Well, I’m not going to write any presentation of a Man who is already well-known to everyone in the metal world… I just write his name: Timo Tolkki… and what is he up today, I asked it a couple of days ago when we met at Ithil World Studio in Imperia (Italy) where he was mixing his new album from Symfonia, “In Paradisum”, due for release March 25 2011. We met on monday afternoon, January 24, on the second mixing day in studio…
Hi Timo, first of all, thanks for this interview! How are you today?
Hi Tarja! Oh, I wonder how I am today? Busy here in the studio, Imperia. It’s actually pretty nice to be here, it’s +10 degrees, which seems pretty cool, because the last three months we’ve been in the snow drifts in the middle of Finland and Sweden.
We are both from Helsinki, and almost from the same part of town. At what age did you find the music, and when you figured it out that it’ll be you road?
I guess, I haven’t figured it out yet. But at home my dad and mom always listened to music, the music was always on, mainly Finnhits. Mom told me that I was probably 3 years old when she noticed that I like music. I listened radio hits and jammed. I started playing guitar at the age of seven, it was a nylon-string Landola. At that period Abba and Beatles were a big thing, and then, of course, the Finnish schlagers. That’s how it started. I didn’t liked that music so much, but that’s what we listened at home.
I had my first band when I was 13 – 14 years, that was also the moment when my music taste went towards heavy metal through Deep Purple and Rainbow. I got my first electric guitar when I was 10. There began a massive training of 8 hours a day, for 7-8 years. Of course, my school and other things suffered about it, but I didn’t think for a long time that it could become my road. …or perhaps I started to realize some of it, when one girl came to ask if she could give me a kiss LOL … but if we talk about the professional level, it was quite late, in 1994, the moment when I noticed that Stratovarius had reached its status. But before that there was a terrible amount of work.
Talking about Stratovarius times. Former members of Black Water was found in August 1984, you jumped in December 1985. After you had some time off for some problems, but then you returned in 1987 …
Well, there wasn’t really any problems, but the difficulties were mainly caused by the band’s original guitarist, who for some reason didn’t want to do one gig abroad. So the drummer, who was also the band’s lead singer, called me and asked if I wanted to make the gig. Well, why not! and I studied all the songs in four days, and then we went to that gig in Denmark. Well, I must tell you, it was a terrible journey, yet I remember it well. My guitar was stolen there, it was a Fender Stratocaster …
… but then in March 2007, there was the final split. In those 21 years … 11 albums, and you can say, “many lives” in them. Now a few years later what has remained the most in your mind?
Well, it was a bit like being on a train… from the moment when the wheels started to rotate properly, in ’95, we were in the same ride for 8 years, including 6 or 7 world tours, and 7 albums. It was a very creative time and we had probably 1500 gigs in all. Stratovarius time was the best of all times, but very exhausting. I burned the candle at both ends… After all, such things no one can stand up for years. Traveling and going around is surprisingly heavy, a bit like a lumberjack job. People think that it’s damn glamorous, but the glamor you find only on stage, traveling is very far from it. Just think about it… for example, after a 25-hour trip, and then you need to go on stage to play … but it was the period when I think Strato reached its top of development, which ended in 2003, by Elements-album. After that, I think, it couldn’t take us anywhere, with the same line up, it had reached the end of the road. We just tried to keep it alive, but repeating only ourselves.
After all, a breakup of a rock band is not a surprise, but what concerned Strato, it seemed that the fans didn’t want to admit it, that it might be possible, and they got angry. It’s a bit like in a divorce, a perfectly suitable metaphor, both sides have their own views on the matters… you know, about our divorce, I had pretty clear and rational reasons, but people see things differently.
.. and what is your relationship today?
The divorce, the fact that I left, came as a big surprise to the others. The relationship is freezing cold on both sides. But the thing I don’t understand is that nobody seems to remember and take into account those golden years we had. Nobody or nothing can take them away.. And it seems that only the scandals or some money is relevant. My reasons for the breakup were quite different, I just could no longer be in the band.
