“Before The Satellites” is the debut album of Finnish heartbreak rock act Tocornal. The band surprised me with their latest release. So, when the opportunity came to me to interview the band, I, of course, was happy to meet with singer Lotta and guitarist Samuli to discover more about their story.
Watch the highlights of the interview here or read the complete text below.
Hi guys! Thank you so much for making time for me. Tocornal hasn’t been around that long, so for the people who haven’t heard about your band before, can you give a brief history?
Lotta: The framework for the band was actually formed in 2015, our first gig was at a wedding where we played some covers and we did a bunch of our own songs. In 2016 we started with a proper band and we have had a couple of bass players before we found our regular one.
You identify yourself as a heartbreak rock band. Can you elaborate and describe the sound of it to people who haven’t heard your music yet?
Lotta: Well, we do fusion rock. We merge many different genres and every member has their own interests and idols. It kind of fuses and matches up together. From soul to jazz…
Samuli: We have a jazzy singer and we have rock and metal guitars and bass that is somewhat as some people say a little bit coming from the progressive rock side.
Lotta: And groovy drums…But to put it simply, it’s jazzy, bluesy rock and we thought it’d be fun to come up with our own genre so we would stand out from the crowd more easily.
The reason why the heartbreak is in there is because of the thematics. Can you elaborate a bit?
Lotta: Yeah, well tragic and bad relationships, they are easy to write about. Or well, not easy, but it comes naturally. Because everyone gets inspiration from sadness I suppose. (laughs) So yeah.
What was the creative process like, how do you write your songs in general?
Samuli: Well, usually some of us come with a riff or a chord progression or a part of the songs, like a chorus or something. We kind of go and start making a puzzle from there on, we just put everything together.
Lotta: Yeah, we have different parts and we just jam it out and then I just throw in some lyrics I have written earlier, they come during the process and that’s how we come up with the songs.
So it’s also kind of a jazzy way to come up with songs if you jam a lot together.
Lotta: Yeah, I think so, we don’t use any GuitarPro or anything for it. We just make it as it happens.
Samuli: We just jam and it’s all in our heads.
Wow, it’s cool that you don’t guys write anything down! So does that mean that when you guys play a live show it is also more open for improvisation on stage?
Samuli: Yeah, a bit I guess.
Lotta: A little bit. Of course, we have a framework for our show and how we perform our songs, but we’re kind of chaotic. (laughs) Every show we do is totally different. We just go with the flow in there and we at the same time know what’s gonna happen but on the other hand, everything is a little bit of controlled chaos.
I was going to ask what people can ask when they’d see one of your shows.
Lotta: Yeah, the chaos part (laughs). We have been told that we are very energetic, it’s ironic that our songs are so sad and about tragic and scary things, but people always say that they are so happy when they see us play. (laughs)
Samuli: They are having fun. This is a good thing.
Lotta: Most of the people like our shows even if they haven’t heard from us, but they like the energy. That’s I guess what you can expect from seeing us play live.
I read you guys also won a competition in the past, can you talk a bit about that?
Lotta: Yeah, a couple actually. The first one was a regional one in Kuopio and we won that. The same year, we won a festival competition for Kuopio Rock, it was a competition which was held in Henry’s Pub in Kuopio, because of winning we got our first festival gig.
So it definitely helped you as a band to move forward?
Lotta: Yeah. But it’s been more about the fact that we have done so many gigs. That’s the part that makes us who we are. We have done almost 100 gigs. We are now at around 80 or so in those three years. That’s the main thing that has shaped us who we are.
That is quite a lot of gigs for a band that has only been around for 3 years. Usually, starting bands are struggling to get to play shows.
Lotta: We just took everything we could get, and then every time we were somewhere performing someone would come and tell us that they like our band and asked if we want to perform in their pub or festival.
Samuli: When you start a band, you can’t be too picky, you gotta take all the gigs you can get.
You also had some shows abroad, is that right?
Lotta: Yes, in Russia.
Does that mean that you now have a fanbase in there?
Lotta: It’s different because they don’t have Facebook there.
Samuli: It’s hard to connect with them. But there are like two people. (laughs)
Lotta: There are two people who love us there and on Instagram, they follow us and our music. It’s hard because they don’t use Facebook, they have their own Facebook, so it’s hard to get people to like your pages, but they’re a couple of them in Karelia.
Anyhow playing abroad for a starting band is always an achievement. But talking about playing shows. Are you planning to do some shows now with the album release?
Lotta: Yeah, we are going to do as much as we can. We have a couple of release dates, we are trying to get more. So if anyone wants us as an opening act, we are happy to do it! (laughs)
Do you feel that it’s a bit more restrictive because you guys live in Kuopio?
Lotta: Yeah, definitely.
Samuli: It’s easy to get gigs in your hometown, but getting out of there is the problem (laughs)
Lotta: Nowadays we kinda get gigs from Helsinki easier than from other places, but word travels fast, we hope that that helps us a little bit at least.
How is it the scene in Kuopio like?
