Finnish hard rock/heavy metal act THY ROW have released their debut album, “Unchained,” on September 24th, 2021, via Rockshots Records. We had the chance to talk to singer Mikael Salo and bass player Juho Jokimies about the upcoming release. Read the complete interview here…
Hi guys, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. How are you guys doing, how have you been?
Juho: We’re fine, thanks.
Mikael: Yeah, good.
Juho: Looking forward to listening to our new album, it’s coming out soon.
Mikael: We’re looking forward to listening to our own album.
Juho: Yeah, yeah, because I don’t have my physical copy so I haven’t been able to listen to it properly.
Mikael: Yeah and the quality is better. Yeah, like 1000 kilobits per second or something. On Spotify it’s only 200, there’s a difference.
Juho: Yeah, that’s what I’m looking forward to.
There have been quite a few singles already out for this album; how have the reactions been so far from your fans or people who hadn’t heard about it yet?
Mikael: Well I think it’s been basically 100% positive. So like, it’s been great and I love that, to our fans or people who follow us, I think they… what I’m really proud of and what I really I’m happy about is that they enjoy… even though we introduce different genres in a way, like if you listen to “Horizons,” it’s a hard rocker, and then “Fragments of Memory” is almost like proggish in a way, it has this waltz pre-chorus. People still appreciate both and they like or they seem to like it, so I’m really happy.
Juho: Someone said that “Fragments of Memory” is power metal. [laughs]
Mikael: Yeah, that was interesting.
Juho: There’s some power. Yeah, I can see that.
Mikael: There’s some power and some metal.
Juho: A really good fit.
Outside of Finland, people are just getting acquainted with THY ROW. Can you tell them a little bit about your history as a band?
Juho: So we are THY ROW, we are a heavy metal/hard rock band from Helsinki, Finland. We have been going since 2017. So, we’ve released a couple of singles that we released on the EP, did a tour in Japan, and now we’re releasing our debut album, “Unchained.”
Mikael: On the 24th of September.
You already explained that the album is kind of diverse but, of course, THY ROW obviously also has its own sound. So how would you describe that to people?
Mikael: Well, as Juho said, we’re heavy metal/hard rock. So you can definitely hear the influences of the members like, for example, Jussi, the guitar player, loves like GUNS ‘N’ ROSES, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and AEROSMITH. So the hard rock part is there from that, but also, for example, Ville [Vase] was one of the principal songwriters as well, [he] really loves like “The Black Album“ by METALLICA and that kind of stuff, like MEGADETH. So I think it’s kind of a healthy balance between those and then again, of course, you know, me and Juho, we have the weird tastes like prog metal and I love a lot of Japanese metal, for example. So I think it’s just a melting pot of kind of all of our members’ influences, as it should be, because it’s natural and we love it ourselves. So I think you can hear when it goes into the songs, that we are actually enjoying playing them and creating them.
Juho: Yeah, the songs for this debut album have been a really, really long process to finish writing and finish them, the first songs are from 2012 or something. So there are so many different songs from different times, so it’s like a big mix-up.
Mikael: Also different eras of the band, like Jussi and Ville wrote some of the instrumental stuff already a decade back. But then again, something that we really created together like “Fragments of Memory,” in the rehearsal place, that was really interesting.
Juho: And the sound, we have really put our minds to it and we have the production.
Mikael: The production was a very big aim and that’s why it took so long, because we had this vision that the production has to be like pristine and clean, and it has to work with different kinds of audio setups and, because it was so ambitious, it was also costly, like you know, personal financing, and finding the right people to do it. Svante [Forsbäck] did the mastering, and we tried out several mixing engineers, and we ended up doing it with Jussi Kraft from Starkraft Studios, his own little studio. Now we have also been… the production team has now been built, so in the future, I think we’re going to work with the same people, but of course, we’ll want to evolve the sound and see where it takes us, but we’re really happy with the production of the songs.
Do you feel like, because you had different mixing engineers working on this album and also different songs from different eras, you had to pay attention to the tracklisting so nothing would be out of place?
Mikael: Well, actually only two songs were not mixed by Jussi Kraft, they were mixed by Nino Laurenne, so it’s only a two-song difference in the mixing. So the sound was quite unified in the end and, of course, because Nino has a bit of a different style and whatever than Jussi, we took that into consideration in the mastering. We had several versions, tying all the different songs together. And there’s also different tuning on the song so that, of course, affects how it’s going to sound in mixing, but all of these things we took into consideration to make it sonically like that. And I do think that even though there is variety, I think that all of them still… it’s not like jumping outside that THY ROW box, they all have that kind of the same spirit. This whole album is about raw emotions and real stuff that has happened to us, “Unchained.”
