Wintersun: Kai Hahto Interview
A new star is shining on the canopy above Finland only outshined by the winter sun.
It´s name is Kai Hahto and he´s one of the most versatile drummers in Scandinavia - his playing credits ranging from death metal to jazz.
This man is able to play with the speed of light but also he is capable to stroke the drums quite lightly. Let´s see how he manages all that.
ragazzi: "The blast beat is the backbone of extreme metal drumming; please tell us about the development of the blast beat."
Kai: "The blast beat came to my attention at my teenage years. I didn´t really thought about it too much and the meaning of it. I just loved how it sounded. Listening to bands like Morbid Angel, Terrorizer, Napalm Death, Carcass etc. and they all had some blast beats in their songs. I had my own death-metal sort of group called Cartilage at that time and of course I tried to include some of that stuff in our own songs. I loved Pete Sandovals style of playing because it was really clean comparing to Napalm Death which was more "punkish". Napalm Death has really original style and Mick Harris was like Animal from the Muppet Show behind the drums, but still Pete´s playing was something that I loved to listen. I tried to emulate the records but I had no clue that he was playing everything "one foot" style. So I immediately started playing "two foot" style because I didn´t have any videos. Today we have in the DVDs and youtube etc. and it is really helping drummers to understand that stuff. I learned later that Pete played all the blast beats with one foot and I was like "Damn!!! He´s crazy!" Cartilage didn´t have so much blasting, but after I joined to Vomiturition and Rotten Sound I had to pay more attention on my stamina and technique. Vomiturition had some fast stuff, but was more in the death-metal style. Early Rotten Sound was more punkish style but had much more blasting involved. Then later Rotten Sound style changed a bit after every record and the last two were more like extreme style of metal and blasting was strongly involved in those albums. My latest band Wintersun has even more complex ways of representing the blasting and involves more independence in the blast area. My opinion is that blasting came mainly from speed-thrash metal where the drummer played the "skank" beats as Slayer for example. From there it just went faster and faster until it ended up being like single stroke rolls between hi-hat and snare and the bassdrum played together with the hi-hat. So I guess that´s the best explanation. Derek Roddy wrote a book about this called "The Evolution of Blast Beats" so there you find a lot more info about this subject."
ragazzi: "By the way, do you think young extreme drummers should study other musical styles like jazz, latin, funk etc.?"
Kai: "It´s up to the person,but I think it gives a great perspective to the metal style of drumming. At least for me it has helped a lot with my dynamic playing. Jazz taught me to listen, react and improvise which are great tools to have. It also taught me that different styles of music sometimes have a lot in common. Also to study the history of music and drums is good because I found that one of my absolute favorites Buddy Rich was playing blast beats in his drum solos already like in the 60`s and Louie Bellson had his double bass drums when playing in a big band. So the more you study history and music and the history of drumming, the more you respect all kinds of drummers from country music to jazz, latin and extreme metal. It´s like evolution. You see where the things have come from and then you know how they have developed. It´s really important also to listen to music if you want to learn. And then go and get the books and videos and try to go out and play it. Nothing teaches more than playing itself and especially to be involved in a band. I didn´t know much about jazz when I started, but to go out and play it and expose yourself to your problems is very good. So my jazz playing started a little like an accident when I was asked to join Vaasa Dixie Tigers. I had my nose ring and long hair and went straight to the gig after one rehearsal with the guys. I was terrified but I learned a lot and stayed in the band for eight years. I also understood that I even loved jazz before I joined that band I never could have learned it the "real" way. Because Jazz is living and breathing music. So I strongly recommend to be open-minded and to investigate some time in listening to and playing various styles of music."
ragazzi: "Playing blast beats is physically demanding; what´s your secret for staying in shape?"
Kai: "I have never gone to a gym because of that reason. I try to keep myself in shape by walking a lot. I have a bike instead of car and I use that to go around even during the winter time. I also do some Pilates to keep my body in shape and strech a lot. I really don´t deal with heavy weights. The muscles I use when playing have nothing to do with weightlifting and bodybuilding. So to use certain muscle groups and to learn to control them is what it´s all about. Not to squeeze the sticks and let the stick "breathe" in your hand is also very important. You have to find the "middle ground" how much pressure is needed. If you hold the sticks too loose it will destroy the power. You have to feel the stick but not choke it. I could talk about this and it´s small variations the whole day long.