Lotta: It’s the biggest city of the smaller cities, it’s the capital of Savonia. It’s a small town with crooked people, lovely people, but they have this saying about Savonian people that they’re crooked (laughs). We have our own things there. But it’s a nice town.
Is there a lot of rock bands there?
Lotta: In general yes, both rock and metal band. Metal is more common than rock in Finland. But yeah, everybody we know has a band so (laughs)
So, let’s go back to the album. Can you talk a little bit about the stories behind the songs?
Lotta: Well the songs that are on the album, for me they represent one relationship as a whole. It’s almost a concept with the lyrics in the album. There’s a certain empowerment present that feels like you are not going to take their shit anymore and you are not going to do what they say and it kind of goes through the realization that you touched some person and you can’t get out because of a routine or some financial troubles or something like that. You accept your fate and that you are stuck with them, but you hate but at the same time you can’t do anything about it. I think it’s a thing that most people in bad relationships deal with. That is the main thing that I write about when it comes to bad relationships.
If you had to pick a favorite song of the album what would it be and why?
Lotta: For me, it’s “God Bless” and its intro part “Eclipse” I don’t know why, but I like artsy music and I think they are the best tracks for me. And… In god bless I have a singing solo! (laughs)
Samuli: I think for me “Violent Waters” is my favorite track. It’s the opening track, it just kicks ass.
We talked about how you guys write music, but how do you as a guitarist come up with ideas?
Samuli: I just play a lot. Every time I’m home and I have nothing to do I just pick up my guitar and jam and if I have an idea I start developing it. So I have a recorder with me, start recording it and then bring it to the band if it’s any good.
You guys are releasing a new single soon.
Lotta: Yeah, I think it’s next month. There’s a music video as well. And that’s the track he liked the most “Violent Waters”.
A music video? Cool! Can you talk a little bit about the shooting and if the music video has a story to it?
Lotta: We had a lot of ideas. In the end, we came up with this story that a couple has a wedding that should not be taking place. The guests are all bored and they don’t want it to happen at all. Mom and dad are not happy, the priest doesn’t care. Even the couple don’t want to get married. We wanted our band to be the wedding band in the video, and we thought that maybe the groom has a thing with me and that’s why the couple is so on edge. So, it’s about a wedding and it goes horribly wrong. That’s about it. I hope it’s going to be great, we haven’t seen it yet. But the guy who shot it Mikko Varjoranta just won a Venla for his he was shooting this Erän Kävijät show. So he’s good!
Samuli: And the shooting, in general, was good.
Was it the first music video you had ever done or do you have any others?
Samuli: It was the second one.
Lotta: We shot one two years ago for our first single “End Game” and it’s actually the same guy who filmed it. It was serious gore. I ate a heart in it. (laughs) It was this pop song. (laughs)
Samuli: Pop song with cow blood.
Lotta: For two years we also wore masks on stage with blood. That was disturbing. But now we have changed a little bit, the blood is gone now (laughs).
So, you had a different kind of genre when you started out?
Lotta: Maybe not a different genre, but we seemed different. We sought out shock value. That is the main thing why people were interested in us. We were cute little people and we had blood all over our faces and then we sang poppish rock. People were confused about what we do, we achieved what we wanted to do with that and now we are trying to mature out of it a little bit. Because for record labels, it was a no-go. They couldn’t take us.
Was it too arty or something like that?
Lotta: Or they were perhaps a little bit scared. (laughs)
Samuli: It’s not a phase, mom. (laughs)
You mentioned you like artsy stuff as well, do you get any inspiration outside of music?
Lotta: I like arts and I like drawing, I have done our album covers and the graphic stuff for our band. That is something I like to explore and it’s definitely one channel for me to find my inspiration.
Is it a big part of your music as well?
Lotta: For me, it is at least, I think, the lyric process and writing is my thing too, you can get feelings out and for me at least.
What about for you?
Samuli: I usually think of what’s going on in the world, all the politics and I think of those things when I play or write.
Your lineup consists out of two women. Do you get remarks about that sometimes?
Lotta: Yeah because we have such an unusual lineup. We have two women and two men. It is something that interests others about us, especially because of the rarity of female drummers in Finland at the moment. It’s one of the things that people notice first about us. We are trying to keep this band away from that, we don’t want to define our band by our gender.
I notice that a lot of metal bands do that.
Lotta: Yeah, the female-fronted thing. But no, that’s not our thing. I get a lot that I’m a very good singer… A female singer. But no. I’m a singer.
Samuli: She’s only a singer. We only have a drummer, and she’s good.
Lotta: We did get a lot of those remarks. They would tell us we are clever because we have a lot of women in the band. It felt like they [the guys] couldn’t play. But we also felt that we couldn’t play either because we were somen. People were like telling us that we are doing great because we are women. But we are struggling just as much as everyone else, we are working very hard and we are searching for gigs actively, searching for people to collaborate with etc. We are working, we are not sitting at home and you know… Being pretty. (laughs)
Samuli: That used to be the thing. Nowadays people aren’t like that anymore.
