On April 5th, 2015, we were invited to swing by Sonic Pump Studios to hang out with THUNDERSTONE. Bear spent a good part of the afternoon listening to them practice for the upcoming shows with DRAGONFORCE and got a chance to talk to the guys about music and what it’s like to be in a band that’s so far-spread from one another.
THUNDERSTONE had gathered from all across Finland (and the UK) in one place – a rare occasion – to prepare for their upcoming mini-tour opening for DRAGONFORCE. The tour will take them from Tampere to Jyväskyä, and then back to Helsinki over the span of four days, and they haven’t all been in one place since June 2014. When I arrived, it the second day of rehearsals and I got to sit back and listen to them play through their setlist a couple of times. I won’t spoil the show for you by telling you what’s on the set, but I will tell you that it’s looking great. The fivesome was goofing off and laughing, having a great time together, but at the same time, they were playing hard and getting their shit together. The most exciting part though, was with the recent changes in their line-up, they look like they’re all getting on very well and the chemistry they have looks to be building on what was already very promising last summer.
After the first play-through, I managed to grab Titus, Jukka, and Pasi, with Nino coming in and out every once in a while.
It’s comeback time for THUNDERSTONE! Welcome back! Your last album, “Dirt Metal,” was released in 2009, right?
Titus: 2009 yeah, but it was released in Europe in 2010.
It’s been a good half-decade then, just about. How does it feel to be back in the studio?
Titus: It’s great, absolutely. The process has been quite slow since we’re dispersed around the country, or countries, so we tend to pop in one-by-one and we still have quite a lot of stuff to do. So this, the rehearsal for the gigs, is the first time we’ve really played together for a long, long time.
Jukka: Since August.
You’re somewhere in the midst of making the newest album with the newest line-up. How’s the chemistry between you, and how’s everyone getting along?
Titus: It’s super.
Pasi: I’ve been missing some kind of… intellectual speaking assholes, in my life [laughter]. Fucking crazy, totally!
Jukka: We started composing the songs by going to a cottage somewhere in the woods, just the five of us, like we did with the previous album, and now we’ve done three trips like that. It’s been really good for getting to know everybody.
Titus: In the sauna, washing our backs and all [laughter].
So Pasi, how does it feel being back?
Pasi: Really good. I felt, as I think I said in the comeback video (which was released on YouTube) I think there was something missing inside me. It was like coming home, actually. When I left the band in 2007 it was for nothing more than personal reasons. There was nothing to do with music or that kind of stuff. I think I’m doing so much better now than then. It’s so much easier. I’m really happy.
What brought you back?
Pasi: Nino and I talked about it a few times in a pub, just two drunken guys crying and saying, “Oh please,” “I know, I know,” “We had a good time.” So it was just an idea, let’s do some more. So why not?
Did Rick leave then, or what happened there?
Titus: No, it just kind of died out. I mean, to make a relatively long story short, we did this one gig where, for various reasons, Mirka couldn’t make it. We did two gigs in Russia and suddenly it felt sort of… weird. They weren’t terrible gigs, but they just didn’t feel right. We had a replacement drummer. It was a good trip, we got drunk and partied and all that and the shows were actually quite nice, but somehow, as it sometimes happens, we came home and nobody just called anyone else for the next two years, more or less. It wasn’t something where anyone was particularly worried about it necessarily, but it was just something that happened. Some things just kind of fizzle out. The issue was raised a couple of times with Nino when we met after the last gigs, about coming back together, but it was just sort of like… well the basic thing about this whole band from the beginning has been that it makes sense to do it only if it’s fun and if we enjoy it. We don’t make enough money with this band to make it a professional thing because we don’t make any money with this band, so the thing is just that you really want to do it for the enjoyment and if that’s not there then there’s no point doing it. It’s different for other people whose bands are their jobs where you have to keep going even if you feel really tired and pissed off and really want to do it, but for us that was never an option. Why would you do it if it’s not fun and you’re not enjoying it?
So then that happened. I didn’t hate being in the band at any point but it just kind of died out and then when we were first feeling around about what could we do and what should we do, it was always about asking Pasi if he wanted to come back and finding another drummer. So we did that and I think it’s been great. We’ve only done three very small gigs, but nice gigs, and even if they were small you just don’t get that kind of feeling anywhere else. All of us do different kinds of things that we get kicks out of but those kicks you just don’t get anywhere else, I think, and that’s very important.
