Blind Channel: “In Finland you’re told not to follow your dream – we want to be the biggest band in the world”

With sold-out arena shows and conquering tours of the U.S. and Europe under their belts, the wider world is finally waking up to Blind Channel. On the eve of new album Exit Emotions, we head to the belly of the beast in Helsinki, and find a band dead-set on global domination…

Blind Channel: “In Finland you’re told not to follow your dream – we want to be the biggest band in the world”
Nick Ruskell
Stu Garneys

“There was a headline in Finland about us,” says Niko Moilanen. “It said, ‘What the hell happened to Blind Channel?’”

Were you after a literal answer, right now, they’re standing on top of the sea. In a gorgeous beauty spot a stone’s throw away from where Niko’s fellow Blind Channel vocalist Joel Hokka currently resides in “the fancy part” of Helsinki, a bracing winter temperature of -15ºC in the middle of the day has put a frozen crust on top of the Gulf Of Finland. So Niko, Joel, guitarist Joonas Porko, bassist Olli Matela, drummer Tommi Lalli, and percussionist/electronics whizz Aleksi Kaunisvesi are striding across it, for the benefit of K!’s camera.

It’d be a handy metaphor, something about thin ice, were the facts from both ends not completely false. While it is true that only a fool disrespects the sea, particularly when the temperature on dry land is already enough to make you feel like your ears are going to snap off, what covers the water on which Blind Channel are horsing around is thicker than what covers most roads.

The other thing is, Blind Channel are doing very well, thank you very much. If the Finnish paper wondering why the band hadn’t been seen around their homeland much since they finished a respectable sixth place in the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest with Dark Side, scoring 301 points (which is 301 better than UK dud James Newman’s Embers did), they’d have done well to look at their touring schedule over the past couple of years to see what country they were in that day. Europe? Completed it. America? Been loads. Had they looked at the U.S. Billboard chart recently, they’d have seen new banger DEADZONE sitting nice and high. The first Finnish band, they modestly point out, to achieve such a feat.

“’What happened to Blind Channel? They are nowhere to be seen!’” laughs Niko again. “We're working fucking every day. We're doing shows in the U.S. and in Europe all the time. As soon as you get out of Finland, people [in the music industry] stop noticing you!”

“That’s a very Finnish thing,” adds Joel. “You’re always being told not to dream, that it won’t happen. If you listen to that, you’ll never achieve anything.”

He says this as a man about to release his fifth album, Exit Emotions, and with an appointment for his band to appear at the 15,000-capacity Nokia Arena in Tampere in the diary. You can smell his ambition.

“I want us to be the biggest band in the world.”

Blind Channel have invited K! to Helsinki today to give us a historical tour of places important to the band. That we're doing this in their adopted home, rather than their actual hometown of Oulu in the far north of the country, is for reasons both pragmatic (it’s a treacherous, desolate, seven-hour drive there, or you could take an infrequent and shockingly expensive plane), and instructive to their story. Though there’s a music scene, with notable constituents Scar Symmetry and much-missed comedically glum goth metallers Sentenced, it’s not a town full of musical ambition.

“Everybody said it's impossible to start a band and sing in English and make an international career from up there,” says Niko. “There’s this this word in Finland, ‘Northern madness’. When someone tells you something can't be done, you go and do it anyway, just to prove them wrong. I think that's been the primal energy that we've had.”

So, Blind Channel are now essentially based out of Helsinki. The first stop on our city tour is the messy but welcomely warm surrounds of JXJ Studios. Along with the legendary Finnvox literally across the car park (a facility whose walls are adorned with gold records awarded to Finnish legends HIM, Nightwish, Children Of Bodom and Stratovarius for their work there), and writing sessions in LA and London, this is where the lion’s share of Exit Emotions was recorded with producer Joonas Parkkonen. Commemorative disc on the wall here? Haddaway.

“It’s usually not as tidy as this,” laughs Joonas Porko, as the six of them settle down on whatever flight cases they can find to sit on. “They've cleaned because they knew you were coming.”

Though everyone in the band talks a good game, and all can report back on a workload that would make a coal miner tired, Joel also says that compared to 2022’s Lifestyles Of The Sick & Dangerous things weren’t so pressured. In fact, they’d found a new direction in the wake of everything that’d happened.

