STRATOVARIUS interview with singer Timo Kotipelto, Friday 20.7'01

Some Aor-Europe's readers might not be too familiar with this Finnish band so here's something to start with; they've been around since late 80's, released eleven albums, from which one is a liverecording and two are compilations. The recent line-up has been together since the Episode-album and consists of members Timo Tolkki-guitar, Timo Kotipelto-vocals, Jari Kainulainen-bass, Jörg Michael-drums and Jens Johansson-keyboards. You might remember Jens of Yngwie Malmsteen-fame and Jörg from Running Wild and Axel Rudi Pell. And what is Strato's music ? You might call it trottel / power metal, but let's just say their songs are fast and melodic with clean vocals, beautiful ballads and guitarwork and they have message in their lyrics. Not your average dumb metal band. Stratovarius just did their last show here in Finland in Tuska-festival before leaving on a break. Or not a break really, both Timo's are working on their soloalbums, Jari has a bandproject and so on.

Me and Kari got to torture Timo Kotipelto for two hours (not planned though!!!) and hardly wanted to let the guy go... poor thing! But we let him stretch some and go to the men's room once, so we weren't that evil... but here's the gigantic story for you. [ Pictured on the left: Satu & Timo ]

AOR-E: I must ask this question: How do you feel now after the last gig has been played and you can leave on a break?

TIMO K: I feel good. All the summerfestivals went very well, a lot better than I expected. And in the end even musically. The beginning is always a bit sticky. But the crowd was very good in all gigs, that was kinda big of a surprise. Of course it's like, bearing in mind, that the next shows are whenever. Now that we got our diesel Mercedes Benz running it is sad to put it back in the stable at once. It always takes a little time to get it running, 'cos we don't rehearse.

AOR-E: Weren't you afraid of the pyros?

TIMO K: A bit yeah, on the first gig (the last dates in Finland before the break) I went again too close to them. You can't remember those when you have the certain feeling. After five gigs you start to remember in which parts of the songs they come to. And now we get a new song list compared to older tours so new parts have pyros. Even if you see them on paper you'd have to be careful. My face was all black and I burned my hair in Wacken.

AOR-E: How is your hand now? Any aching?

TIMO K: Nothing, just lost the pigment. It doesn't tan at all. I have to be careful. I try to keep the hand downwards if I lie in the sun.

AOR-E: Someone criticized about not going to see you live anymore 'cos you sound like the music came straight from a record.

TIMO K: Now that we haven't played in a while there's a few mistakes, forget some lines etc. But none of our gigs are the same. Either we play a song too slowly or too fast or I forget lines. I can guarantee none of the gigs are the same. Jens doesn't do many mistakes, but if he does it's because he doesn't bother to pay attention to it.

AOR-E: The Scorpions usually have very good gigs, like the music came straight from a record.

TIMO K: We got this gig offer with a lot of money if we'd play with Scorpions somewhere in a festival in Spain.

AOR-E: Which reminds me, is the gig break absolute?

TIMO K: I've told everyone that I'm on a break now, I'm not going anywhere. And next summer I'm doing my album.

AOR-E: About the break, there's been talks about a year and a half or two years break...

TIMO K: Well where do you count it? I count it from when the last studio album came out, in 2000, and the next comes out in 2003. But if you count it from this last show to the next album, then it's the year and a half. You could count it that way. We never would've released Intermission if it wasn't for this break.

AOR-E: Aren't you afraid that when you get back from the break that someone has taken your place and with similar material to yours?

TIMO K: No, just wait till you hear our next record!

AOR-E: Will you continue with the same musical style?

TIMO K: I don't know yet. I know that it will be a great record.

AOR-E: Was the break an unanimous decision or was there burnout or something?

TIMO K: I'd say that once again, like any other of our ideas, it came from Timo (Tolkki). He wanted a break and I thought why. First I thought how long would 3 years be and then that at this point it's only a good thing. But you never know, maybe no one will dig us anymore, but then not.

AOR-E: There's all kinds of comments coming like has there been bad vibes between the guys etc.?

