Meeting Nico and Jaakko
Meeting Marianas Rest’s vocalist Jaakko Mäntymaa and drummer Nico Heininen before their gig at the Dark River Festival turned out to be this perfect and special experience. We laughed a lot and still had very deep moments discussing serious shit. Truly, perfection in a moment, in any moment, just like this very one of our conversation derives from its transience. We spoke of the Marianas Rest’s evolution as a band, the evolution of the Dark River Festival, their attitude about the future, their age and of course the recent situation.
Spot On Metal Drummers: Nico Heininen
I love interviewing metal drummers (read more) and took my chance. Nico turned out to be a willing victim. So how did it all begin? What or who made you drum? – “I guess my uncle. My uncle used to sing in a band and they were like the first big thing that came up out of Karhula and Kotka area and, well, he bought me a guitar. That’s about it. Then I bought drums.“
“Apparently half of the metal drummers played guitar before …” … – “I wasn’t! I never even started.” – Jaakko, obviously surprised: “You just bought the thing?” – Nico: “No. No, I didn’t. I got from Markku. It was a Christmas present and I end up playing drums.” – We’re all laughing.
“But still, why drums?” – “Well, I can hit things but I am not very good in that …” – Jaakko suggests: “Dexterity.” Nico: “Yeah, well, dexterity, like overall.” Nico and Jaakko are laughing knowingly. But to me it seems not logical.
How does drumming work then? Doesn’t that need a lot of dexterity? Nico and Jaakko are searching for fitting English term. “Sleight of hand?” Nico explains: “The fine motor function, that’s like my problem.”
“I just hold the sticks” (Nico Heininen)
Don’t many drummers use the French grip quite often? That looks to me like needing plenty of sleight of hand.” Nico chuckles: “Yeah, the good ones.” Jaakko is laughing out loud and Nico continues while showing with his hands: “I just hold the sticks.” Jaakko laughs even more and Nico adds a little louder and laughing himself: “Can’t you hear it? Can’t you see it?”
You want me to shoot it? Nico: “You can definitely shoot it. You will find me holding the sticks like this half of the time.” Jaakko still laughing. We all actually do. Nico: “I mean there is of course like lots of dexterity stuff going on with the fingers. But it is like you’re doing this and that.” His fingers open and close. “And the guitar guys do [showing some kind of tapping] all kinds of shit that – my f* brain hurts when I am look at you playing stuff. How is this even possible?” asks Nico his band mate.
Obviously the most difficult part in learning to drum was the dexterity thing for you? “I guess the most difficult part would be laziness. I should be doing a lot of those basic routine practises but I end up just skipping them. We had a rule with Nico our guitar player that we don’t practise at home. We had a band earlier, way before Marianas Rest. And we still haven’t practised at home.” Jaakko reminds: “But we have discussed about changing it.” Both laugh and Nico replies: “Still think, it’s not gonna work.”
I suggest: “Maybe a vote is needed?” Jaakko agrees while Nico points out: “Someone’s gonna be too good.” Jaakko is a bit more but not too serious now: “It’s active conversation we are having on this. Probably during the end of the year we have some kind of conclusion. And probably everything will stay the same.” Nico is still laughing.
Jaakko raises an interesting topic, the band’s evolution. But before we will move on to that I I would like to know what is more of a challenge: Drumming very doomy and slow or extremely quick – what is more difficult to play? “The slowest of the slowest is the …” Nico says which I anticipated, but why? Nico explains: “I think all drummers should groove. There has to be some kind of groove. And how the hell are you supposed to make somebody dance to your beats if there’s like two hits in a minute? That is hard.” I have heard similar explanations before. So Nico goes on: “Yeah, the fastest part should like, just smash on things and it just sounds ok-ish. But the slower parts are just like you have to hit the right places and the right time and …”
There is one more question, I find really interesting and I have yet to find two drummers with equal preferences. What is the most critical part in setting up your kit? With what do you start and what has to have precisely this position in the end? Snare. The whole drum kit gets build up like around the snare.” – “So that’s your center?” – “That’s the place where my left hand has to land [showing automatically on his leg]; basically all the time.”- “Without looking, without minding. It has to land there?” – “Yes. That’s the snare. Of course it’s pretty good to have something else there but” he is laughing – “I think I could work with snare only.” Nico looks over to Jaakko and jokes: “It’s Marianas Rest after all.” Jaakko dryly comments: “Martyarinas Rest”, which makes us all laughing.
