Ceremonials: Finding an unexpected voice

 

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Ceremonials' original line-up. From left: Evgeniy Gonchenko, Santtu Mäkelä, Juuso Kaasalainen, Niklas Willstedt

The fist time that Niklas Willstedt met his future band members was in a rehearsal space in Helsinki back in 2013.

It was a nervous Willstedt who met up with two strangers that had replied to his advertisement, looking for people to start a band with. After an hour, Ceremonials was born.

– When my first band split up I decided to put up an ad on a music website looking for musicians. That’s how I got in touch with the other guys, Willstedt says.

– We spent about an hour together and all I remember is that I was terribly nervous. But things worked out and we decided to continue.

Willstedt subsequently decided to put a band together with guitarist Santtu Mäkelä and bass player Juuso Kaasalainen. A few weeks later the group was completed when drummer Evgeniy Gonchenko joined. Together they recorded their debut EP Arabia during a two-day period in Herttoniemi, Helsinki. The EP was self-released in 2014.

– I think the three songs are representative of how we’ve evolved, says Willstedt.

– Only in reversed chronological order.

Trading football for music

On Arabia the band sounds unified and cohesive. A stand out track on the EP is the menacing ‘Run’, one of the first songs that the band wrote together. Heavy with Joy Division nostalgia, tracing a slow build-up of quietly raging guitars and a steadily pulsating bass, it keeps gnawing at the listener’s patience, slowly creeping up on you like an uneasy feeling that someone’s watching you. Willstedt’s anxious voice echoing with increasing intensity somewhere in the distance; ‘By the end of this, someone’s got to be waiting’.

The aching vocal style that he commands so well owes a lot to The Cure’s Robert Smith and is a natural fit for this type of music. Yet Willstedt doesn’t consider himself a singer by nature.

– We decided pretty early on that I was going to do the singing. It’s been difficult getting used to it but I’m feeling more comfortable and confident all the time, Willstedt reveals.

– Although I’m not sure that I’ll ever feel comfortable calling myself a singer.

Willstedt credits Swedish band Broder Daniel for his venture into music, which should come as no surprise when listening to Ceremonials music.

– Broder Daniel is the band that has had the biggest influence on me personally. I’m very influenced by singer Henrik Berggren and the straightforwardness in his lyrics as well as the music.

– Broder Daniel was the band that made me want to give up football and start playing guitar instead.

The ‘Ceremonials-filter’

Ceremonials succeed in creating an intimate setting within the bleakness of their gritty, lo-fi post punk sound that contains that same kind of refreshing roughness that you can find in My Dad Is Dead recordings.

– There are some elements from post-punk and shoegaze but our sound is constantly evolving, Willstedt says when describing his band’s sound.

– All of our songs go through what I would refer to as a ‘Ceremonials-filter’. Everyone puts their own stamp on the songs.

– When it comes to music our influences are quite varied. The artists we have in common are Teksti TV-666 and David Bowie, which I think is a perfect combination. But I don’t know if that comes across in our music.

Moving forward

Last year Ceremonials released a double single, Eastern Sun, which shows them further carving out a sound of their own. Drummer Evgeniy Gonchenko has since left the band and been replaced by Ari Karhunen.

– We recorded the songs last spring and it was the last thing we did together with our former drummer.

– The idea was to make another EP but due to practical reasons it didn’t happen.

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Ceremonials today. From left: Niklas Willstedt, Santtu Mäkelä, Juuso Kaasalainen and Ari Karhunen. Photo by: Johanna Nylund.

Willstedt spent the last year as an exchange student in Germany which put the band on a little hiatus. Lately the band has been getting back to work and plans for a new release are in the making.

–  We’ve started rehearsing again and writing new material. I’m hoping we can release something new later this year.

Both Arabia and  Eastern Sun have been met with positive reviews from various music sites since their release, something which came as a surprise to Willstedt who seems humbled by the attenteion the band has received. Attention which the band perhaps should start getting more used to.

– It’s been fun to see our music has gotten quite a lot of recognition on different blogs.  Our music was even played on a local radio station in the UK recently.

– The feedback has been really surprising to us. I didn’t think that anyone would bother to listen.

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