Rockunited's first interview with Brother Firetribe!
Vocalist Pekka Ansio Heino met the Rockunited team a few days before their first show in five years to answer a lot of questions, old and new, and about their third album Diamond in the Firepit. It's been a long wait for the fans but worthy of it, as the bands music hasn't changed much while being on a break. The band members are now older and wiser and the new album is a bit more melancholic and serious than before. Still the guys are always pleasantly humorous and the bad humour is often pointed towards themselves. This interview has its tongue in cheek moments as well, so enjoy what the "tennis heavy" -player Pekka serves you.
TENNIS WITHOUT THE NET
Tell us about the origins of how you came up with a new genre for yourselves, calling your music tennis heavy?
- That was something I came up with fast, because people were asking about it. We only had songs at the moment, no band, it was all about having fun. When we told people about the songs they always asked more about it, and I said call it tennis heavy which it is, the music bounces like tennis balls. I just said something and we continued to bring it up. Somehow Tuomas (a friend of the band) came up with the idea to translate Veli Paloheimo's (Finnish tennis player) name into English, without even giving any thought on the tennis thing.
The idea of the genre name came before the bands name?
- Yeah. That's why it fit so well there. Immediately when Tuomas mentioned the name we realized that's our bands name.
The band keeps bringing up the tennis theme. The intro to their shows is a clip of a tennis match. There aren't any other bands in that genre yet?
- No! (laughs) We're the only ones there, probably till the very end. If some other band claims to play tennis heavy it's not true.
Are your shots then aces or smash hits?
- We tend to get stuck with the second shot already (laughs). We play tennis without the net. Anywhere where the gate is open.
Maybe you'll play one show some day in a real tennis court?
- The manager of Veli Paloheimo actually sent us a letter when Veli still played in the Bundesliga in Germany asking us about this band. He said Veli was wondering about it and was amused by it. We told him we didn't mean no offense, we respect Veli. We sent them our album and everything was ok. Later they asked us to play in a tennis event, which we had to decline. Suosikki (a legendary Finnish rock magazine) did a photo shoot of us in a tennis court in Mustikkamaa.
FROM CASHMIR TO FORMING BROTHER FIRETRIBE
You could say that the bands roots are in Cashmir, since Tomppa (Nikulainen, keys) is also involved with both bands.
- We played with Cashmir about ten years. I've known Tomppa since the first year of senior high school. We went to the same school. When Cashmir faded away around the beginning of the 21st century we didn't really want to continue. Me and Tomppa worked in the same company and started writing songs without any serious thought behind it. We got some cool stuff out of it. Then Emppu (Vuorinen, guitar) happened to move to Kerava which is our hometown, although I'd already moved from Kerava to Helsinki years ago. We met through a music store where Toni Pohjonen (bass, Cashmir) worked and Emppu heard the demo of the song "One Single Breath" and wanted to play guitar on that. Jason (Flinck, bass) was already in the picture at this point. I met Jason in the army in Upinniemi. He played in the Tuusula rock scene back then. So suddenly there were four of us and we wrote more songs. Then some fool wanted to sign us. So yeah, our roots are basically in Cashmir.
At what point did Kalle (Torniainen, drums) come into the picture?
- It was through Emppu. He'd just played on a heavy tribute tour, where Kalle was on drums. We had recorded False Metal already with drum machine, but when we listened to the album these drums just didn't work, especially on the groove side. So Emppu asked Kalle to come and play on the album. We didn't have time to let him play all of it on the album, so he came to the Nitro studios with his hi-hats and cymbals and played it all at once using only his one hand. Then we released the album and did some shows without any problems and asked if Kalle would join the band. That's how the band was formed.
DIAMOND IN THE FIREPIT
Earlier you mentioned that the mood on this third album is different from the earlier ones.
- Did I say that? (laughs) Well, we're older now, but where we started from we've left out the fanatic tongue in cheek stuff out and it's fine this way. With these mornings behind I feel that I'm not up to it anymore, there are good striking examples out there.
Are you saying now that the cheerful mood you had before wasn't natural?