Marianas Rest: Melancholy & The Right Mindset
Marianas Rest signed with Napalm Records earlier this year. That alone is a big step up. Signing with an international label often raises high hopes, such as international touring or even swimming with big fish. Then again it is also a challenge, bringing more work, new tasks, matching new standards. On top of all that the entire event industry is struggling more than ever. So what is their personal aim with Marianas Rest? Big step or more gradual growing? Jaakko quietly but immediately says: “Yeah, the latter. That’s the kind of thing that we want to do, to slowly build …” – Nico points on some details: “Yeah. You guys have small kids and stuff like that. Like being out all night, it’s not gonna work.” Jaakko: “Yeah at least not with this kind of music anyway. We don’t have this kind of big dreams. We just want to see where this goes and try to do kind of better songs, better records and a be a bit better every time we do something new. That’s the only thing.”
“It’s about being a good human being also” (Jaakko Mäntymaa)
So that’s all part of Marianas Rest’s evolution? Jaakko agrees but Nico raises a new point: “It’s not all about the music. It’s about being a good human being also.” Jaakko adds: “Yeah and professionality and that sort of stuff. A lot of new things we have learned during the past year; about the business and the work that you need to put into it. And of course we had some sort of clue because we have a lot of familiar faces in big bands and we know it’s not that easy but a shit load of work. But still – there are surprises along the way.” Nico: “Yeah. And there will be.” Jaakko thoughtfully: “Yeah.”
And if there are good surprises than it is all the better?! “Yeah, sometimes good”, replies Jaakko laughing, “…but sometimes”, Nico continues naturally: “But sometimes not good.” Jaakko again: “We had all sorts of small fuck ups during the year but nothing major and …” Nico:” You end up laughing.” Jaakko:” That’s the only way to learn new stuff.”
Familiar faces is a perfect keyword. There are plenty around them here in Kotka. How important are all these familiar if not family faces to Marianas Rest? Like Teemu [Aalto] or Henri [Eerola]. Jaakko: “Yeah, Sami [Hauru]” while Jaakko tries to find a wording, Nico says: “It’s a blessing! And it’s a curse, I guess.” Jaakko: “It would be so much harder to get kind of anywhere with this kind of stuff if we lived in let’s say Russia. There are a lot of people who know what you need to do, when, where you need to be at and what it takes to get there. We wouldn’t have made it even this far.” Nico: “Yeah. To me, it feels like, if I ever need a band, like I wanna play some different kind of music, I have to walk down the street and I find all the members for it. And the second street is gonna be the like the rest of the crew around it. And they’ve done it before, they’ve done it better than like nobody in the vicinity of me or the crew or even the band. It’s just super easy to find contacts in Kotka. And then there is like Omnium Gatherum, I …, the guys have seen the world. They really know how it works. And those guys who work with them really know how it’s gonna happen. Like if you’d being dumped on a parking lot in let’s say Berlin with the gear and said ‘good luck’. It would end up like, miserable. It would be miserable, true, but with like Sami or somebody like that on board it could be done.” Jaakko: “It’s kind of important thing that you can see bands are getting bigger right in front of you. So you see that it can be done. You can reach new levels. And that’s an important thing to kind of know if you kind of have the ability to push yourself.”
“And why wouldn’t you be one of them?” (Nico Heininen)
Nico: “And why wouldn’t you be one of them? The guys that the kids are looking up to say ‘they did it.’ – Why can’t we do it?” Jaakko agrees but lingers in his thoughts: “Yeah.” Nico: “That’s important. So we used to be those kids.” Without looking to Jaakko in a rising tone: “Well, not you! You’re so fucking old.” Jaakko – still thoughtful: “Yeah.” But then we all laugh. So Nico points out: “I used to be the youngest in the band. Thank God, Nico joined!”