How was the drummer selection process? Did you get a lot of applicants?
Titus: We did! I can’t remember…
Jukka: Thirty or forty.
Titus: Thirty-three, thirty-four, or something.
How hard was it to pick from them?
Titus: It was pretty hard. I can be honest and say that we could have easily played with all of them, more or less. None of them were bad. We had slightly different variations of the top five or whatever but basically ended up with more or less the same names. It was interesting. That was something that also gave us a lot of faith in terms of it making sense to do it, you know, that we’ve still got this many people all around the world. I mean, about half of them were from Finland, obviously, but about half of them were from all over the place, like the US and South America and European countries, all over the place. So that was really kind of heartwarming in the sense that there was this thing where somebody still thinks that it’s worth applying to play in this crap band [laughter]. So that was good. You know, we had some arm wrestling about the top three but I thought it was a good idea to do it publicly, to put these videos online and invite the top three here and ask them to play live and so forth. Although I wasn’t here, of course. But I enjoyed watching it in London, so I thought that was a very nice thing. And we’ve certainly been very happy with Atte.
How hard is it to get together when you’ve all got your own stuff going on? You’re in London and a few of you have children, and you’re all quite spread out.
Jukka: It’s not super easy. It doesn’t happen very often.
Titus: Yeah, we don’t really jam [laughter]. We don’t really get together and heat the sauna and jam because it’s always an effort to get the people in the same place. I mean, Atte lives in Jyväskylä, which is almost spiritually even further away than London [laughter]. So it’s always going to be an effort to get us under the same roof. But on the other hand, I personally, especially now with Atte on drums, I have this faith that whenever I come here I don’t have to worry about other people playing like crap. I have to worry about myself playing like crap, but I can always trust that everybody does their best. We don’t really need that many rehearsals. I mean, the first set that we did yesterday, for example, I was a bit like… shiiiiit. But then the second was already much better and today already it’s a different band. So I think we have an all-around experience of playing in bands that’s quite huge, even if we don’t really play that much together. It’s about getting into the right mood and I think it clicks quite quickly. You don’t really have to warm up that much. It would be great to just come over and jam sometime but that just doesn’t really happen.
I take it then that this has been your first get together since last summer?
Titus: Yeah, we played those three gigs last summer. Those gigs were actually rehearsals in themselves because one gig teaches you more than ten rehearsals, so the point was exactly to get to know everyone and to get to know the basic things where people fuck up and also the good things they do. So this is the second time and obviously we’re still learning the ropes.
Are there any themes or ideas from the new album that you’d like to share?
Jukka: Lyrically no, [laughs] not at this point.
Titus: I wish you could hear the original lyrics we wrote for the songs when we were at the cottage.
I heard that you had some crazy demo lyrics for “Dirt Metal.” Is this the same situation?
Jukka: [Laughs] Yeah, same authors.
Titus: I think we were much more sober this time, so actually some of them were much more laid back than the pretty gruesome stuff that we wrote back in 2009 or whenever it was. But yeah, there were certainly some… themes that we explored in the original lyrics, often having to do with… well, maybe let’s not go into that, but you can guess. Let’s leave something for the imagination of the readers [laughter].
Jukka: Musically then…
Titus: Well, the lyrics haven’t even been written yet for the new album.
Jukka: That’s right, only one song.
Titus: Only “Fire and Ice,” actually, and half of the songs don’t even have proper melodies yet.
Jukka: I’ve started one song’s lyrics.
Titus: Yeah, so that’s what it means when we say we’re putting this together piece by piece. We’re still not quite done with the process.
Jukka: Musically it’s more melodic, and lighter maybe, than at least the previous one probably, and probably more melodic than “Evolution 4.0.” There is even one straight-up power metal song.
I take it then that there’s no estimated release date at this point?
Titus: No, we have to work around all our schedules. Mainly around Nino’s schedule in this case because we use his studio and if it’s booked and if he’s booked then we have to take a break. And anyway, we need to write those lyrics and we need to come up with those melodies, so that’s going to take time as well.