- Everything's been natural without giving any more thought on it, it's what we were at the moment. But compared to the first album this latest one is more mature album. We're older now. But the basic mood is always positive in the music and we strive for that without giving it much thought. The party type of songs we had on False Metal don't come that naturally at the moment. "Trail of Tears" was actually demoed already in 2008 right after the release of Heart Full of Fire album.
- What took you so long to release this album, it was six years in between from the last album?
- We did our last gig in 2009 when we also released the live DVD. Then we took a break. We never had any schedule. We sat down with Tomppa now and then and wrote a song together, just taking it slow. When we had written half of the material for the new album we realized that it's been several years from the last album, should we get back on the job and finish this album. And that's when everything went to a real slow motion. We started gathering all the pieces back together.
Did you ever think you're done after releasing the two albums?
- Definitely not. That thought didn't even cross our minds. But we were on a break at the time, not on a band mode, that's why the start was so slow. When we decided on writing the songs we still had to write the other half. We had decided to write about ten or eleven songs on the album. It was a huge relief when we had the tenth song written, we now had enough songs.
What was so hard on finishing the album?
- The writing process. Tomppa has his job, so we couldn't see that often and then we had a writers block. Then we started the recording process which we did with piety, because we didn't want to come back with a half finished product. I've also been doing gigs all the time for a living, I'm always somewhere and I meet a lot of people. So I noticed that people still remember us, every time I'm somewhere people ask me about the band what's going on, did you break up, when are you releasing a new album and so on. When you have all these people waiting for new stuff from you you don't want to let them down. The recordings were slow, because we wanted to do everything right and the mixing also took a long time. Not because of the duo Jari Mikkola and Torsti Spoof, they know what the band is all about, but we wanted everything to be perfect.
Where did you work on the album?
- At four studios. Most of it and lead vocals were done in Nitro. The drums were done in Kalle's place Mofo Music in Espoo, Emppu recorded his stuff in the Legendary Bay of Tube studios, which is at his home (formerly known as E-Major studios). The background vocals were recorded in Torsti's place in Jyväskylä in Studio Audio. Antony Parviainen sings all the background vocals with me and Jason, he did a brilliant job, he's a great guy and one of the best metal singers around. The chorus of "Trail of Tears" began to sound like Abba to our ears, so we asked if Torsti's wife Sini would sing backgrounds for it. She is a vocal instructor.
How did you end up to the same record label Spinefarm?
- We were asked for various labels, but we know the people in Spinefarm already and we made the final decision when Jonas Nachsin became their general manager.
Each albums writing process differs from each other and you mentioned the writers block. Can you say that since writing the new material wasn't always so easy, that the "Winner Takes it All" -cover and remake of The Magnificent song "Tired of Dreaming" were sort of safety nets for the band?
- I can't say so. It's become our tradition to do a cover song for each album from a certain time era and field, which means soundtrack songs. It was clear from the beginning that we'd do that again. And The Magnificent song which we like a lot, we wrote it for the band after being asked by the Frontiers records to do so. Torsti and the guys did a great job on that, but Tomppa and I liked the song and the original demo so much that we wanted it on our album as well for everyone to hear.
Do you think your version is a success?
- When you write and record songs something can happen with the mixing or the arranging process, where you realize that a certain song you thought was an ok song for the album but that's all there is to it, this song was one of those songs that surprised us. It became one of my favourites.
Was there any leftovers from the album? I don't mean B-side sort of average fillers, but really over the top songs?
- None. We wanted to make sure this album doesn't have any fillers in it.
The new album takes a few spins to sink in, but Pekka thinks it's a good sign that means you'll probably spin the album longer than an average album. Diamond in the Firepit lyrics were written by Pekka and the album is more mature than before but like before, Brother Firetribe doesn't want to sing about hot political issues or change the world.
- Of course we need those bands too. It's good we have these bands too, but it's not our thing.
Anssi Kela (talented Finnish guitarist, bassist) plays on your new album. How did you come up with this idea?
