The Swedish rockabilly act FATBOY recently released their latest studio album “Diggin’ the Scene”. We had the chance to talk to vocalist Thomas and lead guitarist Hannu about the new album, and what the band has still in store for us for the rest of the year.
Thank you guys for making the time to do this interview. A couple of days ago you had a show here at Tavastia. How did the gig go?
Hannu: Incredible. We played at Tavastia on Tuesday night, I believe that over 400 people had decided to come so us play, so it felt really good.
Thomas: Yeah, it was a really good show! Last night we were playing in Klubi at Tampere. That was also a really good night. We actually got some really nice reviews from the show at Tavastia.
Hannu: Yeah, today in Helsingin Sanomat there was a fantastic review.
Wow! That sounds really great, sounds like you had a lot of fun. Can you give a brief history of FATBOY for those who don’t know you yet?
Thomas: Definitely. We’re considered as a rockabilly band, but we’re so much more (laughs). We started out in the late nineties in Stockholm, Sweden. We were basically just six guys getting together, and thinking that Sweden needs to have a good country band. So that’s what made us start up FATBOY together. As time went along, we started to write our own material instead of listening to the country giants like JOHNNY CASH and so on. The sound came right away from the beginning, now we released our sixth album called “Diggin’ the Scene”, and right now we’re on tour in Finland.
Hannu, you’re originally from Finland. Is that one of the reasons that you guys play here so much?
Hannu: Yes! I live in Sweden now. I moved from Finland many years ago, I was 6 years old. I’ve been away from Finland for a long long time. Since we did our first album with FATBOY, we played at Tavastia, and ever since we get to play here a couple of times a year. I’m loving it.
Does it feel like coming home for you?
Hannu: Yeah, it is. I’m like 100% Finnish, but also 100% Swedish. I use to say I’m fifty-fifty, but no, I can say that I’m 100% Finnish and 100% Swedish.
You mentioned that “Diggin’ the Scene” is your sixth studio album. Has the writing approach changed during this album?
Thomas: Well, we think so, yes. Every album is a new challenge. Every time we decide to go to the studio, we don’t want it to sound like the last album we did. We wanna bring something new into the mix. This time around we were just five members, we used to be six, which is definitely a challenge. We had one guitarist less, so I think that that definitely put its mark on this record.
Hannu: Absolutely. You know that you wanna do something different than what you have done before, but you can’t plan exactly what it’s going to be or turn out, that’s hard work.
As you mentioned previously, you’re much more than a rockabilly band. I agree, there are even some sections in your music that are a bit jazzy and all that. How would you personally describe the sound of the new album?
Thomas: If you been with us since the start you might think it’s a little harder in a way, but the description for us is progressive rockabilly in minor. We tend to be kind of dramatic, because for us every song is like a short story, and that’s why they’re a little bit dramatic, especially when we play live.
Hannu: Each song has its own chapter that is fully dramatized.
So when you talk about these stories, what can you tell us about the lyrical themes and what the lyrics are about?
Thomas. In general, it’s about everyday life. I don’t want to get into what the songs are about that much, because in the ends that’s for the listener to decide. But basically, the songs are short stories from everyday life, things that happen around all of us.
You write the lyrics, Thomas. How do you find your inspiration, does it really come from everything what’s happening around you?
Thomas: It’s a complete mess (laughs). it’s about my own life.
When it comes down to songwriting, how do you guys collaborate?
Thomas: Me and Hannu usually sit down together. At this stage there are no lyrics, but we have ideas about what we are going to do and we start playing our instruments together. It’s mostly guitar-based, we record that. I always put a song melody over it, and somehow the lyrics just start flowing randomly.
Hannu: He’s the master of making it sound like the lyrics are already there, but the words are usually random. Sometimes there’s lines, perfect lines, that come out and other times it’s a story, sometimes it doesn't perhaps make all too much sense. You never know what is going to happen.
Thomas: I basically get the keyword there to play with the atmosphere. Hannu then takes it home, and works on it, he does a mix, and that decides on the atmosphere. We then do everything concerning strings, banjo and then we take it to the other guys, and we start working on them together.
On the new album there are also some guests. Can you elaborate on how you got them on board and what their roles are?
Hannu: Working with Esa Pulliainen was a funny coincidence. It was our booking agent in Finland, who is also a musician and knows Esa that suggested us to call Esa and ask him if he wants to play on our album. We had a song “You Owe Me (Nothin’ at All)” that was perfect for him. We thought about another song as well. When I called him he said of course he’ll do it, he’s a big FATBOY fan, he’s been for many years. So it was not a problem at all. We’ve been loving the work he does as well. He was working on the new album with Ville Valo, but he said he could record it in his studio here in Helsinki. We were in no hurry, so we just sent him the tracks, nowadays it’s quite easy, you don’t have to travel around anymore for these things. Same thing basically with Jo’ Buddy, who plays on “Burning Bridges”, we met in Tampere. The song was perfect for him. Heidi Kaarto who sings on “Aila”, that was decided later, the timing was quite late when we decided to translate some of the lyrics in Finnish. She sings in Finnish on “Aila”, and I love the results. It sounds great, and of course the Finns love it. We didn’t know if they would.