Pasi: But we don’t necessarily need this place [Sonic Pump Studios].
Titus: That’s true, yeah. I would say that we will be wiser in the summer.
Nino: [walks in] The release will be scheduled for 2015.
Glad to hear it! So how collaborative is your writing process? I know it’s at least a little bit collaborative, but does everyone have input, or how do you guys write?
Titus: Atte writes all the songs [laughter]. Well, someone else say something.
Pasi: I think mainly, Titus plays guitar very well and he’s got some riffs and brings them to the cottage weekends and we start to build it up from there. Nowadays for me, the situation with this band is that I could be involved in the process. It’s so cool! I’ve done the four albums where it was like, “Ok Pasi, here’s the lyrics, and sing like this.” This time it’s so much better. I can actually have more input.
Titus: It’s very different from the first, say, three albums where it was basically either Nino or myself, or Kari at the time, who kind of brought the basic ideas for songs. We always put them together and arranged them together but you could always point to the one or two people who had done most of the work. It started going a little bit this way with “Evolution 4.0” already but certainly with “Dirt Metal” we went to the cottage and me and Jukka and Nino had some ideas and Mirka drank a bottle of vodka and had some ideas as well [laughter]. Not all of them ended up on the record, unfortunately or fortunately. Anyways, it’s been much more collaborative with those weekends away. It’s been really good because everybody gets to say something and even if they don’t say much, like Atte – I heard him speak for the first time like five months after I met him – but anyways, at least there’s a sense of being part of the song from the beginning, not like somebody telling you, “Play this.” So it’s much more collaborative.
Jukka: Yeah, and for this album, at least with most of the songs, they were not ready right after the cottage, so I came to the studio to finish them up with Nino.
Nino: [walks in] I’m Nino.
Everyone: Hi Nino!
Nino: [walks out] Bye Nino.
Have any of you worked with DRAGONFORCE in the past?
How did you end up as the opener for these shows then?
Jukka: I suppose it’s thanks to Live Nation selling DRAGONFORCE concerts and our concerts, so I guess they just hooked us up.
Titus: Yeah, because I think DRAGONFORCE are doing a longer European tour and they’re always using local supports. They don’t have one band that travels for all of the gigs with them, so I guess they asked the promoter who organizes the gigs, who would be available in Finland. I mean, we’ve known of each other. Nino and I were just talking about this when we first started this current thing. Back in the day, and this was like 2000 or 2001, around the first demo, there was mp3.com back in the day, which was like, the most fucking futuristic thing there is, and I always remembered that there were separate categories for power metal and when we came there – and DRAGONFORCE didn’t have a deal yet, it was all unsigned bands back then – and they were always number one. They had a lot of downloads. I think there was one week when we passed them and made it to number one, and we were like, yeah, fucking right! So we’ve been aware of them for a long time, but actually, strangely enough, we’ve never even played the same festivals. It’s good fun to get to meet them finally. Too bad we aren’t as heavy drinkers as we used to be. They’ll have to settle with us wearing clothes.
That’s a shame [laughs]. Do you have any plans for a tour of your own when the album comes out, or is this still too far in the future to say?
Titus: Yeah, I guess so. I mean, it all has to do with how well the album does and that, of course, is a complete mystery. If it was up to us, I think we’d all be happy to go on tour because it’s been such a fucking long time since we last did one.
Jukka: I want to do one.
Titus: Yeah, I’d love to do it. Also, it’s very different for the band, because when you do one or two separate gigs, then after the gig everybody wants to go home because the next gig is two days away and there’s a break. When you go on a proper tour and you have to live in that bus for two, three, four, five weeks, then that really actually makes the band. I mean, when we first started the band, the band that stepped into that tour bus in Helsinki that took the ferry to Stockholm for the first gig was a different band than the one that came out battered and bruised five weeks afterwards [laughter] and hungover for two months. Not only were our livers destroyed but basically, we were a much tighter unit, both playing-wise and in terms of brotherhood, if you will. So it would be great, but obviously that’s just not up to us. It depends on so many things. The business has become so miserable, to be honest. The point used to be, like ten years ago or more than ten years ago when we did our first tour, to go out and promote the album. Of course, that doesn’t make any sense. Nobody’s going to buy a CD boxed set anymore anyway, no matter how much we promote it. So there has to be something else, and I’m not sure what that something else is. I’d love to do a tour. I mean I know there are people out there who’d love to see us live and we’d love to bring the music to them but there are so many things in between that it’s certainly too early to talk about it. If I got to decide, it would be great to know about a tour at the time when the album comes out because that’s always great when you know that not only do you get a release but you can also go and promote the release as soon as possible. Whether that’s going to work out or not, we just don’t know yet.
