INTERVIEW BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ AND ARTO LEHTINEN
Symfonia. Does that name of the band ring any bells out there yet? Maybe not for everyone as Symfonia is basically a new band on the metal map. But behind Symfonia there are well known names and persons involved in the band. When unveiling names such as Andre Matos, Timo Tolkki, Uli Kusch, Jari Kainulainen and Mikko Harkin it is quite obvious the interest toward this five piece may increase tremendously. The Metal-Rules.com team had an nice and pleasant task to witness the debut show of Symfonia at the Finnish Metal Expo. After the show we were lucky enough to have an opportunity of doing an interesting and in-depth interview with vocalist Andre Matos regarding the birth of Symfonia, Avantasia, and plenty of other topics including Symfonia’s future activities. Ladies and gentleman, the first Symfonia interview here at Metal-Rules.com.
THE FIRST SYMFONIA SHOW
The first Symfonia show ever is now behind you, how did it go in your opinion?
Well like I said on stage, it’s a big relief now for everybody that there was obviously a lot of expectation not only from the audience from also from our side to be on stage and of course if you think that we did it the most difficult way somehow because to blame the metal expo where everybody is in and it’s like probably the most demanding audience you could ever have. So I think in the end we’re very satisfied with our performance and with the reaction of the audience because it’s not an easy one. And for us it was a completely new experience as well, I mean we have been recording this album for many months now but obviously to play the whole thing live, it is a different experience and we’re very happy that this part of the job is over and now we can just think forward.
How many times you did rehearse as a band before this debut show?
We arrived here, you know everybody in the band is not living in Finland and we arrived here last Sunday. We’ve been rehearsing since Monday so it was four days of rehearsal and today we got ready for the actual gig.
Before tonight’s gig, were you worried before going on stage because your album is not released yet and there’s been just one song which has been played on the Finnish radio station so far?
Yes, two days ago.
Were you worried how the people will react to new material…
No I was prepared and also surprised because people reacted more than I expected. Yes, because I always wait for the worse, it’s like technique you know. I told the guys we have to state this; we have to stand for our thing no matter what the reaction’s going to be. And I know that sometimes the audience in Finland is very demanding, it’s not an easy audience you know. I mean in Nordic countries in general it’s the same but if you can do it then that’s really cool, I mean you really achieved something. In the end of the third song we saw their reaction to be like “we want more, we want more” I mean that’s what really counts
I was kind of surprised about your set list because you didn’t play too much old stuff, like old Stratovarius hit songs?
No we didn’t and that was our statement. You know there was this big doubt like should we toast the audience with some old stuff that they’re expecting and then I think it’s really important to that we are so proud about what we did on this record and those are for me I mean those are also new anthems, new hymns you know in metal that never the less people don’t know what to expect and are not familiar to songs yet. But it’s very important that they get the first contact with the songs instead of we would be leaving from our best if you know what I mean.
Yeah, it would have been too safe for you to just play old hits instead your new material.
Yeah that’s something we discussed a lot and I came up with this pretty much like I think even though it’s more risky we have to state our art, we have to state our ideas and this is good enough you know to be able to be presented even though we must be aware that the reaction in the first moment for something that’s completely unknown is different one than when people know the songs. But that’s why we’re here for. I mean even this concert of the event you know metal, expo metal meeting, it’s to present something new. This is not a regular kind of festival where you go there and you want to please the people and move the message you know. Of course when we have a longer concert, a longer set, two and a half hour long, two hour long, there will be probably more old stuff fitting in you know but we also must agree what and how but in this situation I think we did the right thing.
But you still did a few old songs like Stratovarius’s “Dreamspace” and even one Revolution Renaissance track “I Did It My Way”. That one was particularly great choice because nobody has heard Revolution Renaissance tracks played live?
Yeah that’s true. And for me it does seem more like it. I think it was important for me whether if we do Angra or my solo stuff or Stratovarius stuff we should go for songs that were not played live before, that much. And in my days I still have a lot of respect for Kotipelto so I wouldn’t like to sing his songs, you know. That’s his stuff and I don’t want to have any kind of comparison so that’s why the Stratovarius song that was chosen to sing was an early one which Timo Tolkki has originally sung.