- He plays a bass solo on "Winner Takes it All". We were drinking at Emppu's place wondering about who to ask to guest on the album. Being wasted we had this idea to call Steven Seagal! (laughs) He could do those (martial arts) sound effects. We buried this idea the next morning. But in the original "Winner Takes it All" song Eddie Van Halen plays bass and there's this strange tapping in the middle of the song everyone was wondering about how they did it, probably with the bass. We were thinking how Jason could do that, but got the idea that Anssi could do it, being one of the best bass players in Finland hands down. So I called Anssi and he immediately said yes.
Which song was the hardest to work on and which the easiest?
- Mixing some of them was difficult and the start, when you're searching for the general foundation on which to work on with all of the songs. "Love is Not Enough" was the first song we worked on and it was hard. With "Hanging by a Thread" which is my favourite song off the album, we had a vision of a certain bass synthesizer sound and it was hard to find. We felt like something was missing from it. Then I threw this idea to Torsti with a reference to one song off the Van Halen album OU812 and he worked our song through that. Some of the songs were hard to work on and some were done in one session.
Was the album cover completely the artists vision and who is he?
- Tuomas Korpi, he's a really great guy. We gave him a few songs for a listen and told him we're looking for something that sounds like this, as long as it looks like a painting. Personally I don't like the album covers of today, and they're often made by the same guy. Tuomas somehow mixes digital stuff to original paintings and our album cover turned out great. I just received my own copies of the album and at the same time got these posters and they look really good. I like this old school aspect.
The band also released a vinyl album from the latest. A small record label was supposed to release the first two albums as vinyls too, but didn't.
- I don't know about the re-releases. I remember Stobe (Harju) was working on the vinyl specs, but somehow the project just didn't happen. I haven't even thought about the re-release of the older albums.
TANGOMARKKINAT AND FIREFEST
Since Kalle can't gig with the Tribe now the band has a new drummer in Hannes Pirilä.
- Or Handels Piripää (joke). We had a meeting about touring and gigs and Kalle is very busy with Juha Tapio, who is very popular in Finland. He's also busy with other things, so we thought it was best to have another drummer for the live shows. We decided to have Pirilä after he got kicked out of Mamba. I've played with him before, so I knew how good he is, a world class drummer. It's a good thing he decided to join us. It was clear right after the first rehearsals that he had the skills and also the bad humour to fit in to our band. Or bad skills and bad humour.
You always talked about touring with the same five guys, so a new drummer breaks this promise.
- That's true, but we didn't have any other choice, or then we wouldn't have toured at all with this album.
Then you could've also used Torsti on some of your gigs to replace Emppu?
What's the difference?
- There's no difference, but it would've been a big disappointment after such a long break not to do anything after the release of the album. Emppu is associated big time with Brother Firetribe. It was beneficial for us from the start to have a Nightwish connection. We never denied that. It's sad that Kalle can't do the gigs, but everyone understands it.
Brother Firetribe played their album release gig third of May in Virgin Oil Company in Helsinki. The house was packed with people, who were anxiously waiting to see the band live after such a long time. Now the band has announced a few more gigs, one in South Park festival in Tampere, Finland, one on a cruise ship together with Reckless Love and other bands, one in the end of May in Järvenpää, Finland, also Lankafest, Kuustock...but the strangest one must be Tangomarkkinat, a festival mostly for retired people!
- That suits us! Kotiteollisuus also plays there. Because we released this album so late again we're only gonna play a handful of festivals. We hope to tour more at the end of the year and abroad too.
Every time Tribe has gotten together they've only done a short tour. Now Nightwish starts recording their new songs in July and they should be finished in December and start the tour from USA in January.
- We have exactly that time in between for touring, till the end of this year. We're hoping to do some gigs in Europe as well. Hopefully even a small tour in UK. We were supposed to go there before Firefest, but financially it wasn't possible. We were supposed to pay most things by ourselves.
So you're finally gonna play in the melodic rock festival Firefest in Nottingham, UK, in October. You've been asked to play there many times. Do you have anything special in your sleeves for the show?
