Vocalist Mikael Salo, bass player Juho Jokimies and guitarist Jusa Laulainen – Thy Row
Interviewed by: Anders Sandvall
Thanks to Roberto at Rockshots Records for setting up the interview.
Thanks to Rockshots Records for the promo pictures of the band.
Thy Row is the name of a Finnish modern melodic heavy metal act that released their debut album UNCHAINED at the end of 2021. I had a nice, genuine chat with vocalist Mikael Salo, bass player Juho Jokimies, and guitarist Jusa Laulainen, about the work on the debut album, the band’s history and prior EP, as well as the band’s 2019 tour of Japan supporting Beast In Black and Swallow the Sun. We also talked about the current COVID-19 situation in Finland and how the pandemic has affected the band. According to the info sheet the band’s music ought to appeal to fans of Scorpions, Megadeth, and Queen…is that’s correct? Well, you listen and judge.
Hi guys, thanks for taking the time making this interview today, I hope you’re both doing fine?
Juho – Thanks for having us! We’re doing ‘Just Fine’ (pun intended).
First of all, what’s the status regarding the pandemic in Finland at the moment? Are people positive to get vaccinated?
Juho – It’s really complicated. Yes, we have a quite good percentage of vaccinated people but the anti-vaxxers are loud as hell and making the fight against COVID a lot harder.
Could you tell the readers a bit about the band’s past history? I know you, Mikael, formed the band back in 2017, but what made you want to have your own band and was it hard to find members?
Mikael – Actually I didn’t form the band, but joined Ville, Teemu and Jusa who already had some of the songs demoed with the legendary Finnish metal singer Ilja Jalkanen (Kiuas, Raskasta Joulua). So Thy Row existed before I became the singer. I suggested asking Juho join us on bass, and luckily he said yes and the line-up was complete!
What did media and critics think of your self-titled EP from 2019?
Juho – We had really positive feedback for the EP, even though it was quite a small independent release. Still, it got us a Japanese tour and access to multiple big Spotify editorial lists.
The song “The Round” has over 110,000 streams on Spotify. Could you ever imagine one of your song getting so many streams?
Juho – This was a huge surprise for us! We invested quite a lot for the promotion but didn’t get the right results at first. Then after a few months something happened and Spotify algorithms took over and the rest is history.
The same year as the EP came out you supported Beast in Black and Swallow the Sun in Japan. How was that and how many shows did you do?
Juho – We did a small tour, a total of three shows. Two of them were part of Suomi Feast – an event of Finnish metal music in Tokyo. That is where we supported Beast in Black and Swallow the Sun. On top of that we had our own show in Kyoto.
All in all, it was a dream come true for all of us. Japanese people are the best and the whole trip was just amazing. Now that we have a record deal with the Japanese label Rubicon Music, we can’t wait to get back to playing in Japan.
Which bands/artists have inspired Thy Row?
Juho – Our inspiration and influences come from different places. The main idea of Thy Row’s music comes from classic hard rock and heavy metal. Bands like Guns N’ Roses, Megadeth, Iron Maiden and even Queen have inspired us a lot.
When it comes to the sound of Thy Row, it’s a bit different. Even though the inspiration for our music comes from the past, we want that our sound is from modern times. When we were mixing our debut album a strong reference was HAIL TO THE KING by Avenged Sevenfold.
Where does the band’s name come from? Who came up with it?
Jusa – I came up with the idea of the band name in a sauna in Helsinki that was founded somewhere in the beginning of the 20th century. I was having a ”cool off” from the heat of the sauna and was reading a magazine that had the word “row” mentioned in it. I started to think about that and that it was something about one’s row (aka “fight”) and then it just hit me: Thy Row. Once I told our guitarist and drummer about that, they instantly replied with ”this is it”.
Debut album UNCHAINED
When did the band start to work on material to UNCHAINED?
Jusa – I created some of the first riffs for UNCHAINED as far back as 2010. I did not know how long and difficult the road would be to create a band, so I started doing stuff when I had an inspiration for it. As a band, we started working on the album around 2018 and at the same time the sound of Thy Row was created.