When you are now playing with Tolkki do you have any kind of feeling like you have a kind of “little ghost” of Kotipelto always around who’s watching you all the time, you know what I mean here? (laughs)
No, not really. I mean I’m good friends with Kotipelto as well. I mean he’s a nice guy. There’s absolutely, I think there would be no kind of jealousy or any kind of hard feelings involving this. It’s just natural that musicians get along and identify themselves you know so I don’t really believe there would be any kind of bad feelings.
Can I ask, what’s your honest opinion about the latest Stratovarious album ELYMSIUM which came out just a couple of weeks ago?
Man to be really honest I haven’t listened to it, I mean this last album. I know it went good in the charts and everything. They are very good musicians, they’re very competent musicians. I think it must be good but I really haven’t had the chance yet to listen to this last record.
Have you heard the POLARIS album then?
What, the previous Stratovarius album? I heard some songs, yeah. I mean it’s very good music, they are doing good music.
Without Tolkki in the band, do they still sound Stratovarius for you?
That’s a little odd question… but of course if I’m 100% honest I think Stratovarius was a lot team of Tolkki… and that must answer your question.
Yes it did “laughs”
They are still Stratovarius but maybe there’s something missing that, but that’s more up to the Strato fans to answer.
That’s your answer “laughs”
THE FORMATION OF SYMFONIA
Overall this whole Symfonia thing it’s kind of all-star lineup for power metal fans. How did the whole thing get started for you in a first place?
It all started like a project you know. I’ve known Timo for many, many years and we’ve been friends and we’ve been keeping some kind of contact here and there and then about one and a half year ago I moved to Sweden and for some reason Timo knew that I was in Sweden. In fact when I played here at the Finnish Metal Expo two years ago with my solo band I gave him a call, said look I’m in Helsinki. I mean Timo is one that I know here in Helsinki, I said it would be cool to talk to Timo after so many years and I said I am in Helsinki and you could come to the show and we could meet and then he just said something like yeah I don’t think I can come to the show but we can catch up and go to the sauna together. And the phone is very funny it’s like do you really take it serious about the sauna thing here in Finland. And now we understand why. It’s really great. So after that I mean when I was already in Sweden someday I got a phone call from Timo and I said look man I find it very funny that you are living in Sweden now so it’s right around the corner, it’s like not far away from me so why don’t we catch up and try to write some stuff together. Cool, I mean that’s like I really like as a friend and I really like him as a musician so why not you know. So he invited me to Helsinki, I came here about a year ago and spent quite a week with him like writing songs and talking about everything. So that’s when the idea of this project started. And it was about the same time that he was done with his Revolution Renaissance project
Did that happen on last summer?
A little bit before that actually. And I just remember I was supposed to fly back to Sweden then but then there was this volcano thing going on in Iceland and I had to stay even longer here, we had to compose more stuff together so we basically started the whole idea back then. And then he came up with you know other names for this what was supposed to be a project first and then turned out to be a real band. And after that things developed very fast, it was like successive happenings. Timo went to Sweden to visit me over there so we wrote the rest of the stuff and then we recorded these on a demo you know with three songs. And after that I came back to Finland so I got to meet the rest of the guys in the band including Uli (Kusch). That’s when we made our photo sessions and we basically established everything, how it would be for the recordings and so on. And in the end the whole process started to run so he was responsible for the production, we did the drums and the rest of the instrumentation and then he came back to Sweden when we recorded the voice a couple months ago. I mean for me I cannot say more than it’s a real honor, a real pleasure to be playing together with such guys.
Actually the name Symfonia, how did that name came up?
To be really honest it was Timo’s idea. You know he had this name beforehand and he showed it to me, look I have a name and I already have a logo for the band. So what can I say? “Looks good to me, I agree”. “laughs”
Like you said before, you and Timo are old friends and you do know each other from the past. How familiar were you with Timo’s past work in the music business?
Quite familiar because at the time I was in Angra we did the tour together with Stratovarius. It was a long tour we did together. So I pretty much got to know all the songs that they were playing in this tour and it was very cool, I mean I really remember watching them live and being very impressed by the guys. And I remember like Timo and Jari were two guys that really impressed me on stage.
You have a long variety of your solo band and Angra while Timo has a history with Stratovarius and Revolution Renaissance. Was there just some kind of pressure to write material with him or was it an easy job for you to come up with new ideas to write material for the album?