TIMO K: The chemistry inside the band is better than ever. It has never been bad. But of course when there are different nationalities in the band it took time to get that common feeling. But it couldn't be better at this moment. But I think if we'd have gone to the studio again, we'd probably be in a treatment somewhere, half of us anyway. After all we've done a record almost every year and then a tour on it.

AOR-E: Anything personal you would like to change in Stratovarius, mellower or something?

TIMO K: Not the style really, maybe a bit heavier if you ask me. If you'd change something in Strato, we talked about it, there's no intention of killing ourselves on the next tour. But we had nine, or eleven, gigs in a row at most so it was singing and then travelling... you have to keep going all the time. I'd like to have less gigs, maybe about 3-4 in a row at most. Then you can enjoy the tour. If all goes well, if there are still as many fans as on the last tour, then we have a chance to play in a bit larger places. Because last time it showed that we could've played in larger places and leave the smaller ones out.

AOR-E: You haven't found many mistakes from the last ten gigs (in Finland), musically and vocalwise.

TIMO K: We've played a helluva lot of gigs. If you compare us to something like Rolling Stones, then we're a bit behind, but in relation to other bands in this genre we've done a lot of gigs. It's pretty much if the band gets 80-100 gigs a year. I think we did about 80 gigs last year. Personally my voice has gotten stronger all the time and the more you sing you take care of it a little bit. You don't drink too much, you sleep enough and exercise. That's why it's so f**king boring to be a singer! You get a lot of attention, but you can never party. Also it affects if I have a great monitor guy, like in Tuska the both guys were professionals. And in Europe I had my own guy to do that. I also demanded monitor for the next tour. On the last tour I used the earmonitor properly. It effects a lot. We still have a lot of noise on the stage and as a singer you have to go over the instruments that you can hear yourself. I think as a band we've developed all the time, even though we're not young anymore. I feel much better now to be on stage than five years ago. Of course 'cos you've done a lot of gigs. When you know where your limit is you can go and run 100 m etc. Sometimes we don't train any stagestuff, we just go and fool around. We don't have that over-trying anymore. Maybe there was during the first years. If you have to show something, it starts from having a good feeling.

AOR-E:I've noticed how you've grown, your style has changed and you've grown up in your image during the 6 years in the band.

TIMO K: I guess it happens for everyone.

AOR-E: Your stage appearance has gotten more stable.

TIMO K: I hope so.

AOR-E: Do you warm up a lot before a show? All kinds of arias?

TIMO K: All kinds, up and down.

AOR-E: And everyone gets bored...?

TIMO K: They've gotten used to it. I always say "you guys can stay inside or you can go out" and usually they're wearing ear-plugs. It depends if there's two seperate rooms, then I prefer to chase the others away. It disturbs me a lot if there are other people, other than the band. Those I chase away.

AOR-E: Are you still giving singing lessons?

TIMO K: There's 2-3 people who would be interested, but I don't have a rehearsal place. I gave one lesson just recently and ordered singing books from States so that I can compare my opinions to theirs. I like giving lessons if the student is truely interested. But I don't want to, and I couldn't put an add on paper, 'cos it would bring people who want lessons because they know me, so that they can tell friends they're taking lessons from me. And I can't give lessons every week at the same time and now there's no time either.

AOR-E: I love your singing very much and if I wanted to take lessons, it would be great to get those from you!

TIMO K: Then it would be ok if the starting point is a desire to sing and if you like my style. And if I can teach something. First I ask what do you want to learn and then what do you think I can teach you. And I won't say you have to sing like this. And that you have to sing very high if you have a bass voice. I think I have helped a few people to find something new to their training.

AOR-E: Everyone has their own voice range.

TIMO K: Yeah and how do you want to use it.

AOR-E: We saw you at the Glenn Hughes gig in Helsinki. Has he influenced you at all?

TIMO K: Not after that show! The music was crap. I left in the midst of it. He's a good singer, but it's just playing with the falset. He did a good job, but that was bragging. If we talk about singers, then Coverdale is the one.

AOR-E: You were studying in Oulunkylä (an academy of music).

TIMO K: There were 3-4 guys who dug singing heavy metal then. There was... Hepa (Tunnelvision) and Kimmo Blom (Urban Tale). They're my best friends.

