Leverage, a sextet, is breathing new life to Finnish progmetal. They say they're not about prog, but their influences have given new hope for the genre, and Leverage are doing their thing passionately. The band has released two albums so far, their debut "Tides" was released in 2006 and the follow-up "Blind Fire" in the beginning of this year, which showed the band in new light, they had turned into a heavier outfit more open to its progressive influences, yet still being true to their melodic background. Both albums were received well, so well in fact, that both the band and the metal scene were surprised what just hit them. Time will tell how big of a masterpiece their third album will be, but with the songwriting skills of guitarist Tuomas Heikkinen, who's mostly in charge of the material, you're most likely gonna get hit hard again.
Leverage hasn't been gigging as much as their fans would love them to, but if you live in Finland you've had your chance seeing them play their own shows and some cover shows. The band enjoys gigging and fans can expect them to play a few more shows till the year end. I met up with the band one night before their show, when Tuomas (Tuoppi), guitarist Torsti Spoof and vocalist Pekka Heino decided to sit down for an hour and a half with me. Leverage also includes Marko Niskala on keyboards, Pekka Lampinen on bass and Valtteri Revonkorpi on drums. This interview mostly concentrates on "Blind Fire", with a little bit of band background and other informative and non-informative stuff. Let's free the melodic metal monsters!
THE MOVE TO FRONTIERS
What gave the band the first spark to become musicians?
Pekka - For me the whole thing started when I was seven years old, and the first album that really blew my head off was Hanoi Rocks' "Two Steps From The Move". I started liking and digging music like crazy with my friends. I think I was about twelve years old, when I put my first band together without any instruments, just to have a band. I think I was around fourteen, when I put my first real band together with real instruments and a rehearsal place. Ever since I was seven years old I wanted to do this and here we are.
Tuoppi - I started playing the piano when I was six years old. I played that for a few years, but it had nothing to do with playing in a band. I picked up the guitar at the age of ten and pretty soon after that I wanted to play in a band. I got my first band together when I was around twelve or thirteen. I was lucky to get to record and tour with a band very early, I was fourteen or fifteen years old, and I thought this is the way it's gonna be for the rest of my life. I thought it was gonna be real easy and all that, but it ain't. And now many, many years later I'm back at the same thing, we have a new fresh band with Leverage.
Even that you're not the most active band with gigging, you've still played a good amount of shows. What do you think about playing in small venues?
Pekka - I think it's pretty much the same no matter how big a band you are, or how succesful you are in Finland, 'cos all the big names in Finland play all the same small clubs. There are only limited amount of so called big clubs here, so basically you have to do this, if you want a gig. But at the same time there are quite a few places in Finland that are so called rock clubs, which are more like restaurants. But as long as people show up and there's demand for the band, it's a part of the job.
Tuoppi - You have to go out and play. You have a band, you've made records, they're out there for people to buy, and some people have bought them and wanna see you live. You gotta deliver, it doesn't matter how many people you get. But it's fun, it's all fun.
Pekka - And the biggest reason why we're doing this is probably playing live, 'cos that's the fun part of the whole thing.
The band is now under the wings of the melodic rock label Frontiers, which doesn't affect on the bands gigging, although it's easy to think changing the record label would change all that.
Pekka - We have our booking agency here (in Finland) and we've never played abroad, so Frontiers has nothing to do with our gigging at the moment. We just hope that someday we'll be able to hit the road outside of Finland.
Tuoppi - They are a record company and they're pretty clear that they're not your management or they're not gonna put together tours, so it has to be other people. Hopefully through them we can get some contacts that would help, but as far as Frontiers getting us abroad, they'll release our albums, and that's it.
You must be happy to have gotten the deal with Frontiers, but what has the promotion been so far?
Tuoppi - It seems to me, that Frontiers is a really big fish in a very small pond. They're very well known inside the genre and the melodic rock community, but outside of that they're just a small record company. They've done a good, basic job with us, and they've been happy with our music and in their world they've been pushing real hard, so it's all been good. The good thing with a company like this is they can move real fast, they can sign people fast, release people fast and promote people fast, 'cos their channels are all manageable. In that sense it's good for us, 'cos we're a small band, so for us to get any attention outside of Finland is all good.
