After a long hiatus Leverage is back with a new EP. “The Devil’s Turn” was released in September and the band is already working on a new album. We had the chance to meet up with Tuomas and Mikko to talk a little bit more about the new lineup, their plans and what they have in store for us.
Watch some highlights of the interview here, the complete text is below.
Hi guys! Thanks for making the time. You had quite a hiatus, so perhaps some of our readers may not have heard of Leverage before. Could you give a brief history of the band?
Tuomas: We started Leverage a long time ago, in the early 2000s. In the beginning, I was actually writing songs and working together with Torsti, our other guitarist. Kimmo was supposed to be the singer for the band. But he was busy with other things. I met Pekka Heino by accident, who happened to play at the same party I was playing at. I hadn’t met him before. We became friends there and one thing led to another. He ended up being our singer for a long time. After our third album in 2010 things kind of slowed down. We had made three albums and had all kinds of things happening for us. The record company deal we had at the time wasn’t great. Somehow, I felt like we had lost focus. That led to us not playing together and not playing any gigs. We didn’t have plans for a next album or anything. Somewhere during that time, I started talking with Mikko to write some music together, we are working at the same place, he is teaching guitar there. My first choice was to make some heavy metal songs and then have Kimmo, who is a long time friend of mine, sing it. It was supposed to be just for the fun of it. Right from the get-go, I felt there is something there that is pretty cool. Working with Mikko has been great. He comes from a different branch of heavy rock than I do. I felt that we made a great mix. We made the single “Red Moon Over Sonora” together and when we were finished, we started to think about how we are gonna go out about it. Are we gonna release it as a brand new band or whatever? Then we started thinking about why we shouldn’t call it Leverage because the other people we were working with were the same ones from the band. We had to change bass players 10 years ago already for health reasons. At the end of the day, it was Leverage, but we just got two new members in the band. We couldn’t be happier about it.
What about you, Mikko?
Mikko: When we started writing the songs, we had a concept in mind. They were all connected and it was a good package. It was sort of a pity that we didn’t do anything with those songs after that. We kind of left them there. When Tuomas started thinking about if we should do anything with “Red Moon Over Sonora”, I said we definitely should. I think the idea to release it as part of Leverage was the best thing we could have done. Leverage has a solid fan base. There are people that have been waiting for something new anyway. Of course, on the other hand, they are going to be a bit surprised by this new side of us, which is going to be a bit different already on the EP. There have been several different comments regarding the songs, but that’s all good. The band has to evolve in my opinion and I think Kimmo would also agree with that is that we definitely want to bring something new, our own style, and so forth to the band. So for us, it’s also a good thing that we’re not playing the same things as the old Leverage. There are enough similarities, but the new album will surprise people, there are also gonna be very different kinds of songs.
You have released two singles now since you have changed the lineup. How have the reactions been so far?
Tuomas: We released “Red Moon Over Sonora” without any kind of contract. We just released it. Valtteri, our drummer, did a really good job with the lyric video. It looked like an official release, even though we weren’t signed. It was totally independent. The reactions were great in the sense that in the 24 hours after we had put out the song, we had contacted by two record companies that wanted to start working with us. We started negotiating and then one month later, we signed with Frontiers, which is very good for us. Of course, people are going to have their opinions. It’s natural when it comes to lead singers. For guitar players, it doesn’t matter. Mikko is a good player and it’s good for the band to have a guy like him in there, but the singer is always the soul of the band. Obviously, it’s gonna divide opinions. In my books, Kimmo and Pekka are two totally different persons. There are similarities in their style, they both got the same upper range and sing the same kinds of songs, but they still sing differently. When writing the songs while working with Kimmo, I hear his voice. And I’ve been hearing his voice for the better part of 20 years because we have been writing songs together for other people. I always worked with him. We worked with Pekka a long time. But now when we work with Kimmo, I hear his voice in my head. Some people like it better, some don’t like it. It’s all music, it’s a matter of taste. I have to say that when you have done this for this long, you really need to focus on writing music that you like yourself. If someone else likes it, it’s cool. If they don’t, you can’t start to try and please people by trying to go this or that way. You need to do what you feel is right. I think we are on the right path. It’s already on the EP, it’s already on “Red Moon Over Sonora”, it’s already on “Wheels From Hell”. It’s going to be on the EP songs, especially because we have been working for some months together now and I think we are finding a direction that is good for us musically. Then what happens is up to the people to decide.