- We'll try to play right (laughs). We've been asked there ever since we released our first album. Every year they asked and I was ashamed to tell them we can't make it there this time either. Now Kieran (Dargan, co-organiser) called me again and I just couldn't say no anymore, we have to make it there this time. It's great that they still had patience to ask. Hopefully it's gonna be worthwhile for the people who have been waiting to see us. It's gonna be great to play there.
What has been the bands biggest crowd?
- Tuska festival (Finland) had a good crowd. There was also a big crowd when we supported Volbeat in Seinäjoki. I opened the gig with "Joensuu, how are you?" and when I realized what I'd said I turned it into a joke and kept bringing up Joensuu throughout the show. Someone must've felt like throwing a bottle at me to keep me shut (laughs).
You perform a lot, so you probably don't get nervous anymore?
- I've actually missed that feeling. I've been doing cover gigs for years now and you go on stage like you go in your own bathroom. After such a long break it's a completely different thing to go on stage and perform your own stuff. I gotta say I'm already nervous about the upcoming album release gig, which is a good thing.
Did you ever perform any Tribe songs on those cruise ships?
- I've played some on troubadour-gigs as acoustic versions, if someone wanted to hear them. Pasi Rantanen (Thunderstone) and I also went to Kurikka as guests for a local band, who wanted to play Tribe. I hadn't sang that stuff in years and noticed I can't sing this stuff or even remember it. Those guys sang it better than me! Pasi and I both had our own sets there. We drove back from the gig in flood. The road was in the middle of a field. Pasi took some video footage wondering what the hell is going on in here. It looked like we were two Moses´ driving in the middle of an ocean!
HARD ROCK CLASSICS WITH A DISCO BEAT
If you had to divide Tribe's music into five band sections, what would Tribe be composed of?
- I don't really know what the others are listening to at home, but I think Van Halen has been a big thing for all of us in some way. It's impossible to say which bands have influenced Tribe and I would be just listing my influences.
Some of them could be eighties soundtracks, Van Halen and Journey.
- Most would say so and it's fine. Tomppa is the strange one, he never really listened to anything. Somehow he just happens to write all these riffs. He must have some euro disco background I don't know about!
You also did Metal Dance, released by Sony records?
- I sang some heavy dance songs in the middle of year 2000. I sang hard rock classics that were recorded to disco beat. Antony Parviainen also sang there. You can find them from somewhere. I've also sang one song on an Abba dance tribute. Someone sent me a review of the tribute and the phrasing on that review was funny. It said something like "one of the men singing on the tribute sings like his life is threatened!" (laughs) That was so cool! That's how I actually sing.
Is there anything else people don't really know about that you've worked on? The second album from Cashmir is sort of a hidden gem.
- That album was sadly a hidden one. We wanted to release it. Anssi Kela produced and arranged the album, but it was never mastered. The small record label we were at the time ran out of money. Later they released our first album and the one we never released on Spotify and iTunes. People have asked a lot about Cashmir, what is it and where to buy it. But there are all kinds of sessions now and then friends ask me into.
Earlier this year you received the sad news that Cashmir´s Toni passed away.
- That was very sad. A strange thing actually happened when he passed away. I couldn't make it to his funeral, I was working on a cruise ship and one Saturday we were sitting in a local restaurant in Stockholm, when I got a message from Jani (Eskelinen), the Cashmir guitarist, that they've now buried Kollo. We raised a glass in his memory there and the phone rang. At the same time while on the phone I look into the street and a car passes by with the license plate saying "KOLLO". I had to end the call, I was so blown away by this. I got goosebumps. When I got back home I had to search the plate from Swedish license registry and there it was! What are the odds for that! I had to send Jani a message saying that Kollo came for a last visit.
FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE -VIDEO
A live DVD was released before going on the break. It wasn't an easy project to finish?
- I can't remember what happened with it. Someone had the idea for the DVD and we just did it without even thinking about the rights to the songs. The record label wasn't pleased and we were worried with no arguments back. Then someone just finished the project. I'm glad they decided to release it, because they could've said no, we have the rights to the songs. I'm glad we did the DVD, not many bands release a live DVD after two studio albums and have as good quality as we do. The concert venue was great and also sold out.