Juho: Yeah, kind of a collection of the beginning of THY ROW, it represents us quite well.
Mikael: And I think that happens quite often with debut albums, that they have songs that have been written in different years because the bands have to learn how to record and get a record deal and whatever. So, usually, then the albums always tend to be quite varied because of that, it’s from a long period of time that the songs are written.
You mentioned that there were also some songs that you wrote together as a band. Which ones are those?
Mikael: Well, I think all of the instrumental foundations came from the guitar players. And then I did basically the melodies and the lyrics for the ones that didn’t have them already, which were three of the EP songs. But I think the arranging and coming up with the structure of the songs that did happen together with the band in “Fragments of Memory” at least, and maybe some others too, maybe “Horizons” had a bit of that and “Unchained” maybe.
Juho: Yeah, at least those three.
Mikael: Yeah, but we really love that way of working, so that’s definitely going to be the main way of doing the songs on the next album.
Juho: Yeah, like we have a song but we feel we are still able to construct it, then we can make it together.
Is there a specific reason you picked “Unchained” as the title track of this album? Do you feel that that’s the song that represents the style of the album most?
Mikael: I think we chose that mainly because of thematic reasons. I guess if the album would have a longer title, it would be something like “Unchained Raw Emotions,” or something, but that wouldn’t sound so cool, but you get the idea of the album from that. All of the songs are about different stuff related to our lives, like “The Downfall” is about darker things in life like addiction and depression, and personal experiences in my close family about Alzheimer disease. Then again, you go to the other side of the album: “Road Goes On,” is about like personal empowerment, when you realize that you have to craft your own happiness in the end, but it’s like trying to give that boost to people, because life is a struggle and you need help and boosts from other people to follow your dreams and go on with this journey of life.
Juho: Beautiful. [laughs]
Mikael: “Unchained,” the song itself, it’s actually about like these carpé diem experiences in life, something completely spontaneous happens and you don’t expect it at all, but then it becomes a very precious memory.
Juho: Carpé diem.
Mikael: It’s about when we went to Malaga with the band to make a music video and we got like 6 seconds of useable material. Everything, all the shit hit the fan, but still it became like a precious, carpé diem memory.
What is your favorite song on his album and why?
Juho: I would have to say “Fragments of Memory.” It’s a whole other song and I really love the themes, the sound, and how it’s been constructed and everything.
Mikael: Yeah I think “Fragments of Memory” I would say also probably because in that one, we kind of unified as a band for the first time 100%. We were kind of… we just played our instruments and threw ideas around and came up with it together, so that’s a really precious song, but it would be an injustice to other songs to say that that song is the one you should only listen to because something like “Down On My Knees” is also very emotional and a big song I think, and of course, whatever you’re in the mood for it, “Unchained” is just like crazy heavy metal party thing.
Juho: In “Killing All Inside,” there’s the best bass sound.
Mikael: I love that. Listen to “Killing All Inside,” the bass is insane.
Juho: That’s how they should sound.
Then there’s “Down On My Knees.” I guess that’s the most emotional or slower song of the record and for me at least, it had a little bit of a SCORPIONS vibe. Do you agree with that?
Mikael: Yeah, definitely because SCORPIONS, I think their ballads became a huge staple because they have that emotion in there, you know, ’cause mainly assigning them with so much passion and very often actually the color of my voice, the so-called timbre of my voice is being compared to Klaus Meine because I have a bit of that nasal thing in my sound. I guess that’s why people tend to compare my voice to him. And the song is definitely just like… everything is stripped away, like ego and trying to make it about something cool, it’s basically a love song about couple quarrels, and the very difficult question, if you’re in a relationship and you’re not completely happy with your relationship, there are bad things, there are black clouds, but you don’t know if you can improve it or if you should leave that relationship because then you might lose something that’s… you might regret it later. So that conflict, from both sides, it’s the theme of that song.
Also very SCORPIONS-like. The last three songs are part of one big song. Are those thematically connected?
Mikael: Yeah, they are very. Very early on in the songwriting process, I kind of heard from the songs – because I was figuring out the lyrics and everything and themes – that they had some connection in how they made me feel, because that’s how I approach everything in songwriting. So I had this idea, okay, let’s go on a journey, because I was a big fan of trilogies by both like QUEEN and DEMONS & WIZARDS and ICED EARTH. And I was like, okay, there are three songs, they have this cool connection, and they take me to a place… what place do they take me? It’s basically like a downfall, the downfall in one’s life. Firstly, we have a song that talks about addiction, then you have “Beyond Reason,” which is about depression, and the last one is about disease, and that’s about our Alzheimer [disease] specifically, “Fragments of Memory.” So it’s kind of a journey, you could think that, okay someone gets an addiction, becomes depressed, and then they have mental health issues in the end, and you don’t have to have it, that that’s the role you take, but you have those three songs in the same theme. It was very therapeutic for me and then interesting to just imagine those things and go on a journey while writing. What is addiction really and how does it make you feel? What is the actual raw internal struggle we have, and same with depression and the same with Alzheimer’s disease.
