I recently spoke with Heidi Parviainen of cinematic metal icons Dark Sarah about her character’s reinvention and evolution on the band’s latest album, Grim. We dive a bit into the details of Luna, the story writing process, and what the band plans to do in terms of touring the album in the future.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with me. I hope all has been well. How are you guys doing?
We’re doing great actually, in Finland. The virus situation has settled down and everything is opening up again. At least for now, no one knows what’s going to happen, but everybody’s looking forward to our album release show. We’re rehearsing at the moment, and celebrating the new album.
Well, congrats on the recent album! It’s an accomplished record with a lot of great songs and beautifully conceptualized storylines. Of course, you’ve written the Chronicles for the previous trilogy, which was a great read and now there is the poetry book. Is some form of written story something that you plan to do with each new release?
Yes. That’s something that I wanted to do next to the albums, because there’s always this continuing story, and it’s really hard to tell a continuous story with only a few words that you can use in lyrics. You can kind of get the idea of the storyline, but still, there are a lot of things happening in between the songs. So it’s like only part of one scene in the whole picture. So that’s why I wanted to create a little bit more depth to the story that you can get from these books.
When writing with your music, obviously it’s influenced by cinema, but do you draw inspiration from other forms of media?
Yeah, there is actually a lot of things that I grow my inspiration from. For me, they are mostly visual. I have like a Pinterest board when I started building up the concept. I have some ideas, and then I tried to find similar or suitable pictures that support my ideas. And I kind of start making a mind map from these pictures.
And then I have the title of the album when I start creating the new story. So yeah, there are lots of things going on. And of course, I think that when I’m in this creative mood when I’m making these albums and the concepts, will also draw ideas from my surroundings, whatever they may be. It can be movies, music, just whatever those ideas are that are popping into my head.
That’s really cool that you use Pinterest as a way to brainstorm, and it’s almost like you can use it as a storyboard as well.
Exactly. I have the framework in my head, and I choose the pictures that are sort of scenic for the story and it supports me through the whole writing process. Because sometimes you can get lost in all of these ideas, what was I aiming for, where was I going, and then all I have to do is look at these pictures, and I kind of stay put.
With your albums being so concept-driven, do you come up with a narrative flow before the music or does the music affect the conceptualized story behind the album and the songs?
I kind of worked together with both. I think of the idea for the album, and come up with a short synopsis of the storylines, then I start writing songs. But I never write the lyrics at this point. I kind of try not to do that because if I start writing a storyline for a specific song, it has to be in the correct order on the album, which can be quite tricky. But it can be kind of tricky because we have to come up with a working tracklist, but we try not to glue them in certain places. So I do try to avoid writing the final lyrics, but I have the storyline always there.
It sounds like you have a nice flow going when creating content, do you approach the writing and recording process the same with each album using this method?
Yeah, and it’s actually developed a lot because at first, I didn’t write music at all. For the first album, I wrote the lyrics in the story, but not the music for the songs. The for the second album I started writing my own songs, and have been developing that for the past few years. So now it’s just the same, I can up with the synopsis, the storyline, and then write the songs.
Something I’ve enjoyed has been the evolution of Dark Sarah to Luna. It reminds me a little bit of say like a Tobias Forge with Ghost, with how each new album there’s a new Papa and a new persona. Creatively speaking, with such a story-driven character, I’d imagine that this must be a great way to completely reinvent yourself and your music. Has that been the approach you’ve been taking?
Yes, and when I look back I didn’t realize just how much it was connected to myself and also my personal growth. Looking back, I now see that each album is a picture in time with my personal development as a musician, writer, and person. It’s really lovely to see that growth. When I knew that it was going to be time for the trilogy to end, at that point I was feeling a little restricted in the skin of Dark Sarah.
So I wanted her to be reborn into something else that is more like me at the moment. I was really happy that I could start everything from scratch this time. So even though I loved the first trilogy, I feel that I needed to move forward with this album in many ways. So this is a rebirth of Dark Sarah in many different ways.
How important is it, and how much of the visual aspects of your concepts do you try to incorporate into other mediums, such as music videos or live performances, or even wardrobes or other forms of artwork?
In our case, and for me personally, the visual part is something you can’t take away from this kind of project, because it would kind of be like watching a movie without pictures. Images are how we start building up the concept, and we start with these trailers there like for movies, so our fans can get into the mindset of where is this going, where is this taking place, what kind of mood is set. Then we add the music in the story, in which it’s almost like making a movie, without making a movie.
