Artist Interviews Heavy Month Studio interviews

Interview – Matias Kupiainen

Matias Kupiainen is the lead guitarist in legendary Finnish band; Stratovarius as well as a producer and so much more at Finland’s 5 by 5 Studio!

#1 – You’ve recently collaborated with Ugritone (formerly It Might Get Loud Productions) on a great new drum sampler called Northern Artillery Drums. What were the goals going into the project and how did it all come together from start to finish?

I started this project around 2012-2013 after our Nemesis-album came out. It was just something what I felt that I need for my song writing and mixing process. Most of the drum libraries back in the days didn’t had two hihats or rides or a snare with ringing overtones. Also all commercial libraries had a huge processed room sound what I found very irritating. I wanted to have super small room, 400-700ms and have a control of the decay by compressing the ambience channels.

We made a recording plan with Rolf Pilve (our drummer) that we would spend two more days recording the sample library after we finish the drum recordings for our Eternal-album in 2015. It was a pretty good plan because after two weeks of intense recording, making the kit sound nice, moving the mics in the right spots, the sound was very good and balanced with minimal processing. I ended up using just a hint of analog eq and compression on some of the close mic channels and summing three different ambience mic pairs into one stereo pair. We got also a very nice and modern DW-set with 5 toms which sounded absolutely fantastic for fast grooves and blastbeats.

After the recording I spent couple of months going thru the material, cutting, slicing and phasing everything by hand and making the library work in Ableton Live. It was a very long project and after couple of years I finished the library in Ableton, it became unstable because there was more than 10 000 small samples and somehow Ableton didn’t liked it….lol…. But anyway I started to use it on my projects and I found it really inspiring and working library and had a thought that maybe someone else will like it too. So I started to find some people to help me with the project and I found Ron and Toni from Ugritone. It took couple of more extra years to make it happen into a plugin format.

I’m really happy about the ending result and it’s my go-to tool when composing or mixing.

#2 – The kit is partially designed to represent the Finnish metal drum sound in plugin land but also to be a generally versatile sound. What types of drum sounds can users expect to find?

The overall sound of the kit is raw and aggressive and it’s suitable for many different genres, not only Finnish metal! I just a mixed a full length album for a finnish band called Kolossus and I ended up replacing the whole recorded kit except the original hihat and ride. Ending result is really aggressive and in the face. You should not be fooled by the name 😉 The main thing is that the samples are really raw compared to some major libraries so you can easily mold your own sound.

#3 – With a drum sampler under your belt and your extensive experience with guitar gear, have you thought about doing an amp sim plugin or perhaps some impulse response libraries?

I will go ”what-I-need”-basis. Not what somebody else needs or wants and definitely not after money. Maybe a really good guitar di-library or megametal sounding bass di. I think all of those di-guitar plugins sounds like shit but I would really like to use one on my productions while doubling or composing.

#4 – Who are some of the players that have influences you the most as a guitarist and songwriter?

There’s too many! I was listening a lot of different genres in 80-90-00’s and my taste for guitarists is really wide! I like a lot of fusion players like Holdsworth, Di Meola, Gambale for example and then of course Petrucci, Romeo, Malmsteen etc. But I have tried not copy those too much and trying to build my own identity as a guitarist. I donno have I succeeded tho…lol..For songwriting I try to keep my mind open and I just do what I would like to listen.

#5 – The most recent Stratovarius album “Enigma: Intermission II” is a monstrous effort with a ton of tracks. Can you take us through some of the guitar gear used on the album?

I used my custom Ruokangas guitars with Emg81 on the main guitars and doubled it with passive pickup Ruokangas. Fractal Axefx II provided all guitar sounds this time because I recorded the tracks on the tour and various locations. It was the only way to have consistent sound on the new songs. Believe it or not, I tracked most of the di-tracks with 80euro Focusrite Scarlett Solo and then reamped the tracks thru Axefx in a backstage. I like the idea that nowadays your studio fits inside a backpack. Of course I have my big studio with 56ch SSL and more shit than I actually need to make records. You just need a laptop and couple channels of input! This is not an advertisement but after I got Sonarworks Reference4, it changed almost everything and how I was able to work. Highly recommended to people who has to travel a lot and work in different places.

#6 – What about your live set? What gear do you call upon to deliver the Stratovarius material in a live setting?

My setup is really simple: two indentical guitars, two sennheiser wireless which goes into Lehle 3-1 box, TC polytune and then AxeFX II. For stage volume I usually have couple of random heads with two to four fullstacks. There’s Liquid Foot JR+ with two expression pedals to make the program changes.

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#7 – As a producer, what is your general approach to mixing metal rhythm and lead guitar for metal and heavier genres?

It’s a very difficult question! Good sound starts from the source! I usually go with my old workhorses like Bogner Uberschall, Silver Jubilee or Mesa Studio/Quad preamp to get a really tight rhythm sound. I usually combine two amps into one by using two Ubercabs and four different mics. That can be sometimes pain in the ass to get the phases right.For solos I prefer hot-rodded Marshalls or Mesa MarkIIc+ style liquid leads.

When it comes to mixing, I try to get the final result with minimal processing. If there’s too many plugins in the chain, I usually go back to the source and try to do it differently.

#8 – Do you have any experience with amp sim plugins? If so, which ones have you tried out and enjoyed?

Yes! I’m a big fan of Neural DSP plugins and ML Labs IR’s! They make top notch products! Can’t wait what Neural comes up next! I think they are the first company which has nailed the power amp section 100% right and the plugins acts like a real amp. Superb!

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#9 – What are your favorite three recorded guitar tones of all-time?

I’m a big fan of swedish death metal so almost any record with Boss HM2 brings a big smile to my face. But if I have to choose only three, I would say: Punchy and ballsy old school Metallica rhythms, Petrucci’s leadtone and newest Decapitated rhythm tone.

#10 – How important are pickups to you when it comes to tracking guitar and getting proper sounding takes for mixing?

I usually go with active pickups for the main guitars and add a layer of passive pickup guitars on top of those. Best of both worlds! I think the playing itself is more important than the actual gear. Some guitars goes nicely with some amps and some doesn’t. You just have to find the best combination and it doesn’t matter that much what pickups you’re using. The ending result is the only thing what matters.

#11 – What do 2019 and 2020 have in store for you, be it in the studio, on the road or on the stage?

All of those! I’m trying to finish the composing for the next Stratovarius album and hitting the studio later this year. Same time we have a lot of gigs happening and I have some other on going projects as well. It’s a very busy year and I bet the next year will be even more hectic.

Stratovarius have been one of the biggest names in power metal for many years. They have achieved legendary status on a number of levels and it was a lot of fun to talk gear with Matias! Check out everything Stratovarius have to offer as well as Matias’ work behind the desk as well!


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