Interview with Markus Vanhala / Insomnium

Kuva: www.jussiratilainen.com

What made you want to join this campaign?

– My grandma – who passed away last year, so may her soul rest in peace – got a memory disease diagnosis at the end of her life and I watched her mind go during her last years. Grandma clearly began re-living the good old times, the late relatives and acquaintances made a comeback and lived with her and she talked about my father as if he was still a kid. So, some of the things she said were pretty wild. The weird thing was, of course, that she remembered me until the end even though I didn’t exist in her youth… Grandma seemed very happy during her last years and was clearly living in the good old days. It was very contradictory – one might even call it tragicomic. One’s own happiness is the most important thing, of course, in a way life is better that way than while being bedridden in some nursing home with a fully functional and active mind.

Basic memory issues are present in my everyday life – if I have to remember two things, I forget the other one. That’s what my wife says, at least. My own processor is so full of guitar and music based data that there isn’t really space for basic everyday things, such as shopping lists, in the hard drive. And I’ve seen many old acquaintances in the rock scene contributing to their own memory issues by engaging to certain activities that involve a bottle of booze and a certain hand movement.

In case you were to become unable to say what kind of music you wish to listen to due to a memory disease, you can compile a playlist on Spotify, for example. Which songs or artists would be there on your Music Testament?

– I’m not very interested in the modern music and it doesn’t stick on my playlists very long. Mainly I buy the remastered versions of vinyls of the ”good old days”. According to a study, the preferences you have at the age of 10-16 are pretty permanent and give you nostalgy and stick with you for the rest of your life. So, my playlist would consist of rock from the 1980’s and death/black metal from the beginning of the 1990’s and also some proge. Iron Maiden, Europe, Van Halen, Emperor, Death, Type O’ Negative, Entombed, Dissection and Dream Theater.

High Hopes by Pink Floyd is my all-time favorite song and I hope it’ll be played in my funeral (having some high hopes, hehe.) So, that song and Type O’ Negative’s Love Me To Death, which me and my wife danced to in our wedding, will probably generate the biggest reactions in me forever even if my mind stops reacting to things otherwise. I must also mention the first song that struck me as a kid and determined the direction of my life, The Final Countdown by Europe. It will probably make me headbang even on my deathbed.

Photo: Century Media

Stress is one of the things that affects one’s memory negatively. What kind of things cause you stress?

– The challenges of time management and lack of time are the number one stress factor when the kids are small and you’re working – there is so much to do and so little time. It somehow always makes me anxious to neglect my friends and family members as this occupation steals all of my time and I have to spend a lot of time abroad away from my loved ones. Sometimes it’s a really tough price to pay for fulfilling my dreams and working my dream job but there are usually good and bad sides to everything and one must learn to live with it – this is what I signed up for so I can’t really complain.

We also mainly run the business of the both of my bands via our own companies, so I don’t only play in the bands. So in addition to the stress that creative activity brings, I’m also living with the stress that comes with running a company. As a composer, the fear of running out of creativity punches me in the face every now and then, the fact that our business depends on creativity makes me anxious sometimes. But so far the inspiration has always come back to me. 🙂

In addition to music and culture, also diverse diet, regular physical exercise and keeping one’s cognitive functions active are ways to maintain brain health and prevent memory diseases. Do you take these things into account and how do you do it?

– Because I turn 40 next year, I’m starting to feel the need to live more healthily as an artist and heavy metal lover than I did during the ”wild years”. So I spend a lot more time thinking about and improving my exercising and diet and even skip drinking booze more often than before. I sometimes have to stretch more than before before I go to the stage so that I don’t lose my posture during the gig. The older I get, the more I have thoughts and new projects of all kinds, sometimes even too much of them, so my mind does stay active and I even have to avoid burdening it too much.

In an article of a magazine called Riffi that came out in 2016, you said that you don’t use a calendar at all even though you play in several bands, compose and work as a manager. Have you started using a calendar yet? Tell us about your memory techniques.

– I still don’t quite know how to manage things with the help of a calendar. All the information is in my head and usually I remember it. I can’t explain how I’ve ended up functioning like this. It somehow rubs me the wrong way when agents try to get me to use Google Calendar and stuff. I guess I’m trying to fool myself and I get some sort of a false sense of freedom when I don’t have to face the written fact that the entire following year of my life is booked and I know exactly which city I will be in on which day, hehe. I might have to re-check some stuff out from my email sometimes but otherwise things have stayed together pretty well without any accidental double bookings and I’ve been in the right places pretty much in the right time.

You’ve been in the field for a long time and you’ve played loads of gigs. Is there a particular gig that has stuck in your mind?


– All gigs and tours pretty much blend into each other in my mind and I can’t tell them apart, except the bad ones that always give us the funniest stories and memories. When it comes to the deepest positive memory traces, the ”first love” kind of gigs usually stay in the mind as the most impressive ones – like the first gig ever in school disco when I was 13, the first gig abroad in Estonia many many years ago, the first big festival gig in Germany in 2004, the first real tour, the first gig in Japan, the first gig in the USA. I guess the first tour in Japan and China is probably one of the greatest gig experiences ever. The atmosphere is so much more exotic in those countries and the giant cities of Asia blow the mind of a boy who comes from a small town.

What is the best gig memory you have of somebody else’s gig?


– I think it’s the Iron Maiden and ”Ed Hunter” reunion gig with Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith in 1999! I never thought I would see this combo together on the stage and I was too young to go to see them in the 1980’s.

Photo: Jussi Ratilainen

What kind of things do you find distracting during gigs?

– I haven’t suffered from stage fright in years. Except when I’m playing in my hometown and my actual acquaintances, family members and childhood friends are in the audience instead of just some faceless crowd. If something distracts me during the gig, it’s usually the technical issues, such as problems with our equipment or hearing ourselves or each other while we’re playing. I was a bit bothered in Minsk some time ago as there was no safety fence in front of the stage and people had the audacity to come to the stage in masses to sway and to grab us. Once in Poland, the stage broke down beneath us which had a negative effect on our gig.

When Alzheimer’s Disease advances, it makes a person think and act younger, and at the end of their life, the patient might be living in the mind of a 10-20-year old. What kind of Vanhala would the nurses have the pleasure to be looking after?


– I guess I would be an obsessive guitarist-to-be and a band-founder and I would have to get to fulfill my heavy metal dream around the clock. I would probably forget about eating and sleeping and school stuff. When I come back home from tour, I often have nightmares about having misplaced my passport and being stuck in a limbo in some airport with the rest of our crew nowhere in sight. I guess I might walk around the nursing home looking for my passport and trying to figure out how to get on the plane.

Photo: Century Media
Poster Design: Ville ”Unicorn” Tarhala

Interview: Marko Mustiala

Toimiston aukioloajat 3.8.2020 alkaen

TI-TO klo 10-14
Kasarmikatu 12,
13100 Hämeenlinna

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