“The previous album was right after Dark Side, which meant we had to follow this huge song,” he explains. “But this album, we just went, ‘Okay, we're going all in on the live thing. Let's [go] a lot heavier album than previous one.’”

“Between the last album and this one we did over 200 shows,” picks up Niko. “We kind of realised that this is what life's gonna be like, going on tour a lot, and that we had to write music for that. So this is the first album we did that will be approached from a live perspective.”

The main thrust wasn’t conceived with such a plan, mind. Wasn’t even in a recording studio. Olli recalls waking up on a tour bus “somewhere in Germany” to the sounds of Niko frantically rapping away, notebooking his ‘Exit emo’ refrain.

“We were parked by this warehouse that was having this rave, where you could just hear the ‘dum-dum-dum’ everywhere around the building,” he says. “We were at the front lounge of the bus, and Niko woke up and just rushed in and said, ‘I know the name of the next album.’ Everybody was like, ‘That's the feeling that we have to have on this album.’ It's like [that club]: very dark, kind of industrial, kinda scary.”

“It has this feeling, like those parties where there’s red lights flashing and there's this sense of danger,” says Niko. “It looks dangerous, but also kind of calling to you. It makes me feel like I want to go there and fuck shit up.”

“At the same time, everybody knew us as the ‘middle finger band,’” says Joel. "How do we turn a middle finger into something heavier? So we came up with the fucking spike for the cover. We’re not throwing middle fingers anymore, it’s a fucking Morningstar!”

If there’s a middle finger to be given, it’s on Not Your Bro. Turns out, they say, people only doubt you til you make it. Then they want to be your mate.

“We were all bullied at school to some extent or the other,” says Niko. “We weren’t cool, we were the music kids, we got bullied. When Dark Side came out, suddenly they’re all on WhatsApp and stuff like, ‘Heyyyy bro, wanna hang out?’ Fuck you.”

“It took balls to write that,” says Joel.

How so?

“Because,” he laughs, “nobody says bro anymore!”

Of the album title, Blind Channel say that their rising profile has also led to them being asked for their views, for their politics, for help with things beyond the qualifications of musicians. They don’t have the answers, but they do want to give you somewhere to go for a breather.

“The world’s been a pretty dark place for the past couple of years,” Niko says. “A lot of people are asking us political opinions, or our fans are asking for help for mental health issues and stuff like that. I guess they see us as idols, and we're singing about the things they're going through. There was this feeling that we need to remember that we're not politicians, we're not psychiatrists. We are entertainers. We're not the right people to say what direction the world should go in.

“What we can offer to people is the same reason we started this band, why we started writing songs and doing shows. There’s a sense of therapy for us, and [through that] we can offer people a chance to exit emotions. Listen to the album, or come to the shows, let's all just live in the moment and forget all the shit that's happening in our personal lives or globally.”

Piling into two cars, we head to Bar Loose, the site of one of Blind Channel’s earliest shows in Helsinki, where a poster on the wall announces one current upcoming attraction as The Dogshit Boys. Outside, the owner enthusiastically puts the band’s name on the marquee for photos, immediately making everyone involved wonder if the place is suddenly going to fill with fans.

In the main bar, Aleksi proudly shows the booth in which the rest of the band “tricked me into joining” in 2020. Down in the basement, everyone else shows us the small stage that once hosted them.

“Man, I remember we did a lot of heavy lifting up and down these stairs,” says Joonas. “I’m very glad we don’t use them anymore.”

In the dressing room, despite the best efforts of 10 people (the band, Kerrang!, their publicist and a venue employee) nobody can find the band’s name amongst the graffiti and stickers that seem to make up 75 per cent the structure of every small venue in the Eurozone. So, Tommi grabs a Sharpie and adds a fresh mark to the ceiling.

“Nokia Arena will actually be almost exactly 10 years since we first played here, the same week” beams Joel. “It was spring 2014, we were the support band, and there were, maybe, 20 people there. I guess that’s a pretty long way…”

“There was a lot of energy, and we already had a hunch that what we were doing was right, we were just not that good at doing it,” Niko laughs. “But we knew what we wanted to do. The show elements were there. Since day one, we had our own lights guy, because we wanted all that stuff to be right. So even here, we had proper lights, even if we weren’t great…”

This even went as far as working on stage moves ahead of time.