Road Goes On (OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO)
Who writes the music and the lyrics and what are they about?
Mikael – The instrumental music is written by Jusa, although Ville also wrote some of the stuff (namely “Road Goes On”). I then write the melodies and the lyrics on top of that, and we arrange the songs as a group. In my other band, Metal De Facto, I write about history, mythology and culture; therefore in Thy Row I wanted to do something completely different and fresh. Thy Row songs talk about real life experiences, events, and thoughts that have happened to the band members. There are songs on the album about each member’s struggles, memories and contemplations.
With thought of the massive success of the EP, did you ever felt any pressure on delivering something extraordinary with the debut album?
Jusa – Actually, we did not have any pressure about creating things. We simply had the feeling and the trust on every song we had. We decided that there would not be any ”filler songs” on the album and we were confident that every song would find its place in the heart of a fan or a listener.
The info sheet states the following: “creating this album was a long and hard process, but it was also a road we wanted to walk to be able to present this music to the people”. Could you explain a little closer what you mean with that? Why was it a hard process?
Jusa – The hardest part of creating the album was to find the right singer for the band. Before Mikael, we had around 50-60 people in rehearsals and in the studio to try it out. Once we found all the right people, we were able to start creating the album. I am more of a blues rock type of a guy and the rest of the band are full of perfectionists, so there was plenty of work to get everything ready. We also recorded the album in several studios and it was really a journey of growth for the whole band. We needed to find the right mixing engineers, the right conditions, and for example, the right arrangement for strings on songs like “Down On My Knees”. The biggest thing was that we did not want to make just one more album among a million others, instead we wanted to make an album that has something to say and that also touches others rather than just heavy rockers.
It can also be read in the info sheet that none of you wanted to compromise in any area which made the creation process extremely long and difficult. Is the band full of egos that won’t budge?
Jusa – We all have enormous egos but we are able to adjust our opinions so that things get done. Sometimes it just takes more time to do so.
Were there any songs that didn’t make it on to the final edition of the album?
Jusa – Yes there were. Those perfectionists I talked about thought they weren’t good enough.
What are the longest songs “Just Fine” (4,50) and “Road Goes On” (4,08) about?
Mikael – “Just Fine” is about friendship and brotherhood, while “Road Goes On” is a bit more complicated: it talks about being independent with your dreams and goals in life, and ignoring other people’s negative comments about what you find important and believe in.
Horizons (OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO)
You put a power ballad on the album in “Down On My Knees”. What can you tell the readers about that song? Was it a given choice to put the song in the middle of the album?
Mikael – Personally, it might be my favorite song on the album actually! Ben Varon (Oceanhoarse, ex-Amoral) also plays a fantastic guest solo on it! It is a kind of a “bitter” love song, where the protagonist ponders if they should leave or stay in a relationship with toxic traits and problems. It is a very difficult question in real life, since the line between a relationship that can be potentially fixed versus one that will just tear both parties’ mental health apart can be incredibly thin.
The three closing songs are titled “The Downfall part 1, Killing All Inside”, “The Downfall part 2, Beyond Reason” and “The Downfall part 3, Fragments of Memory”. I guess the songs belong together; what are they about?
Juho – This trilogy is a story of one’s ”downfall” in life. The first part (“Killing All Inside”) is about addiction, which leads to the second part (“Beyond Reason”), which is about depression, which finally leads to the third part (“Fragments of Memory”), which is about Alzheimer’s disease, for which I have some personal experiences in my close family. It was extremely therapeutic to write about these issues, and I really hope this work can inspire people who have suffered from these same challenges in their own lives!
Why did you call the album UNCHAINED? What’s the story behind the name?
Juho – Unchained, let loose and be ready for anything, as we had our fair share of struggles and sometimes we felt like we were chained. So getting the album out was like having the cat out of the bag. We’re pumped, hyped, unchained and ready to take names, rock all the stages and kick some major ass.
Who did the cover artwork and why didn’t you put either the band name or the title on the cover?