I remember in the past you were mostly writing the songs, Tuomas. What was the creative process this time around?
Tuomas: It’s the same but different. Of the four songs on the EP, “Wheels From Hell” and “Unicorn” are songs that Mikko and I wrote together. We would sit down and come up with a story. The good part of is that when you sit down, we think about what the theme of the songs is going to be, what it’s going to be about, even if we don’t have any lyrics. We wonder what kind of music it’s going to be or what kind of mood it should have. So, that’s been a great thing. For instance, with “Wheels From Hell” we said down and decided we’re going to write a song about Hell’s Angels or a motorcycle gang or a herd of pagans in ancient history. The music had to reflect that. We wrote the song, put it together and then the lyrics had to fit into that. It was the same with “Unicorn”. It has a different story to it. If you read the lyrics then you know. The other two songs are different in a sense that I wrote them. “Devil’s Hand” is going to be a single release. It’s a very traditional Leverage song. It’s got a bit of a grim story to it. “Children Of Skyfall” is a new song. I wrote the music maybe like a year ago and then I actually rewrote it a little bit for Kimmo to sing. since we made up our mind about how to go about this so there are all kinds of things in there. The EP covers a lot of ground musically. There’s a lot of range. It’s gonna stay that way. We’ve always been like that, if you listened to our previous albums, it’s not gonna be one form. We like to keep it pretty wide and we’re gonna widen it in that spectrum for the album definitely. You already have that on the EP.
Can you talk a bit more about the stories behind the other songs?
Tuomas: I already talked about “Wheels from hell”. “Unicorn” is like a scene from a dream. It has to do with a ghost ship that always gets navigated. There’s more in between the lines and the music. We’re trying to create some kind of an eerie feeling to it at some point.
Mikko: Like the Flying Dutchman.
Tuomas: Yeah, true. Exactly. Then, Dead Man’s Hand is about facing death. It’s written into a card game contest. it’s got a lot of phrases from the world of professional poker or maybe some wild west kind of thing where there are two men staring at each other over a deck of cards and they know that one of them is gonna die. “Children of Skyfall” I have to say I have no clue, I wrote the lyrics. But I don’t know. It’s about hope and desperation in the same song in many different ways. Then it has to do with losing somebody, understanding that time will take over anyone.
Mikko: But it doesn’t have a James Bond connection. (laughs)
Tuomas: No no, I realized this. This happens very often if I don’t google. I guess it happens to everyone writing music. If I come up with a name from a song, it comes from somewhere in the back of your head, I haven’t seen Skyfall, but I googled it later, I hadn’t seen it anywhere else except for the James Bond movie. I hope I’m not violating some copyright law but you know, it just struck me, Skyfall, you draw a picture of what it is, it doesn’t have to be the exact thing in the movie. but you know, it just happened, it fits the song and it’s kinda the story, but it doesn’t have a connection to the movie.
Mikko: Actually, you wrote those songs a long time ago, so it might even be before that movie. Of course, there also a book I think.
Tuomas: The lyrics, honestly, have been rewritten. It combines two different lyrics and melodies. I got stuck the first time, I rewrote some of it for Kimmo to sing and then I rewrote the lyrics and then the story changed and the name changed, so it’s totally something different with a different rhythm and a different melody for it. So, any way you look at it the song is not more than one year old. Some of the other stuff is.
If anything, James bond maybe ripped you off. (laughs) You write the lyrics obviously, you mention you have these stories in the back of your mind, where do you get the inspiration from?
