Interview and live pics by Arto Lehtinen
Thunderstone have carved its mark on the Finnish metal map with strong albums and tight gigs. The band’s latest effort EVOLUTION 4.0 is strong evidence of the band’s ability to create melodic but tightly played metal. The five piece spent the whole spring in the limelight as they were semifinalists in the Eurovision song contents here in Finland. So, it was about time to get a hold of the band’s mastermind Nino Laurenne to discuss the latest album and of course other interesting topics such as working with the Finnish idol winner, a new guitar album project and recalling the time when he used to play in Antidote and toured with Accuser and HeadHunter all around in Europe.
How’s it going, Nino ?
It is going fine, but let it go fine
Let’s start to talk about the latest Thunderstone effort EVOLUTION 4.0. I have had the impression that the album was some kind of borderline that you wanted to make a new sounding album with a new style, not repeating the same old formula?
Yeah everything was done in the different way, except I was a producer. Of course I could have hired some other producer, but it always depends on a budget. Even now we went over the budget because we had another guy doing a mix. But otherwise everything was done differently. Songs were written together, well most of them. We did the song jamming in our rehearsal place, which is quite weird for this band. We gathered at our rehearsal place to create riffs and listen to other’s fuck off comments on how a riff sucks ass. A song was ready after two hours of the rehearsal when we left the the training. But there wasn’t vocal melodies, in that way we kind of made songs in a wrong way. We had a riff and chord and that was a verse. I mainly did the vocal melodies and faced a few very interesting situations when doing them like “Hold on, hmm this sounds really interesting” and all the pre recordings had been done for most of songs. They were not even demoed and then we started doing vocal melodies over them. On principle when working with protools, it would have possible to take or copy a chord from somewhere else. But we didn’t have to do that.
You just mentioned that you worked together when writing new songs. But have you been the main composer before or has each one of you composed on your own and then gathered at rehearsals to check out what everyone has got ?
I have written most of songs earlier. I occasionally have an entire finished song and there are only small details to work on it. Sometimes I have a song which has been written a little bit. Sometimes either I have, or Kari or Titus have an entire finished song and we start checking it out in our rehearsal room . This time we went to the rehearsal place and we had absolutely nothing. We started from nothing. Of course it was quite interesting to stand there and follow the other guys who were like “We gotta do something, how it would start”. For example Mirka started jamming with the drums and had some ideas which after all ended up as “10000 Ways”. Then we had situations like “Lets fucken play now, all right that is the first chorus” and so on. We wrote them together. I for one did the lyrics and vocal melodies because I always make at the same time. So I made them afterwards.
Thunderstone is often labeled as a power metal band…
Even now. I still hear these comparisons to Sonata Arctica
Did you try to get rid of this power metal label by composing heavier and more aggressive songs?
Well I knew that by making a more aggressive album we would get rid of that label. But we never thought about that we have to make it in this way. The only thought was to make an aggressive album. Well I knew it will take us away from that power metal genre. That was the only decision. The guitars will be having a bigger role than ever before on the next album and keyboards may not be as visible.
Getting rid of this power metal label is pretty difficult?
Well, let’s think some person might like our stuff, but he/she won’t even start listening to us because he assumes it is power metal. Everyone has ears and when they push the “Play” button they will realize it is no longer power metal. Hmm maybe they have to make a more aggressive album next time. Besides, our vocalist doesn’t sing that clean and it is kind of hilarious as we are now compared to Masterplan because Pasi supposedly sounds like Jorn Lande. If he sounds like Lande, it is not our fault and he does not sound like Lande anyway. However Jorn is an awesome singer indeed.
The album was done here at Sonic Pump and mastered at Finnvox??
Nothing was done at Finnvox. The mastering was handled at Chartmakers by Svante Forsback. Hmm.. Some bands have done a couple of albums with me and then changed to another studio to have different sounds. I use the same method. I have made a hell lot of albums there, my own albums and others of course. It was about time to try something else. I have been damn satisfied with Svante’s works. And secondly Jesse Vainio mixed this album and this was a reason why the mastering had been done at Chartmakers because he has done all the stuff of his own there. But I would have the last word as a producer. I have been pleased with them and besides I have made a couple of other albums there anyway. It fit the whole process that everything was done in a different way.
But didn’t Jesse Vainio do some mixing that you weren’t pleased with?