Both at once “laughs”
Both at once, tell something more about what you do mean here?
It is big player but on the same hand I would say it’s a big challenge as well because you have to overcome yourself. You know once you’re among great musicians you try something new you have to really get it up again and you have to try to do things that you’ve never done before. Although you have experience and you know how to do it but there is always this own request like I have to be better this time, I have to do it better this time. So it was a big challenge but it’s pleasant, absolute pleasant.
How much you guys do follow discussion forums and other Internet stuff?
Pretty much, I’m not very much an internet guy by myself because sometimes I don’t want to read bad things, I don’t want to read the bad things, the bad critics. But recently I’ve been very much into it because of the Symfonia page itself and all those forums and Facebook and whatever because it was important also to get the vibe, what’s being said around the world, what people are thinking. And you know we were prepared for this kind of thing, we knew that because of this gathering it would be expected to be honest but on the other side it also means a big responsibility because you cannot just make this whole thing then when you step on stage it flops, it’s nothing and it’s not consistent. So we must also that’s why we worked hard rehearsing and rehearsing so we got this together for a live act as well.
So you say you are not an internet guy that much but how do you keep connected to each other because Jari and Uli do live in Norway, you live in Sweden and Timo and Mikko live here in Finland…
In that regard of course I use e-mail every day and all those kind of things, do Skype and so on, but I’m not so much into Facebook or forums, I mean maybe foreigner pages is nice but not too much me as a person. I don’t go so often to the Brazilian metal pages you know because there’s also a lot of crap in there.
Basically it’s easier for you to keep the contact by Skype and stuff like that then.
It is, exchanging files on internet is a great tool, don’t get me wrong, it’s a great tool. But we see it… It has been also used by wrong people to do wrong things and what I really believe is that there is a lot of cowardice on the internet, people who hide behind the computer and who would never dare to tell you something like that on your face.
You’re absolutely right there.
So I would expect that those people would be truer and be more courageous. So whatever they have to say they could say it fact to face and not only behind the screen of the computer and hide. That’s the only problem I have with internet.
How about other stuff you have been working on lately like Avantasia. What’s going on with that one?
I recorded a song on the last Avantasia album THE WICKED SYMPHONY as well but I didn’t take part in their last tour exactly because I was busy with Symfonia. So they got Michael Kiske to replace me which I think is a good deal for him.
It’s good thing for him. At least he finally got to tour again!
Absolutely! I remember on the last tour of Avantasia I did Kiske’s role and I had to sing his songs.
It wasn’t easy thing to do, right?
No but it was okay, it was okay. It was lot of fun. It is better when you don’t have a full concert on your back you know, you have just a few songs to sing so you can relax in between its good, it’s more fun.
How was it to work with such a big production in a live situation? I mean, with so many different lead singers it must be very different to any “normal” concert situation, you know?
That was like I said it was a big fun, a big fun because everybody knew his own role and it was really good atmosphere there when we toured. We did many concerts and big festivals as well. We did: Sweden Rock, Wacken, Hungary, Italy, everywhere so it was great atmosphere especially with Bob Catley that’s a very nice guy. It was very nice to sing with him on stage. I don’t know what’s happening now with Avantasia. I know they just did a tour?
Yes they did and Tobias once again said that it was the very last Avantasia tour ever but you never know?
Like the last time. I cannot respond for them, but I mean actually it’s good that you reminded me because it’s a lot of time I don’t talk to these guys, I need to give them a call at some point and they are my very good friends. I mean whatever is going to happen now I don’t if Avantasia is going to record a new album.
SOLO CAREER AND LIVING IN SWEDEN
How is your solo career doing nowadays?
It still goes on. Now it’s frozen for a while because I’m busy with Symfonia. But it’s something that will go on.
Do you think it’s a little bit hard for you to find enough time because you have to share your time between Symfonia, Avantasia and solo band etc?
Avantasia is not a problem because whenever I record something it takes me a couple days in the studio and if there’s a tour that’s planned beforehand I’m not busy with another thing that should be okay as well. About my solo that’s something we have to see because we have to organize the schedules very well especially because my solo band still sits in Brazil so I have to fly back and forth every time and now I’m living most of the time in Sweden. So there will be moments I’m more dedicated to this or to that but at this level I can manage those things and nothing is going to harm them.