You've received a gold album. When did you reach that goal?
- I think it was long time ago, since who's buying our albums now that we've been on a break so long. I think it just means that people appreciate our music. Especially nowadays if you get something like that it's only a positive thing. But I don't have a clue about the sales. The most important thing is to first please yourself and if everyone else likes it it's only bonus. You wish people like what you do, especially those people who've been waiting to hear the new album, and that the wait was worthwhile.
Tribe released a music video for the song "For Better or for Worse" before the album came out. Did you have any idea what the finished product will be like?
- No we didn't. We had a tight budget as usual. We had an agreement on doing a simple play video against a backdrop with the condition that the film quality would be similar to the Indiana Jones movies, that it would look like an old movie. We held onto that one strongly, because there is always a 50/50 percent chance that either everything goes amiss or just like planned. We used The Black Crowes video "Remedy" also as a reference which is a really classic looking video with a rich glow to its film quality. If we can't get that on our video it's gonna look really cheap and boring. This is exactly what happened with the first version, because we had to face reality and had problems with the equipment. The directors view was to make it into this "making of" sort of video where you can see parts of the studio and I didn't like that. We weren't in a stadium or in a huge airplane hangar, where this sort of thing would've worked. We were in a small studio, so why flatten the mood even more by showing what a small place we're playing at. Then we got the old animators for use and Nitro studios and now it's good.
You've recently cut your hair too, and people first saw your new look in the video.
- I've been annoyed with the long hair for ten years. It was about time (to cut it). I'm closing in on forty (years). I had a short hair for a long time after I finished the army. I used this barber in Helsinki, whose place looked like it was from the fifties. I always brought him posters of Elvis and he would cut my hair, always a bit drunk, giving me cuts and doing a bad job (joke). When Tribe was formed I grew my hair again and it was like an extra instrument on stage that I was pissed about, but didn't bother to cut off.
You also have a short hair in the Cashmir video "Josie". You must regret that hairdo too?
- That was the time my hair was still growing. It was the bad state when you grow your hair. Somebody told me that my head, not my body, looks like Schwarzeneggers!
Have you been exercising too, you look thinner?
- I lost weight long time ago, but gained even more back! I haven't done anything in about six months.
Now would be a good time to start throwing those Tribe frisbees you have.
- I have two of them left. That was the best idea ever to release them. They look really good!
These frisbees along with other material were made years ago to promote the band and were spread around the world in music events, by yours truly too.
Pekka is also known as a specialist of obscure AOR. Everyone knows Journey and Survivor, but what would you recommend to people into your band, who would like to hear bands that majority of music fans have never heard of? Name at least three bands.
- Baton Rouge naturally, but there are way too many of them. I'll check my player...Airplay, Alias...now we're gonna do this alphabetically (laughs). ArcAngel, Aviator, Balance (Bob Kulick), Preview, Boulevard, Bon Jovi (laughs), Brett Walker, City Boy. Everything Mike Slamer ever did has been pure gold. City Boy isn't AOR though.
Is there anything happening with your other band Leverage?
- No, other than we wish to do something next year. I've done a couple of songs with Tuomas (Heikkinen, guitar). We've demoed them ages ago, so that's a good start.
How about Torsti getting involved with the Hollywood film music. Is that gonna affect Leverage somehow?
- I don't know nothing about that.
To conclude this interview, here's a Sweden Rock memory from Pekka.
- I've never laughed as hard as when I saw Venom live. I remember when Cronos came on stage with the bulldozer sound. He looks at his bass cable which is CUT OFF and notices the sound doesn't change at all and continues playing!! (laughs) "How about Bloodlust?" Why not! (laughs).
Brother Firetribe hasn't yet played like that, but now that they're back touring go see them. You never know when you get another chance and you never know what's gonna happen on stage. Fingers crossed though that it's not gonna be anything similar to Venom. So far their shows have been a huge party for both the fans and the band and the new album Diamond in The Firepit is pure gold, or a shiny diamond if you will.
Interview and translation from Finnish: Satu Reunanen
Photography: Kari Helenius
(c) 2014 RockUnited.Com