Timo Tolkki of Stratovarius

August 23rd, 2005
by Metal Rules

Timo Tolkki of Stratovarius
Interviewed in March 1999 by David Lee

STRATOVARIUS is the oldest “new” band on the metal scene today. While they have been thrilling throngs of fans across Europe and Japan since the mid-eighties, they have gone virtually unheard of in the U.S. Were it not for the advent of the Internet, only a handful of people Stateside would have ever had the chance to bask in the magnificently brilliant glow of these power metal kings. With less than a single calendar’s worth of days left until the new millennium it is somehow fitting that STRATOVARIUS should finally be allowed to make its mark here via a reborn NOISE RECORDS.

“DESTINY” is a record with a classic power metal feel that may, at first, bring images of Blackmore and Malmsteen’s work but soon sets itself apart in every considerable aspect. The melodies are involved but not standoffish. The musicianship is crisp, powerful and most important, so obviously heartfelt. This is a work of power and passion of epic proportions and has the added feature of being eminently listenable. It is likely that this disc won’t leave your player for weeks at a time. It is just that good.

Complimenting the music is the personableness of the players themselves, in this case Timo Tolkki. Timo is every bit the guitar god in Europe that Blackmore and Malmsteen have been, yet he is so easy to converse with that you could easily feel like you are speaking to an old friend. He doesn’t go in much for the idol worship thing and would rather that people simply concentrate on the music which, in this case, is exceedingly easy. I caught Timo as he was waiting for the bus to take the band to France so that they could begin yet another European tour.


Metal Rules!!:
I finally have a copy of the new “DESTINY” album here in front of me. It certainly has taken a long time for it to be released in America.

TIMO TOLKKI:
I know! Too much time I think. I don’t know what happened with that because originally it was supposed to come out in October. It is hard for me to tell what happened but I think that it was Noise International in America, they had some problems with it or something. Now it is out anyway so I am happy.

Metal Rules!!:
America has seemed to be a pretty tough market for you to get into and it is very surprising with the amount of success that you have had in the rest of the world.

TT:
Yeah, I don’t know why. Maybe it is because it is not a very popular kind of music. This style of music is not so popular in America and it is mostly underground at the moment, I think. I don’t know, I think and it is very hard to get interviews and to promote the band so people don’t know. They know what they see from MTV which is controlled by big record companies. They pay for what they get played so…

Metal Rules!!:
Was it this record or the last one that was number 1 in Finland?

TT:
This one was number 1 immediately when it was released and it just went gold.

Metal Rules!!:
Congratulations!

TT:
It is going very well for us in Finland and Europe in general. America is very hard. I have never been in the States and I would like to go of course.

Metal Rules!!:
I know that you have had the band together for quite some time…

TT:
Yeah, it has been a long road you know? I wasn’t even in the original lineup, it was different in ?82.

Metal Rules!!:
You have seen several different fazes of music come and go but you have remained true to that original vision for the most part.

TT:
These things have no influence to me because I don’t know what is going on. I do my music and whatever is popular, I don’t even know always. I don’t listen to so much music and I don’t check other bands so much. I am very isolated (laughs). The trends come and go anyway and there is always something that is a trend and they come and go. Metal was even a trend and I think that it will be again, I think. A trend is something that is happening during one particular time and it can not sell for a very long time before people get bored and something else comes.

Metal Rules!!:
Something that has been missing for far too long, especially in the States is real excitement in rock and roll and that is something STRATOVARIUS does well, make music that is familiar yet exciting.

TT:
I think that it comes naturally because when I am doing songs I never force myself into formulas, I write what I feel. I write what I see happening in my life and in the world and I think that everything should come spontaneously. If you try to plan music too much, I don’t think that it can be very natural. Of course you can start a band and try and figure out what kind of music is selling or is popular at the moment but that is very shortsighted, I think. When you start you have bands that you admire and you copy subconsciously and then later you develop your own style and you should forget these bands.