AOR-E: A while ago we went to see Urban Tale.

TIMO K: They're a great band and Kimmo can sing anything.

AOR-E: Do you listen to AOR yourself?

TIMO K: Not really. I do respect it, but if Toto is AOR then they have a few good songs. The best rock band that doesn't have balls, but still plays very well. I've heard a few Journey songs.

AOR-E: What about the music you've listened to in your youth or 70's music?

TIMO K: I listen to Deep Purple. In our home you didn't get to hear rock. Because I'm the oldest child I listened to it. The first bands have probably been something like The Beatles and then rockabilly, but then by accident I heard Hell's Bell (AC/DC) and there it all started. I listened to Operation: Mindcrime (Queensryche) a few days ago. Metallica is the heaviest I've ever listened to. And that's Master of Puppets.

AOR-E: Are your brothers musical?

TIMO K: Yes they are, but not in that way. My younger brother plays guitar ok, for fun. I've gotten him into Rainbow. He doesn't listen to as heavy music as I do. The others haven't gotten mixed up in this thing, they're a lot smarter than I am. I told my mom what would've your fourth son become if this intelligence would've increased. Like the first son is a dummy and so on... The musical side comes from my mom. She sings in a church choir. My dad has other talents.

AOR-E: Do you listen to music by sounds? Any perversions like Whitney Houston?

TIMO K: Once I even bought a Mariah Carey album, but even the devil can't listen to it. I'm fed up with the R & B, you always have to sing harmonies. When you listen to the songs there isn't anything in the song. Everyone just has to sing a lot. M.Carey is a good singer, but you can't listen to her because of having so much earnotes in there all the time. I think the melody stops there. A good female singer I really respect is Sarah Brightman. She's got a great sound, it stands out. From non-metal bands I've listened to U2, I think they've got good songs, good feeling in their songs. And I respect the work they're doing outside music business, like charity. If a band plays well I can say they're a good band, even though I don't listen to that.

AOR-E: I remember Phil Collins took the first place in the charts in Finland some years ago and took the long-kept place from Stratovarius. And you said then he's a good guy. Do you listen to Genesis or progressive music?

TIMO K: I've had something like Pink Floyd on tape sometimes, they've got a few good things and songs. But I've never listened to Genesis. Okay, In the air tonight... I could imagine listening to something like that.

AOR-E: What about the new prog like Dream Theater?

TIMO K: Images & Words is great, but not the last ones. Awake was still good. But not like the latest from Queensryche, arrgggghh! What crap! And when it comes to showing off with the technical tricks, when you do music for musicians, I think it's not worth releasing. You can give it to your friends then. Only for musicians... A good band though, great musicians.

AOR-E: How do you recover after a tour or a show? Of course some go out and get drunk..

TIMO K: Yeah, but I don't know. If it's a long tour, like lasts 1 ½ months in a row, then it takes more time to recover. It might take a few days, maybe a week after the first tour. Or then you get used to that certain daily rhythm, sleep longer and stay up longer. But from a few gigs, personally I don't have to recover from them.

AOR-E: Does the band drink lots of alcohol?

TIMO K: Sometimes. I drink more when I'm not on tour. I don't drink much, I can't drink many days in a row. It's too much for me.

AOR-E: Do you have a lot of same kind of clothes on tour, do you get a lot of washing?

TIMO K: Both. On tour I think I have 4 shirts for shows, but you always need to wash every one 'cos you can't stand the smell! I think I used 2 shirts on the Finnish tour. These pants I've kept because I burned my hand in these. It doesn't show now, but there's this grey stain from the burn. Somehow that's the thing. On the next tour I will have new clothes.

AOR-E: How's it going with the solos?

TIMO K: I prefer to start from Tolkki. I just talked with him, I think he was starting to do the vocals and record them. The lyrics aren't complited. Drums, bass, guitars and synths are finished. So it's quite far, but Timo's release date is in January and he'll probably mix it I think in September-October himself. Mine is in the phase that musically I have 14 songs and no lyrics. Recording starts Monday (23.7), rehearsals are this weekend. We'll go through some songs 'cos I have so many musicians. But we try to rehearse over half of them. We'll go through all the ones in which Mirka Rantanen (Tunnelvision) plays drums on. Somehow. Kind of a mess, but drum recordings start on Monday, that lasts about a week. There's also Kaasu/Gas (HIM) playing. Then it's bass and guitars next week and then a break. I'm not sure when I'll do the vocals, maybe September-October.