Tuomas: That’s a good question. It’s just been like that from day one, you know. I’ve been doing it like this since I can recall, since “Tides”, the first album. I wanted to take a little bit of a different route for it this time. I’ve been listening to the English language in rock ‘n’ roll music since I was a tiny kid. I was always very interested in lyrics. I would read them when I was already 10 years old. I would study them. I learn English like that. I guess I have a lot of references. When I start writing your own music, I need to write something that I feel right about. If it’s going to be something that is going to be released with my name on it. It’s totally different when you write something for someone else because you have to think about that person. During our lifetime, we read a lot of books, watch a lot of music, but there are also a handful of Leverage songs that are about real people. You can’t detect it. But people who know me very well sometimes can. You write about yourself at the end of the day. That’s just how it is. Because of who you are, even if it’s your experiences, something you studied, read, seen in your life, it goes to the paper and you can’t help it. I guess that’s all I can say about it.
Since you guys signed a deal with Frontiers, I’m sure that a lot of stuff will happen in the near future. What are your plans with the band right now? Are you going to do some shows?
Tuomas: When the album is coming out, we will definitely have more shows. The reality is that since we are all very much grownups and half of us work in music professionally, we have other duties and responsibilities to take care of. Anything you do with music nowadays is periodic. Right now we work on the album and we are going to have our hands full until the end of October. I’m hoping that during the time that the record company is preparing the release, our booking agency is working towards getting us signed for gigs starting from the date the album is released. Hopefully, we get to do a tour. We just emailed about this yesterday. Most likely things will start rolling. I very much would like to play on many festivals next year, and we talked with the public relations guy of Frontiers and he was saying that with the album we should cover our work from the release all the way to 2020. We are trying to create a schedule for that, but then I know Mikko is going to be away for other things, Kimmo is gonna be gone. Both of us, Kimmo and me are gonna be gone together for some things that are not original music. But, any way you look like it, there are gonna be Leverage gigs.
Speaking of shows, you had one show already with the new lineup at John Smith Festival. How was that?
Mikko: Well, I think for the old and new members it was a bit different. But everyone was very excited, maybe a bit nervous as well, but mostly it was good excitement. I think we had been waiting for a long time to get together and it was a great festival also, everything was arranged so well, it was very good. We had a great feeling about it in advance, I was really happy and excited. I don’t know about the playing, but the feeling matters. (laughs)
How were the reactions afterwards? Did you read some reviews?
Mikko: Well, I read one review and that was pretty positive, so that’s nice, but of course it matters. We know how we did ourselves, considering it was the first gig because you only learn to play gigs by playing gigs. We have to try out new things and stage chemistry going, that’s something you can’t practice at the rehearsals. You just have to play more and more gigs, all things considered, I think we can pretty happy with that gig and let’s just play a lot more of them!
Tuomas: I think it was a good thing for us that we took that date, it was a lot of work for one gig, one 45 minute set, but it was definitely worth doing and I felt really good about it! I haven’t played those songs in a long time for people so it was great to see that we have fans out there and people singing along with the songs. It seemed to me that the people we had there, were very happy about what they saw and heard that’s the only thing that matters. It’s not the same if watch something on YouTube or if you read a review, you feel how you feel, same goes for the audience. I’ve been to concerts where I thought it was great, but then some critique would freaking kill it and then the other way around. I’ve been to some shows that I didn’t like, then I read something that others thought they were great, it’s individual. I guess it’s for us too, we felt pretty good after the show, it was a great feeling. You don’t know what to expect, there was a band after us, that played their 100th gig with the same set and we go up, it’s our first live show together we have all kinds of technical things, all kinds of things that could have gone wrong in between and mess things up. None of that happened, and it turned out to be a great gig and everybody had fun, so you know, it was a great experience.
Sounds like an amazing time! Can you guys tell us a bit more about the new album?