Juho – We happen to know a wonderful artist Tony K, who’s also the singer of Red Eleven. We wanted to visualize the “unchaining”, as removing one’s mask. As the Japanese have the oni-masks and most of us really fell in love with Japan, we started to think of incorporating that. Then Ville had the “aha!” moment and we all loved it so much, we wanted it to be the center of attention as the artwork is immaculate and mesmerizing.
How would you like to describe what kind of music Thy Row plays?
Juho – We play rock, we play what we like. Going into genres is hard as we are a family of real weirdos, where some like and listen to punk-jazz and the other finds themselves listening to Korean ad jingles. The best we can do is rock. We play what we think sounds good and feels good to us. If some day we feel like making a hip-hop -styled song we might as well just do it. Music is a feeling, not a science.
I read that fans of Scorpions, Megadeth and Queen would appreciate your music. Is that correct?
Juho – Those bands have been a big influence for all of us and we like ‘em and it would be a lie to say that the influence isn’t audible in the songs on the album. So hell yeah, we think and hope that the fans of these bands would appreciate our music, as we also are fans of those bands.
Ben Varon (Oceanhoarse, ex- Amoral), Iija Jalkanen (Raskasta Jaulua, Kluas) and Teemu Mäntysaari (Wintersun, Smackbound) makes guest appearances on the album. How did they end up on UNCHAINED?
Jusa – When I moved to Helsinki, I had few friends and one was my old band member Ben Varon. I told him that I am going to establish a band, so he has been helping me and Thy Row from the beginning. Blues legend Ilja Jalkanen is also a very good friend of mine and before I found this “Freddie Mercury of Finland”, Mikael Salo, Ilja helped us to do the demos. We had a deal, that if someone sings these demos better, he can join the band. And once Sami Inkiläinen had been writing the song “The Round”, he said to me that he is going to play the solo in it. When he was in Sonic Pump Studios and he saw this maniac guitar player Teemu playing, he was so impressed that he simply had to ask Teemu to do the guitar solo instead.
Have you read any reviews of UNCHAINED yet? What do media and critics think of your work? Do you and the band care about what critics have to say?
Juho – We’ve seen a few reviews and after seeing them, we have been blown away! Crazy numbers and results for five geezers from Finland! It’s an honor, but not a goal. It’s nice to be appraised, but as a definite goal? No. We care as much as we need, granted, we’ve got mostly good feedback. We’ll have to wait and see what happens when we get a bad review. 😉
Are there any differences in how native and foreign press treats the band?
Juho – In Finland we are asked more about the international feats and abroad we get asked about our native success. So we’d say that all are interested in what the other has to say. Professionals all around! Seasoned veterans know what they’re doing and we’re just trying to answer as good as we can, and make music that resonates!
Do you guys have any special favorite track on the album, if so which ones?
Jusa – All of them! Actually, our manager likes “Down On My Knees” as he is a hopeless romantic. I like playing “Fragments of Memory” live as the lick in the intro is a chore and a half!
What do the fans think of UNCHAINED; how have they responded?
Juho – We were ahead of Abba in record sales on our first week in Finland, so one could say that it’s received well. And as we are just growing our international Thy Family quite nicely, we’d reckon it’s liked. It’s not a mega hit, but at the same time, it’s a good pace for us. Our gigs are awesome just because the audience, we have is living the same moment with us! Like we’re syncing our beings. Deep shiatsu man!
I think UNCHAINED is a very well played modern heavy metal album with really well written songs. Are you happy with the outcome of UNCHAINED?
Juho – As perfectionists, we know where we have things to tweak but, as a whole, we are happy with the album. It’s a well balanced product of our creativity and the pleasure of listening as it’s mastered to a crispy finish, that leaves your ears yearning for more. A quality product.
Where was the album recorded and how come you chose Sami Inkiläinen as a producer?
Jusa – I met Sami Inkiläinen at the same time that I got to know Pikku G, one of the biggest rap artists in Finland. Sami used to be his manager. This was back in 2008 and we became very good friends. Sami Inkiläinen has a past in working with big records labels. He once told me that my riffs are different from anyone else’s and that I should keep doing those. And he said that he can produce those songs and that we should start trying to find the right guys to play them.
