Teräsbetoni (English: Reinforced Concrete) is a Finnish heavy metal band. Their first album, Metallitotuus (trans. “Metal Truth”), was released in 2005 and has so far sold more than 32,000 copies. Teräsbetoni has been strongly influenced by bands such as Manowar.
The band is visually very strong and their epic music conjures up images of medieval warriors going off to battle (the band’s description for live performances), with lyrics often including themes such as brotherhood, truth, honour and glory. The style has received mixed reception. Band members themselves have said that they are not dead serious about the band’s mentality and are having fun with it.The most famous songs of the band include “Taivas lyö tulta”, “Vaadimme metallia” and their Eurovision entry “Missä miehet ratsastaa”. Teräsbetoni are Jarkko Ahola – lead vocals, bass * Arto Järvinen – guitar, vocals * Viljo Rantanen – guitar * Jari Kuokkanen – drums.
J. Ahola is the vocalist, bass player and one of three songwriters for Teräsbetoni. J.’s deep passion for music has resulted in his venturing outside the structure of the band and participating in other successful projects like Northern Kings and Raskasta Joulua.
…and J.Ahola is today here with me for this sympathetic chat…
Hi Jarkko J.Ahola , and welcome to Metal Shock Finland. how’re you doing today?
Hi there! Thanks for asking, I’m doing alright. And you? Hopefully just fine.
Yes thanks, I’m very ok, too :)
Would you like to introduce us Teräsbetoni and its’ members?
Sure. There are the two great bald ones, Arto Järvinen and Vili Rantanen. They’re the guitar heroes of our band. Their last names are both related to water, oddly. Then there’s me, J.Ahola, the bass player and the vocalist. And last, but definitely not the least, there’s Jari Kuokkanen. He’s our drummer and the funniest dude, I’ve ever met, especially with the one liners he’s throwing every now and then!
Teräsbetoni was formed in 2002. How you came up with your band’s name, which means “Reinforced Concrete”?
That’s the easiest thing we’ve ever accomplished together. No arguments, no negotiations. We were sitting down around the table and having few beers. We already had an idea about our new band and the style we’d represent, but there was no name. I think it was Vili who said: “What about Teräsbetoni?” We all liked it immediately. I think that I wrote the song “Teräsbetoni” next day, I was so excited about the whole thing.
How would you describe the genre of Teräsbetoni?
I’d say good old Heavy Metal that’s founded on power, rhythm and especially good songs.
Your lyrics are glorifying a pagan warrior lifestyle and a “brotherhood of metal”. Can you explain me better this concept? Some stories behind the songs…
I’d leave the word “pagan” out of this. We’re totally religion free band and I don’t want to see history through an eyes of a church that is on a crusade, you know. And yet I want to highlight the fact that we’re not a history based band either. I’d say that the imagery comes out from the culture that is already there. You know, we’re not the first band to sing about such themes. It’s just something that came out of us four who have been listening to Heavy Metal music all of our lives.
I’d say that the best part of art is that you don’t need to explain to yourself what and why you’re doing. That part is left to the listener, watcher, consumer etc. It just seems to us that this kind of approach fits 100% with the music. If you look inside the lyrics, eventually you’ll find things that people meet in their everyday lives. That’s one of the things we’re focusing on, too.
In short: We want to do music that matches the lyrics. We want our audience to be entertained and bonded together, since most of them are our fans and we need our fans. Last, we want to give people more than just the things you see and hear first – there’s more. Just listen and think.
From where are coming your inspiration, musically speaking?
It’s hard to say nowadays. I think we know what we should do by now, but also the music we listen affects us, the movies we watch affect us and of course, the life we live, affects us. Some days you just feel inspired and others you don’t. There’s certain mysticism there. I must have something to do with creativity and its essence.
If you’d need to list me the 5 most important moments and acts , so far, of Teräsbetoni, what would they be?
Phew. Can’t tell, sorry. I love almost ev’ry gig we’ve done, for example. But few moments of course there are. The moment that we signed our first record deal has to be one the most important, since there wouldn’t be those records you now know. I think the year 2005 is in our hearts especially because everything was so new and we were pretty huge for a while – and we didn’t understand it! Hah. Eurovision brought us fans from abroad and of course the record deal with Sakara is something we’re happy of.