Tell us something about the reasons you decided to move to Sweden and how you get used to the frozen climate?
Well my wife is from Sweden so a part of my family is now living in Sweden.
I can’t hesitate to ask but is your wife blonde?
I’m not surprised.
It’s not difficult to be honest with you. I look more like an alien there “laughs”
In which part of Sweden do you live at the moment?
Southern Sweden. So it is a pretty cool place, it’s pretty nice landscape, it’s one of the nicest places in Sweden to be. I think the only problem is still the winter which is something that I as a Brazilian, I still have to get more used to it. It’s not only about the cold, it’s more about the darkness thing. This is really something that at some point you get a little bit nervous and depressed. But it’s good. On the other hand it makes you write more lyrics, write mores songs you know instead of laying on the beach.
Was it difficult decision to change your lifestyle so radically?
Yes I had to make a big change in my life you know but it was for a good reason. And actually because of that, that’s why Timo gave me a call and how this whole thing started. So for whatever reason we’re there! “laughs”
Do you think that the moving to Sweden may have opened more doors for you than the other works in Europe as you’re closer the Central European now?
Yes, it is regardless. But especially it helps with this Symfonia situation.
THE OLD DAYS
One thing, Viper, you started your musical career with band Viper in early 80’s
Yes when I was 14 years old back then… No, I was actually 13 back then! “laughs”
Right, I guess that the metal scene in South America and Brazil was completely different back then?
It really was.
Back in the day, there were two different type of metal bands in Brazil. There were extreme metal bands like Sepultura and then was traditional/power metal bands like Viper. Did you have a lot of competition between those “camps” back then? < ?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
At that time it was more like it was metal against punk rock. That was the biggest fight there, so to say. But it didn’t matter what kind of metal you were playing. The metal guys were all together so Sepultura, Viper, Korzus, everybody was one team.
You were like one big family against punk rock?
Yeah, we were like one big family. It was something that unfortunately stopped in the mid ’90s to straight exist. Then metal became more classified. There was like melodic power metal, trash metal, death metal and so on. And then the tribes like split from each other but I remember in the ’80s if you liked metal you like everything. You were listening to Motley Crue, to Venom, to Dio, to Quiet Riot to Accept, to everything.
and Slayer… “laughs”
And Slayer, so I remember we all had like T-shirts from all the metal because it was hard to get this music back then you know it took a long time especially in South America for the records to arrive there so we could buy a record. So whatever came, if it was Motley Crue great, if it was Dio great, Venom yes, everybody was listening to everything…. Whether it was Viper or Sepultura, we chose our ways but it was like you could see the same people in all the concerts.
But did you go to check out Sepultura back in the day and did they come to see your shows as well?
Yes, we used to rehearse in the next room in the rehearsal studio.
Have you ever talked to anybody to write a book about Brazilian Metal history someday?
It’s very interesting because to be really honest we were real warriors back then because that was completely out of the fashion you know in the country. We were seen like real aliens there, but we stand proud for this you know I’m very proud of being part of that, I was very young but I was looking up for those guys. I mean Sepultura was about the same age but there were bands that were already doing metal before us.
Vulcano and bands like: Dorsal Atlantica, Avenger, Metamorphosis and so on
I remember when Sepultura became a worldwide success and they always mentioned that Finnish punk bands like Rattus and Kaaos were some of their biggest influences back in the day. Did you know those bands as well?
Sure, sure I was even friends with those guys.
How was it actually possible because those bands were pretty much underground bands even here in Finland. How you guys find out about those bands?
It was underground yeah, but like I said back in the ’80s it was between the punk and the metal scene, that was real war. I mean it’s even stranger Sepultura says they were influenced because I remember who did metal did metal and who did punk it was like we could fight each other to death. It was like nobody would enter each other’s territory.
You have to now ask from Tolkki “How about doing a cover song of the Finnish punk band?”
Which Finnish punk band?
Some Rattus or Kaaos of course “laughs”
Uh huh, that would be nice.
When Sepultura became a big name in Finland, they used to wear shirts of Kaaos and Rattus on some of their official videos even. But back in the 70s, 80s it wasn’t a big thing here, it was like underground only. But I was so surprised when Max Cavalera told the papers here, 20 years or something ago something, that Finnish punk bands were of the best bands around “laughs”.