Pekka - As far as promotion goes, "Blind Fire" came out in January and (at this point) they've pretty much done their promotion.
Tuoppi - It's on its own now, I guess.
Is there any chance of doing something together with other Frontiers bands?
Pekka - We haven't heard anything at this point.
Tuoppi - I don't even know if that's the way it works. I don't really see it that way. I think it's the promotion companies and other agencies, that might get the same record label bands together, but I don't think they're the kind of record company that would give money for bands to tour or something. They're just doing their business, which is selling records.
How serious are you with Leverage, would you be ready to tour the world a lot, if needed?
Pekka - Absolutely. We got a wide release for the album, and touring that album in those countries where the album has been released is a big part. If there's a demand for us and there are people willing to buy the ticket, then come down and see us.
Tuoppi - I look at it this way, that if we ever get the chance to tour outside Finland, it'll be a sacrifice as far as jobs go and all, but that's a thing that I personally would like to do. I would be willing to put a lot of effort into doing it, and hopefully it would not harm my normal life too much, but I would do it anyway.
Tour in Bon Jovi style, being on tour the whole year, playing nearly every day?
Tuoppi - That's never gonna happen. I don't see a lot in common with Bon Jovi and us, besides Pekka being so goddamn goodlooking! (both laugh)
OLD SCHOOL ROCK FOREVER!
Leverage has played some cover shows, one of them was this past June in Jyväskylä, Finland, with classic heavyrock songs. The crowd heard covers at least from Van Halen, Kiss and Whitesnake, all faves of Leverage.
Pekka - Yeah. The way this band started was live performances with the band. We had massive sets, around thirty to forty songs in the set, and we really put effort into the songs sounding like they should. We can handle those songs, so it's quite a lot of fun.
Tuoppi - There's also stuff from different decades, but basically old school heavyrock, which ranges from Van Halen to Rainbow to Yngwie Malmsteen. It's a set of good songs.
Pekka has done more of these cover nights with other bands as well, singing Europe, Foreigner, Thin Lizzy and so on. Do you join the bands out of just digging the music or just doing a favour for a friend?
Pekka - Well, sort of. I have nothing against it. If there are likeminded people in the band and they dig the same kind of music that I do, it's always fun. Usually when I do these cover nights I know those guys and they just ask me. So what the hell, it's always nice to play music and go out there. It's no big deal, it's a lot of fun.
While talking about the side projects that have been popular for ages, Pekka names Brother Firetribe as his side project, which is in his own words enough for him. I still can't really think of Firetribe being a side project, although the band isn't too active live, because of the Nightwish duties guitarist Emppu Vuorinen has. It's a shame they can't be seen live more frequently. Other than that Leverage aren't hiding any side project secrets up their sleeves, but they've got their hands full from doing guest appearances on other bands albums and whatnot. Pekka is a very popular singer in the hardrock scene in Finland right now with a lot of demand. Tuoppi is also busy doing work for other bands.
Tuoppi - I've written a few songs for other people for the past couple of years, that's because of the eighties style heavyrock has been a big thing in Finland. I've written a couple for Agnes and Ari Koivunen. It would be great to do a song for someone that I really liked and respected, but that's just job. They're asking for a certain kind of music and if you can deliver that sort of stuff and it's gonna end up on an album, of course it's a good thing and I'm happy I did them, but outside of that it's not a big thing.
Earlier Leverage has gotten good promotion through radios and magazines. The Finnish Inferno magazine released a promotional Leverage single with the magazine. One of the biggest things must've been the airing of their song "Superstition" off their debut album in the icehockey championship games?
Pekka - That was definately a good start for our debut album, a lot of people noticed that. But we had nothing to do with (all the) cd-compilations.
Tuoppi - That (Inferno) is a funny thing, 'cos 99 percent of Inferno readers are very strict with their metal. I'm absolutely sure that none of those records have been spinning at all, they've probably been like "what the fuck is this?!". Maybe later if they check us out through some other way, they might go back and play it. It was a good thing to put it there, we got the songs out for people to check out later, but I don't know how many of them were actually spinned the day they received them.
