During his student years, Sami Lopakka did not identify with the Finnish overalls culture even though he says he also partied as a student. Photo: Vesa Ranta

From a metal band guitarist into a career counselor and author ─ Sami Lopakka spent years finding his own place

Even before his studies in Finnish language, Sami Lopakka always dreamed of writing a novel. Even though he is a published author now, the career still feels unreal.

In English  | 

Text Iida Putkonen

Musician, author, project manager, Sami Lopakka has collected a list of titles over the years. He is probably best-known for his career as the guitarist and songwriter of the metal band Sentenced. He is also a Master’s graduate in Finnish language ─ and from time to time a little bit of both.

“I made music during my studies at least half professionally ─ we recorded albums and toured all over the world with Sentenced on a regular basis. Around the time I graduated we decided to retire the band as well,” Lopakka says.

The transition from being a student and a musician to being a Master’s graduate was challenging for Lopakka. After touring the world he suddenly had to stay where he was, and instead of studying he had to find a job. After receiving his diploma he felt, in his own words, lost.

“In many ways I was in a new situation and somewhat adrift. Eventually, along with some friends, I ended up starting a business which had really nothing to do with my degree.”

His career as an entrepreneur lasted six years, but according to the man himself the business never really took off. Once again it was time to find another path. That was when Lopakka ended up at a job that felt, and still feels, right for him. He ended up developing the kinds of services that he never had when he graduated.

“After my career as an entrepreneur, I have been working on different projects and initiatives concerning employment issues of graduates. In that respect there is a logical continuum since these are the kinds of services I was missing when I graduated. So, the beginning of my working life was a bit of a struggle but eventually I found my own place, just with a little delay.”

These days Lopakka works as a project manager at Urasampo and offers guidance for higher education graduates. Even though the field does not quite match his Finnish language degree, Lopakka is nonetheless grateful for his studies.

“My studies further specified my own expertise and what kinds of skills I have and don’t have. Surely years of studying at a university also teach organization skills, stress tolerance and the ability to continuously keep developing ourselves. A job is learned by doing it, but studies can offer a set of tools for that learning”, Lopakka explains.

An author schooled by life

In addition to developing career services for graduates, Sami Lopakka also makes music and writes literature. He says he will continue to do so in the future as well. Writing is not exactly new to him since he used to produce lyrics for Sentenced during his studies. He also chose Finnish language as his major because of his interest in language and writing. Despite the common features of his roles as a student, songwriter and author, the roles are very different to him.

“I don’t think that my job as a musician has given me any help as an author other than with choosing the subject of my first novel. Of course both as a songwriter and as an author, you need to be able to shamelessly express and expose yourself. But writing song lyrics and prose are two completely different things ─ sort of like an athlete would switch over from gymnastics to road cycling.”

However, songwriting or graduating from the Finnish language programme did not magically make Lopakka an author. He had to learn the secrets of a creative job just as any other job.

“Authors are not born in auditoriums, but schooled by life, slouching over a keyboard in the middle of the night. In order to write fiction you need to be able to draw upon your life experience,” Lopakka says.

A lifetime of experiences can certainly be found in the author’s works. He describes his own text as “so grotesque and full of pitch-black humour that a smart person probably wouldn’t publish it under their own name.” Yet his second novel Loka was published last year, with his name on it.

Even after the publication of his second novel, his career, which for a long time had only existed in his dreams, still feels like a dream sometimes.

“Writing novels was a distant vision already in my twenties. I didn’t think it was going to become a reality for a long time. A career writing novels still feels unlikely even though I have already published two novels,” Lopakka laughs.

Now his novel Loka is nominated for the Botnia award of the Writers’ Association of Oulu. Botnia is an annually granted award especially for Northern Ostrobothnian authors. It is granted for the fourth time in October. The nomination for an award of 10 000 euros is a sign that Lopakka’s career is in fact real and even growing. He feels honored about the nomination.

“It feels great for sure. Writing is a very lonely job and in my case, also a job that takes years. So every spotlight that shines my text feels meaningful.”

If writing a novel really takes years and agony, how does Lopakka manage to do it?

“At heart I write because I have a compelling urge to scream into the wind and pour something out of my own chaos. For me it has always been the only way to create something meaningful out of nothing.”

Who?

Sami Lopakka

45 years old.

Comes from Oulu and has lived his whole life in the area.

Author, whose first book Marras was published in 2014. His latest book Loka was been nominated for the Botnia literature award 2020.

Works as a project manager at Urasampo developing career services for graduates.

Graduated from the University of Oulu in 2005 as a Master of Arts (M.A.) from the degree programme of Finnish language.

Was the guitarist of the heavy metal band Sentenced from 1989─2005 and an entrepreneur for six years.

Thinking back to his years at the university, he especially enjoyed finishing his Master’s thesis and the freedom to choose your subjects based on your interests.

Encourages the students of today to consider the possibilities of working life already during their studies, and to build a network from your peers, education staff and people from extracurricular activities.

In his free-time he consumes music, movies and literature, and enjoys nature.

Dreams of a peace of mind.

Read this article in Finnish. Translation by Saana Haapala.

Published 23.10.2020

Iida Putkonen

Oulun ylioppilaslehden päätoimittaja. Tiedeviestinnän opiskelija ja glögin ympärivuotinen kuluttaja. Etsii revontulia, riippumattoja ja juuri oikeita sanoja.

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