Nothing Left to Hide – Exclusive Interview with Red Eleven

People greet the term ‘alternative metal’ with scepticism these days. Is it a backdoor way of introducing rap and hip-hop back into heavy music? Do the bands who identify with it hope to revive the teenage angst of nu metal? Finnish quintet, Red Eleven, remind us that alternative metal is heavy, intelligent, experimental and focused on supreme song writing. It doesn’t need to be stuck in the past or enamoured with American pop culture.

Of course, the 1990s were the glory days when MTV embraced Faith No More, Rollins Band, Rage Against the Machine, Primus and the grunge bands that dominated the decade. That era was a special one for heavy music penetrating into the mainstream, but Red Eleven are no nostalgists. They lace their sound with progressive metal explorations and dark synth hooks. The band’s debut album, Handled with Chaos, resonates with the urgency of now and the spirit of the alternative disruptors who molested pop music with the loud noise and heavy groove of metal and hardcore. You can tap your foot, head-bang or sway your hips to the music, but it remains heavy to the core.

We caught up with the band to find out more about their artistic approach and the making of their latest album.

Singing in the rain: Red Eleven live on stage 2020.

Let’s start with your latest record, Handled with Chaos. People are calling it an alternative rock album, but we hear a lot of metal in your music. How would you describe your music?

Tero Luukkonen (Guitarist): ‘90s road trip to the world of good old (downtuned) growling guitars and groovy playing spiced with an epic lead singer and layers of synths. 🙂

While we’re on the subject, alternative metal these days seems to be a term nu metal revival bands use. Red Eleven appear to have no nu metal aspects to their music (thank god!). What is your definition of alternative metal?

Tero: For us alternative metal has more moods and grooviness than those strict metal or nu metal genres, and it gives us more space for being creative. 

Besides Faith No More, we hear Soundgarden, Depeche Mode, Armored Saint and Pain of Salvation in your music. How accurate are these observations?

Tero: Soundgarden for sure. We guess that Depeche Mode comes with the moods and the synths. Pain of Salvation is versatile in music and that’s what we dig also… but Armored Saint? That´s a new one; we have to check out that one. 

The song writing standard is exceptional on Handled with Chaos. All eleven songs on your new record have the hooks, the melodies, the anthemic choruses, the chunky riffs, the imaginative synth sequences. Which three songs do you expect to be the most popular in a live setting and why?

Tero: Let’s say ‘Handled with Chaos’, ‘Starry Eyes’ and ‘Before I Fall’. Most of the songs on the album have already been played live and people really seemed to dig those three songs. Maybe ‘cos of the grooving riffs, epic melodies and singalong choruses. And after all, they’re nicely growing and grooving songs.

Tell us more about the song, ‘My Own Space’. This appears to take inspiration from Depeche Mode, Mike Patton and Roxy Music. What were your inspirations for this song, and what can you say about the lyrical meaning?

Tero: Teemu wanted to build an atmospheric song based on one repetitious riff, so that the song still has a structure and that it grows all the time.

Tony Kaikkonen (Vocals): And the lyrics were actually born after a “meditation trip” while lying on the bed. I took the pen in my hand and wrote it down without thinking more.

Some of your synth-heavy rock compositions like ‘Nothing Left to Hide’ and ‘Handled with Chaos’ have a gothic flavour to them. It seems the alternative artists of the 1980s were just as inspiring to you as the 1990s, but which decade was the best for music in your opinion?

Tero: Synths from the ‘80s and guitar driven rock/metal from the ‘90s, especially 1995!

Finland seems to have more metal bands per square kilometre than any other country on earth. How do you explain the remarkable popularity of hard rock and metal in your country?

Tero: Eight months of darkness! Every year! Think about that. 😀

What are the three things you love most about living in Finland?

Tero: The supposed answer to this is, of course, nature, summer (sauna, palju, lakes, fishing, beer) and freedom (basic rights under the constitution).

Some parts of Handled with Chaos hint at a progressive metal future for the band, especially ‘Against My Will’ and the excellent ‘Half a Life, Full Circle’. Which band members would like to embrace this direction in the future?

Tero: We are all fascinated by progressive metal, and the progressive style will definitely play a bigger role in our music in the future. 

Tell us about one song – any song – from Handled with Chaos that draws upon an event in your life that brings back painful memories?

Teemu Liekkala (Guitarist/backing vocalist): I composed and dedicated ‘Half a Life, Full Circle’ to my cousin, who greatly contributed to the fact that I started playing originally. The composition was born the same day I heard he was dead.

Final question: What are your ambitions for Red Eleven over the next five years?

Tero: This probably doesn’t come as a surprise, but live gigs would be the best thing in the world right now and a chance to play these new songs for fans, and a tour abroad when it’s possible. No matter if it’s a club venue or bigger stadiums, we are ready! 

We are also demoing our next album (BTW the upcoming material is really EPIC!), so with that in mind we are still looking for a record deal.

*** Red Eleven released Handled with Chaos via Inverse Records on 23 April 2021. You can read the original SBR review here. ***