The Legacy Of Stratovarius!
Interview By: David Priest
Finlandís Stratovarius are by far one of the most inspirational artists that I have ever found myself drawn to. With a history that spans twenty two years and eleven studio albums to theyíre credit, they have paved the way for many of todayís most revered musical talents. Currently the guys are in the studio preparing the release of their twelfth full-length release. Trials and tribulations are nothing new to Stratovarius who have been to hell and back again in their musical, personal and spiritual endeavors, and the emotional outpouring contained within their songwriting continues to allow the listener to embark on new journeys that tantalize the heart and stretch the imagination. Iíve waited a long time to speak with guitarist and founding member Timo Tolkki about his unique outlook on life, his creative forces and how he battles his personal demons. After meeting him for the first time and putting the bug in his ear about setting some time aside he told me that he doesnít do many interviews these days but had a feeling about me. I was, needless to say, extremely flattered. It took an entire year before we would finally have an opportunity to sit down and chat and I must admit I was somewhat surprised at some of his insights and philosophical points of view, and at the same time very intrigued with what he had to say. In what I can only describe as one of the most intimate, heartfelt and deeply revealing interviews that I have done, Timo drove home the reality of the Stratovarius legacy and reaffirmed to me why I am a fan of, not just the band, but Timo Tolkki himself. So, without further adieuÖ.,
OT: (Mellow classical music is playing in the room as we ready for our interview) Yíknow itís interesting how so many people would get the idea that because of the music that you play, this would be the furthest thing from your daily listening habits.
Timo: Yeah I guess some people would think that. But to me, I do listen to rock and metal, but mostly itís very peaceful stuff.
OT: I always tell people that artists who only listen to the kind of music that they play usually donít have much originality or freedom in their artistic expression; theyíre real limited and they end up sounding almost exactly like what theyíre listening to.
Timo: Thatís the thing what everybodyís looking for Ė
originality; trying to find it is not easy.
Timo: Yeah sure. It starts with songwriting,
listening to some stuff you like and then you start poking around at other
stuff and develop a new style, hopefully. Which many bands just copy when it
comes to band writing and, of course, thereís a
million bands who sound like each other and thereís not much originality at all
Ė which is ok to me, because thereís room for everybody.
Timo: Good music is extremely dangerous though.
OT: You think so? (Laughing)
Timo: Yes I think so.
OT: Why would you say that?
Timo: Because it cannot be defined; what is good.
Because everybody has their preferences and who am I to say what is good, for
example. If some guy likes some kind of music that I donít like, that doesnít
mean that the bandís bad. To define something - what is good - I donít think we
even need to do that. Because we can have all of it and everybody can listen to
what they want.
Timo: I know, but for me these words, in relation to music, are just something I never use: good, bad, judge, criticize. But I understand what you mean.
OT: See you donít have the job of getting fifty to a hundred CDís a month to review.
Timo: Maybe twenty. (Laughing)
OT: But you donít have to write about Ďem do you?
Timo: No I donít have to write about Ďem.
OT: And say why people should or shouldnít go out and buy the CD?
Timo: I hope you like it.
OT: The ones I reviewÖ, I always review stuff that I like. If itís something that I canít find any interest in at all, then Iíll just pass it up. Because thereís just so much, thereís no way that I could ever review all of it.
Timo: Yeah, of course not.
OT: So I stick to what I know and what I think people will come to our magazine and read about and say, ĎOh yeah, ok, Iíll have to check that out.í
Timo: Itís hard to be a critic.
OT: (Laughing) It is.
Timo: For me, I donít like the word Ďcriticí because that comes from Latin and it means, actually, Ďto find fault withí i.e., critique.
OT: Really? I didnít know that.
Timo: Yeah. So itís like, ĎI find whatís wrong with this.í
OT: I like the opposite of that: letís find whatís right with it.
Timo: Critique, I mean you know many music critics are close-minded. If youíre not objective at all, if you just voice your own taste you are not representing the artist accurately. To me a good musical critic is a kind of person who is objective; even if he or she doesnít like the music, he or she can write an article or a review that other people can really tell what kind of band it is, not just that it sucks.
OT: Right, well thatís the whole thing, I have always had problems with people who will say that they donít like something but they canít explain why they donít like it.
Timo: Exactly, exactly. Thatís very unfair to do something like that.
OT: I mean Iíll tell someone, ďYou know what? I would never go buy this album, but I respect them a lot because theyíve done this, theyíve done that. I can name a whole bunch of different things. Recently Iíve been talking to different friends about Green Day. Not a fan of Green Day, but I respect them for everything that theyíve done with their music. Thereís talent there, I mean they have good harmonies.