Which bands have Inkiläinen worked with prior to Thy Row?
Juho – Sami is a weird one, his in everything. We’d run out of time naming all of them.
Who mixed and mastered the album and where did it take place?
Juho – The album was mixed by Jussi Kraft in Sonic Pump studios for some songs and the rest were mixed at Mr. Kraft’s own studio. The mastering has been done by none other than Svante Colerus, the guy trusted by Rammstein and other big names in the industry at Svante’s studio. These guys really know what they’re doing! Geez!
What’s the reason you chose to have two people mixing the album?
Jusa – Long story short: we simply started making the songs with Sami Inkiläinen and he knew Nino Laurenne. Once the songs were introduced to Nino, he suggested that Jussi Kraft could be helpful in the mixing.
How long did it take to record the album altogether?
Juho – Months, mainly because of the scheduling and other stuff, but in days? A good fortnite maybe.
Do you have any fun memories to share with the readers from the recording process and the time in the studio?
Juho – We camped at D-studio when recording the drums and bass tracks. Jusa was vacationing, it was like a slumber party, just us guys, and making music. Pure and beautiful.
Did the pandemic have any affect on the recording process?
Jusa – I can’t say that it really had any remarkable effect. We just couldn’t play gigs so we had more time for studio work.
Was it easy for the band to land a record deal?
Juho – It wasn’t easy, but it happened quite fast right after we started to seek one. We really gave our thought to that before we contacted any label because we didn’t want to waste our nor anyone else’s time on that.
You’re signed to the Italian label Rockshots Records. Why did you choose to ink a deal with them?
Juho – Through Mikael, we had a really good experience with Rockshots Records. At that time his two other bands were signed to Rockshots Records and he knew the manager really well. So after we had thought about all the possibilities we decided to reach them – and only them. Rockshots Records were right away interested to sign a deal with us and we didn’t need to hesitate at all. We knew right away that this would be a fruitful collaboration.
Did you send out demos to labels or how did you try to get their attention?
Juho – We only sent demos to Rockshots Records, as like mentioned.
Were there many labels that showed interest in signing the band?
Juho – Since we signed the deal with Rockshots Records right away, no other label got even a chance to show interest to us.
Are you happy with the work RR have put into the band and album so far?
Juho – Rockshots Records have been an amazing companion for us. We are really grateful to be on their roster. We both knew that promotion is the biggest matter where they can help us out and that is something we can both benefit from. They have done a really good job!
When did you sign on for RR?
Juho – We first contacted Rockshots Records in early 2021 and after a long negotiation and planning we finally signed the deal in May 2021.
Do you see any difficulties in the fact that the band is based in Finland and the label in Italy?
Juho – No, not at all! Nowadays it’s so normal to work even with long distance so it has not been a problem. Email and social media enable communication so well so we can handle even urgent matters quickly.
Any plans on releasing UNCHAINED on vinyl?
Juho – Not yet, but we keep that option always open. It would be cool to have that album art in a big vinyl cover though, wouldn’t it?
Juho – They are amazing! Japanese work ethic and love for Finnish metal music is a winning combo. They are hard working and we feel privileged having a deal with them. Now we’re just waiting to get back to Japan. It’s a great country!
Is RR releasing the album world wide besides in Asia?
Juho – Rockshots Records released the album world wide, yes. Rubicon Music has exclusively released Unchained in Japan and the Japanese version of the album has that bonus song which is nowhere else available.
Is UNCHAINED available on Spotify?
Juho – Hell yes! It can be found at our Spotify artist page. It’s also available on all the other streaming platforms.
What are the pro’s with being signed to a smaller label?
Juho – Definitely the freedom and the openness. We can basically do our thing with our own style and with our own team that we have carefully assembled. Rockshots Records trusts us and we trust them and they have supported us really well. It is super easy to work with them and things get done quite easily.
Past present and future
Finland is mostly known for extreme and goth metal acts, does your kind of metal work well in Finland?
