Interview with Keyboardist Christian Pulkkinen From Simulacrum

At Prog Metal Zone we were recently introduced to the new Finnish progressive metal band Simulacrum and were very pleasantly surprised to find one of the coolest and most unique bands in the prog metal universe who earlier this year released their debut album “The Master and the Simulacrum.”  One of the hardest things to do in any art form is to have a unique, identifiable “style” and Simulacrum most definitely has it!  The band’s music is a wonderful combination of heavy hooks, a somewhat quirky and off-kilter Scandinavian melodic sensibility, powerful and plaintive vocals and a large dose of a very Frank Zappa-influenced compositional style.  This wonderful musical blend is primarily due to the leader, keyboardist Christian Pulkkinen who, with the release of this debut album, has to now be considered one of the best keyboardists in progressive music.   His unique blend of older keyboard sounds (particularly his use of distorted Hammond organs) in a very modern prog metal group is, as he describes it, that “I think my unique sound comes from combining the best of both worlds, new and old.”  I couldn’t agree more.

We recently had the good fortune to sit down with Chris and discuss his style, influences, current projects as well as getting a deeper insight into Simulacrum’s debut album.  “The Master and the Simulacrum” is streaming on Spotify so if you haven’t heard the album yet you can listen to it via the playlist below.  There is also an Amazon.com purchase link for you to buy the album directly if you like it and want to further support the band.

Hi Chris, it’s a pleasure to meet you and find out more about your music.  I’ve gotta say that hearing your album for the first time is a pretty amazing experience.  Your music is definitely unique, complex (but not overly so) and very progressive in the best sense of that often maligned word.  Kudos on a really magnificent achievement.
Thank you for your kind words!

How did the band form?  Is the entire band Finnish?
The band started off as a school project, when I was 16. I was a huge Dream Theater/Yngwie Malmsteen/Stratovarius fan and day-dreamed of being a ”progstar”, so I formed my own band with a couple of friends and my little brother, who was only 12 years old at the time. The first song we performed live was the Stratovarius song Destiny and three of the present Simulacrum members (Chrism, Olli and Nicholas) were with the band already then.

Where did the name Simulacrum come from?  Is it just a name you like or does it have something to do with your musical ethos?
Well, the first name for the band was Oblivion Ocean, if I recall correctly. I decided to change the name to Simulacrum after I encountered the word in a ”Conan the Barbarian” novel.  I looked up the meaning of the word in a dictionary and was fascinated with the philosophical background of the word.  It suited the progressive nature of my music perfectly.

You’re obviously a very accomplished keyboardist especially given that you’re still under 30.  Can you tell us a bit about your background and musical training?
I started playing classical piano when I was 7 and continued studying it until I was 24.  Hard Rock, Power Metal and Progressive Rock/Metal entered my life when I was 13.  I started listening to some of my father’s old LP-records like Deep Purple, Colosseum and ELP. My friend was a big Metallica fan, so I was introduced to heavy metal through him.  I didn’t practice other bands’ music too much, but instead I remember starting my composing work at that age.  The songs Battle Within and Hammerhead have actually been composed at the early age of 16 and the arrangements have remained almost the same as on the album.

Is Simulacrum your main gig these days or are you also still involved with production (http://www.chrism-universe.com/) and the other bands you’re with, Adamntara and Iron Sphere.
I would say that Simulacrum will always be my number one act since it’s my beast and creation.  I am involved though in a couple of other bands at the moment and I always put a 100% effort into anything I’m working on.  Adamantra is currently finishing its follow-up album to the 2009 album “Revival” and I have to say I’m pretty excited about the music.  It has a much more original sound than the debut. The album has been delayed, because we’ve been having trouble finding a suitable voice for the band after Tuomas’ departure. We are testing a very good potential singer next week at a gig in Helsinki.  Epicrenel is another project I’m involved with both as a keyboardist and as a sound producer featuring an all-star combination of members of Thaurorod, Simulacrum, Adamantra and ex-Adagio.  It’s epic Power Metal with progressive elements here and there. I t should be out at the end of the year and it sounds very promising.  I am also looking forward to finishing my old Runeland solo project after Simulacrum has released its second album.  Iron Sphere is dead, but I am thinking of maybe including an Iron Sphere song on the Runeland album with an updated arrangement.

