WHEN POWERS COLLIDE
Interview by: Kira L. Schlechter
A collaboration works best when it’s between like-minded people. Finnish metal powerhouse singers Netta Laurenne and Noora Louhimo are certainly that. When it’s between like-minded – and shall we say: like-voiced – people, as the two of them uncannily are, it creates a musical experience that is unlike anything else… thát being their joint album, “The Reckoning”.
The two had sung together before, contributing parts to Magnus Karlsson’s Heart Healer project, but because of the pandemic lockdown, they recorded those separately. It was when they did a portion of the song “Still Alive” by the Ecuadorian metal band Black Sun that they realized how eerily similar their voices are.
“We sang together the C part – it was separated in half – that was kind of funny because it was like, are you singing or am I singing?” Netta explains in a phone interview. “We weren’t sure because we sounded so similar. Usually, you hear your own voice always, clearer and louder than anyone’s. But with Noora, we sound so similar that we ourselves are not sure if we’re singing or not, so we have to discuss – is that me or you? That’s when we initially got this idea (that it) would be so cool to do more, because it’s so interesting that we mix so well together”.
“We can’t even hear the difference between each other’s voices!”, Noora agrees in a separate phone interview, done while she was traveling home after working on the upcoming Battle Beast album. “And that’s also the interesting part that might be kind of mind-blowing for the fans and our listeners – wait a minute, which one was it? The whole album is sung together – everything is half and half, not one song without the other singer. This is not a competition ; this is embracing each other and embracing good heavy metal music and life”.
Netta and her husband, guitarist and Sonic Pump Studio owner Nino Laurenne, had been talking about doing a project with Noora for years. “The (Frontiers) label last year said that they are open if I have any projects or ideas that I could pitch to them other than (her band) Smackbound”. I told them that I had this idea and in between, I already called Noora about it.”
“When Netta called me last Summer, when the lockdown had just begun, and asked if I wanted to do this album together, I was so happy and stoked about it”, Noora confirms. “It took about three seconds for me to say yes – I felt like the universe had been listening to me and what I had been wishing for. Then later on, I heard from Netta also that it had been her dream as well to collaborate with me.”
Noora has become the queen of collaborations lately, recording songs with Amaranthe, HammerFall, Tomi Joutsen of Amorphis and Arion, among others. Those were one-off efforts, not full albums like this one, but her criteria for adding her talent to a project is always the same. “I always go with music first – if someone asks me to do something, I always ask first: can you send me the demo? If the song doesn’t resonate with me and in my soul, I can’t do it. I’m all about feelings and I’m all about singing from my heart and my soul – the music must touch me first”, Noora reveals.
The two share a hometown – Netta was born in Tampere, Finland ; Noora moved there as a child and still lives there. Netta has lived in Helsinki for about 10 years. “We didn’t cross each other’s path during the time that we both were in Tampere”, Netta says, “but we’d been in the same position and atmosphere and the same schools and doing gigs in the same places. There was a great rock scene in Tampere, so we had been influenced by it. The first time we met, I think it was a birthday party of one of the musicians of Battle Beast … and we started to talk to each other. We’ve seen each other, basically just hanging around each other by chance”. “I had been following her career over the years already”, Noora adds. “She likes the same kind of music as I do, she’s got the same kind of idols that I do – we were like the lost soul sisters and we found each other”.
Despite the pandemic lockdown, the two were actually able to record in the studio together, in the same booth at the same mic at the same time. “We just made sure we were healthy and we got tested every time”, Netta explains. “It was such a treasure to be able to actually be with a human being in the same space and be able to really talk to the other one face to face and be able to touch the other one. That made it extra special – it intensified even the greatness of our friendship, because we were able to be together”. The two have since formed a genuine mutual admiration society. “As a singer, of course, I enjoy Noora’s voice and her talent, but I enjoyed most the easiness of everything we did”, Netta mentions. “We share a similar attitude towards our profession and working – we are not afraid to make mistakes, we are not afraid to laugh at ourselves. That was just wonderful, to work with someone that has this same kind of attitude. We complimented when the other one does a great job, we supported each other the whole time. She’s really down to earth and honest and has a positive attitude towards life ; she’s optimistic and I’m also optimistic”.
“Professionally, I just love how good she is – she’s super talented”, Noora replies. “She’s a little bit older than me (Netta is 41 ; Noora 33), so she’s also kind of my idol. I love her sound and I love how she tells a story with her voice. What I like also about her, as a person and as a singer, is that she goes with the feelings also. We understand each other very well and we look at the world pretty much through the same glass. She’s just such a sweet personality and kind and a nature child, and I am too”.
That like-mindedness helped Noora fully embrace Netta’s lyrics. “From the time we had our first session together, (we) listened to the demos, talked about life – we told each other everything in one evening”, Noora informs. “We were sharing stuff about our lives and what we had gone through. It made us instant friends from the first day and it has been very useful for the lyrics.” Netta adds: “We talked about everything – our heartaches and fears and traumas and dreams and hopes and the way we see the world, so we really got to know each other at a very deep level. I was able to write the lyrics so that I can incorporate Noora’s heart and soul – I know her, I know what she is thinking”.
“And I can also stand 100 percent behind those words – she’s telling the story on behalf of both of us”, Noora confirms. “She didn’t change anything in the melodies or the songs themselves, nor did she change anything in the lyrics – she just felt that they are totally what she agrees to”, Netta agrees.