Timo, last time we met about 2 years ago, much has happened since then. Tell me with few words a short update, without going yet to Symfonia…
Yeah, there were both Revolution Renessaince and Saana. With RR, three albums came out, with a bit different stuff and with different people. I usually do all the songs alone, but in RR we did them together. However, the people expect from me a certain kind of music, so nobody really wanted to listen RR stuff. It does not bother me if someone doesn’t want to listen to my music… I don’t do this for the expectations of the others… but sure, if it’s a profession, and will not bring money, then I really should start running a flower shop (the old legend) LOL. Then Saana… I can say that she will come back someday…
Let’s talk about Symfonia … how it all began? And please represent yourselves?
Yeah, many times the name has been understood wrongly, that it comes from the genre “symphony”. The name comes from Greek “Simfonous”, which refers to the harmony, cohesion, and the sun. You know, our music is not symphonic lol… It all started with Andre Matos, probably best known from Angra. I got to know him 10 years ago while doing some tours together. I heard from someone that Andre had moved to Sweden. At that time, I had just finished the RR project, and I was wondering what to do next … so, should I found that flower shop or a new band LOL But I thought that when a singer like Andre lives at the other side of the bay, I should at least call him. So, we decided to meet, and he came to Finland soon after. It was just the time when the Iceland’s volcanic eruption happened when all the flights were canceled … so Andre stayed at my home for a week and we talked about the ideas. I must say, it was a very natural process, and soon we had a clear idea what to do next. Well, after a week stay Andre returned to Sweden by a boat. But it was very clear, from the beginning, that we will do this… Then I began to think who else I should ask to tag along, and almost immediately Jari Kainulainen came to my mind, who was 14 years with me in Strato. In the meantime Jari had moved to Norway. I called him, and as a funny coincidence, just the previous day he had quit his previous band. We had seen each other maybe five years earlier, but talking with him, it seemed it was only yesterday. Jari came to Finland to do the demo and it was really nice to see him, we had a real positive atmosphere. Well, then I thought that the keyboardist has to be a Finn, so I contacted Mikko Härkin, he’s more a classic-based guy. You could say that we’re all good guys LOL Then our drummer, Uli Kusch, lives also in Norway. And asking him about his situation, he said yes, and he joined us.
Then I began to write songs, without thinking any certain genre. You know, when I write, I never think about it, the songs come out naturally. They are the persons who bring energy to the band, a particular style of music is not relevant.
The new album, as we talk, is now in the finalization stage. Why did you decide to record it in different places and what is the importance concerning the environmental impact in all this work?
Yes, it’s really important. And of course, also the money decides a lot. Budgets have decreased a lot, and you use a lot of time to do music. You can’t do a movie in a week either. I like to record a disc in special places, but drums are made always in a good studio, to gain a good sound. The vocals and the other things can be done almost anywhere, really. This time I went to a hut in Sweden with Andre, for three weeks, with a plenty of snow… you know, when you’re in the middle of nowhere, you’re really caught up in the project, so it was evident that the hut became full of energy. It was a pretty interesting process. Mixing, of course, is the second important thing that needs to be made in a good studio, and that’s why I’m now here in Imperia. Here we have a much warmer feeling, and I already knew this studio. Of course, I could have mixed this album in Helsinki as well, but there’s a meter and a half of snow at the moment, and it have become crazy, haha.
Is this a concept album? Or does it have the individual songs and stories?
Yeah, it’s kind of a concept album, even though it didn’t suppose to be. The album’s title is “In Paradisum” and on the album cover there are 2 modern angels… it was made by an Australian 3D artist (Matthew Attard). He began to make the the artwork based on my idea, and I think he almost lost his nerves while doing the details haha, but gradually he got my thoughts correctly transferred to the album cover. It has two angels, and behind them there’s a big modern city, and the beautiful sky, in fact, the space. The whole idea for the album comes from a Catholic prayer, “In Paradisum” (which means ‘Into Heaven’), where a Russian-women choir is singing in Latin. Each of the ten songs in the album tell actually very everyday-situations, related to life, and in that way In Paradisum is a concept album.