Well, I hope you’re able to do it!
We’re getting close to the end here now. For the musically-inclined readers out there, who are your personal influences or favorite bands?
Titus: I’m more into the ’70s or even ’60s stuff, what now is called classic rock, which is kind of funny because it was just rock when I was young. So does that mean that I’m classic? [Laughter] I’m classy, at least! Anyway, so what goes under classic rock nowadays is my stuff. Melodic rock with vocals, like David Coverdale and WHITESNAKE, DEEP PURPLE, LED ZEPPELIN, BLACK SABBATH, URIAH HEEP, that kind of stuff. Which is where we get to kind of… wrangle with Nino because he’s much more modern and I want to bring in more of the bluesy stuff and then he’s like, “Yeah, this is not metal, this is some kind of fucking country music!” [laughter]. But I think actually, from the beginning when we started moving away from that clearly power metal thing, which was the first album, I think if there’s a THUNDERSTONE sound, I think it’s exactly that combination of the older ’70s rock stuff, which Pasi is also a fan of and vocally does that kind of stuff, and the more modern melodic fast stuff. I think that’s one of our strong points, bringing those two traditions together. And more Hammond organ sound and less of the harpsichord stuff.
Jukka: Sound-wise, yeah. I can make it short. I like to listen to MÖTLEY CRÜE and DREAM THEATER [laughs].
Titus: That’s it.
Only those two.
Jukka: Only those two and nothing else [laughter]. And children’s songs.
Pasi: Well, for me, nothing else than David Coverdale. And maybe Ronnie James Dio, but WHITESNAKE, DEEP PURPLE, the same stuff as Titus. I think when Titus comes up with some riffs for songs, I was like, “Oh yeah!” but like he said, Nino was growling. But yeah, old stuff. TNT maybe… [gestures to crotch] I don’t know if you know them, but that kind of stuff also.
Titus: What did your penis have to do with that?
Pasi: Your voice! Higher, smaller…
Titus: Right, ahh!
Nino: Myself… I should say PANTERA because I think that’s the best band I’ve ever seen live. Dimebag… yeah, PANTERA is my answer.
I’ve been told that THUNDERSTONE has a few alcohol-related songs in their catalogue. Which is the ultimate of these?
Titus: I think it’s “Swirled,” because that doesn’t really mean anything. Nino was trying to find a rhyme for something. I can’t remember the lyrics now…
Jukka: It was “world.”
Titus: Right. Well he went on Urban Dictionary, which of course is bullshit half the time, and he found “swirled,” but that apparently means something like waking up the next morning in your own pool of puke and hungover and having shat your pants or something like that, so that’s what it’s about [laughter].
Jukka: That’s the pinnacle.
Titus: Yeah, that’s the pinnacle. That’s the high point of our careers… when we talk about ourselves… [laughter]. Yeah, I guess we’ve been domesticated a little bit because, first of all, we’re old, and secondly… well touring is such a weird world. When you do a couple of gigs here and there in Finland or Moscow or the UK or whatever, of course we drink and we party, but then you go home and it’s like a long weekend of drinking anyway. The tour is so weird because it’s just completely fucking… fucked up.
Jukka: It never stops.
Titus: It’s such a weird state of mind. It just changes. Except, of course, Pasi, because he can’t drink because his voice will be gone, so he’s had a great time watching us like that.
You’re the guy in the corner with the camera.
Pasi: And an apple.
Titus: So we don’t know yet if any of the new songs will be about booze because we don’t have lyrics for half of them. If you offer us a beer on Thursday we might write a song about it. [Starts singing] “I drank a beer! A one beer!”
The last question then is about your April Fool’s prank. Who came up with that?