“We don’t have to fear that we would get beaten up for our opinion” (Jaakko Mäntymaa)
While to me their lyrics are gloomy if not very dark, a friend’s impression is rather bright and hopeful despite their often disturbing soundscapes. What sort of mindset might have inspired to form Marianas Rest in the first place? What is the thing that connects you all and determines the music? “Well, we started as a therapeutic project. And still is. This sort of emotion when you go through the …” Jaakko pauses to reword: “You used to be young and then you aren’t. And you have all sorts of new stuff and you can observe the world a bit differently and it’s easy to kind of, well, it can affect you in a negative way. I think it has this kind of affect to most people. Yeah, I think it’s a channel to kind of ventilate this pressure that builds up in you. It think that’s the thing that connects us. We don’t talk about these things a lot. But I think we all know it.” Nico reminds: “Well, we all go to sauna, so …” – Yes, the sauna indeed is a the place and occasion to speak of things very privately.
“Yeah. We have it good here”, Jaakko continues his thought: “We have it all. We don’t need to kind of starve to death. We don’t have to fear that we would get beaten up for our opinions or something like that. And it’s a weird thing because still everything is fine generally, but you can still have this sort of feelings of that everything is not right. That’s the thing that we want to express with our music in some way.” Nico summarizes from his point of view: “As Jaakko said Marianas Rest used to be three-man therapeutic project and we were supposed to play something super hard, super-fast. And then I ended up being the drummer and I am not super-fast. So then it became doom. And we have been following this melancholic side of music since Jaakko joined. We found our kind of style, well, we didn’t, but the genre was there. We found out that we are not like the Swedish Death Metal guys ended up being rather mixed and matched. Melancholy was the one that stayed.”
“Melancholy was the one that stayed” (Nico Heininen)
That gets me back to doom drumming. Another drummer told me he rather avoided doom as he was tempted to think of other stuff during the long time between the beats that he might possibly miss a hit in the end. “I am so chilled, I guess” Nico replies but thinks it over and goes on: “It’s fairly easy to remember when to hit stuff. But how to do it is the hardest part in slow music” Jaakko: “But I can see what the guy meant.” Nico: “If the mindset is different.” Jaakko: “Yeah, your mind starts to wander.”
I agree so Nico explains his way of doing it: “I usually stare at the bottle near me. I hit. Then ‘I still have beer’ – ‘I can’t drink it.’ [bum] ‘I still have beer’ – ‘Still can’t drink it.’ [bum] ‘I still have beer’ – ‘Still can’t drink it.’ [bum]” Jaakko: “The melancholy part, it comes very naturally from bands that come from this part of the world.” Nico: “This hemisphere. I guess this hemisphere, the Kaamos areas.” Jaakko: “For example, Sentenced was a really big thing for me when I was a kit and young adult and still is. It left some sort of mark. And when you look at for example Insomnium you can see it really clearly.” Nico dryly adds: “Welcome to Finland.”
Sticking to them and melancholy, we speak of Joensuu and Nico strongly recommends to visit Koli National Park next time we’d be around there. Nico: “Insomnium guys they are such good painters like they paint with their music.”
Black & White
Painting is the keyword. I brought three photos to ask for Jaakko’s and Nico’s associations with them. Possibly in regard of their music but also in general if they would share such with us. What comes to their minds first?
 Jaakko: “Maze, complex modern world.” Nico: “I see like way up. Hard, cold steel, like it takes ages to get up if you ever get up.” He pauses for some seconds. “And this reminds me quite a lot of a spiral. But like the other way around. Spiral was going down, endlessly. And this one is getting up – like endlessly.” Jaakko: “Yes, you can get up if you know where to start, I guess.”
Nico “This would be great picture for Total Devastation to me. You know the band? That would have made like album art. Well, welcome to spiral.”
 “I feel like …”, Jaakko’s words fade, and Nico says: “I see a lot of age.” Jaakko describes: “I can feel my skin picking to some degree the more I look on this.” They utter their impressions independently. Whenever there is a short break the other one falls in, like Nico right now: “The guy who was acting on the “South Of Vostock” video was remind me on that, Atte. Like an old guy with a bit of an age showing up.” Jaakko admits: “And I think I have some sort of age crisis going on. I’ve been wondering a lot about where I am at and what should I have done and this brings this sort of feelings.” Nico: “You’re not in your fifties yet, you’re fine!”