Netta and Nino shared recording and producing duties on “The Reckoning.” This was the first time they’ve co-produced and co-written an entire album together ; they have written songs for the winners of The Voice of Finland and for the Finnish children’s metal band Heavisaurus. “I didn’t know what would come out of it – would we still be married after it?”, she laughs. “That was the big question. But we are, we are still married!”.
The album’s lone ballad “Hurricane Love” did come out of a challenging personal and musical moment, however. Netta tells the story, laughing all the while. “I think it was a “Bitch Fire” riff that we were fighting about and Nino got frustrated and said: Oh my god, I’m going to go make us some lunch, so try to do a ballad, try to do something! He left the room and I sat at the piano and I had the recording on and the microphone and “Hurricane Love” just came out in a second. When the lunch was ready and he came in to say: OK, come to eat, I was like: OK, I also have a song ready, do you want to listen? Yeah, but after lunch!”. I felt vulnerable and in a way the situation helped to get it out. When you come out of an argument, you’re a bit sad and you don’t want arguments to happen – it just unlocked something and helped me to get out this emotion in my heart”.
The two shared thoughts on the themes of some of the album’s other tracks: ‘Feelings of worthlessness, both from within and without’ (“Time To Kill The Night”). Netta speaks at length about this obviously deeply personal subject. “It has been a recurring theme that I’ve had to battle with in my life since a very early age ; I truly believed that I don’t have a value, I’m a shit singer, I can’t do anything right, and I shouldn’t even be in the world”, she confesses. “It has been a great battle out of that mental violence, to gain my own power, realizing that I’m worthy and starting to show boundaries. I’ve been really bad in life setting boundaries and I have let people treat me badly. I’m responsible for that. That’s what the album is about, having empathy, but also saying it’s up to us to be our own supporters and be the ones who protect us. If we draw the boundaries, the abuse will stop. You will not get abused if you just take care of yourself. I had to learn to toughen up – I give away a lot of love, but I learned to control the limit so I don’t give away myself. The song is about refusing to stay in the darkness because of the other person and refusing to let the other one pull you into the darkness that they have because it’s their own shit that they haven’t handled”.
The title of the album, “The Reckoning”, and the title track: ”The Reckoning” is the reckoning with yourself… what have we done wrong and what have we done right and to grow from that”, Noora explains. “The whole theme in this album is that no matter what happens in our lives, we have to stand up and fight for our rights and who we are and be the best friend to ourselves. We have to encourage people to embrace themselves and be proud of what they are and go toward their dreams and goals, no matter what. We might seem like pretty angry bitches in the album, but everything that we do is through love, and also hard love. Even though you are a woman, there is a temperament – we have temper and we have aggression and we have real things to say, not just as women but as human beings. It is the human right for everyone to stand up for themselves”.
Speaking of that, “Bitch Fire,” the song, the word itself… “I think it’s one of the most feminist-driven songs on the album”, according to Netta. “It does talk about witch hunts… being burned at the stake… and how strong women have been perceived and hunted and abused, because people have been so afraid of their knowledge and power. All of us women have been called a bitch or a whore every time we take a stand and say what we think and maybe don’t agree to something that you are trying to make us do. I’m 41 and I still haven’t gotten rid of this whore and bitch talk – it still happens when I’m not agreeing to everything like a person without a brain or a heart. It’s the easiest and most common way for the world to react, immediately calling you a difficult bitch. I wanted to do a song to us women – I wanted to say to everyone they can’t hurt us, they can’t burn us down, we’re stronger than that. I wanted to empower women with this song”, reveals Netta.
Noora in fact describes her Battle Beast ’alter ego’ as the Battle Bitch. “I feel like a very angry, aggressive person on stage, but the thing is is that it’s like the reverse of that – I’m just so excited and the passion that I want to bring to people and I bring it out on stage with 200 percent”, she explains. “The whole idea of the song is that even though people would put you down, we still stand up, we go through the fire and we still live. I think it’s one of the examples of these ‘hard love’ songs – if people are trying to put you down, tell them to fuck off and live your life. Go through fire”.
Both women proudly call themselves feminists. “There are people who say that feminists are just haters of men – I am not a hater of men, I love men, and women”, Netta says. “I’m a humanist – I love all people – but I am a feminist, really, fighting for equal rights for every human being. There is such a long way to come to the equality of genders, to understand that we are not genders, we are souls and we are human beings, and this is what feminist, to me, means. Us women, and men also, have to fight for equality. It doesn’t take away anything from anyone, it would just gain us – a better world, more love, more peace, more understanding”. Noora echoes: “The real meaning of ‘feminist’ is not talking about women’s rights, but it’s talking about equal rights, no matter the gender. I’m definitely a feminist, if that means I’m all about human rights for every gender, every kind of people”.
Both singers hope to perform this material live when schedules for their respective bands permit, perhaps next year. “We love being together and our dream is to be able to be on stage together and sing these songs”, Netta admits. “Our motive is strong to find time for us to hit the road with LAURENNE/LOUHIMO and ”The Reckoning” album – we really want to sing live and have fun and let people get empowered and just have fun with us, because we’re crazy together.” Behind the fun and craziness, though, ultimately lies the serious and sincere message the women convey in the material. “All of us have been treated badly… that you don’t feel you have an equal chance in life or you are not treated equally”, Netta explains. “This album is for anyone who is struggling to find their worth and equality in life, whatever it is. That’s my only hope to do music, for it to find the ones that need it the most. That’s what I’ve felt all my life ; I was born to do this, to help others with music. So I hope that it will find the persons that gain from it and need to hear these things – and I’m OK with someone hating the album, because it’s not for them at the moment too”, she concludes.