What about your other fans? Was it unexpected that you have a Finnish song? Have they been asking what the lyrics about about?
Hannu: It depends, I think they’re more sorta focused on the music.
You have a very nostalgic type of music that you are playing, but the sound of the album is modern. Is that a specific choice you made when deciding on the production of the album?
Thomas: Yeah, this time we were working with a new label, a new producer and a new studio. It was part of the plan. We wanted to take the next step, and we wanted to see what it would bring into our de facto sound and into our songs. It was a journey to hear the new sounds and everything.
Do you personally think it’s a lot different from your previous album?
Thomas: Well, let’s just say it’s always a challenge to work with new people. But it brings a lot of possibilities, it brings a certain energy to the recording and the sound.
Hannu: You wanna put yourself out there, you wanna release yourself…
Thomas: Lose control, put yourself on the edge.
Hannu: Let go of control, because then you’re creating new stuff, everybody’s already so experienced, but you can’t plan everything. You never know what is going to happen.
Do you like working with new people, does it bring you more ideas?
Thomas: It’s all about the energy. You might be tempted to stay in your own comfort zone, so it’s a good challenge, it’s not always convenient, or easy, but it’s also not meant to be that way.
Hannu: You have to leave the comfort zone sometimes in the creative process. You already know yourself what you are capable of and what not, but then when there are new impulses you can really see what happens. We know as a band what we can do and what we can’t, but yet we’ve been experimenting with a lot of things that we haven’t done before, such as for example the electric bass. The rockabilly flavor of our music is because of the double bass, but we also have electric bass, we love the variation.
With the new elements you brought it, do you think you can attract a different audience?
Hannu: Maybe, I hope so. It will appeal to a bit more bigger audience but our fan base is growing all the time. Hard rockers, for example, they find the stuff in our music that they love. It’s not just this rockabilly crowd, we’ve always had a bigger audience than that.
Thomas: When you choose to have different instruments like electric bass, and when you experiment with it, it’s only in benefit of the songs, whether we find a new audience or anything it’s really not on the table.
Hannu: It’s not why we do it, but also we do notice that it’s happening, like with “Aila”, there have been very different people listening to that song, because it is closer to iskelmä, this Finnish traditional pop music.
You now had a finnish tour, what are the next plans after your album release?
Hannu: During Easter we have this Swedish TV program, we play just one song there, but it’s national TV.
Thomas: There are not many chances to play our music on national TV.
Hannu: Yeah, it’s sad. There should be a lot more opportunities, I don’t know what they’re afraid of.
Thomas: Then there will be a swedish tour, during the summer we are also going to the UK, november to Spain, beginning next year, Finland again.
Hannu: Maybe some festivals in Finland. We like to come to Finland all the time.
Now about this this TV program. Do you find these kinds of opportunities important?
Hannu: We’ve been quite lucky in our career to have some TV shows and so on, but we were very glad to have this opportunity, it’s bizarre for people when they see you on a TV screen.
Do you feel like it’s more important than being on the radio?
Thomas: TV is TV; everyone wants to be on it, even if it’s just a small slot, and then you get to play live, that’s the way you should experience it. Everyone wants to be on TV.
Hannu: Something that’s happening on a screen is obviously the main thing in the world. We do our best in social media, but it’s hard to get bigger. But we try our best. We made a picture with the audience from our show at Tavastia. Look, can you imagine. A Tuesday night?
Wow! That’s a lot of people who gathered there! Great. To the people who didn’t make it to Tavastia, why should they listen to your music?
Thomas: Cause it’s good music, it does you good (laughs).
Hannu: If you wanna hear a fantastic singer, you should listen to FATBOY (laughs).
Thomas: Or if you wanna hear a fantastic lead guitarist… (laughs)
Hannu: But the first thing people notice is Thomas’ voice. When listening to music you can like the guitars, the drums, everything, but if the singer is bad, then it doesn’t matter. It’s all about the singer.
That’s definitely true! It’s all about the singer, and what he puts into the music. I am running out of questions, unfortunately, do you have any last thoughts you want to share with our readers?
Hannu: We would really like to do more shows in Finland. Hopefully also bigger festivals, and broaden our audience more. We think that there are a lot of people out there that don’t know yet that they love FATBOY’s music.