So good technique helps a lot, but still it´s physically demandind stuff to play. You have to start slowly to get the balance and the control and by playing slower you can keep the beat up longer and get the repetitions you need to get the stamina you have to have to keep the beat up longer and make more repetitions. Challenge yourself now and then but don´t go the "no pain, no gain" attitude. That´s a little bit risky in the long run. I was also exposed to Alexander Technique and that also helps me to save energy and use my body more wisely."
ragazzi: "How about the cliché "sex, drugs an rock´n´roll" for an extreme metal drummer?"
Kai: "Rock´n´roll works for me, but I don´t do drugs except alcohol sometimes. Sex is something I am dealing with when I am at home but on tour I find other things to do because I´m a married man. :-) I think you can´t really live on the extreme when playing extreme music. Espesially now in my new band Wintersun we play with a hard disk and a click, so playing slower is not an option if you feel like crap from yesterday. It´s also about responsibility to give the fans and people who pay for the tickets the best show we can because they deserve it. We are there because of them. Also at home I have two little boys waiting for me so the middle part of the cliche wouldn´t work there either."
ragazzi: "Many people think heavy metal drummers are sort of modern day cavemen; what do you think of such a prejudice?"
Kai: "That´s a good question. I never thought about it that way, but I guess in some people´s eyes heavy metal drummers especially in the 80´s looked like cave men in certain bands. So maybe this impression has come from that days. I think that it doesn´t exist anymore."
ragazzi: "Another prejudice says that all metal freaks are satanists above all if they are coming from Scandinavia. Well, you live in Finland ..."
Kai: "I think that satanism has been tried to link to metal since metal was born. In Scandinavia spesially the movement in Norway and the Black Metal culture has made a strong impression in the metal scene there and it´s easily to link other metal fans in Scandinavia. I know a lot of metal people around the world especially in Scandinavia, and haven´t seen many satanists among those people. So it´s just one of these things how people look at people just from the outside and what they listen to. "Look, a black dress! She must be a Satanist!" These things just make me laugh sometimes. I think most of the metal people I have met are of the most warm hearted people I know and they just like the music. It´s a community I like to be involved in."
ragazzi: "You used to play a handmade drum set from Kumu - why did you switch over to Pearl?"
Kai: "I was playing Kumu, yes and those drums were really good for my purpose of playing music and the best I had at that time. Then after two and a half years with Kumu I got an offer from Pearl to try the new Reference series drums. I was the first guy to get a hold of that new drumset and Risto from SMI gave me this rootbeer fade finish set to try for a couple of weeks. I carried it to my home and the first time I was hitting the toms I was like "Oh my God!" - the reaction was immediate. Since then I knew that I had discovered something special. Pearl also helps me with tours outside of Finland so I can use a Pearl set on tour when needed. That was a strong point for the change too. It helps me to do my job better and to play a good drumset when I´m away from home. So those were the main points to make the change and I couldn´t be happier. I respect Pekka a lot and his handmade work with Kumu drums, but Pearl still worked much better for me in the bigger picture and all of it´s components."
ragazzi: "You are the owner of a youtube channel; what are the advantages of being present on youtube for a musician in your opinion?"
Kai: "I think youtube is a good way to present information. I know there´s also the bad side that anyone can upload a video from your performance that didn´t get your acceptance. You just have to live with the ambivalent nature of the internet I guess. So being a part of youtube is good because I don´t want to take myself too seriously anyway. I want to do a good job when I perform, this is also something I say on my clinics."See you on youtube tomorrow,i guess!" You know how things work when you have a "bad day" and all the cellphones are pointing at you. hehe! You learn to live with it and it´s okay. I think it´s one of the greatest free places to get information about drumming and also there´s a lot of things you find there I thought I never would have the chance to watch. Like David Sylvian & Robert Fripp´s Damage live songs that I have as a CD and I found them there as live versions ... wow! I was a happy man! Also lots of old Buddy Rich videos I had never seen. It´s a good to place to share stuff you want people to watch and for the people to discover new music. Youtube is also what I call free advertisement for musicians."
ragazzi: "One of your videos on youtube shows that you are experimenting with your set-up at the moment; can you describe the drum set of your dreams?"