In tour and concerts, are you going to play songs also from your previous bands?
Yeah, everyone keeps asking me this lol … let’s say that it is clear that our current songs are still insufficient to fill the whole concert. So, for sure “something” comes from our earlier bands, but let’s not reveal the details just yet … lol
Can you tell me the funniest situation from the recording sessions?
Probably the funniest was the session when we were doing the choral parts, you know, three Russian soprano opera singers, singing in Latin … from where we had to create a 100 persons choir. These three soprano singers has an easy laughter, because they sang opposite each others. It was a really amusing moment. You know, the Musicians always have their own way of doing things, which is fun to imitate. I do it often, and provoke crowd a lot. For example, it’s easy to imitate Andre, the way how he speaks. So, we had heavy laughing often while recording.
Making the whole album has been fun. And I can say that there were no negative things involved. In that sense, this has been a “strange” project, and I still can not figure out that I’m here now, and already mixing the album. If you think only 6 months ago we founded the band, and in this time were made demos, songs, album recording, and now I’m here mixing it … so you can say that these 6 months have been very intense and creative.
Have you already planned a promotional tour for this new album? and do you intend to participate in various festivals this year?
Yes … in October we made a deal in Japan. And I was wondering what to do with the rest of the world, because there the music business is in crisis and in a pressure of change. It’s changing radically. The next 5 years will show us what is going on that which record companies will die and which will survive, and whether the music will be free of charge. And I thought a long time do I want to “tie up” at all our band to a record company, but then I made a decision and I signed us to only one album, to one particular record company, of which I cannot yet reveal the name. It is one multinational record company from Germany. And they’re booking the tours right now. Album comes out on March 25. The intention is to do some gigs in Finland in late April and early May. Then maybe something in Europe, and after that we’ll head to China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan and from there to South America. The European Section will become in autumn. About the Summer festivals, I can not yet say anything, it depends a lot on the Japanese and South American gigs.
What is your approach in the album production, do you base it strongly on the technical side, or you do it more by instinct? In other words, you feel yourself more as sound engineer or a musician?
Neither one … it is totally intensive. Production itself is a bit like directing a movie. Producing a singer is perhaps the most rewarding. It requires a great deal of psycho-logical eye, and to learn quickly the persons with whom you’re dealing with. This is a serious matter when it comes to music. Many might think that singing is just a child’s play. But there are very deep feelings involved, at least in my productions. I go very deeply into it, and some singers do not actually stand it. In that situation I have to take a step backwards. But I always try to reach the person’s substance and the result is that he is able to express himself in a way he didn’t even know to be able.
Generally, the singers think that they cannot sing, it’s their most common fear and to being criticized, but these fears we pull on the table and the result is much better than expected. Of course, in mixing, there are a lot of technical stuff, but the focus goes to the feelings of what the song evokes. I’m always trying to get rid of the technical stuff as quickly as possible, therefore these first days is studio are the most boring ones. After that I start to “paint” the song, its function is to arise something … and from there I can reach the “fountain” that the song has. It cannot be known in advance, it’s a bit like lottery. But if it succeeds 100%, the result is optimal.
You have held several seminars around the world … Tell us about them … are you going repeat some day this same experience?
Well, it was like “Pearls to pigs” … It’s a frustrating moment when I try to explain something, and nobody understand anything… Well of course, there were some great moments and feelings as well, but I don’t think I’d do it again, at least in that form. In many occasions I had a feeling that the persons there didn’t really figured out what it was all about. Well, done is done…
Let’s talk about the books you’ve written … you’ve just released “Loneliness Of A Thousand Years” and a formal autobiography, “Hymn to Live-Entr’acte”. Without going too deeply into the details, what can you tell me about these books?