I started doing the mixing of this album on Christmas Eve. But by then I had worked 60 days in a row and I did the mixing during one or two days or something. It sounded like garbage all the time. When you start doing the mixing right after the recording you should have a couple of weeks break. My ears were fucked up and I had some terrible stress. I called Jesse Vainio and asked him to come over to listen to this mix. He listened to it and said there were a plenty of amateurish mistakes which I would never make in a normal situation. But I was quite burnt out. We agreed that Jesse would do the mixing for one of those songs and I was sitting behind watching and I was suffering from an awful earache and my blood pressure was getting high. I was physically quite tired. I was spinning around and wondering what the hell am I supposed to do, I should mix my album and that guy has never mixed any heavy metal album before. But I have seen him working here and he is a real perfectionist. He has mixed all kinds of other stuff during the last 10 years.
Was it a risk to let Vainio do that ?
Of course it was. But it was nothing but the bloody right decision. It took a couple of days before the sounds were found. Besides I wanted the sounds to be much dirtier and there isn’t much edited stuff like before. The first mixing was so garage, reminding me of ST ANGER, hah.. maybe not. Then it just clicked in the right places after all and I felt relieved. After all it was quite funny and I didn’t have to spend my time here all the time. Jesse always mixed a song and I came to listen to it and expressed my opinion of the mix.
Does this mean the next Thunderstone album will be handled by someone else and you stop by to listen and check out?
Umm. Let’s see now. It always depends on a budget. Before EVOLUTION I had already pondered using another producer because I always kill myself by working too much. I will record it anyway. But a separate recorder and producer would be nice because I wouldn’t have to be here all the time. But who would be the right person for this job because I have to rely on that person that I wouldn’t need to start fighting and I rely 100% on what he says. If he says some thing has to be done in this way, then we do in that way unless I totally disagree with him.
I have been wondering when taking a glance at these bands with whom you have worked, can there be some kind of over load issue in that you are not able any longer to distinguish the music of Thunderstone from other bands’ products and stuff?
Definitely. But I don’t think it would effect that I am working on albums of other bands. But instead when you are producing an album of your own, then you are too close to that. This has been my baby since the beginning so I haven’t been capable of letting it go. Until now I have had thoughts that someone could know how this band could and should sound. Maybe it could be a good thing to have someone coming from outside to bring new thoughts. But you have an effect on the structure of songs, but it is all about small things.
We have spoken about your role in the band but do you think the other guys in the band would agree?
I strongly believe the other guys agree. There isn’t such a thing as democracy in the band, of course it is to a certain point. But there always has to be someone to make the decisions. I believe everyone would agree if I told. Of course it would depend on who would produce. If I said Andy McCoy would come to produce our next album, I assume someone might disagree otherwise someone could be thrilled about that. That was just a wild thought. Or Max Martin or Rick Rubin or Bob Rock
As you said earlier all the songs were written by jamming them. Songs like “Solid Ground”,” Great Man Down”, “Face in the Mirror”?
As a matter of fact you just mentioned two songs. “Solid Ground” was the first song made for this album. I still remember when we were packing our stuff. Kari started playing the riff and then we other guys joined it and it was a great feeling. Titus wrote the lyrics for it. Also, “Great Man Down”, was born and yes it was made by jamming.
The opening riff is really catchy one
Well yeah it is basic heavy metal indeed. If I remember right, I had some similar sounding riffs in the beginning and showed it to other guys and then we started working on it. The working title for the song was “Kaljaa ja makkaraa”. It is easier to remember a song.
As for lyrics, what are they about as you are responsible for them?
There are not about swords and dragons flying. Of course there are fantasy stories made up from our imaginations. In my opinion, the lyrics have changed album after album as there are more and more varied contents. The lyrics originally were basically non-sense stuff on the first album as we just made good sounding sentences. After writing the half of a song you start wondering what the song it is all about. There is some sort of red line in the lyrics. There are quite a lot of metaphorical stuff as I don’t speak directly in lyrics because it is funnier that a listener can create a story of his own in his imagination. There ain’t that many stances. In my opinion “Tin Star Man” is the only one political stance of this band. It is about the great sheriff of The States and there is Bush’s speech in the middle of the song, taken from somewhere.
You basically write the lyrics, but do the other Thunderstone members write them as well ?
Titus has written “Tin Star Man”. Basically 90 % of the time I write the lyrics because I write the vocal melodies.
Pasi doesn’t bring his lyrics ?
