Tuska Open Air Metal Festival Finland, 13.7.2003
Tarot has been roaming the streets, alleys and concert places of Finland from the early 1980'ies, gaining a cult name for themselves and a solid fan base following each of their footsteps, admiring their musicianship and skills. Tarot's music has always been very powerful with clear, catchy choruses and the eighties touch to it and their music reaches both male and female fans. Every now and then between recording their albums (the first being "Spell Of Iron" from 1986) the band took breaks and Marco Hietala (bass, vocals) found himself from what now has become one of the most popular metal bands hailing from Finland, Nightwish. He has also worked with bands like Sinergy and Conquest. He also sang a few songs on Virtuocity's "Secret Visions" where Janne Tolsa played keyboards. The rest of Tarot's gang is Pecu Cinnari-drums and Zachary Hietala-guitar. The band released an amazing album this year called "Suffer Our Pleasures", now also available through Universal in Canada, England, Norway, Holland and Sweden (Stockholm Records/U) and Germany (Motor Music/U). Kari stepped away from the camera for a while and took the microphone instead to interview Zachary after their show in Tuska about their latest release.
SUFFERING FROM THE PLEASURE OF RECORDING
RockUnited - You've released a new album that sounds amazing. The sounds have changed and you had new ideas in your songs, but what caught my eye was you've changed your record label. What is the reason behind that, is there any drama behindit or what ?
Zachary - There's no drama behind it. Mika Myyryläinen (Bluelight Records/Blastic Heaven) is the head distributor of Baltic Countries for Sony and the only drama there is he never had Sony's money in our use. That's why our outside distribution has never been under Sony's wings, but we've taken them where we've gotten them. Mika is a busy man and it took many years when he finally asked us when are we going to do our next album. We knew right from the start we're not going to do anything with him anymore, even though he earlier acted as our savior. That was the time when we had a five year break between '88-'93. He was the guy who came to us and said to this frustrated Tarot that he's got deals from Japan and Germany and he could pay the recording of our next album. So we took the deal. But now we were in a situation where we knew that Spinefarm was interested in us because Marco was in Nightwish and Sinergy, so they'd been asking us for years. Our deal with Mika wasn't really effecting anymore, but we didn't want to be assholes to a guy that came and offered us a deal for '93, '95 and '98 albums. We wanted to discuss with him whether we were able to change our label just like that and we were. And what is great about it he's going to re-release our old albums, 'cos he's got the rights, so no drama there really. Spinefarm wanted to try if we'd go along and they've got better metal connections and relations to other countries and Finland than what Mika had, because he couldn't fully use Sony. Sony's got Madonna and Michael Jackson so they've got the power, but they don't care jacksh*it for our kind of metal. So we couldn't use that and Mika practically had to take it all from his own pocket in his own label and maybe use some of the Sony connections, but there was no point in going on anymore. That would've probably sold one thousand albums in Finland and no deals from abroad. In a certain way that would've been the end for us.
RockUnited - Your "Suffer Our Pleasures" was mixed by the famous Mikko Karmila from Finnvox-studios and the sound is familiar to his earlier work, bringing a very heavy touch to it. What do you personally think about the sound world there, is it a success ?
Zachary - The sound world is mostly from our fingers and if you compare it to the rest of Karmila's work they sound very different. I'm surprised when people say he's only doing that one thing, when he's a great guy who does lots of things. Of course he works with lots of metal bands throughout the days so he gets that certain sound. But in our case it was different, because originally Janne Tolsa (keys) had already finished everything almost completely in the studio, so we started from the point of Tolsa having a clear idea what digital systems Finnvox have since we're going there to mix it. Janne cleared all the tracks and systems. He had his hard disk and went with Marco to work over to Karmila. All what Karmila had to do was to find the sound and effects there, since everything was already almost done. That's why I'd rather give the sound credits to Janne. And of course to my brother Marco, because he worked a lot with that too. Karmila mixed it, but the guys recorded it. We did all the guitar tracks and sound checks with Janne. I don't know exactly how much Karmila has interfered with those, but it didn't change much in the end from what I heard from the guitar sounds in Kuopio. There's some new effects, choruses and some basic stuff, but it didn't change much there. You can thank Janne for the sounds, he worked long hours.
RockUnited - Did you have older material that had been waiting somewhere for years or did you start working on the songs at the point when you found out about the deal ?
