There are a few clubs that provide a very literal ”backstage”, for example Helsinki´s PRKL – a room right behind the stage, where 3 people at the same time feel like ”overpopulation” … There was another reason why ”hanging out with Hanging Garden” could not quite work out this time: vocalist Toni Toivonen and bass player Jussi Kirves had to prepare for the soundcheck and the upcoming show. Luckily we still managed to talk about the new album, the only “real Metal guy” in the band and why Mikkeli is maybe not quite a top holiday destination (well, maybe I should stop making fun of Mikkeli, or else I might get banned for life from this city …)
The first question is obvious, about the recent line-up changes in the band. How come, how did you meet, how did you decide on the changes?
Toni: The people who quit did it just because the lack of motivation to continue in the band, and the replacements were always found through common friends and that kind of chance – like, I play with Nino (Hynninen), our keyboarder, in another band called Clockwork Spirit, and Nino pulled me into the band after Ari (Nieminen) quit the singer´s place. Nino also plays with Jussi (Kirves) in another band called Inland – in that way they found you (points to colleague).
So is this now the main band for you both, or do you still continue with the other projects?
Toni: Well, actually, for me it is the main project.
Jussi: And actually for me too. All the other bands are more or less terminated, or we haven´t been very active with those projects.
Toni: I also have two other bands which are on hiatus now.
How did the change of the record company happen, did the contract simply run out or…
Toni: Yeah, the contract ran out and there was no interest from either party to continue, and Jussi Hämäläinen said that all the people they used to know at Spinefarm didn´t work there – or at least in those positions – any more, so there was kind of nobody left to have interest in us, or for us to have interest in them, so we left and Lifeforce Records took us almost right away, I think.
In my review I mentioned my impression of the new album ”At Every Door”, that you became a bit harder, heavier – was this impression wrong or did something like that actually happen?
Toni: I think, maybe the atmosphere is heavier, not so much the sounds. I think we have a lot more mellow parts compared to the last 2 albums, and there are a lot more of these acoustic style, etherial, soft parts. But I think the contrasts make it sound even heavier.
Jussi: There is more diversity in every sense than in those 2 previous albums, I think.
I have to admit that I like this new style … (laughter)
Jussi: Thank you
… and maybe you could introduce the band members a bit, like, if you were a family, who would be who, in which role?
Toni: Jussi Hämäläinen, the tall bald guy, is kind of a daddy figure in this band
Jussi: (laughs) Yeah, godfather (laughter)
Toni: Yeah, he tells us what to do, and we obey (laughter)
Jussi: Yeah, like 5 minutes ago ”you, and you – go and do this interview, and I go and find my guitar” (laughter)
Toni: Artistically, he doesn´t like to overrule anything, everybody is free to give ideas to the songs, to make songs. So in that way we don´t have a dictator, we are a democratic family (laughter). And when it comes to the practical arrangements, like interviews and gigs, Jussi (Hämäläinen) is the boss.
Toni: I´ve been helping Jussi (Hämäläinen) with most of that stuff, the interviews and I like the non-musical stuff, we mostly correspond through e-mail and distribute these things, like ordering T-shirts and other merchandise, and Nino arranges a lot of gigs for us and bigger events, like this mini-festival in the Cultural Arena Gloria a couple of years ago – he was the main organizer. Then the rest of the guys are mostly music-orientated…
Well, I know that in Finland, as anywhere else, you can hardly live as a full-time musician – so what are your day jobs?
