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17 Sep 2015

Stratovarius Featured

Given the chance of Stratovarius' new album "Eternal" we had the opportunity to talk with Timo Kotipelto about the band's new work, power metal in general, their influence to other bands, Maiden (!), their best moments and the chances of reconnecting... with their past. Plus, we dug up a video from January 2011 when the band was playing in Athens, Greece that you can enjoy below. Interview: Yiannis Dolas

Rockpages.gr: Listening to the new album I have to say that it didn’t sound as dark as the two previous ones. What’s your opinion about that?

Timo Kotipelto: You are right in a way. I also think that it’s not as progressive as the last one. It’s more straightforward power metal and some songs I think have reflections from the late ‘90s Stratovarius power metal, so in a way we went back to the roots, but of course some of the songs are more modern, but I think that it’s not so progressive, so maybe that’s one of the reasons why it might be more positive. But, again it’s Stratovarius. Quite many Stratovarius songs have a positive message, I am not actually thinking why it’s not so, but I am also thinking that we Fins we are very depressive people, and we think that if we write depressing songs then it’s not too good for us. For us it’s a way to get through all the problems in our daily life and try to write some positive message, and also I think that’s what power metal is all about. We are giving energy to the listener when they listen to a Stratovarius song when they are not trying to commit suicide, but they are trying to work harder, of feel energetic, or feel happier… that’s what power metal is about.

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Rockpages.gr: Maybe this is the meaning behind the song “Sign In The Dark”? The best track in the album in my opinion…

Timo Kotipelto: Actually, this song is not super positive. It’s optimistic, but the song is about a person who died when we were kids, so it’s not super positive in that way, but then again the positive message is that I am looking forward to meeting him again, and he is still around even though he is dead. In a way it’s a little bit sad, but then again life goes on and maybe we meet again somewhere.

Rockpages.gr: You also have a super big track, “The Lost Saga”, an 11-minute epic. How did you come up with this?

Timo Kotipelto: That’s something different on the album. It’s not very often that we have an epic song on an album, this time it was Matias (Kupiainen) who had an idea. He told me that he had on long epic song coming up. And then, when he finished the song he told me that he was inspired by the old Viking stories. So, he suggested that I should write lyrics about this kind stuff, and normally we don’t have songs about heroes, war and stuff. Of course, for this song I made an exception because I thought it’s a cool song. I spent four nights searching some old saga songs from Iceland and stuff like that, so I got inspired by real facts and real things that happened in the past. When I got the song from Matias first I was thinking what is it, because I didn't understand anything about that song, because there were no vocals. There was some basic tracks and melody keyboards, it was difficult to understand what kind of parts that song has. So, I just wrote down everything, time measurements and separated the parts from each other, and then I got the picture and spent five nights to write the lyrics and my friend Jani Liimatainen (Cains Offering, ex-Sonata Arctica) helped me. I like this song, it’s different and the lyrics are different to what we usually do. Basically, Stratovarius lyrics are down to earth, but this one is something different. One guy said that this is like Stratovarius kind of atmospheric Iron Maiden lyrics (he laughs)…

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Rockpages.gr: I have to ask you about another song, “Few Are Those”, I’ve got the feeling that there is an Eastern, or maybe oriental vibe on this one. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

Timo Kotipelto: That’s also another good choice of you, because this was something we didn’t do in the past because I have like one demo for that song, but then not all of the parts of the song were good enough and then Matias told me that the song wasn’t good enough. And then, I told him to record the drums, and I was going to make a song out of it. So, they recorded the drums and sent it to me and then Jani and me composed the song based on the drums, while normally of course we first write the song and then drums will be recorded, but this time it was different and then I think it worked because I had a vision of what kind of song I wanted it to be, a mid-tempo and I had those melodies that after receiving the drums we changed quite a lot. We changed the main melody and we changed the chorus twice until we were satisfied, but to me the song is one of the best in the album. It’s an encouragement for people who try to do things differently.

Rockpages.gr: “Man In The Mirror” is there a meaning behind this song, is it about looking yourself in the mirror and judging yourself?

Timo Kotipelto: This song was composed by Jens Jonahsson and I think that’s a little bit different than the rest on the album. It’s a little bit crazy… it was much more crazy when it was a demo and Matias told Jens that he couldn’t have such crazy shit on a song and then he made it a bit more simple. I think it has a good chorus. There is very strange stuff in this song and the lyrics are by Jens as well, so I guess it’s about a man who he thinks he is different to what he sees in the mirror…

Rockpages.gr: You’ve got a huge tour coming up which begins in a couple of days. How much of the new album are you going to play?