No, he handles the vocals
VIDEOS OF THUNDERSTONE
There is a video released from every ThunderStone album “Virus”; “Until … “As for EVOLUTION ; I for one haven’t see any video yet ….ehhh
There is a video “Face In The Mirror” from the album
I haven’t seen it, At least it hasn’t been on the TV etc that much ? At least I have missed it…
Well yes in general it is missed. The Tv commercial of course. As you know the LISTA program (The Finnish top 40 album chart on TV) is no longer on the TV. In general there is little chances to get a video played on the TV in Finland nowadays. We tried to get the rotation on VOICE (Finnish pop music TV channel), but surprise surprise they didn’t want it.
What about world wide then?
To be honest I have no clue at all. Maybe they have got it to the Italian MTV during the night time which I have heard. It hasn’t got any rotation at all. But it has been shown a couple of times on Headbanger’s Ball on the Finnish MTV.
But in general if I started taking care of that video promotion I wouldn’t have any time and interest to do anything else. Basically it ain’t my job when the video is done. My job is to be there playing the guitar and then the whole thing is in hands of other people. When you have a record label like Nuclear Blast, you shouldn’t need to worry about that or then who cares after all. When a demo is put to an envelope and mailed to a label then I have done my job. But if my input is needed in the video working then I can quit. I have better things to do.
In general videos of Thunderstone have always looked quite stylish in my opinion. For example the “Virus” video looked great..
There has always been a real professional staff working on our videos. One point is that budgets have never been that huge and then a story on the video, those things usually get fucked up. If you are going to make a good relationship story for a video, then you face problems. If we have always tried to make videos which look so great as possible, when speaking of the band, hah. But a normal playing on the video is quite enough with these kinds of budgets and then we can invest the rest of the money on pyros and cameras. When it comes to hiring actors and other stuff, then the final result can be for example a Volvo is cruising in the countryside like on one certain video by some Stratovarius band, then we have problems again.
For example the “Virus” video kind of introduced Thunderstone to the people anyway
Yes. There was some student group working on the video. But there is always some kind of community effort group working on videos of Finnish bands. It has always been and will be in the future because budgets are small.
Actually we have fourty tapes of the stuff shot during the last six years. We should start checking out and maybe for a possible DVD release.
Are you thinking about putting a DVD out some day?
Definitely, we have a lot of great stuff, at least in my opinion. Some day we could make a live video and have the bonus material added as a DVD. Or then a document of 20 minute long. But I don’t know how the document could be concluded as something should happen.
SIGNING A DEAL… BUT WITH WHO??
Then this deal thing. I assume you have a four album deal with an option with Nuclear Blast ?
Well, let’s say it in this way. We are quite near in the interruption situation or maybe we already are in the interruption situation. We have already discussed the case. But let’s see. However the situation seen from Thunderstone’s side is good.
They are willing to continue?
Is that good ? Because we would get a deal from any label for sure. Well not from any label that we want, but we would definitely get a deal. Previously there hasn’t been such a situation, becase we have had a deal with Nuclear Blast.
I was about to ask if you left Nuclear Blast, would there be labels willing to pick you up?
Definitely, there is no doubt about that. I know a lot of A&R people from record labels who have praised our newest album quite a lot. So I am not worried about that at all. In fact it could be a good move to change a label.
Well have you been pleased with the promotion of Nuclear Blast as Thunderstone hasn’t been that visible compared to, for example, Hammerfall?
Well selling figures of albums haven’t been that huge or what they have expected. But that amount of money what Nuclear Blast put on the promotion here in Finland was bigger than ever before like TV commercials. So there is no complains. The most interesting point when I talked to a guy from Nuclear Blast was that we have only played twice at Wacken and how it is possible we are not able to get to play to any European festivals. The guy told that he has never experienced this situation in his career that no-one books you for any gigs. I was like that was nice to hear and asked a reason why. He didn’t know. I was like whom we are supposed to fuck for having gigs or whom we have fucked for not having gigs. But he didn’t know at all. Of course we haven’t done anything, but some weird failing and falling to nowhere. Weird situation.
Nowadays people come to tell us after gigs, they wouldn’t have believed that Thunderstone is such a tight and energic live band. And I know the band is in a real tight condition as a live band. We have sent a number of offers to several festival, but none of them wanted us. Frankly the whole thing is getting me a little bit pissed off.
Regarding albums, you have put out plenty of killer albums with catchy songs, but for some reason the albums are forgotten and the band also forgotten quite quickly. I am guessing you have wondered the same thing?
Yes. Several people have wondered that same thing. Frankly I don’t know. Now we had this semifinal of the Eurovision song contest here in Finland, maybe we should have pushed even harder. But on the other hand we played on the TV for two million people, but it didn’t boost album sales. We talked with our old management about this and they didn’t know a reason. These are entirely unwritten things. For example they can’t say why Sonata Arctica is so popular and we are not. But saying in the perverse way it is a good thing there is some kind of puritanism in the metal scene, but of course not seen from our side. It is impossible to know, if it is known then everyone would say and do it. And especially me who is working here and I could arrange these sound things forever. You never know.