Kai: "Actually my drum setup has changed a lot within the last two years. It has a lot to do with my imagination. What I want to play and how am I going to challenge myself to grow as a drummer. I don´t mean I have to make the drumset challenging to play but it must be a challenge to explore new things and options and also some new movements to practice. I usually shape the set up for the music I play. For instance with the Dixie Tigers I sometimes used only a Ride cymbal, snare drums and a hi-hat; no toms, bass drum etc. To challenge you by using a minimum of instruments and try to get the maximum out ot them soundwise. When I´m playing a blues/rock gig I just use a four piece kit with a couple of cymbals. I want to play with the different setups because it will challenge you to play differently and think differently. When playing with Wintersun I have a bigger kit with a mirror image idea to play with. I use four hi-hats, two ride cymbals etc. so anything I play on the right side I can play on the left side as well. I´m mostly left handed but learned to play as a young boy right handed so now I´m trying to improve both sides to operate well, not because it looks cool but because it works with Wintersun´s music. I play a lot of "stereo" ride patterns etc. So I guess the drumset of my dreams is still changing and I hope to explore some new ideas to help me on the way. Terry Bozzio and Grant Collins are the guys I suggest everybody should check out for the setups that go beyond the "normal"drumset. I think the dream setup for anybody is the amount of sounds you use and what you hear in your head for the music you are playing."
ragazzi: "You are a drum-teacher too. Do you have a special teaching concept?"
Kai: "It all began through my own problems and the will to help others, educate and share the information I have as a drummer through my own experience. I had a bad posture and I was struggling with my playing. So I studied myself and my technique through the years and I found out the cause of my problems while I was exploring human behaviour and how I act when I play the drums. I went through many differenent things and tried african, german, american grips etc. until I was like "okay, I know what will be the best for me, but...?" That was something I could discuss and share with my students. We are different as individuals, but we still have the joints in the same place etc. We operate the same way. So most of my teaching is just looking and observing the student. The main idea is to let the students understand what they are doing while playing. Not just what they are playing, but how they do it. Gently suggesting ideas to try as an alternative and try to heighten the awareness of the student. Awareness is the best thing you can have to find out about how you are doing things and how they affect you. I think the body as a machine with all its parts. If the machine is not working well and you have a lot of distractions then the body will work in a certain way. So in that way every student is different. I never say to them that there´s something wrong with this or that. I simply try to make them their own teachers for being aware how they are doing things and not just what they are playing. I try to point out things that will bother them on their way. Of course we are dealing with rhythm, independence, sound, blending the sounds etc. to learn drumming in a certain style. By the way I don´t teach a six year old kid the same way as I do with the 16 year old teenager. I have to find the right tools for the student and sometimes all they need is showing them how to play certain thing, but sometimes we have to go deep in the limb level or put rhythms into numbers etc. Everybody learns differently and that´s what makes it interesting and rich. Also my personal studies with the legends Jim Chapin, Freddy Gruber and Joe Morello gave me a final touch that perfected my own studies for a while and gave me the growth I needed to go to the next level with myself. A good teacher has to be a student himself and learn all the time to keep the creative channel open. Otherwise I would get bored as a teacher after a while."
ragazzi: "Are there some things beyond drumming that you want to introduce the audience of your clinics?"
Kai: "It always depends on the clinic. I try to put some light on the other aspects outside of drumming. For instance being in the music business, taking care of your health etc. Sometimes it´s just playing and sharing the information about practicing or technique. I try to be as open as I can. That means I don´t plan too much. Like in Jazz, I try to live the moment and react to the audience response. Sometimes you don´t get the response and you have to be prepared for that. It´s just information and it depends on the audience to use it or not. For me every clinic is an adventure and I don´t really know where I´m going, but I still somehow end up in the right place. I try to challenge myself and that´s what I think a clinic is all about. It´s a challenge to keep people interested for a certain amount of time and share something that might be useful for them. You can´t hide behind the band - it´s just you and that´s fun."
ragazzi: "Please tell us about the bands and projects you are playing in at the moment."
Kai: "My main band is Wintersun after I left Rotten Sound. I also play in Max on the Rox which is more blues/rock style of music. Then Dimebag Beyond Forever which is an awesome project consisting of twenty different musicians around Finland to play once in a year to the honor of Pantera and Dimebag Darrell (R.I.P). We do a tour once in a year and give all the money for charity to support the victims of crime. Then I play in a Metallica tribute band with the bass player Lauri Porra (Stratovarius etc.) and other great guys to play some Metallica stuff occasionally. Then I have my own Kai Hahto Group. It´s more a fusion style project that involves a lot of different members from Vaasa where I live. Then some session jobs here and there in different styles. Those are the main things I do but on the other hand I do a lot of drumtuning/tech jobs like I did for Nightwish - Dark Passion Play, Children of Bodom - Blooddrunk, Swallow The Sun - Plague of Butterflies, Sturm und Drang, Indica, Waltari, Sotajumala, Medeia, Nicole etc. So those have been my recent projects. I have cut down a lot of the things to try to focus on the most important things for example to save some time for myself to practice and spending time with my family."
ragazzi: "According to rumors you are currently in the studio for recording the new album of Wintersun; if that´s the case when will the new CD be released?"