Toni: I am a youth worker …
Jussi: … and I am actually working in investment banking
Jussi: Jussi Hämäläinen is a teacher, I think
Toni: … in ”yle-aste” Junior High School, and Nino studies metallurgy – like accessories and that stuff…
Jussi: … everything you can make with your hands, related to metal
So basically he is the only full-time Metal guy in the band (laughter)
Jussi: YEAH indeed (laughs)
Toni: Antti (Ruokola), the drummer, is an accountant, and Mikko (Kolari) is …
(as the person in question is busy right outside anyway, Toni shouts in Finnish ”what is Mikko´s job, actually?”, Mikko shouts something back)
Toni: … (translating) ”rotational worker” …
… errrr what???????? (laughter)
Jussi: We don´t know what that means
Toni: Maybe he is just joking
Jussi: Luckily we know who Mikko IS, but what he does…
Toni: He is the funny guy from Mikkeli
Jussi: … and actually the last original member of the band.
Toni: Yes, he is the only original member, everybody else came in later. And from the TEOTWAWKI album there is only Mikko and Jussi (Hämäläinen), Nino joined right after the release
Jussi: … so actually this new album At Every Door introduces four new people
What was the response to the new album so far?
Toni: We have not been there to witness the response to the last two albums, but Mikko said that this one has received the most positive feedback from them all, and most praise – maybe?
Jussi: Maybe? (laughs) I just joined 18 months ago, so I don´t know (laughter)
Speaking for STALKER, this album has received the best feedback so far, too … and I really hope this album get you further. Uhm, you´re still attempting to do this full-time-musician-thing, if possible…?
Toni: Well, that´s maybe a bit utopistic…
(everybody bursts out laughing)
Toni: … at the current state of the music business – but, well, you never know
Jussi: At least it´s the best full-time hobby you can have
As Mikkeli was alreday mentioned – I´m not sure, I think it was Bloodred Hourglass when asked about being Metal tourist guides for Mikkeli, what they could recommend, they replied something like ”go somewhere else”… so what would you recommend in Mikkeli?
Toni: We don´t know Mikkeli so much, Mikko is the only one from Mikkeli – we´re from the capitol area
OH sorry, I thought you´re all from Mikkeli – so no use to ask (laughter)
Jussi: It´s pretty funny, because I think all the original members were from Mikkeli…
Jussi: … and now Mikko is the only original member, so he is the only one from Mikkeli at the moment, all the rest is from the capitol area. But when you go to Mikkeli, maybe you should go and see Mikko´s place, he is very friendly (laughter)
Not sure if he´d gladly invite 20 Japanese tourists over … (laughter) So this is the only place you´d recommend for sightseeing in Mikkeli?
Jussi: (laughs) YEAH!
Toni: (very seriously) Mikko from Mikkeli
Jussi: The global Finn-man (laughter)
OK we talked about the songwriting process already, but the lyrics – are those written by only one person?
Toni: Mostly by me, actually. The title track was written by Jussi Hämäläinen, but it´s like 2 lines, so it´s not that much.
So what are the lyrics about, what inspires you?
Toni: It´s kind of a dwelling in this post-apocalyptic vision of a future that has gone badly wrong – stories about this nuclear waste land type of thing. I take in a lot of influence from literature, actual history; I´ve travelled a lot and I´ve seen a lot of grim places.
Toni: For example in Eastern Europe – abandoned places…
Jussi: MIKKELI! (outburst of amusement, Toni recovers faster than the others)
Toni: … and Nazi-Germany, Hiroshima – that kind of places, those places give you a lot of inspiration. It affects you to see that and witness and know what had gone on there
But you´re not saying you go there on purpose, like grim-place-holidays… (laughter)
Toni: No, it´s like you go to a place and you find out that there is something terrible that has happened – then I have to see it.
As you all have had long careers as musicians – not only in this band – you know all those ups and downs; can you tell us some expamples of a very unusual up, or down, like e.g. a totally fucked-up gig, or an extremely great gig?
Jussi: Actually, I remember one terrible gig, 5-6 years ago, I was replacing one guitarist, and the other guitarist was complaining all the time during the gig ”I cannot hear myself playing, there´s something wrong with my amp”, the stage sound was terrible. After the gig we found out – of course this guitarist was passed out already – that his amplifyer was not even turned on. (laughter) He had played the whole set with amp turned off – that was my first and last time I replaced the guitarist in this band.
