Teräsbetoni / J. Ahola: “Music is mostly doing – it’s not too much thinking”
Most people might know this young man as singer of Teräsbetoni or Northern Kings or Raskas Joulu (Finnish Metal Christmas show). Besides those projects he also plays solo gigs: Jarkko Ahola is a remarkable singer but unfortunately still pretty unknown in central Europe. We met the Finn before the Teräsbetoni show at True As Steel Festival at Bonnie Prince Bar Zurich. During a quite entertaining chat he told STALKER more about himself, his projects, and more details about the life as a musician.
Hi Jarkko, how are you doing? I heard you suffered from laryngitis?
Well, as I told you before, I’m pretty good but I’m not to sure about the gig today. Somehow you gotta believe in what you are doing. We had rehearsals yesterday and it was pretty ok. I thought that when I can sing this set today, maybe it will be better tomorrow.
How long did you suffer from this now?
Two weeks, usually it’s even a month, but that just happens. We did our sound check today and I sang two songs and it was ok.
I think you had that already a few times, right?
Yeah well, you can’t stop it, it survives in my tissue. I guess I’ve had it twice, really hard, you know, and I have maybe lost my voice once or twice. One time I cancelled one gig and the next gig few days after, I was alright. I have this certain kind of level that you gonna give to the audience. It’s so pathetic some bands just play and play shows and the singer doesn’t sound like he or she should and that sucks. It’s like you know, you don’t appreciate your audience, that’s not good. I don’t wanna do that either.
Is it the first time you visit Switzerland? How do you like it?
I like it, it’s very Finnish like. I don’t know… it’s just very cosy here. Well, nothing new here of course – the buildings are a bit different but the people, how do I say that, whatever you do here is very near to how we do things in Finland.
Ok, you think so?
Yeah, I feel so, I haven’t seen too much, so, maybe my opinion will change. I think you think differently, it seems so (laughs).
At the moment you are working on the fourth Teräsbetoni record, can you tell us something about it?
Not “work” anymore, it’s mastered already. I haven’t heard the mastered yet but I have heard the mixes, it’s good.
And what can we expect from the new record?
What can you expect? Man, it’s our forth album and I think we grown very much, as a good way of course. There has to be a little childish angle in our music also that will remain, but we‘ve grown and our lyrics have matured a bit, you know, it’s pretty much deeper and the music, I think it has more substance, but yes of course there has to be the good old Teräsbetoni-feel there and it sure is there still.
You wrote on the website that there will be something new, so this is the more grown up music and lyrics?
Yeah, you know, it’s when the Album starts, its banging like hell and the listener knows: “this is Teräsbetoni!”. But after a few songs you get to hear other moves, too.
It’s now already some time ago since you participate at the Eurovision Song Contest, now after this time, would you say this has affected your career in a way?
Well, I don’t know. It’s was a nice going to Belgrade for two weeks and someone paying everything: our drink’s, our food, even the food wasn’t too good, so sorry Belgrade, sorry Serbia! – but it was a nice time and very warm, but my problem was that I had this stomach flue for a week so my “holiday” – as would like to think it partly was – was really messed. But I think what we did on stage, we managed to do good. What we achieved there, I think wasn’t the main point anyway. We where playing Heavy Metal in Finnish at the fucking Eurovision Song Contest so who the fuck cares, really, it was fun and I liked it. It was a good experience and I would never give it away.
You have next to Teräsbetoni quite a few project’s going on,. You just finished the recordings to Oulu All Star Big Band feat. J. Ahola , can you tell us something about it. What is this project about?
Well it was something like a one year, ah no, two years ago this guy send me a message. First someone called me but I didn’t know the number so I did’t answer – I rarely answer to a number I don’t know. Anyway, this someone sent me a message and this guy told me that he is a conductor of this Band and they are looking for a singer for their project to make heavy metal songs into jazzy Big Band versions. I was like: “Well, no…but maybe yeah!” It took pretty much time before it really happened, but when it happened, they sent me these arrangements and I was still like “This is pretty fucking jazzy, I don’t know if I can give anything to this”. I’m a Rock’n’Roll guy, but I like many moods and styles of music. This one though was very jazzy. I don’t know if you have heard any live footage from the internet?