Mikko: Like I said earlier, I think it’s gonna be a bit of a surprise for the old fans, at this point the songs are, well, they are different. Of course, when you put out an album from the songwriter’s point of view, when you bring out several albums, 30-40 songs, you know you are using your same mannerisms, but you always come up with fresh ideas and that’s also a matter of feeling. If you feel it’s fresh then it is in a sense. But you also know at the same time that you are using sort of your own palette of colors, your toolbox or whatever you are using, you know where they are in the songs. When you put it out, you know that your stuff is there, that they sound like your songs. The audience might, might see the album cover and make huge conclusions about that without even realizing it and be like this is totally different. For us that seems ridiculous because you’d like to say to check this certain bar or those 5 seconds, this is exactly the same idea in a different setting or from a different perspective. In that sense, I think there are the recognizable mannerisms and tools from both of us as songwriters but as a whole, the songs are quite different, quite fresh than what we have done, either of us has done earlier.
Tuomas: I agree with that. When we started working together, it was interesting to see how Mikko does things. And also the other way around. We had a clear picture of how Kimmo would be part of the music. He is a definitely a versatile singer. He can do a lot of things but you know he really wants to express himself in a certain way, being a member of Leverage, so we had to respect that too. The way I see it is that the new stuff is gonna have, like Mikko said, some new ground, some new elements that are a combination of new people, a combination of time. It’s been 10 years since I wrote “Wolf On The Moon”. It’s been 10 years, dammit. You change in 10 years, you change how you feel about things. You change the way you write. You may have found something along the way. Some of those things are going to be in there. If anything I think if you listen to “Circus Colossus”, the third album, I think it’s pretty much the same from the get-go to the end. It’s a tight package, there’s nothing wrong with it, but it doesn’t have a variety to it. It’s the same type of sound, the same type of music all the way through. You either like it or not. This time, we will draw a wider palette, I’m sure about this. I also think that our darkest moments will be darker than ever, the brightest moments will be brighter than ever. It has to do with the way Kimmo sings, Pekka is a storyteller, he is the Bruce Springsteen of Finland, I would say. He’s outstanding, unbelievably good. You give him a story, he tells it and people start crying, but then Kimmo he draws images with the way he sings, he can take you to a place for four or five seconds and then bring you to another place. And we have to respect this also in our songs. That helps. I’m really looking forward to this project, making the album ready, making it reality, because it will happen. It’s gonna be a killer album.
Mikko: I think the other band members have really liked the songs when they heard the first demos, we have done, they were surprised sometimes.
Tuomas: Those guys are so solid. We haven’t talked about them, but I’m so thankful to have the chance at this stage in my life to have the opportunity to be able to work with these guys, unbelievable good musicians, and a solid group of guys that have been working together for a long time, that they’re still there, Valtteri, Sami, and Markko they are great players and great people.
Mikko: I have felt very welcome in the band, it’s been like a very warm feeling from the beginning, so it feels really good to be in Leverage. Hopefully, also after a year or so it will still be the same (laughs) but yeah.
You were talking about 10 years ago when you think about 10 years from now, how would you see the band?
Tuomas: I can’t see that far. There’s really no way, you know a lot of people when they get to a certain age, they’re thinking about what they did, what they didn’t do. Sooner or later, there’s gonna be a day when you’re done playing live, when you’re done touring or you know, going to gigs or whatever. Hopefully, it’s not any time soon, but I can’t see myself doing certain things 10 years from now, who knows what will happen, it’s okay to play rock music when you are retired. If you put 10 or 20 years ahead, who can tell, the world is changing so fast, you don’t know. How are we gonna make music in 10 years, it can be totally different, it can be something we don’t know about, where you connect with people by playing or writing music, it could be something totally different that we have no clue of.
Mikko: I think maybe a bit sort of philosophical point of view, it’s better to focus on what we are doing right now, with these kinds of things, talking with the record companies, they all have their plans of what we should and shouldn’t do and stuff like that and that’s kind of taking the attention away from the main thing, which is writing the best music right now.
