The Spiraling Reveries of Velvet Ocean
The Spiraling Reveries of Velvet Ocean
Fans of imaginative collectives such as Nightwish and Evanescence will surely be swept about by the spiraling reveries of Velvet Ocean. Based out of the thriving music scene in Finland, Velvet Ocean has presented their glorious debut album Purposes and Promises to the world at large. Brimming with a grand amount of emotion and intrigue, Purposes and Promises is sure to captivate all types of music enthusiasts looking to venture upon an exhilarating auditory adventure. Highwire Daze recently interviewed founding members Riitu Ronkainen (vocals) and Jarkko ‘Jake’ Ronkainen (guitar, vocals) to find out a whole lot more about Velvet Ocean and their standout debut album Purposes and Promises. Read on…
Introduce yourself, tell me what you do in Velvet Ocean and how long the band has been together.
Jake: Velvet Ocean started originally as a writing project of me and the lead singer Riitu in 2015. Other people started joining the band as studio musicians and later band members when the framework for the first album was basically ready. I’m also playing guitar in the band and singing in a couple of songs. I have written the first album material together with Riitu but Riitu’s overall contribution has been a bit higher. You could also say that we are “leading” the band together, my responsibility being more on the technical matters and Riitu being the artistic director.
Riitu: I’m the lead singer and also the main writer of the band. I don’t play any instrument but I have done some synths and programming for our debut album.
Where is the band based out and what is your local music scene like there?
Jake: We are based in Oulu, Northern Finland. Oulu area is sort of famous in Finland for an active metal scene. There are a lot of metal bands and skilled musicians here which is great. Of course the live scene has been problematic lately as it has been everywhere. However things have calmed down a little bit and places have started to book live gigs again. I hope this positive development continues and there won’t be any setbacks in the epidemic. Overall I think the main difficulties here for bands are finding suitable rehearsal places and there could of course be more opportunities for gigs also for the starting bands. There are a couple of bigger concert places for international bands and Dream Theater was actually the last one I went to see. We also have a big summer festival called Qstock with around 40,000 visitors during the weekend. There is a symphonic orchestra in Oulu and their solo cellist Arto Alikoski is actually also playing in our band.
Is there any overall story or concept behind the Purposes and Promises CD title?
Jake: The title was actually the last thing in the album project that we started to think about and we eventually wanted the title to somehow describe the album project. The one thing that actually lead to making the album is that me and Riitu originally had lengthy discussions about our objectives and priorities in life. We concluded that music has been really important for us both whole our lives but we kind of felt that something that we wanted say with the music hasn’t yet been said and we still had a lot to give. Making our statement and completing the album then developed a very important “purpose” of our lives. The mutual “promise” that was sealed for the project to survive the very hard working period was then chosen another characteristic of the project.
Select two songs from Purposes and Promises and what inspired the lyrics?
Jake: The album as a whole wasn’t originally designed as a concept album but afterwards when I have looked at the themes of the different songs, quite many of them deal with death, some kind of existential crisis and also the position of an individual or even mankind in the infiniteness of the universe and the eternity. “Tonight” lyrics are an example of this and the song basically deals with the fact that although love between two people can quite romantically be seen as eternal there is an inevitable end to that. Beyond that it’s only the echo of our earthly existence that travels in the space just as the light travels through the universe.
Riitu: There is a real experience of my own life behind the story of the song “Salvation”. I needed to have a minor operation done to my hand in a hospital. I wanted to have the general anaesthesia for the operation because it kind of felt more comfortable. After I woke up in the recovery room I was being told that something went horribly wrong during the operation and my heart had completely stopped to asystole. I had big bruises in my chest because they had to resuscitate me. Later I was examined thoroughly and nothing was found wrong so nobody knows why this thing happened. I don’t think I even realised at first how serious the situation had been and I think it wasn’t until during the writing of the song that I got to properly process my feelings. The nurse that told me what had happened when I woke up was to me like an angel because she was so wonderful and empathic.
Who did the cover art for Purposes and Promises and how much input did you have on it?