No, not yet!
Anyway, I was thinking “let’s do it, let’s give it a try” and it was blast, you know, I liked it very much. One thing I didn’t like was they sent me this arrangement of, let’s say a song like Heaven & Hell, a great song, a cool version with a nice vibe but the song lasted something like 10 minutes. (Imitates the instruments like they usually in jazz are), and that’s what I don’t like, and they said “it’s a part of this style, that’s what we do when we play – we improvise”, and ok I understand it. I still don’t get it fully, but I understand if they feel it’s important.
So you had to get a few compromises there?
Yeah, but when they recorded the official tracks of the album and I sang it, I heard that they had done everything as it should, no more super long solos and no messing around, just cool stuff. The album sounds good. It’s pretty organic. Nowadays when you do an album, it’s full of effects, you know, you can do so much with the tracks afterwards. But I’m just singing there, there is nothing under my voice just a little bit of delay and reverb, nothing more. For the ear of people who listen to the radio stations, this may sound pretty thin and even dull, but if you know music, you will hear it’sis good – this is great! I like it, anyway. And it’s coming out 29th of October, but only in Finland, sorry guys. But I guess you can order it from somewhere, like Levykauppa-X or something.
You also play some acoustic gigs together with Antti Mäkelä, what kind of songs do you perform there, covers or your own songs?
Cover songs and … you know, first it was just about making money a bit, because I’m a musician, I make a living by playing. And partly it’s still that, but it has evolved so much. First we just had two guitars and we where doing cover songs I like and some Teräsbetoni-songs as well. We are doing pretty much the same songs still, BUT because we like so much what we are doing, Antti has nowadays two guitars: a twelve string and six string as a basic backup rhythm guitar and Antti also plays a synth, cause we do songs like Queen’s “Who Want’s To Live Forever”. No one ever does it. We do and I think it sounds pretty cool, I promise you. We also have these sub-octave pedals that gives us the range of bass guitar and I have this pedal that creates backing vocals by taking the harmony from guitar chords. Lots of stuff you know, it sounds much bigger than just two guys and we’ve been evolving the set every time we see. We never actually rehearse, maybe in the hotel room, take up a few new songs. “Let’s do this, ok let’s try this and that”. You know, it’s having fun with music, because music is mostly doing – it’s not too much thinking. If you do few mistakes, who the fuck cares? It’s the mood, it’s the vibe you are giving to the people and we relay on that. And it’s therapeutic, too.
You have also been part of the Ronnie James Dio Memorial Gala, what did DIO meant to you? Was he an Idol to you?
Well, he wasn’t really a musical influence to me as DIO Band but when he was in Rainbow and I heard this song “Gates of the Babylon” I was maybe 14 years old and I was like “What is this?” It was so unbelievable and it still is, it’s timeless music, I don’t know if you feel the same but you can’t really name what kind of music Gates of the Babylon is. Is it Heavy Metal? Is it Rock’n’Roll? Is it Pop? Don’t know… it’s just good music. I love it and through that kind of songs he influenced me. He was a little guy with the most powerful voice, not the highest notes, many guys can sing higher but not as powerful. And on the other hand one of the great things are, he actually reached high notes, but the power behind made them sound somehow lower than they really were! If you are singing along you think “Man, this is pretty fucking high”. So, he is one of the influences, he is not the “biggest” of them but as I grew older I got to appreciate the stuff with Black Sabbath and Rainbow especially.
And who was the biggest to you then?
I guess I have no biggest ever to name, but the first band that blew my mind was Manowar and album “Fighting The World”. Nowadays it’s not their best album for me, but it was the first that I heard. I was 8 or 9 years old at that point, and I had heard nothing, really. Ok, I had heard Twisted Sister and W.A.S.P before, but I felt they sucked at the time. When I heard Manowar, it sounded like the right thing. And I still like Manowar.