Zachary - For once we were in a great situation where we were flooded with material. If you think about for instance the song "Convulsions", when we released "For The Glory Of Nothing" in 1998 we already tried its riff in rehearsals while touring, how it might kick in. Then we forgot all about it, because at the time we weren't doing new songs. We had tons of material for songs, about 60-70 riff parts, A/B-vocal lines. Marco had some stuff on his hard disk at home and when Janne had finished working in the studio or got a great idea, he put it on the hard disk as "possible Tarot material". I have all these riffs that I've been working with at home, I don't want to leave them on a PC so I call up Janne to set up a "party" at the studio, we'll get the drum machine running, work on my riffs and there were plenty of those.We dug up the best parts of the ideas that the guys have had during the five years. And turns out that for instance "I Rule" was probably a combination of three songs of mine that were molded into one good song. "Follow The Blind" came out pretty much the same way. Marco brought the chorus in there, he noticed we had the riffs, A and B vocal parts and only chorus was missing. Marco also offered us some lyrics, which should fit there and so we worked it out. Marco also had songs that were almost finished and he made "From The Void" from them. Then he left Kuopio to see his girlfriend and kids and we sweated with the song near completion, the solos and other stuff. Marco told us since we're staying in the studio to work with the guitars to come up with something for those. We went and grabbed a few "counsellors" from the store and in two hours we suddenly had all the parts finished. We called Marco and he listened to it through his cell phone, we held our phone in front of the speakers and he said that's it, you've got it. "From The Void" was there, we demoed it through like that.
For once we were having fun doing a full album from all the ideas we've been having through the years only in a couple of months. And molded them into logical and rational metal songs. Earlier they came out in a certain way, when everyone had beenworking with long parts and we went through them in rehearsals to find out if this kind of riff works. Now we just started working with them, since they were already in the drum machine. You could hear they had drums and that they worked. After we were done with everything we gave demos to Cinnari and said here's our new album. Just tell us what you want to re-arrange, but rehearse this. He disappeared into the rehearsal place and in a couple of weeks he told us what he wanted to do, a fewchanges to some songs. So he also got his part in the fun of bringing something of his own there. We still had a couple of songs which we worked with at the studio in small amounts, we went through different options, but eventually the final result was found.
We also abandoned lots of those old ideas. Actually the most part, since we had hundreds of different bits and pieces and in the end only ten songs. We even made some radical decisions like ok, this riff is from '99, forget about it, we won't even try. And then there were things like Marco playing some riff with his bass and we're going hey what's that, goddamn he's got a cool bass riff, show it to me with the guitar. I played it with the guitar and the ultimate guitar riff was born. Then we played with the drum machine a bit and we had "From The Shadows"-riff there. Then I said I've got this thing that I've made my students practice on for years that changes its key all the time, let's make that a vocal line. Then we tried, put the drum machine on the back and got the bass there and soon we were done with that part. Then Marco started singing and said we have to come up with something else there. It was about eight-nine o'clock in the evening and we'd been sitting in the studio for six hours, you had to rest. So we left the song for a while and went to the local store to get some beers. Janne stayed and kept trying a few keyboard things there. He goes through the sounds and suddenly hits the "Pyre Of Gods"-riff. We were wondering what the heck is that. Marco asked me to quickly play something, take my guitar from the vocals and play this broken e-riff. We started playing, didn't finish our beers and started making "Pyre". So suddenly we had the year 2003 riff there. Completely new stuff which we started working with and finished that before "Shadows". So some of the things just come out extempore. There's old and new stuff there.
RockUnited - The material of your new album is well in balance, though the older ones are good too. Many fans thought the best track from "Suffer" was "Rider Of The Last Day". Do you agree or have your own favorites or do you think they're all asgood so you're not going to pick only one track from there ?
Zachary - I won't pick just one track, but "Rider" of course is a culmination, you've got all the old heavymetal-songs' clichés there. It's slow, beautiful, the sound is heavy with beautiful vocals and there's a climax near the end that startsgoing faster and faster and an acoustic ending. But it all depends on the mood I'm in which song I like at the moment. I can listen to our album at once from start to finish and like it all. I love to play for instance "Convulsions", because it's such a crushing song. It all depends on the mood the crowd is in. Playing the songs is completely different than just listening to them. I also like "Undead Son", it's got a great chorus and a solo with a funny modulation in the end. And in "I Rule" I like the aggressiveness Marco has. And it's not because it's my riff, but he just molded my riff to a super violent form and he hasn't sung like that before.