Kai: "I have done my parts already, but we are faced with some big problems to finish the record. Our computer broke down two times. Now we finally got a new Mac Pro to finish the rest of the stuff. Drums, bass and guitars were recorded in a real studio and then Jari (our guitarist, songwriter and singer) faced the problems in his home studio and the album got delayed pretty badly. So things seem much better now and we hope to finish the album this year so it could be released before the next summer. It´s a huge project: 200 - 300 tracks per song, seven real songs plus an intro and an outro. The lenght of the album is 79.50 minutes.It will be released through Nuclear Blast from Germany and also around the world. Personally for me the new album is something that I´m really proud of and it was the most difficult album to play during my whole career. So it was a big challenge like the first Wintersun album, but on a different level."
ragazzi: "Does Rotten Sound actually exist and why did you leave this band?"
Kai: "Rotten Sound still exists. When I was about to leave the band I wasn´t concerned, because I had a student that was good enough and liked this type of music Rotten Sound are playing. I asked him to join in for me and he has fitted in the line-up really well. Why I left the band is a complicated mixture of my own thoughts as a drummer and my direction as a musician and also as a father to my children. When Wintersun was formed we were never meant to be so active. But things went differently and I saw myself more and more enjoying the gigs I did with Wintersun. As a father also I knew I couldn´t be a member of two bands that both tour all the time, unless it´s financially reasonable. And I have to say that you don´t pay the bills so easily playing grindcore if you also want to spend some time with your family. But it wasn´t just a financial situation. In the end I had to follow my heart because Wintersun´s music touched me more than the one of Rotten Sound. So it was a musical and a reasonable choice in the end. It was a hard choice still because I was in Rotten Sound for twelve years and we were a good friends after all. But life goes on and I couldn´t be happier. So there´s no regrets and bad feelings."
ragazzi: "You are very engaged in posture and the so-called Alexander Technique; please let us participate in your knowledge."
Kai: "Let´s say that Alexander Technique saved my life as a drummer and also changed my life forever. I could never be the drummer I am today without this technique. Period.
Like I mentioned I had some posture problems and some back pains earlier in my career.
I was looking for all kinds of treatments from chiropractor to massage and I was just dealing with symptom in the end and not with the cause. So I found out from one Health Magazine a line "The Alexander Technique helps to better your posture". Then I found out that in my hometown there was held a course in the upcoming summer. I participated and found the help I was looking for. I try to explain a short version here this time.
The idea is to let the body work in a natural way and learn about your bad habits that affect the normal body functions. When you look at children they are always in good posture no matter what they do, because the posture mechanism that´s built in all of us is working. But at some point in life we lose the touch to ourselves and that mechanism and also the awareness to our own bodies. Alexander Technique can bring us back that awareness. The technique is studied together with a qualified A.T. teacher and he/she will help you to indentify the things you do to yourself in certain situations. So the teachers role is to educate and bring back the awareness and eventually you are able to help yourself to indentify the harmful things you do to yourself. It is known as the best possible technique that has been used by dancers, actors, musicians (Sting for example), athletes etc. The best way to do is to find a qualified teacher from your area and go for a private lesson because everybody´s sensations are different from each other. Good place to find all kinds of information is: www.alexandertechnique.com and by googling you find a lot of informations from teachers. This is also a topic I could write a whole day, but I hope to write a full article about this subject in the near future to explain more of this stuff."
ragazzi: "Do you have a dream concerning to music?"
Kai: "I think dreams are great but in the end you have to be active to make your dreams come true in the end hopefully. You can´t only live in your head, you have to put the time and effort, stay humble and hope for the best that one day all the good things you give will come back to you. Dreams are something that should drive you forward, but in the end you should have fun in doing the things you do and not to keep things too serious.
I met many of my dreams I never had wished for. For instance studying with Freddy Gruber 2002 in New York City for a month. I never dreamed it would happen, but it did. Of course there are dreams: persons you would like to meet and play with them etc. I wish Wintersun´s new album will get us forward so we can play to larger audiences and as many places as possible. That´s my dream at the moment."