Was it somehow important for you that these songs are still separate rather than one big song that’s musically connected?
Mikael: Yeah, because I think you can still hear that they are three separate songs, so lumping them together will just make it [less] convenient for the listener because if you like only one part, then you have to like just skip around and it would be a pain in the ass, but “The Downfall,” I wanted that trilogy to be in the name so people realize that this is a journey, and they are connected.
Juho: Yeah, there’s a theme. They are still different songs.
Mikael: Because, for example, IRON MAIDEN released a song called “Satellite 15… The Final Frontier,” it’s basically 4 minutes of this MIDI intro and then a 4-minute rock song. And if you listen to this on Spotify, it’s super annoying because I don’t want to listen to the 4-minute freaking MIDI intro, each time I want to hit the cool rocking sound.
Juho: Listen to this, Steve Harris.
Mikael: Yes, Steve Harris, you should hire THY ROW as your personal songwriting consultants for the next album.
Juho: We’re going to be producers for the next album, yeah. [laughs]
You also have some new music videos out. What can you tell us about those?
Juho: The big biggest video was, of course, “Road Goes On,” which we shot last year, at the start of summer, at Malmi Airport and Sipoo on narrow roads, Finnish countryside scene, with a red Cadillac and everything, and we’ve had Samuli Edelman, the biggest actor in Finland ever, and Asim Searah, our dear pal, biggest guitar hero of Finland.
Mikael: He did a fantastic job playing the devil, fighting for the steering wheel with Samuli Edelman. And, true fact, the last time Samuli Edelman fought for the steering wheel was with Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible 4.
Juho: Same theme. But yeah, that was a big production. The biggest we’ve had since.
Mikael: With drones and explosions, heatstroke hospitalizations.
Juho: Everything. And then the other, “Horizons,” which is about our Japan tour. We filmed it 2 years ago when we were there. We had two cameras and just had fun with them. We have good memories from that video. It always makes at least me happy to see that again. And then there’s “Fragments of Memory,” which we shot, directed by yours truly. We shot it in Meguru Sound Film Studios in Katajanokka.
Mikael: I think it was in May or April.
Juho: Last spring. And we have these like childhood memories, childhood videos from all of us, footage from all of our childhoods, and we projected them on screen. And then there was Mikael and two other actors, Esko and Edvin.
Mikael: Teemu‘s father and Ben Varon‘s son – the OCEANHOARSE guitarist who’s featured on two songs on the album, who produced the solos as well. Even the actor choices were like from our near family.
Juho: Of course, family members, and it’s fine, it’s a nice video, even though I say it myself.
Mikael: I love it, it’s great.
Juho: It’s a great story.
The album artwork is also pretty cool. How is it connected to the music? How did you end up picking it?
Juho: Our friend Tony Kaikkonen from RED ELEVEN, he’s also a tattoo artist. We really thought about what kind of picture would describe our album and the feeling of the album best for a long time, and then we came up with this Japanese idea of a Japanese face mask and then there’s a beautiful lady behind the mask and it’s “Unchained” when you take off the mask.
Mikael: Time to take the ego and the bullshit out of the way and talk about real things in life.
Is that also why there’s no album title or logo on the album?
Juho: Yeah, we thought it would mess up the whole art because it’s so, so cool.
Mikael: We want people to focus on the picture and not the…
Juho: And because, at least we think that it tells the story of the album, just a picture. So we wanted to also focus on that picture.
Cool! Now, if I’m correct you have a live show coming up. What can you tell fans about that?
Mikael: We have a show, which has been postponed already two times, Hoarsefest, at On The Rocks, December 26th.
Juho: With OCEANHOARSE!
Mikael: With OCEANHOARSE and SHEREIGN, maybe, I don’t know if they’re still on the bill, but who knows in COVID-times, everything is changing all the time.
Juho: Nothing is sure, but yeah. That’s the only show, for now, that is planned.
Alright, I think that’s it for my questions. Do you want to share any last thoughts or something I perhaps didn’t ask about?
Mikael: Well, thanks for checking this interview and we’re very happy if you check out our music and our videos and stuff. And if you want to support us, because this was a very expensive personal financing project for us… if you want to help us out to create more top-quality records for you, you can buy the album at Levykauppa Äx in Finland and Rockshots Records internationally.
Juho: And we have new T-shirts.
Mikael: Yes, and other merchandise coming soon.
Juho: So check them out.