Juho – We truly think so, yes. There are not so many bands like us in Finland so it’s good that modern heavy metal and hard rock is represented. The Finnish metal audience is omnivorous when it comes to music and we fit quite well in there.
How come the band doesn’t have a website but only a Facebook page?
Juho – In this time we have seen that a website does not serve a band as well as it should concerning the time and money that it takes to keep one up and running. Social media is so strong and time-consuming that we have decided to concentrate more on that. Maybe later we’ll find time to construct our own website – at least to sell our merch.
Do you think the amount of followers you have on FB is going to increase with the release of UNCHAINED?
Juho – Of course we hope so! Since the release of the album, new followers are coming in almost daily, so it’s looking good. As soon as we get to do more live shows that will boost the number of followers even more.
The band held a release party in Helsinki at the end of September; tell us about it?
Juho – Haha, that was one hell of a party! No, we didn’t perform there other than having speeches but we listened to our album and had an amazing time with our friends and fans. We had our albums and T-shirts on sale and we were signing them for people. Oh yeah and we had a huge black “Thy Row” cake with chains around it and a local radio station had an interview with us. That was a night to remember!
Are you excited about the upcoming show at Hoarsefest at the end of December?
Juho – Oh boy, we are hyped about that! It’s going to be our first show after releasing the album and it’s so great to be able to play some new tunes live for our fans. It is also going to be a special night! Our dear friend Asim Searah (Wintersun, Damnation Plan, True Cult Club) will be joining us on stage and playing the show with us. I think it’s going to be a jolly good time. People have just had a merry Christmas and then they get to let loose with proper Finnish metal. What could be better?
What’s the plan for the band during 2022? Any plans on heading out on tour or do some shows?
Juho – We’d love it, but as COVID is a quirky mistress, we need to see what happens. If it was up for us, we’d get in the van and drive around the globe playing shows and meeting people!
How would you describe a show with Thy Row in three words?
Juho – Danger, sweat, energy
Jusa – Danger, sweat, energy
Mikael – Danger, sweat, energy… I guess haha
Is the main target for the band to conquer Finland first or are you looking at taking over Europe?
Juho – Starting small would be easy, we’d reckon starting outside of our own country would be an easier task, maybe… There are a couple of bands that have started outside Finland and then gained trust by the locals. Finns are a special breed of people.
Fragments Of Memory (OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO)
Is the band big in Japan?
Jusa – The band has fans in Japan as well, so if we are not yet big in Japan, we are getting there. When we had our first gig in Tokyo, some fans were following me while I was carrying our guitars and other stuff to the next place. First I didn’t understand why they followed me but once I stopped, they asked for my autograph and since I was a little blown away by that why so, they said it was because of Thy Row.
There’s not much info about the band online, is it your intention to stay a bit secret?
Juho – It’s an algorithm thing. We know that we should maybe be louder in the social media scene, but at the same time, we like our privacy and not taking selfies all the time. Our website is stuck as we haven’t gotten to it yet. It’s music first as we are a band not a marketing agency, haha.
Has it been hard to promote the album because of the pandemic?
Juho – Talk about a burden. 2 years of canceled shows, venues closed, bars are open till 6PM and working on half the capacity! The pandemic is killing the industry. Social media activities and interaction there, but it’s not the same.
Unchained (OFFICIAL LYRIC VIDEO)
Is Thy Row here to stay?
Jusa – This one is easy; yes we are, for sure.
What would you like to say to the ones who haven’t heard the music of Thy Row before and could you give them three reasons to buy UNCHAINED?
Juho – If you bought this album it would be an honour for the band and the team of professionals giving their heart and soul to produce that album. The album is the essence of five great guys, distilled into 12 songs about life and opening the booklet, will give you a glimpse of what it was like to live in the shoes of us. Have a bite, it’s worth it!
Well, that was all for me and Metal-Rules.com today, thanks again for taking the time making the interview. I wish you and the rest of the band all the best! Do you have any final words of wisdom to share with fans and readers?
Juho – Thanks for having us, it was a pleasure! For the fans? Rock on, stay upright and if you see someone down, pick them up.