Yeah, they were listening to heavier stuff, absolutely.
So you were in more the classic metal bands?
We were more into Iron Maiden, Judas Priest.
How about KISS, because I’m a huge huge KISS fan I always ask about them as well “laughs”
KISS, yeah. I tell you a secret. My first band experience before Viper was like a fake KISS cover band. We didn’t play anything, it was just play back, playing like KISS, I was 11 or 12 years old “laughs”
Did you go to see legendary KISS show in Rio de Janeiro in 82?
No I didn’t because my mother didn’t allow, no, but I went to Rock in Rio in ’85 and then during one night I saw Whitesnake, Iron Maiden, Scorpions and Queen.
That must have been a big thing in Brazil.
That was still, I must tell you, it was the best festival that ever happened. It was 10 days only with huge names and all the metal bands, all the very top metal bands at the time.
It was something like 300,000 people there?
300,000 people every day. I remember that, I was there one day and like I said I missed KISS in 1982 but I saw them later on. Actually I opened for KISS in 1994 when they did their last tour without makeup.
THE FUTURE ACTIVITIES OF SYMFONIA
The Symfonia album, I guess it’s completely finished by now?
It’s done already.
You recorded it mostly in Sweden, right?
In Sweden, Finland and it was mixed in Italy. It is… You really have to listen to the album. It’s difficult for me to say but I have listened to the album already more than 30 times now since it’s finished and what’s more important about this it’s not that the album sounds great, everybody plays really well, but it’s the songs. There are very great songs on this album. I think they are really metal hits somehow more so.
Obviously when the album comes out and what I did hear today I can hear you describing the stuff in a way but what kind of chance the album has in commercial wise I mean what kind of sales numbers you’re expecting for that album?
Well it’s hard to say nowadays due to the music markets floating so on but yeah of course you have to please your record labels. You know in the end it’s a marketing game as well and one thing is for sure, we did what we wanted and we are happy with the things we done. Now how this is going to be work out as a marketing thing, it’s up to them and I hope they do a great job. I hope that they can market this in a good way.
However, you have to do lot of promotion, the phone interviews and stuff like that and…
I’m happy to do that if it’s needed. We go to Japan now at the end of March four days exactly for doing promotion, promo tour. We’re going to play some acoustic gigs, Timo and me. We’re going to visit some record stores, we’re going to do meet and greet and we’re going to do interviews everywhere so it’s about a week in Japan doing promo stuff. We are really looking forward to doing things in Asia, especially countries like China or Korea, Taiwan and so on.
How about Russia, do you plan to visit in there as well?
Russia, I’ve been to Russia with Avantasia and they have a very nice audience over there. So Russia now is related to the European distribution which is Edel Music and we have to see what plans they have for Russia as well?
Besides all those promotion things what else you’re planning to do with Symfonia in near future?
We are planning a tour now, I mean now we feel very good that this is done that was a limit space for us was a very specific space that we knew we would do our debut here. But now the real work starts. The album is going to be released in March worldwide, Japan, Europe, everywhere and we might start touring pretty soon, end of April or June, maybe later in June we’re going to start and we already have some plans for Asia, South America, Europe. Timo has the idea to do at least four concerts in Finland.
That sounds great. Do you have any idea when you’ll do those Finland shows?
Before the summer I think. Summertime is going to be difficult because there are all those festivals going on by then. Maybe we’ll also get some festivals shows to do? I don’t know what our booking is doing right now but they are already dealing with it.
Do you have plans to do a promotional video from some of the album tracks?
Yeah as soon as possible, probably we have to set up a next meeting with the whole band together and try to set it up?
Speaking of the whole band, what’s the situation with Uli’s hand injury at the moment?
Well, he can’t play because he’s very bad in his hand right now. It was really cold bath for us you know when he came with this news and said what the fuck, what should we do now you know. But we didn’t want to cancel the thing so it was very great we got this guy Alex and he’s a great drummer and he’s a great person. So we got along very well together. In the end Uli’s not there but we have a very good replacement for him.
Was it just by the accident that it was Alex who also replaced Jorg Michael in Startovarius when he had that cancer thing going on?
Exactly he’s the official replacement “laughs” If he’s replacing such great guys all the time, I mean, he must be good one.
Okay I think our time is up so we thank you for your time.
It’s always a pleasure to talk about these things!
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