Timo Kotipelto: Well, that’s a good question! I haven’t decided it yet, but this is a very good album –everybody is saying that- it’s not hard to say that it’s one of the best Stratovarius albums. We’d like to play a lot of songs, not the entire album, but maybe we play three to five songs, but maybe we change the songs by night. The tour starts in a few days but first we play two dates in a cruise that goes between Denmark, Sweden and Germany. We’re going to play two new songs on those shows, but then we will start the actual European tour in September 16th from Helsinki, and then of course we will start rehearsing for that one and then probably we’d be playing five to six songs from the new album, but then again we have done so many albums with Stratovarius, it’s so difficult to chose songs, because otherwise we’d play six, or eight hours. Of course we want to play new material and we will, but then we will play some old classics as well, and something in between.

Rockpages.gr: Well, you have 16 albums that objectively translate to a very successful career. How did you achieve such longevity in your career?

Timo Kotipelto: Well, of course we had some very bad years in our career and on one of those years there wasn’t any band. But, then there have been so many good years, and when we decided in 2008 that we would continue with the band and we got a new guitar player who brought fresh energy and then, three years ago we got a new drummer in, and now it’s been a steady lineup for the last two albums and hopefully for the rest of the albums as well. It’s music that drives us. Also, whenever we are playing live, it’s a fantastic experience and it gives you energy, also music gives you hope and power and of course our music makes you feel excited. So, everything is good, I love singing, of course I am not only doing Stratovarius, but when Stratovarius are on a break then I do shows with Kotipelto and Liimatainen, this is what I love to do and probably it’s the only thing that I can do, that’s why! It’s my proper profession. You know it’s not very easy to be a professional musician, but I am satisfied and I am thankful for the people, the fans that have been supporting us for so many years, because if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be talking to you today. I guess I really appreciate this.

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Rockpages.gr: Power metal was a very popular genre in Europe during the late ‘90s, which was a hard time for hard music. How do you think that traditional power metal bands like Stratovarius, Helloween and Gamma Ray can help power metal to stay fresh and alive these days?

Timo Kotipelto: Well, of course when you are labeled under a specific genre, like if you are labeled as a death metal band and then you change your style people start complaining. Some people may be happy for that change, but then you can think about AC/DC… how much have they changed over they years? Not much! Or, Iron Maiden… but this is why I love them! If there is a new AC/DC album coming out I wanna hear AC/DC, not grunge, or techno. It’s a thin line between how much you can change and how much you shouldn’t change, but I think on this album of course we didn’t try to change anything, because we’ve changed the lineup and every time we do that and a new guy is coming he brings all his influences and his playing style to the band. The style might change a bit, but it’s still Stratovarius. I think for us it’s a natural evolution, we don’t even have to think how to keep our music fresh, but it’s exactly like you said… this music was popular by the end of the ‘90s, then it created a wave by the middle of 2000, but now it seems that at least in our case, I don’t know about power metal as a genre if that’s the case, but for us we are solid back since 2009 and that’s have been pretty good and now on the summer festivals we played this summer and the last people received us very well, so we are coming solid back, but is it going to be as big as the end of the ‘90s? Ιt’s hard to say. But, I feel like power metal is not like for the majority of people. Not all the people like power metal. That’s good in a way, but of course I wouldn’t mind if we were little bigger, because we could bring the bigger productions, making it easier to do tours, and of course I’d love to come back to play in Greece because the audience is awesome, but it seems to me that this time we are not coming, which is a pity, but it’s not up to us, it’s always up to local promoters, but I think that power metal is coming back. It’s hard to say how big it will be.

Rockpages.gr: Every now and again there are some bands that come out of nowhere and they are based on power metal, like Edguy did in the beginning of the ‘00s, and now we have Sabaton that is based on power metal and is very popular especially for younger generations and is definitely influenced by Stratovarius, Helloween, or the classic power metal bands. Do you think that this might be also a way for power metal to still be interesting for its fans?

Timo Kotipelto: Yeah… you might be right, I think also that Edguy was great for power metal, but also Sabaton. I know the guys we’ve played a couple of shows with them, and we will probably play some more in the future. Some people label their music as power metal, but it’s not the same power metal that we do. But, they are a very good band and if we influenced them I feel honored. If we influenced those bands and they get bigger, then some of their fans would listen to our music as well, because basically it’s similar to theirs. Maybe I am singing higher than Joakim (ed, Joakim Broden, Sabaton’s singer), but then again it’s melodic power metal. I think it goes in circles. An old band influences a new band and the new fans might check out the old bands.

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Rockpages.gr: Talking about the old bands we’ve seen in the near past Helloween and Gamma Ray trying to repeat past success by releasing sequels of “Land Of The Free II” and “Keeper Of The Seven Keys – The Legacy”. Would you consider releasing “Dreamspace” part two, or maybe “Visions” II?

Timo Kotipelto: Ahhm, “Dreamspace”…no! “Visions”… it’s possible. The thing is that Timo Tolkki composed all the songs on “Visions”, even though I wrote some of the lyrics, but then I don’t know if that will be appropriate. Then again, some of our songs on “Eternal” are not far away from “Visions”… I love this album and actually last year we played seven shows in Finland where we played the entire album. It was so well received by the fans… but, I never say never. It might be possible, but in need to be something special! You are at risk if you try to copy yourself too much. You end up repeating yourself, but then again it’s possible but we don’t have any plans about that.