AOR-E: Who's mixing the album and where?

TIMO K: Karmila at Finnvox-studios starting in the middle of November.

AOR-E: When Karmila started working with you (Stratovarius) the sound changed. Any feeling that you owe him? Of course he got his pay but otherwise.

TIMO K: Not owe him. But 'cos this is my first own album and I know what sounds he can get I've told him I don't want any Strato-sounds, I want something different. I could use some other guy, but at this point it's an easier solution for me. Maybe we won't use Mikko with Strato anymore, because he's done so much work with us that now so many other bands want the same sound as ours.

AOR-E: Do you play any instruments?

TIMO K: No, I'm a bad drummer and even worse guitar player.

AOR-E: How do you make songs, hum them on a tape?

TIMO K: Yeah, most of them I've made this way. Like first hummed/recorded them on a mini-disc. And then I've toned the melodies. At one point I supposedly started to play guitar and I played a few songs with that. I'm a really bad guitarist, but like rhythmic playing. I've played even solos to the demos, but it's really awful. But it doesn't matter, it's more important that you have tried. There hasn't even been vocals when I've put the demos on cd's. Hopefully when I do the next album I have a rehearse place. I don't have one so I don't train singing now at all. Well, at friends' place. For the next demo, if I ever do something, I have to do vocals.

AOR-E: Any other plans during the break?

TIMO K: Not really. There's been all kinds of requests to sing backgrounds. And one special thing, but I won't say anything about that yet (actually two surprises, but we'll see about those!). I don't have the time for anything 'cos all my time goes with this thing till the beginning of December. Though Janne Warman (Children of Bodom, Warmen), who plays almost all the keys on my album, asked if I'd sing one song (on his solo album). I said ok, then after two days he asks if I'd do another song. Then after a while he called and asked for lyrics... ok... then couple more days and he brought me a mini-disc and asked "you know, these don't have any vocal melodies...". I'm like "I should do my own album too..". But we kinda cross-do them. I'm doing my drums so I said we could do the vocals of his album at the same studio.

AOR-E: Millions of projects at the same time?

TIMO K: Not really. My own project is the most important. I try to sing well on Janne's album too. Earlier last year bands from Germany for some reason wanted me to sing for them and some Spanish band wanted me to sing the whole album and go on tour then. Yeah no thanks, thanks for the offer, but I don't have the time. It is fun to get offers though.

AOR-E: But you were supposed to sing in English, not Spanish?

TIMO K: Luckily no. Hola hombre!

AOR-E: You have a lot of same guys on your solo project as in Episode (project band). Where is the rhythm coming from then?

TIMO K: I told the guys that who ever plays the guitar, plays all. I thought it would be stupid to start mixing that I want the solo here from someone else. And then I have a rhythm guitarist. I'm trying it this way. I'll send the temporary mixing to States or to Grapow (Roland, Helloween) and see how it comes back.

AOR-E: How do you know Grapow?

TIMO K: He played on some festivals few years ago and he warmed up for us with his soloband on couple of our shows in Paris. We went to eat, he seemed like a nice guy. In Tavastia (club in Helsinki, Finland) he asked if he could play on my album. He'd heard somewhere I was doing this. Same thing with Kaasu, after a few beers he wondered if he should come and play. I thought of asking too. I know Kaasu from our earlier tour, he's a great drummer.

AOR-E: When you think of how he plays drums in HIM, he's wasting his skills there.

TIMO K: That is how that band works. I tell all the musicians, when I've done this demo, that this is the song and something like this. But I want that Jari plays bass like he plays it. You don't need to listen to me too much. I know how all the musicians play. I've already done something earlier with most of them. I know what they're capable of.

AOR-E: What if the solo starts selling? Any gigs to wait for?

TIMO K: I'm not expecting anything from it. Usually solos sell like 1/3 part. Usually you have to sell gigs before record comes out. But if it goes well I'll do a record-release gig, a few festivals. Maybe one or two gigs in Finland.

