Left to right: Bassist Henkka Seppälä, keyboardist Janne Warman, lead guitarist and singer Alexi Laiho, guitarist Roope Latvala, and drummer Jaska Raatikainen.
Children of Bodom has been delivering their bone-crushing brand of Finnish metal—with two huge guitars, leviathan bass, and warp-speed dual kick drums—to rabid fans around the globe since 1993. Keyboardist Janne Warman has carved a unique niche in this imposing wall of metal might, not to mention taken his own playing to new heights of surgical precision—and tongue-in-cheek fun—on his solo project Japanese Hospitality (reviewed Feb. ’09). We talked with Janne about how his keyboard approach in Children of Bodom has become a signature of the band’s sound.
In Children of Bodom, synchronized melody lines are played in unison or in harmony with the guitars. Do you try to emulate guitars, or do you come up with more contrasting timbres?
For the past three or four albums, I’ve been using the same lead sound, which is a Korg Polysix emulation on JV-series Roland synths. Originally I used the JV-2080. Now, I use the XV-5050, which is based on the same architecture. But the XV-5050 has USB on it, so I can use the computer to edit and store stuff. I use a patch made by Jens Johansson, and I run that through a Turbo Rat distortion box. I just like the distortion lead sound. When Alexi [Laiho, guitarist] and I play these lines, we try to bend in unison. But I’m not trying to make it sound like a guitar. The distortion makes some people think I’m trying to play like a guitar, but I’m not.
Do you use any other effects?
I use a Boss CE-2 chorus and NS-2 Noise Suppressor on my leads. The chorus is before the distortion; the Noise Suppressor comes after. I get a lot of noise sometimes. Maybe it’s from my power supplies. Recently, I’ve been using the MXR Carbon Copy delay on my leads. I don’t know how I played before without this delay! So the delay is at the end of the chain. It’s not mixed very loud, just enough to smooth things out.
What controller keyboards do you use live?
All of those are Korg X5s or X5Ds. The X5 is so small and light, and I really like its feel. It has pitch and mod wheels instead of the usual Korg joystick. I’m so old-school with that stuff—I like using the wheels! I overbend with joysticks. It’s too bad they don’t make those anymore. I literally have ten of them. I started buying them because I don’t like the keyboards that are made nowadays. I play one onstage, but I have a backup at every show. Sometimes, when we do the big headliner shows, I have two keyboards on stage. One is at my keyboard station, and then another is down at the end of this walkway onstage. I also have a spare Roland XV-5050, although that has never failed me.
Guitars take up a lot of space in metal. How do you approach your arrangements so as to be heard?
Here’s a thing that I think is very key, and that many metal keyboardists don’t understand. I play in a band with two guitarists, so the wall of guitar sound is massive. I try not to play in the midrange where the guitars are dominating. I play melodies and leads a little bit above the guitars’ register, or sometimes I double the bass lines.
Your band’s drumming often has a double kick playing sixteenth-notes or sixteenth triplets. How do you interact with these fast rhythms?
It’s funny you mention it, because on our new album, I’m doing a lot more doubling of those parts exactly. It’s pretty unique to our band’s sound.
Guitarists have up and down pick strokes with the pick, and drummers can play double-kick with two feet. But when keyboardists have to machine-gun the same note, we can only press the key down. How do you speed things up?
I use both hands for the really fast parts. If it’s just sixteenths on one note, I can do it with one hand. But if the pattern is tricky, I divide it so that I can use both hands. I also use two or even three fingers for triplet patterns.
The dissonant quarter-note string part you play on “Hate Me,” really reminded me of Bernard Herrmann’s score to Hitchcock’s Psycho. . . .
I enjoy film music a lot. When Hans Zimmer started the rock soundtrack era, I was really a big fan of that type of MIDI orchestration. But I’ve always been a fan of soundtracks.
Janne with some of his favorite studio synths. Front: Korg X5 flanked by Genelec monitors. Right: Nord Wave above Roland Juno-106. Far right: Wurlitzer 200A. Back wall, left to right: Korg X5, Hohner String Melody II, Roland JD-800.
How do you use keyboards differently than most bands?
It’s the improvised solos. Most bands—not just in heavy metal—don’t have improvised keyboard solos now, unfortunately! As we discussed, our band tries to have arrangements where the keyboard doesn’t interfere with the guitars and stays in a different range and plays harmony or unison melodies with them.
Who was the first player that legitimized keyboards in metal for you?
Jens Johansson. He plays in a Finnish band called Stratovarius. When I heard his solos, I said, “Wow, I want to do that!” Then I checked out stuff he did as the original keyboardist with Yngwie Malmsteen and I was amazed.
Let’s talk about some important sounds used on specific songs you’ve recorded.
On “Living Dead Beat”, the first song on the Are You Dead Yet? CD, the intro starts with a synth bass. This is from the original demo Alexi and I recorded, before we went into the studio. It was a Nord Lead Rack combined with something from a Roland JV—just a killer bass sound. We tried to recreate it in the real studio sessions, but everything we did sucked compared to this demo we’d recorded drunk in the middle of the night! So we used the track from the demo. We also recorded Britney Spears’ “Oops, I Did It Again” for our recent cover album Skeletons in the Closet. On the original, it’s a sampled piano down low. When we recorded the drums at Finnvox, the studio, I thought, “Hey, there’s a great grand piano in here!” So I used that—a Yamaha concert grand—for the beginning.
What advice can you give to players who hear you and say, “That’s what I want to do”?
Listen to all kinds of music, not just metal or whatever you’re “into.” Some of the keyboard stuff I do is straight out of pop, not only from metal. So listen to everything. That’s how you do it!
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