Metal Rules!!:
STRATOVARIUS is in a unique position where you have been around long enough to actually be an influence to an entire younger generation but at the same time are considered a new act in some parts of the world. How does that make you feel to at once be in the role of mentor and newcomer?

TT:
(Laughs)It doesn’t have any affect on me because I know what I am doing and I don’t consider myself as a star or anything, I am a normal guy and I just like to make songs and play, you know. The idolizing of musicians I don’t like at all but unfortunately it is like that. Maybe fortunately because then we can live from this music!(laughs) Most of the kids who come to see the show are really into it and very serious sometimes. Sometimes when we play in Greece or Italy when I see these kids at our shows, it makes me scared, it is really frightening. They are so serious about it.

Metal Rules!!:
I can identify with that. When I was younger I always had the fantasy of sneaking into a bands dressing room to meet them. Have you ever had any experiences like that?

TT:
I was like that! I was always listening to a lot of RAINBOW and Blackmore was my idol. There is something magical in this atmosphere that draws people into this. It is very hard to explain but it is the atmosphere of “rock stardom” or something. I can understand the kids and I don’t want to say “Don’t do that.” because it is one part of when you are growing up. You need that, you know?

Metal Rules!!:
Do you Think that the kids need to put a bit more emphasis on the music and less on the individual?

TT:
Well, if you are asking me, yes because I think that the music should be the key and the most important thing. It is the same as “What kind of clothes does he wear?” and “How does he look?” But the music has feeling ad emotion and that is a serious thing for me and I think that they should pay more attention but, obviously, they don’t because such crappy bands are popular!(laughs)

Metal Rules!!:
How long did it take for you to write this record?

TT:
It was about six weeks. It was about January and February of last year and it came out very quickly, I was very motivated. I wrote the whole record at one go in six weeks. I have a very good feeling about
this record.

Metal Rules!!:
Was it stuff that was pent up inside of you for a long time or did it just come out in one burst of creativity?

TT:
I am always writing in my head, all the time. The thing is, you will go on tour and you are there for three or four months and you get ideas all the time and then when you go back home and have some free time it comes out. At least that is the way that it is for me. I see things that are happening which interest me and I write about things that I am interested in. I need to have the time for that and that is what happened here, I had six weeks or a couple of months of free time and I concentrated only on writing songs and this is what came out.

Metal Rules!!:
How do you isolate yourself away from the business and everything else that is going on so that you can focus on the music and nothing else?

TT:
It is very difficult because people are calling and sending faxes and I am telling everybody that I am going out for a while and “You can’t reach me for a while.” If there is something really urgent they can send me a fax. I just really isolate myself because I have a family and they need time as well. Sometimes I feel a lot of guilt about that because I can not be with my family as much as I would like to be but I have a studio an equipment at my home so I work for 8 to 10 hours and then I don’t do anything else.

Metal Rules!!:
How did you bring the rest of the band in to perform on these songs that you have written for the album and what type of input did they have on the songs?

TT:
It is always, pretty much, the same formula. I first make a demo tape with a drum machine and I play pretty much everything like the bass guitars and synth and sometimes even sing a vocal melody and then I give these tapes to the guys so that they can learn the construction of the song and then we get together in a rehearsal room and play for two or three weeks and then we go into the studio. Sometimes we make another demo with the band with real drums and everything like that and at this point they can pretty much play whatever they want and bring in their own ideas. I produce our records as well and I only say something if I really don’t like something, some idea that they have and then I say “Could you please try something else?” But they pretty much can do what they want and they are such good musicians and they have good taste and play good things.

Metal Rules!!:
That is something that definitely comes across in the music. Their is a confidence between the song structure and the execution that is completely natural, at least to me.

TT:
Yeah, I mean, it is like an evolution, my song writing. I have practiced my song writing and we have grown together in this lineup during these last three years. It is a very tight band at the moment and actually we are starting the tour now. I am standing here in the rehearsal room in Germany and waiting for the bus!(laughs) We go to France today and start tomorrow and have thirty-four shows to go.