Timo: Very good album titles.
OT: Yeah. And I love their humor, theyíve got great humor. (Laughing)
Timo: What is this one album titleÖÖ
OT: Ummmm, Dookie?
Timo: No the recent one.
OT: American Idiot?
Timo: Yes! (Laughter) Thatís pretty good.
OT: That says a lot right there!
Timo: Yeah, I think so. (Everyoneís cracking up!)
OT: Well let me kind of start by saying that your music has definitely been inspiring to me. I mean itís really moved me in a lot of ways and definitely moved her [Becky Hoyle, Staff Photographer.] in a lot of ways. Thereís two artists in the world that will make her cry at shows and you guys definitely did that the last time you were out here. I mean obviously you are just breaking ground over here in the States so weíre kind of late bloomers to the whole Stratovarius legacy. We came in on the Elements Part II album, actually, but since have added many new CDs to our collection and really enjoying everything youíve put out so far.
Timo: Cool. Itís a long story. (Laughter) Twenty-two years.
OT: I know, itís amazing to me. Honestly, I grew up with all of the 80ís music
and I was pretty depressed through the 90ís. There wasnít a lot of stuff that I
was really enjoying, and I was just looking in the wrong area: I was looking
Timo: Yeah, itís cool you opened the doors.
OT: Yeah, definitelyÖ So my first question for you, is: how are you feeling these days?
Timo: Pretty okay. I mean I went through some really black depression after the last tour again, Ďcause I get this.
Timo: Yeah, yeah. It can be, like, six or seven months; really, really black, where I donít even go out. Maybe I went four times, it was from February into the summer and at that time I was supposed to write the new songs. Itís, for me, very much like this. I do take medication for that though and Iíve done therapy for seven years. I have a lot of baggage but Iíve gotten rid of most of it, there is still more though. I guess Iím one of the tormented artists. (Laughter) Iíve just accepted that.
OT: You know what? People are people and sometimes the public forgets that just because youíre a musician doesnít mean youíve left all your problems behind or that youíre exempt from that.
Timo: Oh yeah. We are very much humans.
OT: Well Iím glad to know that youíre doing ok now.
Timo: I am doing ok, and I enjoy this tour very much,
actually. The songs are very up-tempo.
Timo: Yes, just surviving.
OT: But generally, do you write a lot of stuff out of your anguish, out of where you come from or do you try to focus more on the positive side of things, or maybe a blend?
Timo: I donít try to do pretty much anything,
actually, when I write; I let it flow. Itís very much a natural thing. I know
when the time is right, and when I start writing the songs they just come, I
have a space where I go... For this record I rented a space where I went every
day. I walked three kilometers listening to classical music, and usually I
always got a song, in two hours; they just come. And if they donít come, then I
know that the time isnít right; I donít push it.
Timo: Yeah, of course, as far as the craftsmanship
goes, I can write a song, of course, no problem.
Timo: Yeah, they are doing thatÖ butÖ I donít really like to be pushed. I always have this thing - I guess it comes from childhood - if somebody tells me that I have to do something, I canít do it.
OT: Isnít that human nature though? Thatís just the rebellious streak that all of us have sometimes.
Timo: Yeah maybe it is, I donít know, could be. For me itís very extreme. Iím aware of that and, of course, sometimes I have to do this, yíknow.
OT: I know that prior to the release of the last album there was a huge explosion that happenedÖ.
Timo: No kidding. It was a real field day.
OT: Obviously there were some struggles within the band and the band was breaking up and then there was mention of a female vocalist coming in for awhile there and the fans were even torn in half on that - some were in support of it, some were highly offended by it. Do you remember much of what happened during that time? I mean this all led to your breakdown.
Timo: Well one of them. That was typical manic-phase where you start doing very weird things. We had a very difficult record deal with Sanctuary and all this stuff happened. You see, many people actually think that it was some kind of publicity stunt.
OT: Oh really?
Timo: But that almost ruined us, the fact that stuff
like that happened. The fans were completely divided, they were really angry of
course, I could tell. We had a female in the band, and ĎF*ck.í Imagine if MaidenÖ.
OT: Well your healthís gotta come first.
Timo: I have this thing, it is like a cancer -
bi-polar disorder is an un-curable disease and many artists have this;
Hemingway had this, Beethoven, Curt Cobain, the list is endless.
Timo: Oh that started already in í98 with the Destiny
record; I went through some kind of spiritual awakening. I started reading a
lot of books; I have, like, over 700 books which I bought in the last ten
years. Theyíre all about psychology and behavior and philosophy and stuff.