Was the cancellation of the tour with Primal Fear and Iced Earth some kind of hit below the belt?
That was a good point. That would have been one hell of a good tour.
They are putting a new tour package together by the way
Yeah… do you know how much these tours cost? You just can’t go there. We haven’t toured at all during the last two years because of we haven’t gotten any financial support for tours. You need to get to tours and tours cost a helluva lot and touring support comes from the record label. And if you don’t get the support, what can you do? Anyway we are heading on tour now. The whole touring budget has been planned in this way; we are prepared for losing money, but we have the money to cover that. If people show up to gigs, then we may get some money. But these tours with Iced Earth, HammerFall Stratovarius are real damn expensive. For example a bus rent is app. 10.000 Euros. And then you are a support act and play for about 30 minutes and you have to pay-to-play.
However it is nice to getting on the tour. The Progpower U.K. was confirmed some time ago.
However you will be touring with Nocturnal Rites
Yes. It will be a real fun tour. They are little bit older guys. This is gonna be really relaxed… hahah
Regarding Eurovision, it brought Thunderstone’s to a wider audience than would normally hear your music
Yes, it was a good thing. Let’s see what will happen with the next new album. The band was entirely unknown to the wider audience during the last three albums, of course metal people were aware of Thunderstone. Of course some kind of radio song is needed to get more attention. We are selling more albums than most Finnish metal bands, but that is not enough though.
Are you surprised to see or hear “Face in the Mirror” on the Finnish Radio Rock station?
I could say I am not surprised, but I don’t want to sound arrogant. When it started being on the radio rotation I thought it took 22 years to have a song of my own on the radio. “Face in the Mirror” is one of the most played songs. We are supposed to have a new radio for the radio rotation.
You have had a few gigs in Finland
We had nothing last year. But instead we have had more gigs than ever before this year. It is quite weird, people leave messages to our questbook, saying the band doesn’t do gigs. I told our gig booker that we have to do more gigs than ever before this year and the gig list looks really good.
You are about to start working on the new Thunderstone album, tell us more?
Hmmm, If I say just a wild guess, we will start recording it one year from now somewhere in the summer or autumn.
BLAST FROM THE PAST
Let’s jump to another topic and leave Thunderstone behind now. You said it took 22 years to have a song of your own to the radio and you don’t lose the money anymore. I can’t help but wonder if Antidote was some kind of school or learning period for you?
Absolutely not, even though we signed with that Shark label. When we were having the first meeting with the staff of the current label and I mentioned I have had a deal with a German label Shark Records for my old band. The Nuclear Blast staff were like “we are very sorry we understand what you feel”. I even mentioned the name of the guy of Shark Records. Well of course it was a rip off deal anyway and we got screwed by Shark Records in the first place. But it wasn’t any school thing at all. Instead this Thunderstone has been the school for me. When we signed with Nuclear Blast for the first time, I didn’t dare to say anything as I was so humble. When signing a deal with some label now, we won’t put our signatures to any deal immediately. I have learnt my lessons.
When going to Germany for the first time to sign a deal with Shark Records for Antidote, Timo Tolkki from Stratovarius gave a copy of the second Stratovarius album in hope of getting some kind of deal?
Well yeah. But in my opinion it is pointless to take any credit. Of course Timo however thanked us. But he would have sent it everywhere. Some other label would have found that band for sure. The stuff was so good and ready at that point that someone would have found and signed them anyway. But yes it was a funny story, the album was taken by us.
Antidote toured in Germany with Accuser and Headhunter and Headhunter is known for being Schmier’s band formed after Destruction.
Yeah and Jorg played in Headhunter and Tolkki mixed the tour.
But tell more about the tour
Hmmm what could I tell? We were making our second album in Essen for three weeks. There was one day between the recording session and the touring. I was 24 or something and of course it was great. Antidote was one of the first Finnish metal bands doing tours in Central Europe. We played in Switzerland, Austria and Germany.
How did you get along with other bands?
Great indeed. There ain’t any problems on tours.
Did you become a good friend with Schmier?
I don’t know if I became any friend with anyone. But when being on the tour during two weeks and living in the same bus, of course there is some kind of friendship when seeing each other somewhere and share some beer. It would be fun to see Accuser somewhere.
