JENS JOHANSSON SPEAKS HIS MIND
Just before the show begins I have a talk with Jens, the keyboardplayer of Stratovarius. When I am walking downstairs to the backstagearea I meet Russell Allen(singer of Symphony-X), who says hi, and in the changing room of Thunderstone I see Jens playing with a small stereoapparatus. He is surprised to see me, because - as usual - I am too early. I explained to him that I didn't want to miss the Symphony-X performance, and asked whether we could do the interview right there and then. Jens said "Sure, why not", and we proceeded.
Martien: "How is the tour going so far"?
Jens : "Really great, so far so good; but actually I am already a bit bored of touring. The next time I think we will do one show in a big central European city and we will bring in the fans with buses from all over Europe. That would be nicer and easier, don't you think?"
Martien: "On the new album "Elements part 1" there are no songs from you; have you lost inspiration to write songs or...?"
Jens : "I don't know; I mean I always have ideas for songs, but we decided that Timo(Tolkki)should determine which songs to use for the album. And he ended up writing all the songs and we all liked them and so they were put onto the album. We didn't argue about it, it is just easier that way; it is a democratic way, so that is fine by me. I trust him with the stuff that he is doing; he knows what he is doing; he has been at it for a very long time, so.."
Martien: "So Stratovarius is a democratic band?
Jens : "To a certain extent, I mean. If there was something going on in the band, which I didn't like at all, we would talk about it and try and find a solution, or fight about it, haha... But it is better that one person decides the big issues, otherwise you argue forever and then the fans can wait for a very long time for a new album, and we don't want that. I don't really care, in other bands, this discussion about which material you use, tends to generate a lot of heat and anger. But is it worth it? NO!!!"
Martien: "You played with Yngwie Malmsteen, was he the same democratic type as Timo?"
Jens : "Timo is much easier to work with. But ofcourse then with Yngwie, we were a lot younger, now we are older and wiser, then we were young idiots. I didn't have any problems with Yngwie; ofcourse he is known as a troublemaker, he has a nasty reputation, and he is a difficult person, but I never experienced that."
Martien: "So, why did you leave then?"
Jens : "A long story, actually. I left Yngwie in 1989, the last album I did with him was "Live In Leningrad" and I joined Stratovarius in 1995. I did some other stuff in between, but in 1989 this Malmsteen-organisation had a certain level, like no more came out of it. The record company did not much to support us and most important the music industry took a turn in '89. You could feel it in the air, grunge was coming and people were getting sick of this commercial eighties stuff. So it was more because of that, I left Yngwie; the pressure was very high and so Yngwie actually fired his complete band and he also changed the record company. I joined this band called Dio and made an album named "Lock Up The Wolves". Again not so much personal differences forced me to leave but again financial stuff. The only bad thing I can really say about Yngwie is that he was very haphazard with finances; not really sloppy, not selfish, but really chaotic. But, hey, if you are 20 years old and living in a bus, you don't care. But if you have an appartment all of a sudden and you have to pay regular bills, then it's a different story."
Martien: "Now you are happy?"
Jens : "Yes, Stratovarius is a perfect band for me to play in; everything is really okay. We are all on the same level, I am happy here. I am in now for 8 years already, so that is the longest I have ever been in any band, so something must be right."
Martien: "Are you satisfied with the new album?
Jens : "Yes, it is a great album, but I think part 2 is even better!!"
Martien: "Is it finished already?"
Jens : "Yes, it is actually; the album will feature 9 songs and all the songs are faster than on part 1. The stress on Part 1 was on the orchestral stuff and therefore there are 2/3 low tempo songs on part 1. Elements Part 2 will be released in September 2003 or January 2004."
Martien: "On Elements Part 1 I hear some "difficult" keyboardparts; was it difficult for you to record these?"
Jens : "No, not harder than usual anyway. I always lock myself up in a hotelroom and try to finish the work as fast as possible. I recorded the complete keyboardmaterial for part 1 and 2 in about three weeks time; so that is not too bad."
Martien: "Are there any compositions from you on Part 2?"
Jens : "No, perhaps among the bonustracks; damn, I wish I had the cd on me I could let you hear a few of the tracks..."
Martien: "Lately I hear a lot criticism about the fact that Stratovarius is not progressive anymore; every album sounds alike, do you agree?"
Jens : "Yes, people tend to say these things; every album is the same, why do you not do something new? Or just the opposite, it is good that you are true to the old material and style. It doesn't matter what you do some people will always crucify you. It is a well-known accusation and the second accusation is: they sold out; you never satisfy anyone."