Metal Rules!!:
And no plans on touring in the States as yet?

TT:
First we have to see how the record goes. I know that HELLOWEEN was in New York and played one show and we are going to South America in March so maybe there is a chance to play but, you know, it costs a lot of money to fly over and bring the equipment and everything so I think that we will have to wait and see. Maybe we will have to wait until this kind of music is more popular again but HAMMERFALL is touring so maybe we can hook up with some other band but I don’t know what kind of places to play. I mean, I want to play in good places with good equipment, I don’t want to play in pizzerias or something like that! I don’t know what kind of places we could play on this tour because sometimes they are really small.

Metal Rules!!:
What kind of halls have you been playing in Europe?

TT:
I has been varying from 1,000 to 4,000 seat capacity so they are all, at this point, very O.K. We have played big seat halls as well three or four years ago. It is very terrible for me because I have an idea for how my music should sound on stage with the PA and everything and then we go to some really small place and their is a really small PA and no reverb or anything and I get very frustrated.

Metal Rules!!:
Do you get to put together much of a production to go with the music when you are playing these size halls.

TT:
We try to do some things like we have backdrops and stuff like that but mainly the places that we play, they are not big halls or something. That would be ideal for this kind of music. I would really like to do some multimedia or something that would be really great. Anything that fits to the music. With this new record there are surely some things that you could do with he production.

Metal Rules!!:
The record does sound very big and majestic and I could see a very elaborate production to go along with it.

TT:
When I produce the records I have this sound that I am going for, I have this sound that I want to achieve. I have it in my head and we keep on going and recording until we find that and it takes months to do that. I am very happy with the sound on this new record.

Metal Rules!!:
Is this a whole piece of music or more a collection of songs?

TT:
I think some of the songs could be like that but to me it is a collection of songs, nothing more. I would like to do a story. Maybe the next record we will try to do one really long song, maybe like thirty minutes or something if I find a good story line or theme. I am really into that but it is really difficult to do because it can be boring to people if you can’t get a good story, like in opera, they have libereto and they have to find a story first and then they write the music around the story.

Metal Rules!!:
I am sure that you have many story ideas floating around your head that would work.

TT:
Yeah, there are but it is just tough to find the time. Maybe after this tour, maybe in the summer I will start or in the autumn when I start working on the next record.

Metal Rules!!:
You mentioned Ritchie Blackmore earlier and I just need to ask you what you think of both his and DEEP PURPLE’s recent work.

TT:
I like that but for me it is very hard to listen to DEEP PURPLE after Blackmore. Maybe I am stupid or something but that is the way it is for me. Blackmore is not so much a technical player, I mean, there are so many good players now and he is not extremely fast or anything like that but he has a lot of feeling in his songs and in his solos. I was like a huge fan when I was fourteen, you know, I really looked up to the guy. There was something which I can not explain to this guy, I don’t know. Maybe it is this idolizing thing again but I think that he wrote really cool songs. Other bands, I mean, I really like MAIDEN but I don’t like the new vocalist (ed. note Bruce is back!) so much which I don’t think anybody likes. I have nothing against him but to me, it just doesn’t sound good. I liked DIO but not anymore. His new records I don’t understand but to me he is the classic singer with a really, really great voice so I am pretty much not into these new bands. I don’t know anything, I just listen to these old bands, it is quite boring!(laughs) My first record ever was “RAINBOW: ON STAGE” back in ?78 or something. I bought it on CD now because I still have the vinyl but can’t listen to it because it is so worn out!(laughs) I hope that one day that I can meet the guy because I have never met Ritchie. I have heard a lot of stories about him and I almost met him a couple of times but it will happen one day, I hope.

Metal Rules!!:
Hopefully we can see him and STRATOVARIUS doing tours in the U.S. this year.

TT:
This would be cool! Especially if we did it with him.

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Posted in 1999 | Comments (0)




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