Does all the sudden attention Leverage gets feel weird now, although you've been in the business for a long time?
Pekka - We don't necessarily notice it that much within your every day life. Of course it's always nice to read a nice review and at least some people have bought the album. The best feedback you can get is through a live gig, and so far so good. We've always had great time on stage, and there are more and more people showing up, who obviously know the band and the records and the songs, so it's all good. But as far as attention goes, I don't see nothing's changed in that way.
You might find a lifetime friend through normal schools, but a friend can also walk in for some guitar lessons. Leverage was built on those friendships, Tuoppi going through the first and second grades together with his future bassist Pekka Lampinen, and later Torsti connecting with him for some guitar lessons. How has the childhood friendship changed between Tuoppi and your bassist Pekka during the years and playing in the same bands?
Tuoppi - It hasn't really changed. I've played with him in certain projects throughout my teenage years, and then moved away from Jyväskylä. The same thing with Torsti. When he started playing the guitar he came to me for his first lessons. But it was all such a long time ago, you can't really say that we've been together since we were kids. We knew each other when we were kids and there's been a long period of time in between, so when we put this band together it was obvious to ask Pekka to play bass and it was actually him, who started talking about Torsti getting back on playing the guitar again. So he picked it up again and joined the band. If anything, it's a new start for the friendship and the relationship.
You never know how the chemistries change through the years though, it can go bad like we've seen happening with so many bands before.
Pekka - It can't get any worse than this! (jokes)
So how does the chemistry work in the band?
Pekka - Ah, it's just beautiful! (says with a sarcastic voice) We share the same sense of humour, in all good and bad. And these guys are just amazing players, in chemistry department we're on top of our game, no question about it.
Tuoppi - The great thing is that there's no oversized egos in the band, none whatsoever. We're all grown-ups, but you might have people in the band that might start thinking they're better than the others, they deserve more attention than the others or anything stupid like that. I haven't noticed one single bit of that in the band, they're all good people to hang around with and they're all very committed and humble towards what we do.
Have you noticed any change creativity-wise during the years, is it harder to write music now than when you were younger?
Tuoppi - Can't really say. I think it changes in the way that when you start working around a few chords, after you've learned them everything is so cool and when you come up with a riff, that's the hardest thing in the world. You're all excited, but then it might be that no one else is. Later on certain things start to get a bit old and you're not as excited on the same things as you were before when you were a kid. But outside of that if you still love what you do and you still love rock music, I don't see it changing.
Pekka - If you're in a band and making music, you obviously have to be creative.
Tuoppi is still giving guitar lessons, and Torsti has followed his footsteps, only Tuoppi is also working in a music school in Espoo, where we caught the band live this month with Kiuas.
Tuoppi - That's my mainjob so to speak, and I look after things there. We have 350 guitar players coming in for lessons and we have five guitar teachers, so there's plenty of work for all of us. They're in groups though. That's a part of my job, teaching in the school couple of days a week, I've been doing it for several years already. I still like doing it, it's always great to hang around kids, they kinda make you feel good, 'cos they're so excited about everything and it's always fun to see any young person being very much into something, happy about learning stuff. I guess Torsti has also taken a few students in Jyväskylä, that have asked him to teach. I think he's teaching a few kids and a couple of adults too, but I guess it's more of a hobby for him.
Who's your youngest student?
Tuoppi - I have kids now that are six years old. We don't take younger than that, 'cos guitar is a complicated thing. A very young kid can play the piano and put his fingers on the keys, but with guitars you got the strings and the fret, so you need to be able to look into two dimensions and it's very hard. Basically we have a six to seven years limit.
Leverage is pleased with Pekka on vocals, but in the beginning they had plans with Kimmo Blom from Urban Tale and Mr. C. According to Tuoppi it was more about making demos though than anything else.
Tuoppi - I was very much into writing songs and especially after I met Torsti. He liked the demos I had and said we can use some production time in his studio to get something going and Kimmo was supposed to be the man. But it was all very early and there was nothing really going, so I was struggling with a couple of songs and we were trying to fix dates for recording sessions. I was getting tired at that point. And then out of the blue I met Pekka, it was a lucky coincidence getting him into this, and start working with us. All this happened a few years ago already. Obviously the singer you work with has a lot to do with how the music is gonna be and the sound in the first place and how you'll make songs after that. The way Pekka sings very much dictates the way I write these days, 'cos I hear his voice already when I'm writing songs. It would've been different with a different singer, but I'm happy that I don't have to think about that. We're all very happy having Pekka in the band.