Tuomas: And Mikko, how many bands and how many albums have you formed and made in a bar, maybe in after-hours telling you’re gonna conquer the world. You need to get at it, if you get the chance to do it, then do it. Don’t think about it further than that. It’s all about now, it’s supposed to be fun now, rewarding right now, not like a place it’s gonna lead to. It’s a great thing to do, it’s a privilege, why not enjoy it?!
Mikko: It’s a big mistake to think too much ahead because when we were writing the songs, the most enjoyable moments are when we get a great idea. That’s what you should be focusing on, enjoying that, and what comes next when the album is ready: the recording process, the whole packaging, and gigs. But when you are thinking too much about what is gonna happen next, you are missing the fun stuff. Like this interview… This is what we have been waiting for. (laughs) This is why we are writing the songs.
Thanks (laughs). I just wonder if your mindset changed over this past 10 years? Did you have the same attitude back then?
Tuomas: Oh, I think that has changed a little bit. I guess people had more expectations, maybe 15 years ago. That’s a pretty good question. We were talking about that with the guys, we were so busy to move ahead that we forgot to enjoy the moment, we got to play some very good gigs on the get-go since the release of “Tides” but it was always like let’s do this, but we need to be there next year, we need to this asap. It’s a pretty good point because this was one of the reasons that it kind of stalled after the third album, it wasn’t meeting the expectations of certain people, how realistic is it then, you get to make music, you don’t have to pay for the studio, somebody is going to release it, somebody is gonna buy it and even like it, what more can you ask for? And then if something happens, it happens, but focus on the now. Focus on doing it, while you have it.
Mikko: Many bands stop because there’s always gonna be the point where it might be growing, and then there’s gonna be a point when it stops growing and then there might come fewer people to the gigs for whatever reasons. Maybe you actually make a bad album, that didn’t happen to Leverage, but you know, for whatever reason, and then you can either accept it and be fine that you’re gonna have fewer people, but change your attitude so what, there’s still gonna be people at our gigs. Many bands just feel that now we failed so this is not good anymore, everyone makes their own decisions, if you feel that you have to stop or take a break for ten years or whatever, do it, but realistically that’s always gonna happen, you’re gonna go down, you’re gonna go up, you’re gonna have different kinds of phases and just take it as it is, this album might be, received not very well, that might also happen.
Tuomas: The EP, we’ll find out next week. That’s what we’re talking about right now, people are gonna hear the new songs in a couple of days. And then they’re gonna make up their minds.
Mikko: What matters to us is that we are satisfied with the songs, with the production, with everything, we can put it out feeling that we have done our best and we like it. So, it doesn’t really matter that much, maybe at this point, maybe ten years ago it mattered more.
Tuomas: That’s a good way to put it, it’s not like we don’t care, it’s not like I don’t care what people think, if someone likes your music it’s a good feeling, if someone says your music is the worst thing in the world, you can be like okay that’s your opinion, but then you start thinking if they’re right. You know, of course, it matters, but it’s not depending on it, you have to be happy about what you do and hopefully, someone else is happy about it too.
Mikko: Yeah and it matters also there is always that part when you know when you could have done a bit better, then when someone criticizes then there is a slight feeling that okay yeah I know. But, I think I can honestly say that with this EP and hopefully with the album as well, we can really be pleased with ourselves.
Tuomas: Or at least we didn’t screw it up while recording it, there was nothing we think we should have done differently. The EP rocks. It’s a bit raw, but it’s on purpose, we wanted it to breathe and rock and it does.
Mikko: It’s very solid. So, there you have it.
Thanks, guys! I’m sure a lot of people will enjoy the new EP. Unfortunately, I’m all out of questions. Do you have any last words for our readers?
Tuomas: Thanks for having us, it was a pleasure, and to the guys reading this, go check out our new EP and hopefully see you guys out there someday!
Mikko: Come and see the shows and get the music, hopefully, please buy it, but if you wanna do the oldskool pirate kinda way, then I can’t stop you (laughs).