But then Antidote reached the end of the road
There was no motivation left at all, it was completely lost. The last album was made for BlueLight Records and sold app. 500 copies. There was no future to be seen. Then my first studio things started. I was in a movie making process where I called the drummer Arnkil, who now plays bass in Impaled Nazarene, and told him it is time to quit. We hadn’t gotten any gigs and the interest toward the band was pretty much gone. Besides I wanted to make more melodic stuff and work more on vocal melodies. All in all eleven years with Antidote.
Both Tuomio and Arnkil went to Impaled Nazarene whereas you and Titues continued with Thunderstone, But are you into the melodic hard rock stuff whereas Arnkil was more into the extreme stuff ?
Yes indeed. That has always been an obvious difference between me and Arnkil. I have never been able to listen to the harshest extreme stuff. In my opinion the stuff always has to be made good and professionally. I personally have never been into the punkish approach.
Arnkil was really into the real punkish harsh stuff. He once gave me a tape. Well I listened to the A-side and realized I can’t listen to this and then checked out the B-side. I was like what the hell is this. It was Dream Theater’s IMAGES AND WORDS. It still is one of the best albums. As a matter of fact I listened to the album today with my new IPOD this morning jogging. But Arnkil was that punk dude whereas I was such a wimp. But for example Pantera, although it is quite aggressive, but tight played stuff with the great sounds. That has always been a must.
You are not thrilled about the extreme or death metal bands at all?
No, I have never cared about them. I used to be digging Sepultura a little bit. Mostly I prefer Metallica, Megadeth.
OTHER PROJECTS BY THE MASTERMIND OF THUNDERSTONE
All right you are working on the album featuring Finnish top metal guitarists. Tell more about it..
The line-up is going to be : Laihio and Latvala from Children Of Bodom, Timo Tolkki from Stratovarius, Emppu from Nightwish, Tuomio because he has taught me guitarplaying when I was thirteen and he tuned my first guitar. Although he is no longer in Impaled Nazarene, but it doesn’t matter. He is really an important person to me. When I am a producer of the album, it is kind of personal matter. Then Euge from Godsplague, then Mr Crab from Blake, Esa Holopainen from Amorphis, Sakari Hietala from Tarot and Mikko Salovaara from Kiuas. And of course me, but I wouldn’t have minded being involved in the album as a guitarist role, but the A&R guy from Sony/BMG demanded. He wanted me to work on the album and of course I have to play something. However all in all eleven guitarists will be on the album. It is going to be an interesting album. The whole point is that every guitarist will compose own song. There will three drummers : Mirka Rantanen of course, Kai Hahto who has already played his parts and Tommi Lillman. Everyone has free hands to do whatever they want. Sony/BMG will release it. The idea from the guitar album came from Sony/BMG. For the first time when I was suggested by the A&R guy from Sony BMG that let’s make a guitar album featuring nothing but 50 minute of the guitar playing I turned it down right away. Next morning the guy called me and told he is serious about the guitar album thing. I gave a second though about that all right this kind of guitar album has never been made yet. Of course there are a plenty of comp albums, but guys would write their own songs and play them in the studio is something new and funny. There will be a booklet included with a plenty of pics and the equipment and the guitars are mentioned there.
And then this Finnish Idol star whose debut album was produced by you
Well Ari Koivunen has sold for about 60 000 copies. (Double platinum in Finland) Pretty good indeed. It was a great production together with Pasi Heikkilä, who is also a producer, and Pete Eklund from Sony. What else can I say? People can think of the album whatever they want. But he has sold more albums than I have sold with both bands of mine together. It was a good album frankly. I have had some good laughs while reading reviews, because every journalist knows the album was made in a great rush and hurry and they say in their reviews that the urgency of the making of the album would stare them in the face. Fuck that!! Even though I would have had two months to work on it, the album would sound the same anyway. The whole process of making the album was under my control all the time although it was really urgent to get it done. I didn’t have any kind of stress and enjoyed working on it. Then all the players were really professionals and I knew what to do next all the time. Well I could have made Aki sing longer, but he did a great job. The only minus thing was learning the songs so quickly. All the songs were already ready. But I have to say when reading these forums and it seems like people have no slightest idea how the whole thing has carried after all. Hopefully this sentence will come up somewhere : These songs on the album are not any leftover ones at all. Most of songs had been composed for Ari Koivunen’s album. People say that this and that song was a leftover one by some artist and maybe it didn’t end up to a new album of some certain artist. Bullshit. These songs had been made specific for Aki Koivunen.
The official ThunderStone site :
Videos of Thunderstone