Martien: "How do you feel about criticism?"
Jens : "I am used to it. I don't care anymore. It is so subjective, just think of a gig you played. One person would say: that was the worst gig I ever heard and another person could say: "that was the most awesome liveshow I ever saw, so...."
Martien: "Any surprises on the setlist tonight?"
Jens : "Not really, the only "surprise" will be the medley, which consists of songs from the four first Strato-albums. It is always difficult to put a setlist together, because we have too many songs to choose from. There has to be a good balance between the old and the new stuff."
Martien: "Do you sometimes change the setlist during a tour?"
Jens : "We do that sometimes, last tour we did but so far not during this tour, so the setlist we made must be a good one according to the audience."
Martien: "When you are on stage do you feel/see the difference between an audience in The Netherlands or Scandinavia?"
Jens : "Yes, there is a difference, Scandinavian people are more reserved, but before they go to a concert they drink a lot and then freak out completely."
Martien: "Have you ever had a really bad audience?"
Jens : "Not with Stratovarius. Once with Yngwie, they threw bottles at us. That was in Alaska, the comple public was drunk like hell. I felt just like in Sweden, everyone was puking and partying and drinking more and more."
Martien: "They tend to drink a lot in Scandinivian countries, is it so depressive to live over there, or what is the reason for this?"
Jens : "It is the sun, my friend. Better said, the lack of sunlight, therefore our brainchemistry is completely disturbed."
Martien: "You seem fine to me. Back to business; what's your favourite Stratovarius-album?"
Jens : "Good question, it depends, it is Elements or the first one I played on; if I have to pick one you always tend to choose the last album. But if you exclude the last one...."
Martien: "Do so...."
Jens : "Then, "Visions", I think."
Martien: "Where did you get the idea for the growling vocal parts in "Run Away" (the bonustrack), since it is not Strato style at all."
Jens : "It is not so much growling, it is said normally, but they put it through a detortion box, so that is why it sounds like that, it was a nice idea and quite a surprise for me too."
Martien: "What's the story about the really high vocals on a few songs, since Kotipelto has never sung that high before?"
Jens : "Well, Tolkki told him to, under pressure, he threatened him with a whip, actually...."
Martien: "Where did you get all those Greek/Russian and other strange influences from?"
Jens : "I don't think that it was especially Greek or Russian, of course the Russian influences can be linked to the fact that Russia is very close to Finland, but for the rest you have to ask Timo."
Martien: "How did you use the break?"
Jens : "I really didn't do anything; it was supposed to be a three years' break, but eventually it lasted only two years; three years between the tours of "Infinite" and "Elements"."
Martien: "It is a short tour, how does the band feel about this?"
Jens : "As I told you in the beginning of this interview we are a bit sick of touring. We want to play fewer gigs, with a bigger production and bigger venues."
Martien: "Which festivals will you be playing at this year?"
Jens : "A couple of festivals in Finland, of course. Then we will do something called Waldrock (in Burgum, The Netherlands, MK) and Graspop (Dessel, Belgium, MK) and Wacken Open Air. That's my favourite festival, from the musician's point of view that means. You meet lots of bands, friends and you hang out, talk, drink and make fun. I'm looking forward to that."
Martien: "In Scandinavian countries there are a lot of excellent rockbands, why is that?"
Jens : "I really wouldn't know, maybe they see it as a challenge to escape form the dark, depressive world they live in? Or maybe they see us and our success and they think, well we can do that as well. Let's give it a try."
Martien: "Did you ever had or have plans to write the biography of your life, or the biography of Stratovarius?"
Jens : "No, not really, that story has already been written a thousand times. It would just be the same over again; booze, puking, girls..... I thought about it but, no it is not going to happen."
Martien: "It is still sex, drugs and rock and roll for you on the road?"
Jens : "Not so much. In the past it was.... But I never really was heavily into drugs; it was more like alcohol, sex and rock and roll. Which is again typical for Scandinavian people. Thunderstone is a perfect example for that lifestyle; they share a bus with Symphony-X, and those guys say that it really is too much. After this tour they will be complete alcoholics."
Martien: "Last question, how long are you going on as a musician?"
Jens : "As long as it works. Nobody knows...."
Martien: "Thanks for your time and good luck with the gig tonight."
Jens : "Thank you."
BY: Martien Koolen