THE EMPIRE STRIKES are about to release their new album “Charm” on 6 September 2019. We had the chance to meet up with Topi and Paavo in the heart of Helsinki and discuss all things related to the new album. Read the entire interview here.
First of all, thank you for taking the time to do this interview. How are you guys doing, since your album’s release date is approaching?
Topi: It’s been a long process and it’s great to have it ready.
Paavo: Yeah, to have it in hand, actually. It’s against the rules, but we’ve already got the albums in hand like 3 weeks before the release. So we don’t have to stress about it.
That makes me wonder if it sometimes happens that these things go wrong. Have you ever experienced an album not being printed on time, or anything like that?
Paavo: We haven’t had printing problems, have we?
Topi: No, not really.
Paavo: But it’s been quite close sometimes. It brings the nerves up a bit. If you don’t have the album the day prior to the release show, then it can be a bit problematic.
Topi: But now we have it!
How did you guys go about the songwriting for the new album? Has it changed over the years?
Topi: Not that much. I guess we’ve always been working… usually, it’s me or Tommi, our singer, who has some kind of idea, more or less, about writing. Then we put it together. The four of us.
Paavo: Yeah, the one big change has been that Topi’s family acquired a summer cabin, so the last two albums have been largely written on a weekend getaway at the cabin. It’s a lot different, writing songs for like 8 hours in a row in a nice place and having a sauna and a beer and some food, rather than doing it on a weekday after work at the rehearsal space. That’s been a big bummer.
Do songs then get formed while you guys are jamming together and having fun, or how does it happen?
Topi: Not that much. Some of them.
Paavo: It’s more of a process, but more of the arrangement happens that way.
Topi: We don’t have any basic style [laughs] to make our songs.
Paavo: Yeah, it varies a lot.
I read that all of the base tracks from the album were recorded live. How does that influence the sound of the production in general, in your opinion?
Paavo: We have the studio, we have isolated rooms for the amplifiers, so sound-wise not that much in the same room, like they would be bleeding into the drum pick-ups or microphones or all of that, but I strongly believe it affects the vibe of the play-in, when you’re playing with somebody and you have a click track or something like that. It’s not how the music has been. It’s such a live-based organism, the band, so I feel it’s a natural way of doing it, playing it live as a unit.
Do you think that that’s how rock n’ roll should be recorded?
In general, to someone who hasn’t heard about your band yet, how would you describe The Empire Strikes’ sound?
Paavo: The French put it nicely. Obviously it was in French, but it was modern classic rock, which is probably what we do. It’s not classic rock in the sense that it’s the same kind of rock that somebody else did 30 years ago, but it has a strong relationship to… maybe the ongoing development of rock n’ roll music and rock music that has been for 60 or 70 years now.
Topi: Yeah, it’s rock n’ roll.
Paavo: Yes [laughs].
For the past 10-20 years, people have been saying that rock n’ roll is dead. What are your thoughts on that?
Paavo: I think ever since The Beatles, hard rock was going to be dead in a couple of years. Obviously, rock hasn’t been at the forefront of some waves, then yet again, Foo Fighters has been the biggest band in the world for the last 10 years. If that’s a good or a bad thing… There are a lot of good things happening in rock.
Topi: I think rock n’ roll can never die.
Is it difficult for you as a band to get played on the radio? I know that Finland is a country where metal and rock are more in the musical mainstream, but is it difficult for a band like you?
Paavo: Radio play is really difficult. I think 5-6 years ago there was a really garage rock, grass-roots band program at the Finnish broadcasting company, YleX radio station, where we got some airplay. After that, radio play has been nonexistent. So yeah, it’s been a challenge.
Do you think that’s also because online streaming platforms, etc., are becoming more popular, or do you think that doesn’t influence it?
Paavo: I don’t know. I think the radio stuff is more and more… compressed to the… everybody’s afraid of missing out on some stuff that’s really cool and when something or someone gets enough hype after them, it compresses the music market in the mainstream to a really tight space.
You do play a lot of shows, I’ve heard. I’ve never seen you live personally, but I’ve heard you have great energy on stage. What can people expect when they go to see your shows?
Topi: [laughs] at least a lot of sweat and good music. Good rock n’ roll and a good show, always.
Paavo: A really active show with passion and sweat and intensity in all circumstances. It’s something that we are known for and proud of. It might take a bit of doing in different audience situations or in different places or different times of day, but we take pride in delivering the best show humanly possible.
Since you’ve recorded the album live, do you still think there’s a difference between what you actually sound like live? Or do you sound, on the album, the same as you would sound live?
Paavo: Of course the live sound might be a little bit more raw or something like that, but it doesn’t change the atmosphere, I guess. Before we went to the studio, we practiced the songs live and then we recorded them live, and then we played them live [laughs]. So the sound hasn’t changed that much.
Topi: I guess there’s a certain intensity that’s really hard to capture on a record. I think we did a good job with “Charm,” that maybe we’d be closer to that than before, but not a huge difference.
Do you feel like having an audience in front of you also changes the way that you play and the way that you sound, having that interaction or connection?
Paavo: Absolutely, 100%. If there’s a crowd that’s with us and taking part and being active in doing the show, it’s going to probably be a whole different place.
In the press release, what stood out to me was that it said that “Charm” is a manifesto for the immortality of rock n’ roll. I don’t know if it was one of you who wrote that, but I was wondering if you could elaborate a bit?
Paavo: Yeah, Tommi wrote that more or less. It might have been modified a bit. It gives the idea that the driving force behind the band has been doing it our way. It’s the most commercially viable thing to do, is to do English-language rock n’ roll in Finland in 2019, but it’s what we want to do so we do it, which might be the thought behind the manifesto. It’s going to be viable and current and all those things as long as we damn well please it to be.
What are your plans for after the album is released? Are you playing any shows here?
Topi: Yeah, we have a bunch of shows in Finland and then we are heading to Spain and France. Later this year we will go to Germany.
Paavo: Quite a lot of shows.
You have toured quite a lot in Europe already. What has your greatest memory been so far?
Topi: There’s a lot of great memories.
Paavo: Quite a few.
Topi: Maybe, the Vitoria show a couple of years ago.
Paavo: Yeah, we shared the stage with Honeymoon Disease in Vitoria. It’s one of the greatest rock n’ roll clubs I’ve ever been to. We started the night and probably one or two people in the audience knew anything about us. It was one of those shows that after three songs, there was four hundred people with their fists in the air. It was a great night, one of the most amazing shows that really maybe proved the point that the audience makes a difference in the whole thing. That added to the whole Basque country experience.
Topi: It’s always fun on the road together. It’s like we are… at least I am like 16 again.
Paavo: Keeps you young.
Thank you so much for the interview, guys! Do you have any last thoughts for the people reading?
Topi: See you at our shows!
Paavo: Yeah. We’ll be within 1,500 km of you. Not that much of a trip.