisto are important to bring out the best of you as a collective? Do you guys see a lot of each other outside of band duties?

Markus : When we started this band back in 2000/2001 we spent lot of time together outside the band, I think it was natural thing to share the music that we loved and of course we liked to spent time with each other because we had so much in common back in the days. We moved in 2002 from our hometown Kokkola to Turku where we all live now. I was living with Johannes for over 3 years together until I got married, we actually composed majority of the "jemima/Klimenko and "True nature unfolds" material with Johannes in our apartment. Those were good times indeed.

Yes, I believe that our good relationships have helped develop our music how it sounds today and I think it was really important and still is.

We see each other in free time but not that much like we use do maybe 2-3 years ago, 2 of us have a child, almost every guy is married now, we have our daily jobs and our hobbies etc, etc… but I think the friendship that we created in the beginning has kept us together, that’s for sure. We have played together for almost 8 years and we have had only one line-up change, so it speaks something? Ok, no more nostalgia :)

The addition of saxophones and mellotrons into their songs gives the album a truly captivating and authentically dark atmosphere, sounding almost cinematic at places. “New Canaan” for example transports me to one those noir and crime melodramas movies with a surreal and dreamlike ambience. Callisto’s compositions have undeniably a cinematic quality and as a matter of fact their song “The Fugitive” from “Noir” appears on a 3D animation film “The light at the end of the world" from a UK-based director by the name of Teemu Erämaa. Do you have a desire to write or at least would like to compose songs for a movie soundtrack?

Arto: That would be great! As quite fanatic movie geeks we’d really much like to find us composing a soundtrack for a film or that one of our songs would end up on a soundtrack. As for "New Canaan", it almost should’ve been on "Noir" and not "Providence"... ;)

“Providence” has been available through Fullsteam Records since February 18, what kind of reactions are you getting on the album? Do you read your own press or hear it second-hand?

Arto: The reactions were pretty confused as everyone was expecting a "second Noir" if you know what I mean (back to genres again). The normal reaction from old listeners has mostly been of shock at first but then they get used to the idea and start to dig it.
Some of course don’t like the new stuff as much as the old and that’s ok too. There are also listeners who start fresh with “Providence” and then start searching for older stuff too.

Callisto’s lyrics have always contained Christian and spiritual themes and just like its title suggests “Providence” seems to be no different with several references to God and divine guidance. Do you see Callisto as a part of the Christian musical subculture, what kind of messages are you conveying through your lyrics?

Arto: Almost all of us are Christian so it’s kind of natural that the lyrics contain those kinds of ideas. The lyrics are pretty much personal so we definitely are not pushing Christianity into anyone’s face, but still it’s almost impossible to leave it unnoticed. It’s actually a kind of a dilemma because when you write something that hints even a little bit to Christianity, listeners can take it as preaching and can get offended by it, but if you leave it out they’re not your lyrics really. It’s different with metal compared to reggae for example. In reggae you can praise Jah all you like and no one really cares. In metal, you mention God and everyone’s asking about it all the time. I totally understand the negative feelings towards Christianity as there has been and still is so much shit done in the name of it so I can’t blame anyone for criticizing it and that is actually what we did in “Noir”, where the lyrics were pretty much critics towards phony aspects and the misuse of Christianity and religion. I guess you could say that “Providence” is not that negative but maybe bit more personal and spiritual.

We do not see Callisto as a part of Christian subculture. We don’t play shows in Christian happenings and usually try to avoid in being labelled as a Christian band. I personally don’t have anything against that subculture, but it’s just something that we don’t really fit in. We’re a band where almost all members happen to be Christian and that’s it.

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