 Nico: “Ah, looks like a beacon of hope. Light. Warmth. In a very dark somewhere.” Jaakko is hesitating, then: “Yeah, beacon of hope but also a reminder that the time will run out actually.” Nico: “That is true.”
In my impression, Jaakko seems glued on rather negative associations while Nico comes up with rather balanced associations, expressing positive and negative aspects, I tell them. They laugh and Nico points out loudly “Well, I said warmth!” Of course he did. Funny, he thought he was meant to have the mostly negative impressions. At this point, my set of prepared questions was actually done. But the conversation was all but done. On the contrary, it moved on naturally. At times a conversation between the friends and band mates came up at which I just happen to sit by.
How comes this very different spontaneous interpretation, I wonder. But Nico asks: “Do you happen to have a coloured version of this [candle] photo? Because I see it as one of the ruins photos. It’s like a sepia tone and fairly warm.” – Sure I have: “It was taken at Lake Saimaa three days ago in the evening. Relaxed evening so for me in this moment it was very positive but then I thought it offers both ways with the candle burning down.”
“Could you like, truly enjoy that particular candle if you knew it would last forever?” (Nico Heininen)
Both mumble agreement as Jaakko’s thoughts return to Marianas Rest: “And that’s one kind of the main things we try to include. A bit of the kind: you have clouds in the sky but there is a little bit of silver lining there, too; and there are beautiful things although the world can be a pretty hard place. And that’s …” Rewording he starts over: “If you get too much into the negative, it’s not that interesting!” Nico: ”Well, could you like, truly enjoy that particular candle if you knew it would last forever?” Jaakko: “Yeah, well” Nico: “If you wanna look into the dark side of life, candle’s running out, I think it’s a good thing, because the moment doesn’t last forever. If it would …” – “Yeah”, mumbles Jaakko and Nico ends his thought: “… would it actually mean anything?” Jaakko: “You should try to enjoy them all!”
A Better Perspective
Rytmihäiriö are setting the stage and crowd aflame as we speak. Damn, it feels so good to breathe this true festival air again, I think. We’re digging into the deep shit here and now, discussing that a person can lose absolutely everything: material and immaterial; meaning beloved ones, health, sanity, memory. Everything. But despite that the moment will be the one thing you cannot lose. Nevertheless you might not be in a state to appreciate or even notice the moment as it happens. Nico comes with a sort of tragic example – in terms of festival situations at least: “I lost my car keys and the car was full of beer.”
However, this cannot get Jaakko out of his thoughts: “Maybe this is one of the things I kind of try to point out earlier that everything …” thinking and starting over: “well actually, some of us have had a really kind of shitty things that you need to kind of get over. But for example me, I had a pretty easy life. So maybe when the shit really hits the fan, you kind of see more of the … you have some sort of perspective, a better perspective about things. And you start to see more of the little, good stuff…”
Not Moaning What You Cannot Help
Nico: “Yeah, that’s when you like end up losing everything, you actually realize, you didn’t lose too much of the stuff around you because … Well, Jaakko was probably talking about me?” Jaakko: “Yah” – “I lost my parents when I was 18 and 20. And I think that was the moment when I realized that I actually didn’t lose anything like it ended up realizing how many good friends I have. And I realized like why I like keep doing my stuff like going to school, going to work and somebody said I was going like into a robot mode. I was zoning out a lot then. But I didn’t see it like that, maybe been thinking a little more about ‘Damn, the grass is green’ and that’s cool and then being like happy. Like you said: positive thoughts.” Silence.
“You need to have both”, Jaakko says breaking the silence. Nico agrees: “Yeah, you definitely need to have both. But Thank God, I mean, I am not one of those guys who goes into a local pub and sits there for 35 years moaning about the stuff that you.” Jaakko: “Yeah.” Nico goes on: “… can just not really do anything about.” Jaakko “Yeah.” Nico: “Keep going!” Jaakko: “Yeah!”
A Matter of the Mindset
It is said a person can grow resilient in the right setting: when hardships happen you need to have a good social network and you need to be aware of that fact. Nico: “People see like big losses. Like if you lose your parents and if you’d lose like a child or your better half in like an accident or something that’s fairly the thing you gonna like grow from. Those little losses like you didn’t get this job, like you didn’t get that exam right, it just didn’t have to be like this major sounding. And I think people could end up like being as resilient as the other one just with the little things and really never actually losing anything. It could be a simple burn out that puts the mindset right and then you can just go forward with the right mindset.”