Yeah, let’s talk. However, the latter one has never been published… let’s say that it wasn’t an autobiography, but revenge. You know, I wrote it with so-called “pissed-off-and-hate”-state of mind about Strato. Actually, during the seminar tour I got a distance for the past, and I read the book again, and I realized that it can not be published. “Loneliness of a Thousand Years”, is a 100-page booklet, and it tells about the feelings that I have had since my childhood. I wrote it so honestly that it will stop quite many people. It is a dangerous book. I wrote it in one week, last summer in Vihti, in a cottage. And I cannot say that the writing was therapeutic, because I’ve already gone through those things, but I had a need to write it and I hope that some people would read it.
And the next book? Have you already had time to think about it?
Yeah, for sure I already I think about it and will write it. I like writing, although and unfortunately, I have become more pessimistic towards the mankind. Before I had a lot to say, and still have even more… but I’m too tired to explain anymore. That’s what is going on in the world at the moment, it can not be stopped. Therefore, I just wait for something to happen… I mean, when the call comes, do we go home with a rowing boat or with another medium? It’s unfortunate to see that people who live their lives positively, are just sitting in a rowing boat, which is going towards the waterfall. This seems to me quite an incredible way to live.
Timo, I guess that you are a very busy man, you work a lot and sleep only a couple of hours at night … Can you tell us more about your “typical” 24-hours day?
Hahaha, it’s not true …I’m not so busy as what people think. I work a little and I sleep a lot :D well, It’s true but only seasonally .My Typical Day at home is that I go to sleep at 2 o’clock, and wake up at six. Then I’m awake for 2 hours and then I go back to sleep and wake up again in the early afternoon and then I look at swans on the bay… I do not actually do anything nowadays, but I only am. My life is very simple, I’m no longer involved in the fuss what is going on in this world. For me, already going to buy food is an abomination. For example, to go in a shop in Herttoniemi, gets me really pissed off, even if there’s only few people there. I just can not stand its neuroticism. I’ve simplified my life a lot. And then again when I work, I’m doing it 100 %, with a full speed.
Let’s talk about the future.. how you see Timo in 20 years from now?
I see myself probably writing books, and doing music, if I’m still able to do it, but definitely somewhere else than in Finland. In winter, for example, I cannot stand the darkness, it has become to me an insurmountable thing. I’m very “either-or-person”, things are very clear to me. Either I like something or not, there’s nothing in between. At the same time I think that my life is clear and I’ve dealt with all the issues in life, that’s why I have no fear. The most of my energy goes to the fact that I need to calm down the persons around me, in situations of everyday life. Many times people wonder how am I able to be like a cucumber, like I didn’t have any feelings… It is difficult to explain them the manuscript of my life … I’ve been kind of “doomed” to be a lonely walker of a road where are only few people there, who understand what is it all about. But yeah, 20 years from now I could have a long white beard, and a private island …
… and maybe the flower shop?
LOL, this flower shop has been a joke for 15 years, and I think I’m never going to have it…
Do you still have dreams that you would like to realize?
I cannot say that I have, I’ve gotten so much from life. Maybe those dreams I still have, are little things, but not any real dreams that I would like to realize. I’m living my dream! To me a dream does not mean only a “bed of roses”, but it’s the whole package. When you live the life of artist, sometimes the speed is so high that you don’t have even time to miss the most important things and persons in your life. But this is my road, and when I look back I realize that all the events have been focused on this… and it’s amusing to feel as it’s all here and now. It’s probably because I am “open”, which is the best thing for an artist. In that way you can fully reflect your inner self and you can use throughout the material which is inside of you.
Now the word is yours … what would you say to your fans and to those who’re reading this interview?
The Humankind has invented all sorts of stuff and equipments. …but one is above the others, and everyone should have one … and as big as possible, and use it many times a day … and that is a mirror! Sometimes it can be pretty scary to accept it what you see in there.
Timo, I want to thank you very much for this interview, and wish you good vibes in everything you’re doing… and pleasant stay here in Imperia!
Yeah, thanks It’s nice to be here! Hi there, see you soon!
Interview by Tarja Virmakari – Photos: Official facebook of Symfonia