Titus: We wanted to do something, but we were kind of late with it. What were the other ideas we were passing around? There was something else as well…
Jukka: I think it all revolved around Pasi leaving and then we were just figuring out who can we say is his replacement without being sued.
Titus: Yeah, that was the point! We were trying to say that Bruce Dickinson is going to come and cover for Pasi, but then that might have been a bad idea if IRON MAIDEN didn’t like it that much. So then we just came up with the idea that Nino would be doing the vocals. As you might or might not know, he did the vocals for the very, very first demo, which was just one song, “Spread My Wings,” from the first one. The demo was actually released as a bonus track on another album. Maybe “Tools of Destruction.”
Pasi: I was doing the backing vocals.
Titus: [laughter] Yeah, Pasi was the backing vocalist back in the day. If you listen to that, you can hear that it was a very, very wise choice to swap roles. So yeah, then Nino recorded this thing where he just sang really badly this one line from a song. I thought it wasn’t great because it was so obviously shit that nobody would take it seriously, but apparently nobody watched the video and they just read the first line and they were so fucking upset. I’m sure there’s still one guy out there who thinks that it’s actually happened.
Jukka: Even this morning I got private Facebook messages from some… I don’t remember who, asking, “Is it true? The thing about Pasi?”
Titus: Yeah, the social media is so weird because sometimes you get those updates like three days after the fact and they haven’t seen the new updates, so they just see that and then half a week after the prank, they’re like, “What is this?” and they don’t see the fact that it was released on the first of April. But yeah, some people just got soo upset. They should have watched the video and they would have known that it was a joke, or they would have known that we’d gone completely fucking insane [laughter]. So it worked much better than we originally thought. Eight people left us.
Jukka: Yeah, we lost some fans [laughter], and we were blocked once. “Never show me updates from THUNDERSTONE again.”
Pasi: Heavy metal is serious stuff.
Titus: We’ve always been able to laugh at this thing and sometimes it just doesn’t work out at all. When we have enough time to play, we do pranks and joke around on stage and some places they just don’t get it. Like, “What’s the funny thing? We don’t laugh at metal concerts. That’s dangerous!” [makes “heil” gesture, followed by laughter].
Well, that’s all I’ve got for you guys. Do you have anything else you’d like to share?
Titus: I want to hear what Atte says when you ask her to… her? [laughter] Hah, that’s what I mean. You spend too much time in the same room and you start seeeeing things, or you start… unseeing things [laughter].
Before the end of the afternoon, I managed to catch Atte so I could ask him a few questions as well, about his journey from BEFORE THE DAWN over to THUNDERSTONE.
I read that you left Before the Dawn because the sound was a bit heavier than suits your taste, or something along those lines?
Atte: Yeah, it was basically that Lars decided to leave the band earlier and then BEFORE THE DAWN couldn’t find a new singer that sings clean, so Tuomas decided to change the style of BEFORE THE DAWN to a bit more of a faster, harder style, and I’m more into the power metal -style drumming. Tuomas wanted to have blasting beats and grinds and things like that. I’ve recorded a blast beat once on an album for like five seconds or something, so that wasn’t really my cup of tea. So I discussed it with Tuomas and we decided that he will find a new drummer who suits that kind of thing.
THUNDERSTONE’s style suits you better then?
Atte: Yeah, it really does.
How did it feel to be the one chosen for THUNDERSTONE?
Atte: [laughs] It was quite a good feeling, to get the place. I had been telling someone recently that the first time I heard their song, “Virus,” it was on some compilation album and I was maybe sixteen or seventeen years old. It was quite nice to be in the audition and play with the guys and realize that, ok, now I’m here with the THUNDERSTONE dudes! And now I’m in a band, so it’s a kind of dream come true for me.
Lastly then, who are your favorite artists, or biggest influences?
Atte: Hmm, to mention a few drummers, I can say that for my visual style, there is something from Jörg Michael (STRATOVARIUS), and then I like Uli Kusch (ex-HELLOWEEN); he’s my all-time favorite drummer. I also like Mirka Rantanen, the ex-drummer of THUNDERSTONE. I have always liked his playing style. Pretty much power metal drummers, to put it that way.
Interview by Bear Wiseman