“You have kind of permission to fail every now and then” (Jaakko Mäntymaa)
Jaakko: “You need to have the safety net. It is important.” Nico: “Yeah.” Jaakko: “That’s the cool thing that we have in most …” Nico: “Finland” Jaakko: “… countries in Europe.” Nico: “Yeah. Hopefully soon in the world!” Jaakko: “You have kind of permission to fail every now and then. And you won’t get like … you know your safety net will be there when you fall. It would be a whole different ball game if the society would be arranged in a different way.” Nico: “I guess most people would be much better liars. I think it’s the poker face that keeps things like together if you just cannot talk about things, and you cannot fail and then you end up cheating them.” Jaakko: “Maybe.” Nico: “And that’s bad. That’s not the right mindset.” Me: “It explains a lot of what we can see around us.” Nico: “True.”
Rebellion & Responsibility
The conversation has been inspiring and has taken a deeper course than I had hoped. I wouldn’t want the guys to leave our conversation without a cheerful smile. So I try my favourite question to end the interview.
“What is metal?” Jaakko repeats: “What is metal?” Nico: “Well, it’s the mindset. That’s like, Rap music can be metal even without like distorted guitars. Metal is not the sound. It’s the feeling – that when you end up in the flow if it’s heavy and it feels … I listen to a lot of Björk. Björk is fucking pop.”
Jaakko: “Metal …” Nico: “it’s the substance. Cold.” Jaakko: “Freedom. A little bit rebellion. And fun. It’s the mixture of those things.” Nico: “Well, it ends up being fun if you don’t fuck up.” – laughing. Jaakko: “Yeah. We’ll see if we’re going to have fun tonight.”
Losing Arms and Legs Or Not
There is one if not many helping hands in the mosh pit catching the stumbling ones, we have experienced. Jaakko tells us then: “Yeah, I think that was one of the coolest things I remember when going to first festivals … in Tuska? Yeah, I think it was Tuska. When you kind of had the energy to be all day in the pit and you start to figure out what it’s all about and people helping each other and …”
Nico: “Yeah, that’s crazy. You’re going to a mosh pit on Friday and you lose an arm, Saturday you lose a leg and Sunday you’re still going. People are keeping you up there.” Jaakko: “Yeah, I never understood the kind of hardcore punk mosh pit thing where …” Nico: “people end up losing their legs” – laughing. Jaakko: “Yeah, and kind of kick the shit out of each other.” We are all laughing. “Great mysteries.”
Nico says in a serious tone: “I really, really hope that there is not too much of a mosh pit today.” Me: “I think there is one going on already” Smiling, Nico says: “Please people, wash your hands. Stay healthy. Don’t lose an arm.” Me: “That stay healthy-thing is really difficult at the moment.”
“The shit is going to end. Eventually” (Nico Heininen)
Jaakko explains that they have always been close to lock down since the spring of 2020. Apparently there was a more serious situation in the wider Helsinki area in spring/early summer in 2021. Both of them point out that having the festival(s) is really a “little miracle” considering the situation. Nico: “And it’s actually a big miracle that we have a vaccine and the shit is going to end. Eventually.”
At this point our conversation enters the realms of ethics as you can address the matter of vaccinations (actually any vaccination) from a personal but also a social point of view. It is a very emotional topic even if people agree on it.
“It’s in the core of privacy” (Jaakko Mäntymaa)
“It’s not a personal thing. It’s been of the both.” Jaakko begins speaking up noticing that Nico is about to say something, too. Actually Nico agrees with Jaakko so that he continues: “It’s a really hard question because this sort of things are: you should have a chance to make your own decisions about this sort of things. It’s in the core of privacy. But at the same time it’s not just about you.” Nico: “I mean the vaccination like for covid it only makes your life and other lives better! So why wouldn’t everyone do it? That’s like my point of view.” Jaakko: “Well, …” Nico: “I work as an assistant for disabled people. And I was like, when the covid started I knew that we’re gonna have to get a vaccine if it comes up. And I was like: I hope we’re first in line.”