Pekka is the only member in the band, who's not from Jyväskylä. Tuoppi moved away from there a long time ago, but is still considered as one of the guys from the corners. How has Pekka been received in Jyväskylä, people can after all be sort of racists towards non-residents?
Pekka - Could be, but I haven't noticed anything like that. It doesn't really make a difference in what town we play in. Everytime we've played in Jyväskylä we've had a good time.
Tuoppi - When we started playing there it was a good thing having a vocalist people haven't known their whole lives. It was like something new and interesting, probably created some interest. I think Pekka is the kind of guy who can go anywhere and make friends. And then again if you're an asshole, you're an asshole internationally, it doesn't matter. So it's all because of him, not him being from outer city. (On the other hand) I've been living here (Helsinki) twenty years already, much longer than Pekka has, so it doesn't really matter at all. But I think there is a barrier, a wall between people from Helsinki and people outside of ring one (the "border" for capital area). You're gonna notice the difference. They ask you where you're from, like (if you're) for example from a small town, they go like "aha, mm...". That irritates the people from other cities. It's not necessarily people being rude, but the communication is a bit different. The style is different.
As mentioned earlier, the second album from Leverage has been received as well as their debut. Some critics have compared the band to the Finnish teenagers Sturm Und Drang, which seems odd, although both bands are on the same page on certain level, which is roughly put heavy metal. The guys weren't too pleased about the comparison.
Pekka - Well, to put it mildly (laughs), all the reviews for the first album have been overwhelming, which has been really nice and we're really satisfied with how people reacted to that. But comparing us to bands like that, I don't see it, 'cos the main thing with them is something totally different from what we have. It's not up to me to compare us, I'll let somebody else do that, but to be honest I really don't give a shit. But it sounds kinda wild.
Tuoppi - That's gotta be the funniest thing to hear. But then again if you're looking from far enough, both bands play heavy rock, period. If that's enough to compare, then so be it, but for anyone to make the comparison it just goes to prove that the other person doesn't have a clue what he's talking about, that's it.
Pekka - And that doesn't take anything away from them, it's a great thing that kids are playing melodic heavy rock, but comparing them to us is really strange.
What comes to your albums, what kind of differences do you see between them?
Tuoppi - I think the new one is heavier, it sounds heavier. The songs are heavier to start with and the production has made them sound heavier than on the first album. Outside of that I think the big difference is now there's two songs written by Torsti, which are both great songs, and we're tighter as a band, and it's more of a result of what we've become as a band, instead of how we were recorded. Of course we had the advantage with "Tides", that the music had been written for several years, so there was plenty of time to make it and really think about things. At that time we had some discussion going with the sound. We had some very basic studio talk about how the kickdrum's gonna be, or how they're gonna play the bass on this song, but on the material for "Blind Fire" we had written it all down already, we had rehearsed, it was all clear, so we just went in and recorded it. The result is we're playing a lot more guitar solos and stuff, the music is much more complicate d and I think it's more heavier and more intense, in your face, than the first one was. It requires more time to get into it than the first one did, but we're still very happy about both albums.
Both your image and the new album are heavier than before. Was all this intentional?
Tuoppi - I don't think it was intentional in that sense, it was just a natural way for us to go at that point. We were heavier live after releasing "Tides", and people were saying we sound heavier live than what we play on the album. I guess there was more freedom and more daring to write heavier things for the new album. Songs like for example "Hellhorn" would've not been on the first album, I don't think we would've had the guts to record them. It's a little turn towards the heavier side and there's a lot of reasons behind that. I think playing live made us realize what we sound like naturally and maybe we dared to let go. But it was not like a big market plan, like "let's make it like this, so it sells more". It was just a natural move.
But there were no band influences behind the change, do you listen to heavier bands?