But I can't really pick just one favourite from the album. It's a good collection of songs, which is the result of us having to demo and compose in a rush. And when the last song was on the demo Marco said goodbye, he's going to Helsinki to see his girlfriend for a week and then we've got the studio sessions, so we had to start everything over again with the right sounds there. You got this strange feeling. I bet the guys would've wanted a small break between demoing and the studio like I would've, a month or so. But now we had finished the last song only a week before entering the studio and we only had one week to go through the demos and make the possible changes. It was straight to the studio and do the drum checks and do the whole thing over again. And this time it wasn't the drum machine that was making the mistakes but Cinnari. And he only had one week to practice the last songs. That's why this probably is more tighter than the earlier releases, we composed and recorded it all without interruptions. The earlier albums were composed in their entirety and recorded years earlier, because we've had a break between each album. And that means some of the songs were already completely finished and we didn't change them at all before going to the studio. Of course they change a little there and the arrangements too. But now we did everything from October till New Years using the older material too. But we demoed the whole songs this time and we had to start recording in January. So everything was done before we entered the studio. It has tobe tighter in some way then.
For once it was good for us to work in a rush, it was good that we were harassed. "For The Glory Of Nothing" for instance had almost everything ready when we started recording it, all the way down to the arrangements with a tight studio schedule. Hannu Leiden kept pushing us in the studio that we have to play, 'cos we've got these limits in the studio. And a certain time for mixing too. Now we were facing a choice with that tight schedule in Finnvox and after these heavy composing sessions we didn't want that. So we changed it to Janne's studio and had plenty of time. With the price of Finnvox we tripled our time at Janne's place. He's got exactly the same gear as in Finnvox, all the pro-tools, Mac Intosh and effects. We ordered these triggers for the drums from our musician friends, so we didn't miss out on anything but got more time for the basic work in recording and then clearing up all the tracks that didn't work out so well and fixing them and just working with them whenever we felt like it.
It's a great feeling to go to the studio and play whenever you feel like it, rather than going there every day exactly at twelve o'clock and for six to eight hours stretching to your best performance. What if you can't get anything out of it ? And I don't mean something like having a hangover, but you might not feel like it. And the greatest part was when Janne noticed I had some difficulty in a few solos. He said he's going to play some key parts for a couple of days and told me to call him when I feel like coming to the studio again. I was able to go to my day job and to the studio in the evening and we recorded till late at night and made a couple more solos. For once I was able to relax and play the songs going to the album and the sounds are really great. I really prefer doing it this way. Earlier we were under pressure with the release date, so we had to work fast with the songs. The recordings went peacefully though. But it's better doing it like we did now.
BEHIND THE TRACKS
RockUnited - There aren't actual slower tracks on "Suffer", at least nothing with a piano intro. You've got more heavier stuff this time.
Zachary - Every moment has its time. I have to admit you can't do it much better like what we did with "Guardian Angel" for "To Live Forever"-album. That's a "Christmas" song if anything (laughs). It's really hard to come out with anything better than that, because you have to remember that when we're doing the songs Marco has to do the vocal parts, 'cos he's got the lyrics. He might not have had that certain "emotional charge" this time where you need to cry out and make a heartbreaking song, so what can you do about it ? The rest of us guys just can't start squeezing the tears for him, 'cos we don't write the lyrics. Well, we came out with a few slow and heavy songs for the album like "Rider", "Of Time And Dust" and "Painless", which in my opinion is a great example of our skills, showing off our versatility.We can do various things and still keep that heavy metal feeling to it.
RockUnited - "Painless" is an interesting song considering when you listen to it you can't help having these thoughts about it changing to a country song, but in the end it picks up the pieces and turns into an interesting song. Where did you get the riff for it, who came up with that ?
Zachary - Marco came up with that. He's a guitarist too and a good one. We've had this unwritten law that I play the guitars, except the acoustic ones and same goes with the albums. I let Marco play them. He actually went to a musical college for three years where he studied classical guitar. He's way better with chords than me. He never plays too fast, so whenever we start playing and play acoustic guitar, he's the one to do it. Of course I can play them too but why should I, 'cos they're his songs, he came up with the riff and surely he can play it. I'm not ashamed of this at all with our bassist-vocalist playing the acoustic guitar on the albums. It's just brilliant. If we played them live Marco still would play the acoustic parts and Janne would fix up the bass on the machine and I'd play the other guitars there. Marco played the nylon string guitar on "Sleepless" like a dream, a beautiful ballad on "Stigmata" album. And on "Ice" for "For The Glory Of Nothing". So Marco is a brilliant guitarist. Not a solo guitarist, but very good with the chords and you got to use that. If you get a good and strange idea from him, why wouldn't we use that.