I know that Finland has a large metal community, progressive or otherwise with bands like Nightwish and Sonata Artica but very few in the straight-up prog metal genre.  Is that the case or am I just misinformed?
Well, we have a few very strong progressive metal acts.  Besides Simulacrum, you should check out the bands Status Minor, Anthriel and my other band Adamantra.

Regarding Simulacrum, do you consider yourself the leader/main guy in the band or is the music more of a collaborative process?
I guess I am the soul of the band but I would say that the rest of the band is the body -- one cannot exist without the other!  About the creative process; I compose the music on Finale notation software.  Afterwards, I print out the parts and hand them out to the guys. They practice the stuff and come up with their own variations and arrangements. Some might say that we are missing some rock spirit by reading notes and talking about music theory, but we compensate for this by putting on furious and energetic live shows!

Your band sounds extremely accomplished and very assured.  Even though you have influences from a lot bands over a wide variety of progressive music genres, you do have a very identifiable sound, one that has a lot of heaviness from not only guitars but also your keyboards, great and often off-kilter rhythms and vocal melodies and a strong sense of drama.  Does that sound pretty accurate?  How would you describe the sound of Simulacrum to a new listener?
Well, I am flattered by your description of our music!  Throw in a dose of Zappaish humor and a strong bond between the musicians and there you have it.  I think this can be heard on the album.  Therefore, your description is spot on!

Your online band bio lists your main progressive musical influences as Adagio, Andromeda, Dream Theater, ELP, Planet X, Shadow Gallery, Spiral Architect, Symphony X, Vanden Plas and Yes. What a great list!  Right up my alley with progressive metal and rock.  Any others that you’d like to add?  Especially any newer bands that really knock you out.
Circus Maximus and Seventh Wonder are newer progressive bands with a really cool sound!  We warmed-up for Seventh Wonder a few years back and I have to say they were also really nice guys.  Of course, besides the progressive acts, there are dozens of non-progressive bands that flick the bean for me.

I also saw that you’ve been influenced by some of the great jazz fusion bands from the glory days like The Mahavishnu Orchestra and Brand X.  How has that music influenced your sound?
Well, many of the “progressive metal” bands nowadays are actually melodic metal bands, based on hard rock origins more than the real stuff from the 70s. They like to keep it simple and melodic. There’s nothing wrong with being simple, but being progressive means being advanced and thinking ahead.  I like challenging myself by playing around with new and sometimes crazy ideas and trying to make them sound good. That is what the vintage bands were all about. For example, I would love to try and make a song based on micro-intervals or advanced polyrythmics. We’ll have to see what I come up with in the future.

Do you have any other musical influences outside of the progressive music world?
My father is a composer and percussionist in the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra, so my classical background is very strong. My brother Nicholas, who plays the guitar in Simulacrum, is actually training to be a classical pianist.  I usually go and listen to the symphony orchestra live regularly and enjoy going to the opera every once in a while. I also enjoy listening to live jazz.  We have some phenomenal jazz pianists in Finland and I would hope to have even a morsel of their talent as a player.  Maybe one day I will challenge myself and try playing in a jazz band.  All kinds of rock and metal are also close to my heart.  I love the creativity of the 70s and attitude of the 80s.

I love that with your keyboards you’re going for a much grittier sound than a lot of other progressive keyboardists.  Simulacrum is one of the few prog metal bands that I can think of where the keyboards are often more out front than the guitars. Besides piano, what keyboards are you mostly using these days?
Well, I love using distorted Hammonds.  The guys in Adamantra and Epicrenel are not used to Hammonds, since they are not commonly used in contemporary metal, but I am getting some Hammonds sneaked in to those bands as well.  Watch out for an Epicrenel song called ”Walls of the Cave”, which features a really cool Hammond/guitar duel section!  Very vintage prog!  I also like other vintage sounds like the Rhodes electric piano and analog synthesizers and combine them with VST orchestral instruments and patches from my Roland XV-88. I have the East/West Symphonic Orchestra Platinum and Symphonic Choirs, so I think my unique sound comes from combining the best of both worlds, new and old.