Tuoppi - Pekka has his own music and so does all of these guys. I used to be a real metal oriented young man back in the day, so I was always looking for the heavier stuff. At that time it meant checking out Metallica, Pantera, and I really loved them, but it was never like I wanted to do something exactly like that. I always dreamed of having a band that would combine the good elements of old school melodic heavyrock and some of the aggressiveness of contemporary metal, and maybe a bit from the progressive rock. If you think about "Blind Fire", there might be some reflections from those days. But I think we've grown as a band and the music is gonna take it's own direction and keeps evolving into something. Things have to change, you don't want to stay on the same tracks for your whole life, so only time will tell where this train will go.
Leverage was blessed to work on "Blind Fire" with the legendary Michael Wagener, who's worked with bands like Dokken, Stryper, Great White, Metallica, Mötley Crüe, Alice Cooper, Skid Row, Queen, Ozzy Osbourne and even the Finnish The Rasmus to name a few. Having him on the job meant a lot for the band. How much did he put influence on the outcome and would you have him on the same job again, if possible?
Torsti - I think he brought some fresh vision to the sound and as a studio engineer I think I learned a lot from him. I think he brought some more meat to the sound, that was the biggest thing, some cool American tricks how to make the sound bigger.
Pekka - He was a treat for all of us, 'cos he's a guy who's whatever he's done I probably own ninety percent of every goddamn album that guy's ever done. I looked up to him for so many years, so it was pretty wild to stand there in the recording room and sing my little ass off and there's Michael Wagener behind the glass, so it was a real treat. And he's one of the nicest guys in the world.
Torsti - He was a riot, we laughed our asses off all the time. That was a really hilarious five days. He's around fifties, but he's like a kid in the studio, there's no getting fed up with anything, it was like a first time in the studio, really excited about everything. It was really fun.
How much is Leverage willing to have outside help anyhow?
Torsti - I don't think we'd rule anything out. This formula has worked so far, but I don't think we have any specific plans how to continue working, there's no rules. I think we're pretty open for new ideas.
Pekka - We've done two albums with this formula and pretty much without any outside help, so I think it's quite phenomenal what these guys are doing in terms of production and songwriting. It's just amazing. It would be quite interesting actually, and we've talked about this, maybe to have an outside producer. I don't know what it would be like.
Tuoppi - It might be great, it might be hell. You can't really tell.
Torsti - You can win or you can lose. It would have to be the right guy.
Tuoppi - But there hasn't really been a line at the door, you know, "we wanna be part of your album!". It's all hypothetical, and that's it.
Can you say who's the worst producer you know?
Tuoppi - No, I can't say.
Torsti - Sometimes bands just pick the wrong producer, it's a gamble many times.
Tuoppi - If you have a band with young people making their first album, who get signed by a record company that will point out where they're gonna record, the studio and the producer, they're in a different situation in that sense. We haven't had that the way we started. Torsti has the facilities and he can produce. I've been able to sit there and help out just a little bit. It's a totally different story. Say it's a young artists first album, there's gonna be a producer, good or bad, but there's gonna be one, and at that point it's very crucial whether the chemistry works or not.
Torsti - Since we've kinda gotten used to being so free artistically, the outside producer would have to be a strong personality.
You also spent some time outside the studio with Wagener. Did he correspond to the image you had of him?
Pekka - From my point of view he's always been just a name on the record, and I've only known him through his sound basically and seen a couple of pictures of the guy, which were taken back in the day. So I really didn't have any ideas in that way. The morning I drove from Helsinki to Jyväskylä I was just trying not to think of all the singers he's recorded during his career. I was really excited to meet the guy and the moment he stepped into the room and we said hello, it was like "ok, no problem".
And you fainted?
Pekka - Yeah! (laughs)
Torsti - He was really down to earth type of guy. We just didn't know what to expect, 'cos he's kind of a legend. But when I first met him on the airport we immediately realized this was a really cool guy.
What was the best thing you gained from the collaboration?
Torsti - We got a lot of tips how to improve the production in the studio, but I think the most important thing was the general attitude towards how he approaches producing and work, and how he's still so motivated after all these years. I think that's very hard. If he can do it, maybe hopefully we can do it too, still be as excited after twenty years.