The first album Metallitotuus (2005) and the latest Maailma Tarvitsee Sankareita (2010), in between two other albums. How has your music changed in these years?
I think we’re much more sure of our music and we understand it better. We’ve been hearing this “your 1st album was the best, why don’t you do something like that again” a lot. I really don’t know what to think about that, because I am a much better musician and a composer now. So, to me these two albums (the first and the latest) are like night and day. We play better, the album sounds better, the songs are more interesting and challenging, but yet easily listenable etc…and I am happy that many fans have told us that our fourth album is the best since the first.
Don’t get me wrong, I think our first album is very good and I am proud of it, but I think we’ve been pretty courageously exploring our ideas through the speaker called “Teräsbetoni” after that. Some reporters, “reporters”, critics and “critics” have been listening just few songs or just few lines here and there and making their minds based on that. And that sucks, since many people rely on their opinions. Happily not everyone. I think our second album is actually pretty versatile metal album…and it seems that it was something that people didn’t want that much. They want somehow the same and safe, but in fresh form. This is something that musician has to fight with, with every album. Change enough, but don’t change too much.
I fully agree Jarkko, you know I’m coming from another metal-genre-background, and Maailma Tarvitsee Sankareita, was in fact the first of your albums I’ve listened to, and I like it! It’s fresh and makes me smiling and feeling good :) but lets go forward… The decision to sing in finnish, why this choice?
Well, we saw there was no other band in Finland that would sing boldly about the themes many metal bands have been doing since the seventies or at least the eighties.
Lets talk now about your latest, Maailma Tarvitsee Sankareita (The World Needs Heroes), released last november, including 11 strong songs. Tell me about this your “new baby”…
Yea, let’s. We had a pretty long break since our last album. First we needed a break, but it got a little longer than we wanted and this was mostly because WMF wasn’t really reacting on our requests. Finally we got things clear (red light) and had a chance to look out for a new label. Gladly we weren’t resting all that time but we had many songs ready when we signed a new deal with Sakara Records.
So, Sakara and Hiili, our producer, got our songs and listened them carefully. Then we negotiated together what songs we should do and next we we’re in the studio doing drum tracks (and suffering from a pretty tough hangover!)
After few weeks we we’re listening to our new album! Man, that was something we’d been awaiting for quite a while. At first it sounded a bit too thin to my taste, but the second mix was something we were all happy of.
We wanted the album to be everything this band has become and more. So, there are bold echoes from that so much liked “Metallitotuus” but also the not-so-serious side of us and more: realistic side, too. Songs that you can relate to without being a veteran of Metallitotuus, if you know what I mean. I think we all had a feeling that we wanted to take a step closer to reality and this day from the swords and axes. Your question is so large, that I think I’ll just stop right here!
:-) ok, maybe we’ll have another chat soon about this argument. But how has been the reaction of your fans?
I actually answered this one a bit already. Shortly, they like it very much. I’ve had zero negative messages, mails etc. I’m sure there are fans who dislike it, but that’s how things always go. I also wish that this album would bring us new fans and old fans that we might have lost for a reason or another.
While playing on stage, what is your message to your audience?
Come here, near the stage. Raise your fist! Sing with us! Have beer and have some fun! …But of course we hope that our music will touch the audience as well, so they’d feel satisfied and experienced. I think every song has a message of its own that will be part of the band’s message.
If my sources tell right, so far you’ve played only once outside of Finland, at Wacken Open Air 2005, even if there has been a lot of interest of your band in other countries as well. Do you think your next tour will hit also other European countries?
We visited Switzerland few months back, too. And I guess you could say that the Eurovision song contest was some kind of a gig, too, since whole Europe saw it. But to the question, we’d love to play abroad but it’s seems to be a bit hard to organize those kind of tours, since it’s expensive stuff and we also want to play with the right equipment with a right PA-system. I believe we’re gonna do a gig here and there but right now I don’t see a tour coming.
You’ve competed in the Finnish national preselection for the Eurovision Song Contest 2008 with “Missä miehet ratsastaa”. Tell me about this experience.