In 2002 you released some Solo Demo Tapes that was before Teräsbetoni, do you plan another Solo-Record in near future?
That was a long time ago! Well, I have many songs ready but I don’t know what kind of style I should represent, because I have this tendency of liking MUSIC, you know, the older you get and the more you understand music, you don’t like certain styles anymore, you just like good music. And I don’t know what style I represent.
Why not doing something with every kind of style?
Yeah, but there is no record company that would release it, they want to see you in a certain package. Dress like this, do it like this, make more songs like this etc. Your habitus has to look like the stuff you play.
But wouldn’t you have the possibility to do that because people know you, at least in Finland pretty well.
Nobody knows me, not even there either. I guess no one even likes me as a person! Hah. I’m too straight forward; I say always what I think, even the craziest things sometimes!
Oh come on, and it’s a great thing to be honest and straight forward!
No it’s not, most of the Finnish people do that but most of the Finnish people don’t like it.(laughs) They like to do it but if somebody does it to them, they don’t like it then. Anyways, I’m not that famous in Finland as some might guess, I’m known but I’m not a star. I would love to be and I feel I’ve got some great songs ready just to be heard, but someone has to back me up. I can’t do it alone. …Let’s see what will happen!
You do Raskas Joulu…..
You have been there, I know!
No unfortunately not.
Oh are you coming this year?
No don’t think so
Shit! It’s very nice, but it’s also a very Finnish thing.
Yeah but the songs are great like this even I don’t understand most of them (laughs)
Ok, ok cool.(laughs)
Ok you do that and this Northern Kings, Teräsbetoni and Solo Gigs, isn’t it sometimes to much to handle 4 Projects at the same time?
No, because this solo project is something that I do when I have the time, and Northern Kings is something that happens really rarely and that is something we do record and it takes about a month, not my month but in a whole and Raskas Joulua is something that we do when Christmas is coming. If I remember right, we’re gonna do a new album next year but I don’t know too much about it but it’s gonna be the biggest album we’ve ever done. All in all, Raskas Joulua and Northern Kings is pretty much the same, mostly same singers and the same band.
Just having fun together?
It’s very good time.
Do you have a private life next to all of that? Sounds like you are always on the run to another gig?
Me? I have a really private life. I don’t like to do too many gigs, since it’s killing the music. In some point you get to see it’s not about music anymore, it’s all about gigging and I don’t like that. I like singing and performing. It’s very energy consuming to give your best, and you can’t give you best every fucking day, no one can do that. I think so. Of course you can give your best “that” day but it’s not your best ever. And when you are on stage you have to give your best ever and I think I can do that maybe 2-3 times a week max. There are some bands which do 20 gigs in 3 weeks, who the fuck can sing 20 gigs in 3 weeks? No one, that’s why some bands at the stage using back up tapes and shit, so what the fuck is that? It’s underestimating the audience and I would never do that.
That’s interesting to hear cause many musicians wanna tour as much as possible cause of the money …
And the pussy and …nahh.. I’m a musician with a big M. I like the music – the rest is just what comes along. I like to see fans out there, I like the atmosphere, but it’s all about the music and performing it in the end.
Can you tell us something about your musical history, when did you started to sing and why did you choose the Bass-Guitar as your instrument?
Well when I was a young boy (laughs) I was a young girl actually.(laughs even more) Anyway..
(With a deep voice) When I was a young boy, that was a long time ago, I wasn’t too much into music. I liked listening to music that affected me really much but I really didn’t understand it. I liked to draw, I was a good drawer. Well, we had this scale from 4-10 when I was at this primary school and I always got the 10 and I was sooo happy, the only 10 I ever got (laughs). But then we got to the junior high school, I saw this drum kit and was like “Wow, what is this? I need to try it!” and I got the sticks and started playing and it just came like this. I just wanted to do something powerful with the drums. Anyway, I wasn’t that good anyway, because I couldn’t get myself my own drums. I couldn’t rehearse enough and us guys, you know, putting our first band up and I was like “What can I do? I wanna play guitar” and I had this guitar but it was right-handed and it was wrong sided to me since I am leftie. I was playing something sometime, and the guys where “That sucks, but you can sing – that’s the only good place for you”. I said “Ok”. So, I was kind of forced to sing, thank you, thank you for that! (With a big smile on his face) Because even to this day, ok, I can play a guitar but I’m still not too good with it. I’m trying all the time, but there are so many good guitarists anyway.