Lotta: People who know us know that we are serious and not clueless.
I also think that when you just start out you need to earn respect first.
Lotta: I think that’s for all the bands. You have to earn respect and you have to show that you are not someone to be messed around with.
I have heard a lot before from female singers that they usually get asked if they are the merch girl.
Lotta: We get that too. We were like preparing with Marianne [drummer] for our show, doing our hair and all that sort of things. And then some guys were like asking whose groupies we are. We were like no no we’re playing in the band… They were like, yeah that’s cute. Then we went to the stage and we kicked ass and everyone was like oh my God that was amazing!
That reminds me that you guys are all doing this independently right, you don’t have a record deal so far?
Lotta: No, we don’t have management, we don’t have an agent, we don’t have a record deal. We are an indie group, we are doing everything ourselves, we have people who help us. Zachary Hietala is one of them.
Samuli: Zachary is our mentor.
Oh, from Tarot! That’s cool.
Lotta: Yes, he has helped us a lot and also with the business side around music, the industry. Told us what contracts to sign, what not to sign. He’s great.
Samuli: He’s been a great help to us.
How did you meet him?
Lotta: Well he’s a youth counselor in Kuopio in one of the youth center. I know him back from high school. Our first gig with Tocornal was actually in 2015, but it was only three songs and it was in the youth center he worked at. He saw us play there, from that we built a friendship which has grown a lot because of our band and he helps a lot more now.
He’s like a number one fan?
Lotta: Yeah, I would say so yes. So he’s been a great help.
Going back to the record labels, how has the search been so far?
Lotta: We have contacted record labels, everything we could find, everything abroad, but we are still a small band. This is our debut album, it’s different kind of music than the labels are seeking. We are not some specific genre. It’s really hard to find a label for fusion rock based in Finland. It’s like a mission impossible. We will keep working on that, keep working on our music and we have now this knowledge of what to do when we are releasing an album by ourselves, it’s not that scary.
Samuli: Not anymore at least.
Lotta: We are still actively looking for management or labels.
Samuli: Things are a lot easier when you are represented.
Lotta. The gig bookings get easier when you have some to sell your band because we suck at it. We get gigs for our performances but when it’s time to write an email and just try to tell good things about your band, you’re like ahhhh I don’t know. I don’t know if we’re that good.
Samuli: We’re not that good salesmen.
I think that’s just a struggle, I’m a visual artist and couldn’t tell anyone what’s so great about my art either, but in general, I think that’s why all artists, in general, need some form of representation.
Lotta: You have a feeling you are not good enough, you’re not a real band and you’re selling some kind of lie to people. And then you get the gig and they are like oh nice, you’re a great band, I’d like to book you again and you’re’ like okay we would like to come here.
I guess it might change once you have more material and people write reviews and all that.
Lotta: The main thing about releasing this album was that we would get more gigs. And more people to attend the gigs outside of Kuopio. To grow as a band, to get a bigger fan base and audience. If we come to Helsinki and play a gig, the people that have seen us before are there and there’s not a big crowd because no one gives a damn about a band from Kuopio which has a weird name and weird songs. But then when they come and see us play they come again, so that’s cool to see every time we play in Helsinki.
I feel that a lot of fans nowadays also come from social media. It’s very important to keep your social media active. How is that going for you guys?
Samuli: We are actually quite good at it. It’s a lot easier to update people about your gigs and such.
Lotta: We have really active social media, Instagram and Facebook and it’s easy and it’s the best tool to reach people, it’s a great tool. Facebook is growing smaller. Instagram is now the big thing, we are trying to target that more. On Facebook, we have noticed that our posts maybe don’t get as many likes as they used to and we have to market for that and actually pay nowadays. When you put a little bit of money, you get the same exposure than it used to have for free, that sucks on Facebook. But Instagram is great, let’s see what happens in a couple of years.
I think with Instagram when you grow more likes, you get more opportunities.
Lotta: Yeah, it’s an easier platform to connect with people cause you just can start following and hope they notice and follow you back. In Facebook, it’s harder because you have to ask someone to be your friend and with your page, you can’t befriend anyone or follow anyone. On Instagram, it has been easier.
So, what are your plans for Tocornal in let’s say about 5 years?
Samuli: Oh, that’s good! I’m fine with the Hartwall Areena. For real though, we just try to get as far as we can.
Lotta: Or as big as we can. So, I’m hoping in 5 years that we have a second album and a third in the making. These songs we recorded now are from a three year time period. We just wanted to write more songs, but we didn’t want to throw the old ones in the trash, so we recorded them as good as we could get the whole album to sound like. Now we can write new material and have a new record, but let’s get the first one out.
Samuli: First things first.
Lotta: Mor music, bigger gigs, and Wembley.
That sounds like a great goal to work hard for and a great thought to end the interview with. But before we wrap things up… Do you have any last words for the readers?
Lotta: Buy our record, come to our shows. Record labels if you are watching this, we are open for discussion (laughs).