No Easy Way Out
Jaakko: “Yeah, I just read about the drummer of Off Spring, what happened to him a few weeks back. He had to be kicked out of the band because he had some medical condition that makes it impossible to him or the doctor said it’s not wise to take the vaccination. Because it’s a new industry standard now and I think it makes things so much harder for the rest of the band. They had to kind of throw him out. If you don’t have like kind of a good reason to not get vaccinated then – there are a lot of exceptions – in most of the cases, yeah, it’s easy to say that everybody should get their share. But there are so many kind of different exceptions that it’s hard to make kind of over-all statements.”
Nico: “I am not a doctor. I am not a like head of any state so, I am not the one to judge if you’re taking that vaccine or not.” Jaakko: “People still remember the, what was it, bird flu? Or the swine flu or …”
Nico: “I think it was H1N1.” Jaakko: “yeah, when everything went to hell with the vaccination after that many people who got themselves vaccinated got sick, what’s the …?” Nico: “The narcolepsy?” Jaakko: “The narcolepsy.” Nico: “But it ended up being the protein in the virus not in the vaccine.” Me: “But people will not know or remember this detail. Too complicated.” Nico: “And like the knowledge came like ten years late. It definitely left a stain on it.”
Jaakko: “When big pharmaceutical companies develop vaccinations on a really fast base, of course many are suspicious about it. Some were along the way, hoped that the companies learned their lesson from the last time. And now we have enough science to back it up.”
Nico: “Of course you can argue that if 10,000 people out of a million or so get a narcolepsy but don’t die, or it killed 200,000 others, it’s kind of a fair trade. But being one of those who gets the narcolepsy might not sound that fun.”
I point out that it is always a choice of protecting the weak ones, be it those emotionally close to you or just the ones you meet on a bus or at a supermarket cashing. Jaakko: “Yeah, don’t be a dick, basically.” Nico: “That’s a fair rule.” Jaakko: “There are a lot of kind of strong forces that kind of know how to warp people’s minds when it comes to these sorts of things. It’s like ‘You’re sheep and there goes your freedom’ and stuff.”
Trashy Stage Fever
Me: “I am so sorry we ended up on such a serious topic, I hoped to get you into a cheery mood for the show.” Nico: “Awwwwww” Jaakko: “I am kind of … I feel a lot of tension. Usually, I am pretty easy-going. But now I am just nervous. Maybe it’s been so long since when we’ve done this the last time.” Nico: “We were young. I think it was in August.” They go on discussing the question but cannot agree on precise date. So Jaakko adds to his previous thought: “This is why I am if not in a dark place then in a grey area right now. But after the show things will be pretty much different. This is always the pre-show time. It’s really hard to keep your head together.” – “Start pinch drinking. That works!” Nico suggests. Jaakko replies: “If we played thrash or something then things would be easier and we could be drunk all the time. At least most of the time. If we played shitty thrash.” Nico: “If we played trash. Like we don’t play trash. Like in a different way.” As we all laugh, Nico points out: “It’s on h!”
One Shot to Save Them All
‘It is all but trash we spoke about here’, I think hurrying to the main stage in order to experience Rytmihäiriö’s final songs on stage. And how they all longed to shred the stage again, not only Marianas Rest. Really all! It feels so damn good to be on an actual festival again. A festival as ‘normal’ as can be for the time being.
This afternoon in mid August, it really felt almost like a normal festival. ‘Normal’ in terms of what festivals and concerts were like two or three years ago. In 2021, all this did work only because most of the people gathered there were brave enough to take their shots and still kept their distance to another. Jaakko, Nico and I, we spoke of responsibility when it comes to decide pro or contra covid vaccination. A personal decision, of course. But then we are pretty much down to the choice of taking the ‘one shot’ or let the one virus bring them all and in the darkness bind us! Don’t we owe the bands, the clubs, the festival crews and our fellow metalheads in the crowd to do our share? Shouldn’t we just stand together in this? I think we should!
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All photos by Ms Cesar Little. Marianas Rest photos taken @ Dark River Festival 2021,  @ Ferropolis 2020,  &  @ Lake Saima 2021