Pekka - I only spent a day with him, I was just there to sing a song. Most of the day these guys were doing whatever they were doing and talking stuff, that I didn't understand at all. He (Wagener) actually bought me some colour pencils (Torsti and Pekka both laugh) and said "you can draw, we're gonna work a little. Draw something". So I drew a horse (everyone laughs) and showed it to him and he liked it.
Torsti - When Pekka was singing he always came up with jokes. Pekka was singing in another room and we were recording and he asked "Pekka, isn't that a girls name?".
What are the best stories he told you?
Torsti - The ones we can't tell. A lot of good stories.
Pekka - There was one moment, when he kinda exited the room for a minute, and what he said cracked us up. We were laughing to that one sentence for quite a few hours, but unfortunately I can't repeat that.
Torsti - After every working day we went to have a dinner together. That was the time when he told us all the stories from the 80's and it was really fun to hear. All the legends you've looked up to all your life, hear how the albums were made and all the hilarious things going on, since the 80's was pretty crazy.
Are there any other persons you dream to work with in the future?
Pekka - I wanna work with these guys. That's pretty much it.
Torsti - Me too.
THE PREGNANT BAND
We're still chatting about "Blind Fire", an album not as easy as "Tides" was, and a lot heavier. The word "heavy" is something, which in Finnish language with a minor modification can mean something complitely different though. I was supposed to ask the guys more about their turn towards the heavier approach, but accidentally asked the question in the manner you'd translate to "about your pregnancy". This was turning out to be a weird interview!
Tuoppi - So how's it (pregnancy) going?! Tuoppi asks the rest of the guys, who were laughing so hard I couldn't hear everything, but Pekka continued;
Pekka - I have some evening sickness every once in a while, every Saturday night..I'm kinda swollen up.
Tuoppi - I'm crying all the time. Donuts!
Pekka - I need donuts! Right now!
The guys were hysterical by now. I told them about recently reading an article from a Finnish tabloid paper 7 Päivää about a man being pregnant. This is where the world is going to.
Tuoppi - I'm a sucker for that magazine.
Torsti - And even more so when you're pregnant!
Tuoppi - I quit reading dirty magazines while I was pregnant and subscribed to that one.
I now skipped a few questions, we'd been doing this interview for an hour already, the guys also munching away lunch while at it and everyone was quite tired. The energy drinks, not alcohol mind you, disappeared fast from the table and the guys still had to play a show later, as late as midnight.
Leverage is a band with great stories. Not only lyrically, but their melodies also tell their own stories. "Blind Fire" has shown me its best moments in songs like "Sentenced", "Don't Touch The Sun" and "Learn To Live", but which songs does the band find their faves at this point?
Pekka - Can't point out any stand-out favourites, because I really like the album a lot. Every song has its own kinda feel. As far as playing live goes, I really enjoy "King Of The Night" and "Heart Of Darkness", those two songs stand out when we play live.
Tuoppi - I can't really say, like Pekka says it's impossible to point out one song. The only thing that comes to mind is that in a lot of ways "Mr. Universe" reflects very well what we're about musically right now, as far as the melodies, structures and guitar solos go. In that sense it's a good example of what kind of a band we are maybe for someone who hasn't heard us, but then again it might be another song as well. I think "Learn To Live" is a beautiful song, I really think so, but it would be a great song for anybody's album.
You have two bonus tracks on the Japanese version of the album. Tell us about "Yesterdays" and "Rockethead".
Pekka - Great songs.
Torsti - We wrote them at the same time and we needed the bonus tracks for the Japanese version. I think the bonus tracks are a good job. They're faster tracks.
Pekka - Torsti wrote all the music for those two songs and Tuoppi obviously wrote the lyrics, and what really struck me was the lyrics for "Rockethead", it's a great story.