Speaking of keyboards, I’m a huge fan of Derek Sherinian, Alex Argento, Lalle Larsson and Jordan Rudess of course and lately I’ve come to really appreciate David Bertok from the German bands Dreamscape and Subsignal.  Are there any progressive rock or metal keyboardists that you really admire these days.
Well, when it comes to style I love Derek Sherinian’s magnificent sounds and rock attitude!  He must be my favorite keyboard player out of the three Dream Theater synth-players, even if he suited the band the worst.  I think Kevin Moore was the best for DT and Awake is still one of my favorite albums!  Martin Hedin is great from the Swedish band Andromeda.  II=I is maybe my all-time favorite progressive metal album.  I listened to it nearly every day for a year when it came out in my teen years. Keith Emerson is technically superb and I love the way he manhandles his Hammond organ by sticking an occasional knife or two into it!  Other great players include Richard Andersson, Jukka Karinen, Kevin Codfert, Gary Wehrkamp, Rick Wakeman and Tommy Mars.  The list could go on forever!

Outside of a few bands (Silent Voices and the excellent new band Oddland) I really can’t think of too many prog metal bands from Finland.  Am I misinformed or are you guys starting a new trend?
Oddland is really a great upcoming band!  The guys were actually attending the same high school as I was and we played a couple of shows together. I also believe we will be doing that in the future.  Also, check out a band called Constantine!  They hail from the north of Finland and have received excellent reviews for their debut album.

Simulacrum 1 1024x639 Interview with Keyboardist Christian Pulkkinen From Simulacrum

To talk more specifically about your music, one of my favorite songs off the album has got to be “Battle Within” which has such a complex structure, from a quiet piano/synth intro which is eventually picked up by the guitar to amp it up, a killer driving synth/guitar melody, a very plaintive vocal melody (which features Niklas Broman’s beautiful voice and his wonderful manic intensity) and even a short, very cool and confident fusion break about two thirds of the way through the album.  I honestly have no idea how that song even works but it does!
Battle Within is one of my first songs ever and you can definitely hear the sheer joy of being a young composer emit from the texture of the composition. I think this is the fact that makes it work so well. If you break the song down, it isn’t quite as complex as it may sound. For example, the last chorus has the same chord progression as the previous ones, but has a totally different vocal melody. Little changes and variations can give so much to a song!

I really love your power ballad, “Autumn Rain”.  The beginning of it is very beautiful and to me has a very pastoral feel, almost like Genesis’ Wind and Wuthering era.  Would you agree with that?
With Autumn Rain I explored the possibility of making something simple and beautiful whilst trying to make it fit in with all the more progressive songs. Throughout most of the song, there are just two basic chords in different positions and it really was a challenge for me to make it work.  The song is based on an instrumental I composed for my first girlfriend a long time ago, so it also has some personal meaning for me.

The album ends with the song “Genesis Part 1: the Celestial Architect” which to me has a very strong Frank Zappa influence especially with the vibes right smack in the middle of the song just the way Frank would do it!  Would you agree that Zappa is an influence on your compositions?
Frank Zappa was and still is just great! I love his sense of humor and his limitless imagination and the way he could make all his bands play together so tightly.  Actually, it is wonderful that you noticed the Zappa reference since that is the way I had composed it, as a tribute to Frank!  Also, because my father is a professional percussionist, I just had to throw some marimba into the mix!

I know you’re currently unsigned.  Are you looking to be signed to a label or are you thinking about producing and promoting your music yourselves?  Has having your music readily available on subscription services like Spotify helped?
We are currently looking for a label. I will be recording and producing the next album through my own sound production company, but we need a company interested in promoting, marketing and releasing the material. To sweeten the deal, we will be offering the label a music video as a promotional tool.

What’s next for the band?  Any tours coming up?
Well, we just finished shooting a music video for a brand new song. It will be released in 2013 alongside the next album. The song and the video will seriously kick some ass and I am anxious to see the final cut! Photos from the video shoot can be found at Simulacrum’s Facebook page.  Aside from preparing the new album, some live shows are also planned for the autumn.

Thanks so much for a great interview!  Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Check out our album on Spotify and if you like it, go out and buy it! The income from the first album is all going towards the studio expenses for the second album. Also, please feel free to leave us a comment on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/simulacrumofficial) or at our website (www.simulacrum.fi). Hoping to see you all on tour in 2013!

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2 Comments

  1. Sharon Stevens:

    What I like so very much about your posts is the wide range of the music groups. It is very international and is a cross section of the world of music. This is a great interview and gives us a sampling of what’s going on in Finland. I particularly like the questions posed in the interview which also shows your depth of knowledge about this genre of music. Great sounding band BTW,

  2. Sharon Stevens:

    Great interview

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