Toni: I have a lot of stories also, but I don´t want to insult anybody, so I cannot tell them (laughter) But actually, one of the greates gigs was my second gig with this band, and nobody even knew that I was the new singer, and we were going from this first gig from Kuopio to Lutakko in Jyväskylä. When we woke up, a bit hung-over, in Kuopio, we went to the mini-bus, we started and drove maybe 2 meters, when we noticed the bus had drained all of its motor oil, so that was it – then me and Nino took the train to Jyväskylä, the others went to Hertz car rental to get a van and drove with the all the rest stuff to Jyväskylä. And (laughs) we were all very fed up with the situation, all hope was lost, but it was one of the best gigs and gig-trips ever.
Looking back – has anything changed for you, since you have started playing music, like the attitude? Why did you actually decide to become musicians?
Toni: For me it was through this kind of humoristic projects back in High School, and it just took a turn to a more serious path. But I still do it because I like doing it, that hasn´t changed.
Jussi: Yeah, of course you have to love what you do, and that makes you do also music, hopefully
Was there any band in particular that inspired you so much, like ”Oh wow, now I wanna play guitar” or something?
Jussi: Hmm… I don´t have any band in particular, as I listen to a broad range of music, from – of course – Metal music, but also 70s-80s Rock or Free Jazz, minimalistic Berlin Techno – whatever, I love them all (laughter) So I am so enthusiastic towards music, so it makes me just keep doing … and I think you can learn a lot from different genres, not just listening to one genre.
Toni: For me it was maybe the first vision that I wanna be on stage came to me when I was 5 years old and I heard the song ”Holy Diver” (laughs – and everybody else joins in) It was a big moment for me (laughs).
And you (to Jussi) never had such big moment?
Jussi: Not like that, it just came a bit every day, you just fell in love with your instrument or with music in general – at least for me.
Is there anything in the Finnish scene that has changed a lot in recent years? Well, I noticed that some Metal clubs don´t exist any more, but there is still the same amount of very good, very talented bands…
Toni: I think the amount of bands has increased a lot and there´s almost an overpopulation of Metal bands in Finland right now, so it´s very difficult to stand out
Jussi: And it´s also very difficult to find the good ones among the bad ones, because there is like 1Mio bands and only 1000 of those are good, so you have to explore a lot of bands until you find something very unique and interesting
How about the live venues – I noticed that in Helsinki it´s less clubs, and rather smaller ones, like this one (PRKL) and Bäkkäri…
Toni: Yeah, this one and Bäkkäri are quite new, and they came to replace some of the old ones, maybe – but I don´t have any strong opinion on that
Jussi: I haven´t been very active going to gigs or playing live for several years before I joined Hanging Garden, so I am not very familiar with the situation. But I think a few years ago when this kind of Metal-boom in Finland exploded, there was much more supply from venues and gig organisators than the demand in general. Maybe the demand and supply is now much more equal than maybe three years ago.
What do you actually prefer – the bigger clubs or the smaller ones? Well, the stage here is really small, but on the other hand you have the close contact with the audience…
Toni: They both have their benefits, of course. I cannot really say which is better, because if you are on a big stage and there are not many people, it´s awful (Jussi starts laughing) – but in a small club, when there are few people, it´s not a big deal. But on the other hand, in bigger places there´s usually a better sound than in smaller ones, and if it happens to be packed full, it´s an awesome experience
Final question, what are your plans this year, more gigs, a European tour?
Toni: We had some discussion about a European tour, but it´s not gonna happen soon, it will be at least half a year, a year from now
Jussi: Maybe in autumn, maybe in early 2014, we haven´t made concrete decisions yet. We have a few gigs coming up now, so something is happening. And we have the new music video that just came out – something very different for a Doom Metal band, VERY different, you`ll see (laughter)
Kiitos! (Thank you)
Here the link to the video “At Every Door”