To become a bass player I felt, that that’s something that really has power in it and so I felt that I wanted to play the bass. When we were putting up Teräsbetoni, we were actually thinking about who’s playing what. And where like, “What do you wanna do? What do you wanna play?”
Yeah, it was fun! And I said I wanna play the bass and sing. You know, I thought, “I’ve been playing bass in these cover bands many years, so why not” and I felt I had this pretty unique style of playing with the plectrum. We were doing this heroic metal in Finnish and I thought I handled the style already and the guys where like “Ok, you do it!” And that’s how it started. I’ve been concentrating on bass ever since and after the record sold enough I had the money to buy a bass for myself and some amps. When I was doing cover-gigs I had Ville’s (Ville Terämä, the author of J’s site) bass. I loaned it for 2-3 years since he is my best friend and he said “ok, keep it, I have another bass – I don’t need the bass anyway”. I was a very poor boy. Now he has one of my guitars as long as he wants to use it!
But you become something more. Your whole life seems to turn around music, what are you doing to get a free head again and to get a break from the music biz?
I drink beer. And sometimes I go and jog, that’s pretty good, too. But I’m a fucking lazy person. I would love to run more. But when you start doing it, it’s fun, but you know, to get out in the cold and start running – that’s hardest part. I’ve always been into running even though our band have this image about warriors and muscles, I have no fucking muscles, well some, to raise the glass (laughs) I’ve been always more like a jogger, doing this smoother stuff. But I love powerful music, maybe that’s the reason why: because I’m not a powerful person.
You must be laughing tomorrow when you are hearing this shit.
(Laughs) Well yeah.. But it’s fun.
You must be thinking this guy is so fucking messed up
No, of course not.
Thank god this is not coming out live or as an internet audio Interview with J. Ahola. That would suck.
(Laughs) Next time we put a camera there that they can also see it.
Yeah but I gotta know that before hand.
You knew it before, that we gonna have a interview.
But I didn’t knew that you record it.
Yeah but how the hell shall I do it otherwise? Write down everything?
Yes? You wanna do that? (Laughs)
I’m not saying that you are not a professional but in Finland there are people who have gone to university to be a reporter and they are writing everything down, they are doing this fast writing. (Shorthand)
Yeah but I haven’t been to university for this and this is only a hobby (laughs)
Yeah you don’t have to do it anymore, me either. You know as a musician, we are doing records nowadays in full digital and if you’ve done few mistakes, you can spot’em and fix them. No one’s going to notice!
Yeah but I can write down everything as it was
Yeah but please, treat me well, don’t mug me. Don’t make me look as I am (both laugh)
What are your plans for the rest of 2010, any new projects coming up?
I think I have enough of the project for this year. Raskas Joulua is coming up and it’s taking my time in the last month of the year and Teräsbetoni is doing few gigs. Not as many as I would like to do, but you know, we are changing the agent, so it’ll take some time to make things running. I feel that the gigging will start fully next year, on the crest of the wave our new album will create.
What do you expect from the gig tonight?
I have no expectations. I can really tell you face to face, I don’t know what to expect. Never been here before, I don’t know if there are people coming there, if they are coming because of us or their friends playing in the bands. I don’t have a clue you know. But I believe there will be Teräsbetoni-fans also!
Thank you very much for the Interview and have a lot of fun and a good time in Switzerland!
Yeah thank you (laughs)
The new Teräsbetoni album will be released on November 24, 2010 and the new single “Maailma tarvitsee sankareita” is available already via i-tunes and the like, or you can check YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AogV510ZGT0.
More info at http://www.terasbetoni.com/
photos: Teräsbetoni; Katja-Maaria Kilponen