RockUnited - In a short period I've witnessed two from your gigs, one at Tavastia Club Helsinki and the one today here in the Tuska festival. You seem to be in awesome fit and I've seen your shows since the band was formed, so I know. Do you have any gigs abroad ?
Zachary - First of all I have to say about our live condition that before the gig at Tavastia we rehearsed intensively for four days in Kuopio. We rehearsed with the monitors, because the guys switched to in-ear systems except me. I use floor monitors, I like my hair flowing ! So they've got those now. Because Janne doesn't have enough hands while playing live, Tommi "Tuple" Salmela (voice/sampler) helps on the background with his hands. There has to be a few sequences and clicks. This needs practice, because it's still so new to us. Then another thing, we rehearsed another set after Tavastia where we brought a cover along for Tommi ( "Veteran Of The Psychic Wars" by Blue Oyster Cult) and rehearsed for 5-6 hours a day.This one we did at a huge room, just so that we're able to play at bigger stages. In four days we rehearsed for 4-8 hours per day totally sober to see where we're at. In the last two years we've played a couple of cover gigs, they come naturally fromus because earlier we used to just jam along to them for fun. We kind of fooled around with covers at rehearsals. We've got about 50-60 covers from different bands that we can go out with, but it's not the same thing when you go out and play your own songs. Especially the ones with the clicks. Now we had to rehearse the live set a lot to get it tight and we've now worked with it for a week real hard and I think we gained something with the effort in the live section. Of course you always screw something up while playing live, but it doesn't really matter as long as the crowd is into it. But if they totally lacked in interest it would displease us. We should have the opportunity to do a tour where we can play 5-6 days in a row, then we'd get it right. On "For The Glory" tour for instance we had days off and on, some gigs in a row. After 30 gigs behind us it was great to play live. We have these DAT-recordings from our shows and you can hear the shows are like taken straight from the studio. We played really well. Today's show was only our third show now and still it was a bit better than our last one. Watching the crowd being into our music really brings us a great feeling. All the rehearsing has done good to us and we really dig playing together. Marco stays in Helsinki a lot and Cinnari lives his own life and we've got our own friends, lives and circles. However when the four of us get together and our background singer we still get that good, convincing feeling toit. We really like each other and like doing music together. The point here is that it really helps you bring out your best when you can do something that feels right with this group. I'm not sure if our gigs are brilliant, but what matters is thatthe crowd enjoys it. Not the fact that we are able to play all the notes right. Of course you always aim to that, but the feeling is the most important thing.
RockUnited - Many years have gone by since the release of your first album. Are you planning on celebrating your 20-year anniversary with a special tour or something else ? That is after all a respectful age for a band.
Zachary - We'll reach 20 years in 2004, that's when Cinnari joined the band.Tolsa joined us in the end of '87. We haven't thought about it yet. When we reach 20 years, then we'll reach it. Of course when those years hit you, well...but I don't believe we'll celebrate it when me, Marco and Cinnari reach it, but probably when Tolsa reaches it and that is four years ahead in the year 2008. Then we might have to consider it, but I can't promise anything.
RockUnited - Did you at any point have thoughts about quitting, because last summer you kept advertising your gig at "Old Fart Rock" in Kuopio being your last? When I heard the news I had to travel over and check you out once more, but luckily the story didn't end there. You're going stronger than ever.
Zachary - I'm sure every musician goes through those thoughts at some point. But why should you quit your job? Especially if your chemistry works on stage, which necessarily won't have to work that well outside the band. Each member in this band is an adult who has his own life, does his own thing and enjoys it. And when the four of us get together and hit "I Rule" for instance live, thoughts about quitting seem pointless. Why would we even consider something like that when we get all that great feedback from the crowd. We don't have these thoughts. And think about the fact that we all have the chance to record our own things. I was already asking Janne if we could start recording new songs and demos. We could already do those and wait for Nightwish to finish their thing. Then we'd have lots of great riff parts ready next fall, vocal parts and such. There's a lot of sense in working this way since it seems to be the best way for us to create songs.
Interview and pictures by Kari Helenius,
and introduction by Satu Reunanen,