For me, it seems like with each new video release, It’s kind of like a movie trailer.
Yes, exactly! It’s meant to be like that, and all the music videos are like scenes in that movie. Along with all the artwork and photos that we put out, that too is part of the story.
From opera to experimental music and metal, your sound borrows from so many different ideas and creative sources, what do you think is the fulcrum? The one connection point in your music that enables all of these influences to just thrive together so beautifully?
Well, we have a wizard as a producer, so maybe that’s the reason. (laughing) Because Mikko Mustonen who has been our producer from the first day was the first person that I contacted when I wanted to start my own project. He’s also co-writing with me and adds a lot to the creating process when it comes to making music. He has this different perspective on this project which is a good thing because I sometimes don’t see the forest for the trees.
He’s really great creating soundscape’s, and for this album, my writing started to go in a different direction and he was really embracing it. He said, “wow, this time we’re going to do something really cool.” He’s also been encouraging me to step out of the opera singer persona and become something new. Which of course for this album I did, and it was because he was encouraging it and to work on the popish sound. Which I think works better for a lot of the songs, than if I would’ve sung it with just an opera style.
Cinematic scores and soundtracks have been a big influence on your music. With the recent passing of one of the greatest score composers, Ennio Morricone has prompted many tributes and a lot of recognition for his work. Did you ever relate to any of his work or are there any other kind of influences from other composers that find a place in your sound?
I never really had any of those kind of idols in music. I’ve just admired those that can make great songs. Of course, I do enjoy people like Hans Zimmer and other great composers that are making great soundscape for movies, that add something special to the movie itself.
Something I’ve noticed is that you seem to have a huge fan base Mexico, which is really awesome. Did you ever have a chance to play there or are there, there any active metal scenes that fit with what you’re doing in that location?
No, we haven’t had an opportunity to play there yet. We haven’t really had an opportunity to tour yet. When it comes to live shows, we haven’t had many of those yet either. But we are just drooling and we want to go out there and start touring but, you know, it cost a lot of money to take this band to another corner of the world. Even in central Europe. It would be great to tour in Mexico, and it’s absolutely lovely that we have so many followers there.
Speaking of shows, you did say that you’re having a release show for the album?
Yes, we do, we have a release show on 7th August here in Finland, and it’s going to be open for a live audience, but it’s also going to be a live stream. I think would be great if our South American fans could join us there as well too so that we could have all our fans under one digital roof!
From an outside perspective, it doesn’t seem that Northern Europe has been affected so dramatically by COVID-19 lockdowns. Are you going to be able to play any other shows, or have you been making plans or thinking about the future for other shows in that area?
Yes, we would love to, but it actually hit us in that way that when we were going to release this album we should have started booking shows instead, everyone was canceling their shows or rescheduling. And for that, we haven’t had the possibility to schedule any shows for this year. But now that possibly the situation is starting to become more normal, and venues are opening up maybe this year there will be something. But for now, this show on the 7th of August is the only show we have booked.
A lot of bands here ran into some trouble when this whole thing started as they were in the middle of recording their album. Did you have to deal with any of those issues?
Luckily, we did not because we finished recording the album last year. I think it was in October, and our mastering session was just right after Christmas, before New Year’s Eve. So we were lucky that it didn’t interfere with the recording process, but we did have to wait many months after we made the deal with Naplam Records, and it was a long wait. Which is so hard because you can’t get this album out of your system, and with us, the wait took seven months. So I haven’t really been doing anything but living this album for quite a while, and I am very much looking forward to the next one.
Yeah! That’s a long time to be hanging onto an album.
It is, it’s like sitting on a golden egg. (laughing) Well, you never know what the reactions going to be to an album, but for you, that’s what it seems like.
With COVID-19 still causing trouble, a lot of artists are taking time to write and it seems like a perfect time. Have you thought about where to go from next or started writing or brainstorming for the next album?
Yes, I’ve been quite busy with promoting this album, and the crowdfunding and shipping all the perks, so for me, I been busier than ever before and I am going to start writing the new album soon. I’ve been busy with building up some pictures again! I’ve also started on a synopsis and I actually have to have some idea on where the story is going to go in the future. I always end the previous album with some idea of what comes next. So the seed is always there.
It‘s always good to have some idea of where you’re going to go next.
Well, congratulations on the album release, it’s really awesome, and thanks for taking the time to speak with me.
Thank you for the interview! We look forward to seeing everyone soon.