Rockpages.gr: Talking about possible things, would you ever think of reuniting with Timo Tolkki and Jörg Michael for an anniversary tour, or even one show?

Timo Kotipelto: My question to you would be: why should we?

Rockpages.gr: Just for nostalgia reasons, making a special anniversary or something like that…

Timo Kotipelto: The thing is that we are very good friends with Jörg, but he hasn’t been playing this kind of music for five years, so I don’t think that he would be even able to do that. He is a good drummer, he can still play hard rock, but with us he’d need to play very fast and he would need to rehearse for two months to achieve the stamina, and I don’t think he has the time to do that unfortunately. Actually, we were asking him last week, because we’re going to be on that cruise, if he wanted to come along and play a few songs, but he said “aah, I don’t want to ruin the show”. So, it’s not that he doesn’t want to, but I don’t think it’s possible. Timo Tolkki hasn’t been playing live for many years. I wish him all the best, but it’s not that easy to go on stage if you don’t feel good mentally. He was away for one and a half years and nobody heard anything from him, but a couple of days ago I heard that he is getting better, which is great, I wish him all the best and hopefully he gets things it the right direction and hopefully he would compose great new songs. But, it’s different to compose songs than to play live for thousands of people. If you are not mentally there, it’s not possible. So, I don’t think it can actually happen. Jari (ed, Jari Kainulainen, bassist for Stratovarius 1993-2005) he is a brilliant player, I’ve met him a few times, last summer as well, and he is still a good friend of mine. He can play anything, so it could be possible, but I don’t think that it would be possible for Jörg and Timo unfortunately.

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Rockpages.gr: You know, in rock and metal music we tend to compare bands of today with their past glory days. We were talking about Iron Maiden earlier… no matter what they do now, we always say that this is not like “Piece Of Mind”, or “Powerslave”. What do you say about that? Is it fair to judge bands of today with their past?

Timo Kotipelto: Of course people are doing this comparison as you said. But then of course, they should remember that it’s not so easy to compose hit songs. And very often unfortunately it happens during the third album of the band or somewhere there. Luckily there are still bands that compose good stuff, but also the times when the genre is young is of course easy to compose all the songs that nowadays are clichés, because they were made 20 or 30 years ago. But, I feel like Bruce Dickinson is such a good singer and a great frontman, so a friend of mind from Finland told me that the new Iron Maiden album is brilliant, but I haven’t heard it yet, only this one song, “Speed Of Light”, which is funny, because it’s also one of our songs, but anyway I am looking forward to hearing that new album. Also, they are playing classic stuff live, but people have to understand that bands like Iron Maiden don’t release albums for the money, but because they want to do it! Because they want to create something new. It’s very interesting for them as well playing new songs live, because they’ve played “The Trooper” hundreds of times! Of course, they are not exactly the same, but when you have a new song you really need to be on the edge, but it’s not that easy to compose a good album if you’ve done 10 or 15 albums. So, I think that our album is pretty good, so it’s like we have some bad albums, and we have some super albums. This (ed “Eternal”) is pretty close of becoming a super album for Stratovarius, I think it’s possible but it depends on so many facts. We’ve been lucky that our new lineup is good and everybody brings new energy, but if we had continued with that classic lineup, I know that there would have been no tours, and we wouldn’t have made good albums. That’s for sure, it wouldn’t have been possible!

Rockpages.gr: Stratovarius has been the pride of Finland as a very successful band coming from your country and making a worldwide career for all those years. If you close your eyes for a moment what are the first highlights that come to mind from your entire career in the band?

Timo Kotipelto: Well, there are so many… first of all, from the beginning when I joined the band I had to go through an audition, where I was the only one there because they had already made up their minds, but I was singing for four songs there and everybody was smiling, and then we went for a beer and they told me. And then, we had a gig at Tavastia Club, which is the most famous venue in Finland. And the second gig was in Osaka, Japan and I though I was living a dream. Two years before that I wouldn’t have ever thought about this, being in a band that played worldwide. And then I remember the gig in Rodon club in Athens, that was brilliant, full of people and we recorded that and we were so amazed that we were siting backstage for one hour drinking water and beer, surprised about how loud were the fans. Then of course I remember my small accidents on tour, like burning my hand in Wacken in the middle of the show, and then I remember one time we were in Venezuela driving to the gig, which was half an hour away from our hotel and we saw people queuing and we thought that they were going to see Metallica, or another band, but they were coming to see our show! We were playing in an amphitheater to seven thousand people, and I don’t know if we sold any albums in Venezuela! It’s amazing that there is a country at the other end of the world that knows your songs and they never forget…  

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