“Oh, we’d book this ballet room where there were these huge mirrors and go there with our instruments just to practice the choreography,” says Nicko. “We needed to stand out from the rest of the bands that were out there.”

This didn’t always get the best response. Like at a festival battle of the bands.

“The juries and people were like, ‘You're like a boyband. Doing Backstreet Boys in the metal scene doesn't work,’” says Olli. “It was meant to be an insult. But we were like, ‘Holy shit. That works. We're gonna do that!’ We’re still embracing that now!”

At the time Blind Channel first came to Helsinki, the band were all around 16 years old. As well as the character of their home city being to tell ambitious kids not to get too tall, another obstacle to success that goes with coming from such a place is actually being allowed to head so far from home with no real idea of what you’re doing.

“I think we need to thank our parents for a lot,” says Niko.

“My dad lent us his car for those early shows,” grins Joel.

“Yeah, which is a bit crazy to think now,” adds Niko. “We were just getting into beer and girls and all that, and we say to our parents, ‘We're gonna go to Helsinki for a weekend to play some fucking rock’n’roll shows!’”

It was the same kind of thinking that had Blind Channel dreaming of going to America. Crazy? Sure, but let’s just go for it.

“We decided that before we broke up we needed to do at least one tour in the U.S.” says Niko. “We got there for the first time and it was like a fairytale. It felt like living the dream. I think it really made an impression on us, and you can hear that on the new album.”

“I still remember the morning I woke up on the bus in LA,” says Aleksi. “I went out from the bus, and I immediately saw the sign on The Whiskey A Go Go with our name on it. It felt like Grand Theft Auto. I saw the palm trees and I saw the Hollywood sign and I was just like, ‘Holy shit – this is reality.’”

This is caught in the track Wolves In California, where they discovered that as mad as they found LA, people looked at them with similar curiosity.

“When you come from here, this Scandinavian Nordic country, it's different from Sweden, Norway, it's Finland, and it's a little weirder,” says Olli. “You have to embrace that. You can’t escape the reality that you come from here, so we have this ‘wolves in California’ mentality.”

“People liked it when we told them that up north the sun doesn't rise for a couple of months, and we have wolves and freezing temperatures,” says Niko. “People thought we were really exotic.”

They're right, Blind Channel are, in some way, quite exotic. Just in a way that spending too long outside without a coat will kill you. They're also an unfailingly modest band. Ambitious, no doubt, but modest. You joke to them that it’s the Finnish in them coming through, and they’ll reply that this is absolutely what it is.

But those asking whatever happened to them just aren’t looking, even at home. This, they say, is not uncommon even for the biggest artists. Even so, they’re still massive. Joel is even prepping work on his own radio show.

During drinks at The Riff, an agreeably sleazy bar owned by The 69Eyes man Jussi 69, as well as being home to a private lounge permanently reserved for the members of Children Of Bodom, their fame is stuck to the wall – one corner boasts a huge collection of Blind Channel stuff, not least a massive photo of them on an arena stage. As we chat, two fans pluck up the courage to say hello and ask for a picture, something the band are happy to oblige, at length.

But don’t let this humility, or being endearingly shy and reserved a lot of the time, lead you to think Blind Channel don’t want a shot at the title. They truly believe in everything they’re doing. Rather than the expected Nordic avalanche of booze, the band are all on moderate behaviour, with Niko abstaining for a whole year, having realised partying hard while touring at the rate they do will wipe you out.

Put it to them that maybe they enjoy being on the back foot because it gives them something to fight, and they nod.

“We've always liked being underdogs. That's a good spot for us,” says Joonas. “We feel like we get more out of ourselves like that. In America, we went from playing big shows in Europe to being at the bottom of the bill. But I think that was good, it was humbling, and it made us focus, being at the bottom of the whole food chain.”

“The biggest obstacle we face is that we love being underdogs,” laughs Niko. “We're so good at that. That might be the biggest problem.”

That’s the Finnish in you coming out again…

“Yes!” hoots Joel. “Even if we sell out Wembley Stadium, we're probably still gonna be like, ‘Yeah, no, we're not that big.’”

Still, you can tell that in their minds, this is only a matter of time. Whatever happened to Blind Channel? They got busy trying to take over the world.

Exit Emotions is released March 1 via Century Media

Read this next:

Check out more:

Now read these

The best of Kerrang! delivered straight to your inbox three times a week. What are you waiting for?