AOR-E: What about Jari's project?

TIMO K: Jari's got his band Mess (Black Label Society-style). They're looking for a singer. There's great musicians and they are planning to record.

AOR-E: Some questions about Intermission. Where did that suit/partylook come from?

TIMO K: We have this French photographer who took the pictures and I didn't even know that we'll put suits on when we went on that little trip. Jörg talked about the idea and I was like hell I'm not putting any suits on! But when it wasn't that strict thing we actually started drinking beer and we were drunk while those pics were taken. It was fun. I think from now on we'll always wear suits. It's not a new thing though, Helloween and Metallica have had suits on too.

AOR-E: Some (Strato) don't even wear pants...

TIMO K: Yeah, all kinds of things happen.

AOR-E: I heard there are two bonus tracks on the special edition of Intermission (available from Stratovarius' official website, only 2000 printed) and on those songs the lyrics are comical. What are they about?

TIMO K: So I've heard too. I haven't heard them. They aren't about anything. When we did the demo we didn't have lyrics for any songs. I had done these demolyrics for two songs and Timo was supposed to do for 10 others. But it's like whenever we have time we don't do those, but at the last moment. Lyrics were written for 10 songs in one hour and they're total crap, no meaning in them. They're sensible sentences, grammatically nearly there. When I get lyrics in front of me just when I'm about to start singing, the recitation is whatever. Then you start laughing what the f**k ?! is this??

AOR-E: But that's the greatest part, to get special releases from bands!

TIMO K: Yeah, but there are people who might be offended, who don't realize that this is a demo.

AOR-E: Has Strato done many demos?

TIMO K: Not many, a few. We did a few from the last album, but the album before that none. From earlier ones we did and from the next one we probably will too. It changes.

AOR-E: How much have your recent albums sold?

TIMO K: Infinite probably something like 200 000. Metal albums sell in two weeks time or in a month what they sell. With our band the popularity has grown helluva slow. Our albums sell a little, not much, all the time. People might buy something like Episode now.

AOR-E: Can we expect a live video someday?

TIMO K: We were supposed to do one in Saô Paulo, we had plans before Nightwish. But we're not touring now.

AOR-E: What kind of characters are there in the band?

TIMO K: All sorts. Jens is the one who can do anything and Timo (Tolkki) comes strongly next. If Timo is somewhere with Jens, then something breaks. And Jens can get Timo to do anything, but nothing has happened in a while. Jari is in the middle, he doesn't do anything stupid but he digs it. It's fun to get drunk with him. Jörg doesn't always necessarily go along. I don't drink too much on tours and I don't break anything 'cos I don't see any sense in that. I'll have fun otherwise.

AOR-E: I noticed on the Infinite Visions DVD that while others were fooling around you were in deep thoughts.

TIMO K: It's when you have to look at that when you're sober. When you're drunk it's fine. Of course if the bunch goes out drinking somewhere it might slip out of hands a bit. When Jörg is in a great mood he drinks pretty much.

AOR-E: What is the best Strato album in your opinion?

TIMO K: Visions. The next album will be the best. I don't want to praise the latest album 'cos then I would be like other bands. But I'm like those who praise the next album. But I'm not promoting any album now.

AOR-E: What is the situation in Japan now?

TIMO K: Pretty calm. We used to sell more there earlier than in Europe or elsewhere. It was something like 50/50. Japan sold alone the other 50 when others sold together the other half. But now it has balanced. For example compare Yngwie Malmsteen who used to sell over 300 000 and now 80 000 or less.

AOR-E: What about the fans in Japan, have you ever gotten any bad experiences there? I know Japanese can be really dedicated as fans.

TIMO K: There are two or three that travel around the countries, London and Germany seem to be really popular. But there aren't any who really follow us. Those people are so reserved. Somewhere in Brasil I went to borrow some hair dryer or something from Jari from my room with a towel on and couple of girls were "may I take a picture", but there hasn't been any problems with anyone.

AOR-E: What about the Finnish fans?