Tuoppi - It's an urban legend, which is actually a fact, I checked it out later. It's about a guy who wanted to drive his car real fast in the desert, and got his hands on one of those jet engines they use for the carrier planes for the army. Basically it's a rocket engine they use when they take off with those big Hercules planes. The story goes that he had one of those attached on top of his car and just blasted off in the desert and disappeared in the horizon. The remains of the car were found sixty meters up in the wall of the canyon. He'd been thinking about driving real fast among the crowd, but obviously the jet engine took him to the air and he struck the canyon wall at about 600 kilometers an hour. Torsti had this one part in a song, where I started hearing numbers in my head, and I started thinking that numbers are supposed to go up and up, what is this gonna be about, and then it struck me, it might be about this. This is supposedly a true story, that happened s ometime in the last twenty years or so in the US.
Pekka - "Yesterdays" is a great melodic song. Both of these tracks could've easily been on the actual album, they're that good. There's a good reason for checking out that Japanese version of the album, those bonus tracks are really stand out tracks.
The bonus tracks are often just leftovers. How is it with you?
Tuoppi - It was pretty much the same as with "Tides". We had more songs prepaired than we were gonna put on the European version. We discussed about the structure of the album and at that point we dropped a few songs and we kept those two for bonuses. So we had a plan for the whole thing. I think it was the right call. They came out great and they deserve to be there, but by no means they are leftovers.
Torsti - We try to make them as well as the rest of the album. You often hear bonus tracks that are almost like half demos, but we didn't want to do that, so these pretty much have the same production as the rest of the album.
Where do you find your lyrical themes?
Tuoppi - That varies a lot. With some songs I've started hearing the chorus in my head with already words on it. Like "Follow Down That River", I started hearing those lines, so I started thinking I need to build a song around that. Then with some other cases I've had the song ready, but I haven't had a clue what it's about, like "Dreamworld" used to have a chorus with "New York, New York", and anything in between.
Pekka cleverly changes that to "Kerava, Kerava", and then goes on singing Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York"; start spreading the news...
Tuoppi - With "Stranger" I kinda had an idea about somebody gone bad. Somebody watches from the outside at the other person gone bad someway. Every song has its own story. "Hellhorn" is about a guy who's so evil. With the first chorus line "the masses raging on the balcony" I thought it was gonna be about a dictator, what dictators do, leading people to the wrong places and to wars and such. So the process varies a lot. Then again, as much as I love Whitesnake and Coverdale, I'm not gonna write songs about chasing women, that's not gonna do it. I would've done it back in the days when I used to do that, but since I don't do that anymore, I don't write about it and that's it. And another thing is with the dragons and Kings, swords and Knights, it's just not me, I can't write about those. I respect people who do that, but I couldn't do it. I listen to those bands every now and then, but I try not to listen to the words. Some bands should not have their lyrics printed on the album, it takes away a lot looking at them, "what the hell is this guy talking about?!".
THE IRON MAN
The band found background singers to the album among the best rock singers in Finland, who were Antony Parviainen (Machine Men), Sami Asp (Wingdom), Kimmo Blom, Jason Flinck (Brother Firetribe, Kings Of Modesty), along with Pekka and Torsti. How did you end up asking Sami and Antony for the job?
Pekka - Sami is from Jyväskylä, and Torsti has recorded him previously, so we know the guy and everybody knows what that guy is capable of. He's an amazing singer and we're just greatful that each of these guys were kind enough to take part and help us out. Everyone's on top of their game, so it was great.
Tuoppi - We tried to get as many good voices as we can to do that. It's always good to have different people, several people. The job that Torsti did with the choirs in Jyväskylä was amazing, they're really huge. You can tell the difference between some other songs we did in Espoo, but it was not about the people, it was more about the way of recording. We got together other people than Torsti in Jyväskylä, and it was a winning deal at both ends.
Torsti - I think it's very important to have different kind of characters. If you only use the lead singer it builds up a certain character, like Pekka has certain character in his voice and it really builds up if you use it ten times. There's a point when it doesn't sound so good anymore, but when you have a variety of voices it kind of blends in better way to the mix. So it's easier to make them sound the way they should be, so that they can be big, but still be in the background, eventhough they can be loud. I think we did a good job with them.
Pekka had some challanges this time with his voice. Which songs were the hardest ones to sing?
Pekka - The most difficult song for me this time was "Mr. Universe", 'cos that's the kind of song that demands certain kind of breathing. There are long sentences in the song and you have to know exactly at what point to breathe. That was a bit of a struggle, but nothing major during the whole sessions. All in all it went really smoothly, and all in all recording the whole album took us thirty hours or something, so it was really quick.
