In June 2020, Finnish hard rock/heavy metal band SMACKBOUND released their very meritorious debut album “20/20“, an apt reference to the year of release. The band is centered around singer and founder Netta Laurenne. SMACKBOUND‘s second album “Hostage“ (out on April 21 through Frontiers Music srl), however, might well be also their last. Netta explains why in this interview.
INTERVIEW BY: KIRA L. SCHLECHTER
Singer Netta Laurenne has noticed a common thread in the response to the new album by the band she fronts, Smackbound. “I’ve heard from a lot of people that this, for some reason, sounds or feels more personal”, Netta says in a phone interview. And she’s figured out why that is.
“I think what can be heard there might be the fact that I understood that this might be the last album I’m going to be able to sing”, she says. “I think that’s what made it so fragile, in a way. I was struggling because I was sick all the time – all the while understanding that this might be the last chance to sing”. Netta was diagnosed last year with mixed connective tissue disease, an autoimmune disorder; she also suffers from myositis (an inflammation of the muscles) and Reynaud’s disease (in which blood circulation in the fingers and toes is reduced).
“I got sick in May 2021, that’s when everything started to go wrong”, she says. “It took a lot of time to figure out what was going on. I got in such bad shape because I didn’t have any treatment – they didn’t know how to treat me or what was wrong with me”. She lost mobility and her muscles weakened. “I was unable to move – my husband (producer Nino Laurenne) had to feed me and wash my hair and everything. I lost all the muscles, so nothing worked ” (including her voice).
She posted a photo on Facebook last December describing her symptoms – fever, fatigue, hair falling out, skin inflamed, nausea, headache – saying she was “mostly sick 24/7″. Things have improved since, she reassures. “I’m feeling a lot better now”, Netta clarifies. “But of course it goes back and forth – it’s a shapeshifter in a way, because it moves in different directions. So today this treatment works, but if it changes its direction, the drug doesn’t work”.
SMACKBOUND‘s latest album “Hostage” was begun before Netta’s joint album with Battle Beast’s Noora Louhimo “The Reckoning” in Summer 2020 and was finished after that album. Along with Netta on vocals, the band is guitarist Teemu Mäntysaari, bassist Tuomas Yli-Jaskari, keyboardist Vili Itäpelto and drummer Rolf Pilve. The title has a multifaceted significance, all of which is, of course, intensely personal. “It’s about the whole situation with Covid, feeling trapped because we lost our job”, Netta says. “We lost all income. So there’s a lot of that feeling”.
There were her ongoing health problems, which she said made her feel like a hostage in her own body. And to top it all off, they were under intense pressure from their label, Frontiers Music srl, to finish the album. “They suddenly told us that even though I was sick, they had a deadline that we had to meet and we only had half of the album done. So we had to do the rest of it in one and a half months. So there were a lot of feelings going into that title”.
Thematically, too, this is a profoundly intimate album, a real reflection into Netta’s psyche, and not just how it relates to her health. She calls the opening song “Reap” “a representation of my character. I’ve always blamed myself my whole life for a lot of things – there’s nothing to blame, but that’s my problem that I feel that way”, she admits. “It’s the character saying that and it’s kind of me reflecting on myself to say that I need to stop it”.
“Razor Sharp” might be the most metal of all the songs on the new album. It’s about the wounds we inflict on each other in a relationship. But in the demo, the song talked about a lab worker, of all things. Netta jokes: “It was so hard to get rid of them. But I finally got hold of the lyrics and then I came up with this razor sharp idea – how it’s so delicate that you don’t even feel it go into you, but it’s deadly”, she adds.
“Rodrigo” is an interesting curveball in the mix, with its loose, shambling pop groove and irreverent lyrics. “We love the song, it’s our party song”, she teases. “We talked about it being a single, but it’s too random! Rodrigo is a real person, it’s a type. I had a Rodrigo in my life that had done this – he’s a player, it’s about a person that plays you in a relationship”.
Netta said on Facebook that the heartbreaking “Imperfect Day” was about “the moment my heart broke indefinitely” and “of longing back to the times before that”. She elaborates on that. “The final call – that’s the chorus – is actually about my mom dying over 20 years ago”, Netta shares. “She died in my arms and the final call was my sister calling and asking if she had time (to come). She was five minutes away from my mother and my mom said that there’s no time. So my sister had to say goodbye on the phone and then my mom left – she said bye and then she left”. The years following that loss were difficult, she says.
“A lot of things stopped working when my mom died. It took me like ten years to get over everything. I went through depression. I questioned life a lot back then. It didn’t make any sense for me, everything felt stupid, it felt just stupid and useless. In a way, it’s directed to myself, understanding the fact that there is no return button, or cancel button, in life. You know that before you can be better, you have to move on again with your life, you have to go through all the steps of grief”, she adds. The healing process starts with the two songs that follow and their message of finding happiness, “Graveyard” and “Traveling Back”. “It all starts from “Imperfect Day”, knowing that you have to dig your own way out of the ground – the grave – with your feelings and that you have to save yourself and you have to do the work. So better start digging and fight for the will to live and get back to life. And it doesn’t mean traveling back to the past, it means traveling back to being happy, in finding your happiness again after the heartbreak”, she adds.The closing song, “The Edge”, serves as a recap of the album and also, in hindsight, as a recounting of what Netta has been going through. “It’s a reflective moment, to understand the journey we’ve taken”, she elucidates. “And then it hopefully kind of leads to that moment of relief, that now I can leave this grief and turmoil of the past and once again look forward to the future. I wanted to free everyone from their selves, from their past – myself included, of course”, Netta finishes. Its last lyrics are spoken, serving as almost like a pep talk to the listener. “I really wanted to have this almost meditative, peaceful place on the album where you can just breathe because you’ve done all the hard work”.
Because of Netta’s illness, SMACKBOUND‘s live dates are limited so far. They’ve planned three album release shows and a date at the John Smith Rock Festival, all in Finland. “We haven’t booked a lot of gigs because I didn’t know if I was able to do any of them. It’s still new, my disease – I’m not in that kind of shape that I can do a lot of gigs. Every time I have a day when I do a lot, I get a fever, it’s like instant. I have to respect the fact that I am not physically 100 percent. I have to take it into consideration and be kind to myself and not strain it too much, because it will end up badly”, she explains. But she’s optimistic. “I’m feeling confident about being able to do all the live gigs that we have for this Summer”, she says. “I’m excited because I’ve been feeling really good and I hope that it stays like this”.