Jake: I have actually taken the photo of Riitu in the cover as well as most of the photos in the physical album leaflet. We presented some preliminary ideas to Federico Bossinga at the Abstract Chaos Design but he was given quite free hands to decide the style. Of course we then gave some feedback but in the end I think the result was excellent.
What was it like working with keyboardist Marco Sneck, whose credits include the likes of Kalmah, Stargazery and Poisonblack?
Jake: It was brilliant, because through involvement in so many album projects before, naturally his experience was unparalleled in comparison to us others. I think he really got us thinking outside the box in a couple of songs and definitely helped to lift the album to the next level.
Riitu: Marco is a terrific keyboardist and a very talented musician. I was very surprised how different his approach was in many of the songs and I think this was something that really forced me to also think my own compositions more critically. He actually came up with some ideas that we would have never thought about ourselves.
What has it been like to record and release new music In the middle of a worldwide pandemic and so much social unrest in the world?
Jake: Since the exploitation of natural resources is nowadays at a higher level than ever before, one could think that there is enough welfare in the world to share. However financial resources are cumulating to just a small part of people and thus there is globally more poverty than ever before. I think for us well-to-do westerners it is very naïve to think that we will be able to grab our privileges and just continue living like nothing is happening. There is definitely need for a global solution and co-operation to solve the natural and human disaster that is going on right now. In addition there is a lot of unfairness even within our own societies. These are the kind of topics that we also like to bring out in our music. Beyond that it was of course a huge personal disappointment to us that we couldn’t really even start gigging after the release of the album.
Riitu: Of course we would have hoped that we could have promoted the album release in the gigs but this wasn’t unfortunately possible. The situation is of course the same for everybody so there is no real reason to complain. We had booked a couple of bigger gigs this summer and it was still very disappointing to have them cancelled.
What could one expect from a live Velvet Ocean show?
Jake: We are constantly paying attention to and developing our live performances and try to make them both musically and visually interesting. I think Riitu’s singing is especially striking live and we also try to make special live arrangements for the other instruments. I think the emotional content of our music is even more touching when seen in person. We have a lot of unpublished material that we are just playing live and those are the songs that will probably be included in the next album. Live cello is also a very dramatic addition to our live sound.
Riitu: In our gigs I think you can witness how passionate we feel about our music. As a singer I always try to give my 100 % best performance and I also try to establish an emotional level connection with the audience. In the first couple of gigs we played before the pandemic it was really nice to notice some real enthusiasm and also people that actually were already familiar with our music. When you see us playing live, I think it is even easier to understand what our music is about and I also think that the band sounds more energetic.
If Velvet Ocean could open up for any band either now or from the past, who would it be and why?
Riitu: There are and have been so many great bands that it is very difficult to name just a couple. Anyway I would say either Queen or Muse. They are not actually metal but I think their music as well as personalities are something very extraordinary. We have actually also made a metal version of Muse’s “New Born” that we are playing live.
What’s up next for Velvet Ocean?
Jake: We have shot another music video for the song “Broken”, which is now ready for editing. That’s going to be released in the near future. At the same time we have already started working on new material and we have actually decided the next single that we will release. This time the song will be produced by Helsinki Records’ producer Maki Kolehmainen. We have also started to book gigs again and keep our fingers crossed they won’t need to be cancelled again.
Riitu: The material for the next album has basically been composed already and we have a feeling that the next album will get us even further to the direction that we want to go.
Any final words of wisdom?
Jake: Wisdom is a very difficult craft but I just want to say that let’s everybody start working together to make the world a better place for absolutely everybody!
Riitu: I hope everybody will stay safe and healthy! I have noticed that it is the small things in life that give you the most happiness.
Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions!
Jake and Riitu: Thank you very much for the opportunity! You rock!
Riitu Ronkainen • Vocals
Jarkko ‘Jake’ Ronkainen • Guitar, Vocals
Jani Lehtinen • Guitar
Tuomas Vesa • Bass
Jami Alaverronen • Synths
Arto Alikoski • Cello
Bastian Schallschmidt • Drums
(Interview by Ken Morton)
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