Torsti - It's really weird how far you can push him, his voice doesn't get tired. Usually a lead singer can do two songs a day and that's it, but we just kept on going like crazy.
Tuoppi - Yeah, he's an iron man.
Torsti - We did our best to push him really far.
Pekka - We did five songs per day, that was a bit surprising.
LONG WALKS ON THE BEACH
We're now done with "Blind Fire" and other serious and necessary questions, so we can conclude the interview with a colourful set of questions. I read an interview of yours from the internet with a mention of horror twins in the band. What's the story behind that?
Pekka - It could be any of us.
Tuoppi - Any two of us (says with a smile on his face). I guess it has something to do with the fact, that everytime Pekka and me go to Jyväskylä there's gonna be some heavy partying, and the blame is gonna fall on us, eventhough it's Torsti's fault.
Pekka - It's always Torsti's fault.
Tuoppi - Torsti alone is the horror twins.
Pekka - He's a horror triplet!
How do you see the future for Leverage?
Pekka - It's so goddamn bright I have to use sunglasses!
Tuoppi - It's impossible to tell.
Pekka - I think right now we're in a really good situation and this band is going forward in every sense, so it couldn't be better right now. I just hope we're able to make music, that's about it.
Do you still see yourselves making music as long as the guys from Rolling Stones?
Tuoppi - I hope I'll be able to play the guitar when I'm really, really old, like I wasn't already...but seriously, I really wish I could keep up, but outside of that it doesn't matter. If somebody wants to listen, if I get to play gigs that would be great, but as long as music stays a part of my life I'm all happy.
Pekka - Music is such a big part of my life, that I'm never gonna get it out of my system. It will always be a part of me and I just hope I'll be able to carry on as long as I can.
What is in your opinion the most embarrasing thing a musician can do with his career?
Pekka - Running around chasing trends, that's always a bit embarrasing.
Tuoppi - I guess some people go to the point, where they start thinking they need to modernize themselves, and need to get their names into papers. We have a lot of data on this, where people are setting up attacks on themselves to get their names on the papers, and that's pretty weak. There's been bands that have been creating a style like twenty years ago and now they're trying to stay hip, so they are following people who had been following them. It's sad when that happens.
What do you value in general in musicians life and which musicians would you tip your hat to?
Pekka - The best thing about being a musician, it's kinda weird talking about myself as a musician, but the ability to make music and to make the kind of music that moves people. That's a huge advantage. And not just the music, but all in all I have to tip my hat to people who've paved the road, the pioneers that have done the kind of stuff they really believe in and stand behind one hundred percent, through all the hard times, the highs and lows, but still carry on and do the stuff they believe is right. Those kind of people are always, not just in music, but in every sense worth tipping my hat to.
Tuoppi - There are so many type of musicians. You have people that are playing the organs in the church for a living and then you have people like Sinatra that are walking the red carpet to stage, same thing every night and they're millionaires. I think the most important thing for anyone who works around music is to stay very, very humble, 'cos it might end any day and it might end like that (snaps his fingers). You have a band that's doing great and the next day nobody cares about what you do. And like Pekka said, you really need to respect the people who've been able to stick with what they do and make something out of that. Look at the bands like Metallica, that have changed the world, and The Beatles, the number one band of all time in my opinion, they revolutionized music, people like that you just have to respect so much.
Finally, I know you all have had and still have interesting hobbies. Tell us how you relax among all the fuzz?
Pekka - Like I said earlier I'm a huge music fan, so everything kind of goes around the music thing, digging stuff, collecting cd's and DVD's. I like sports and I'm a bit of a movie freak.
Tuoppi - I watch American football every chance I get. That used to be half work for me, working around it, but not anymore. Now I'm just a fan and that's a good way of getting your mind off of everything, really get into it and get excited about it.
Pekka added with a twinkle in his eye he also likes art, long walks on the beach and something we can't print here. He finished up the interview sending thanks to Leverage fans.
Pekka - Thank you all for the support and please check out the band if you haven't already, and hope to see you soon, wherever that may be.