TIMO K: The girls aren't that much of a problem, mostly it's the guys, 'cos they get really drunk and then they don't understand what you're saying to them. The best was in Rauma (Finland) 3 years ago when one guy was really drunk before the show and we were eating and he came to Jörg and couldn't say anything else but "Nicko McBrain". Jörg went "so?" and again "Nicko Mc Brain"... And then Jens goes like "kyrpä kyrpä haist vittu" (really nasty Finnish language !)... and then some Finnish fans start speaking English to us. But it's fun.

AOR-E: Are you able to walk on the streets in Finland?

TIMO K: Just fine, no problem. People know me through the music and not many know our band anyways.

AOR-E: But you've been in the medias a lot.

TIMO K: I've been there because Timo doesn't want to do it. In the beginning I wasn't supposed to do any interviews either, because Jens and Jörg did those. Then someone from Spinefarm thought it's stupid to make the foreigners do the Finnish interviews. So I said I can do them. It's all the same 'cos I know all the journalists. Jari doesn't do many, except on tours. On the next tour I won't do any. Or maybe some short ones. When the next album comes out then it's me and Timo again who do the most of the interviews... maybe a week, 8 hours on the phone a day, then go to Europe for a week. At best I do 16 interviews a day, you start to run out of stories then.

AOR-E: About the bands lyrics, do you think they have effect on those fans who haven't earlier thought about such things (environmental, universal, social etc.)?

TIMO K: I hope so. I've always said that I don't want to say how you have to think, but if I can make someone to think that's helluva lot. There's so many self-centered people in todays world, even myself. But I haven't read any psychology. Just toured around so much to see how things are elsewhere and how they are in Finland so I can draw my own conclusions. The most important thing is to think if there are problems and if you can do something about it. I haven't checked the lyrics from bands of our genre, but I think it's mostly this warrior-king thing. I guess there's a few who write other stuff too than just tales. Don't know.

AOR-E: Do you check out often what people write on mailing lists etc. about you?

TIMO K: I answer them too now and then. I do check them out, but if the questions are like how do you feel now I don't answer those. If someone asks about singing or someone writes about things that aren't true then I will correct that. But if someone says we're a louzy band then that's his/hers opinion. I'm not gonna say f**k you. Timo is going to have his own homepages and mine will probably be ready sooner. That is gonna be more personal so I'm gonna check that out more often.

AOR-E: What would you do if you weren't in the music business at all?

TIMO K: Once I was working in the radio for a while, playing records and talking crap. Reading weather forecasts. It was kinda interesting, but you couldn't do that for long. I've done a lot of different small things, but... if it didn't have anything to do with music, I've always been interested in history.

AOR-E: Maybe go digging to Egypt?

TIMO K: Maybe.

AOR-E: What is the last gig from other bands you've attended to?

TIMO K: I don't go see bands much. I don't go see anything that doesn't really interest me. The last positive surprise was Sinergy though. It works. I went to see AC/DC. I got the feeling the crowd didn't work. I was sober, I would've wanted to drink even one beer, but they didn't serve those there.

AOR-E: A few strange questions. The weirdest place you'd like to play in and why? The moon?

TIMO K: That wouldn't be fun, you couldn't sing there. We've played everywhere though. It would be great for Jens to go play in the snowcastle in Kemi or Rovaniemi (both in Finland), he's always wanted to go to Rovaniemi.

AOR-E: I read somewhere that Jörg has two cats named Strato and Varius?!

TIMO K: He doesn't have any animals. I've never heard such a thing.

AOR-E: Has anyone told you before that you look like the singer from YUP (Finnish band)?

TIMO K: No, but many tell me I look like Fox Mulder (X-Files). Somewhere in South Europe someone said "hi Fox" to me. Once someone told me I look like Timo Kotipelto... that was a few years ago, that was neat.

AOR-E: Do you have something to say to the readers of Aor-Europe? You've been to the website.

TIMO K: In that aspect positive pages 'cos I didn't expect anything. I didn't know about this site. Interesting when you talk about AOR there's also a heavier side too, when I checked the reviews. At least the Urban Tale review was good, they're a good band. Check out that band. Don't check out Strato at least before year 2003, thank you!

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Satu Reunanen & Kari Helenius

Pix by Kari Helenius