Both Finnish and international level of that contest was also work (of course) but fun, too. You know, big live broadcasts are always a bit pressure driven, since there’s always something that can go wrong. First it was just fun to check out how much Finnish people like us and the more the show went on the more votes we got. That felt good. Winning the national final felt great and we had a good party that day. The press conference didn’t go that well after the final, since some reporters thought we were cocky. But we were just having fun and giving silly answers, especially to those people who seemingly took them selves too fucking seriously. All in all, very nice experience.
While not playing or reheasing, how you like to spend your time?
Well, I like to listen to the music! Hah. And I like watching movies, too. If it isn’t too cold outside, I like to jog. It’s been pretty cold for two months now. Last two days have been easier, thankfully. Of course it’s nice to grab a beer or two with friends.
Talking about this year, what are your next plans?
At first I think Teräsbetoni should gig. It’s been a while since the last solid tour. We’ll start at the end of this month. Can’t wait! I think writing music is also always essential. I also hope, that we would get those gigs in Europe as well. Other than this, let’s see.
Next year 2012 you’ll celebrate your 10th anniversary. Have you something already in mind for the occation?
Nope, not really. That’s something we should discuss together.
Now some questions, about your personal career. How and when you found the Music? And what does it mean to you?
I think everyone likes music, so I must have been a fan from the day I was born! But actively I found it when I was 9-10 years old. I found metal music, that really made me feel good. I started listening to Accept, Helloween and Manowar for example. When I was 13 years old, I got a chance to play drums. And somehow I immediately knew how to play them. I must have sounded awful, but I KNEW that this is it. I want to play music. After few setbacks the other enthusiastic youngsters made me a vocalist. I really didn’t like the idea, but someone had to do it.
Music means everything to me. It’s my life, in good and in bad. So, there are days when I just can’t even think of playing. It makes me sick sometimes. But that’s how it goes when you really breath the stuff that you do. There are times when I feel like that I got nothing to give to the world of music (I’m sure there are people who think that this has been true from the beginning!), and sometimes I just feel that the moment is filled with MAGIC. I need to write a song or go and play.
Jarkko, you’re also a member of symphonic metal cover supergroup “Northern Kings”. But I guess you’ve also some other projects going on. Can you tell me about them?
I’ve been sketching ideas about a solo album, but I’m really finding it hard to figure out what I should do. It’s like standing on the desert and wondering which way to go. But I know that in time things will clarify. After all, it’s all about music.
Other than that, I am always open for the suggestions! Every now and then something comes up. For example Oulu All Star Big Band -album we made last year. So, let’s see what happens.
Raskas Joulu (Heavy Christmas) is a project incorporating the sound of metal to Christmas Carols. How you got involved? And tell me about some golden moments of it.
I think it was through Teräsbetoni’s manager at the time who were also selling RJ’s gigs. I just asked Minni that why no one asked me to sing on the first Raskasta Joulua -album and she asked if I liked to sing on the next one. I said “Of, fucking, course” and I soon found out that they were actually thinking if they should ask me to sing a track or two. So, I was in.
Anyway, since Marco, JP and Tony sing also with RJ, we were thinking somewhere on the backstage room, that we should do something else together. Then one day I got a call from Osku Ketola from Warner Music that they were interested about the idea of us guys doing something new. Erkka sent me a demo track that I sang on to give the label an idea of what we were possibly up to. I think the song was one of my favourites “Salty Dog” from Procol Harum. Warner’s people liked it, but they thought we should do songs from the 80’s and that’s how it started.
Now the last question, what would you like to say to your fans, and to those who’re reading this interview?
I want to thank you guys for being there and listening. If no one listens, the music really doesn’t exist nor the artist. So, thank you. And if you haven’t bought our latest album, go and buy it. It’s worth every euro (or what ever currency you’re using), believe you me! Take care everyone.
Thanks a million for this interview Jarkko! Hope all the good vibes for your 2011!
Thank you, thank you. Best of luck!
Interview by Tarja Virmakari
Band Photos by Eero Kokko – J.Ahola Photo by Maaria Kilponen
Teräsbetoni – Metalliolut