OT: You got into Kabala for awhile?
Timo: I read about it, which was one of those manic things I did.
OT: Have you reached any kind of enlightenment at all?
Timo: Enlightenment I think I have reached, yes. But I donít subscribe to any particular ideology or religion; I think itís a way to control people in different ways. I mean if it helps someone ok, itís great, but I donít subscribe to any of those things, I just donít like when somebody comes to me and tries to sell me a religion, I mean that insults me.
OT: Thatís something you have to find for yourself.
Timo: Yes it is. And to me, I donít need any fixed ideas about God. I asked some questions couple of years ago; I got the answers, yíknow.
OT: Thatís cool. Now upon getting past this time and releasing the self-titled Stratovarius album, when I heard it, in a lot of ways it came across kind of dark with a little bit of despair in there.
Timo: Mmmmm, soÖ (Laughter)
OT: Do you think thatís a reflection of where you were at were; where you were coming out of at that time?
Timo: That record was just put together from bits and pieces; I really donít like that record. It wasnít how itís meant to be done with us. The process wasnít the usual way how we do things because actually, when we were in the studio, that was when I had the breakdown. Jorg, the drummer had to do his parts alone because the bass player didnít want to come to the studio. That was a weird time; I was lying in the hospital with the drummer playing songs alone in the studio.
OT: Yeah I know that whole time just kind of confused fans.
Timo: Weíve come to hell and back together. Somebody like Kotipelto, heís extremely sensitive about things and I put him through a lot. We both learned a lot actually, through the process, and we have a very good relationship now. Actually the whole band is doing excellent; itís a really, really great feeling.
OT: Thatís really good to know. And I hear the new album, itís gonna be more of a traditional Stratovarius type sound?
Timo: Yeah, I wanted to write more old sound songs, not so dark. But itís stillÖ, itís not completely like Visions, I mean you canít really write the same record twice; well you can, but I canít. (Laughter) I would say that I just wanted to write good melodic heavy rock songs. I call it heavy rock because heavy metal is to say weíre like Manowar or something. Heavy metal, I donít think weíre heavy metal. And then thereís this power metal, I donít know what that is either; people have these categories.
OT: Itís so hard to avoid that and to describe it to somebody.
Timo: I know, I know.
OT: The easiest way is to say, you listen to it and describe it yourself, donít ask me.
Timo: I understand the kids, they wanta know and they have their preferences and make all the stuff, but I was listening to Maiden when I was sixteen and I donít remember trying to think what is this, what kind of music it is? I just liked it so much. Or Rainbow, when I listened to Rainbow I didnít think, ĎIs this rock?í or whatever it is, there were so many good songs, I liked it.
OT: How would you describe your sound, because when I was down in the lobby trying to find someone that might be with the band, I talked to a guy about it and he asked, ďStratovarius, is that a band? What kind of music do they play?Ē And Iím likeÖ.. (laughter) I just stood there with all these thoughts running through my mindÖÖ.
Timo: If you canít say what it is, then Iím very happy.
OT: I couldnít reallyÖ. itís like neo-classical rock fusion, like heavier but yet melodic.
Timo: It has many aspects, because we do have a lot of different things; itís not just power metal. Like I said, too much categorizing is something I would gladly leave to other people.
OT: (Laughing) Well, right on. Now there was a song that was going to be put on the last album about Hitler.
Timo: Thatís this song; (pointing to my Gotterdammerung
shirt). I wrote a song called Hitler because I am extremely interested in him.
So I have been studying him and his character and I just wanted to write a song
about him and naturally I wanted to call it Hitler, and then hell broke loose when
I let the record company know; theyíre a German label in
OT: (Laughing) Oh noÖ
Timo: I told them, one of the songs is called
ďHitlerĒ and they freaked out, and it resulted in some very bizarre events. I
had to send the lyrics to some very strange German internal ministry that was
checking them to make sure that there are no Nazi references and the record
company was giving me heavy pressure and saying that I just canít name a song
ďHitlerĒ. And when there is somebody telling me I canít do thisÖ. ďI am an
artist and I did something and I want to do this, you canít tell me I canít do
this, what is your reason?Ē And they said that it would promote Nazi image. And
I told them, of course they are in
OT: (Laughing) Oh no!
Timo: Then the
OT: You mentioned in a previous interview that you were wondering how an innocent child could become a Hitler-like figure.
Timo: Itís easy to explain, actually. He was being hit daily by his father, extremely. So he became this extremely angry, extremely narcissistic individual, who was undoubtedly also a genius in many things. But to use the power in this way, which resulted in things we know, should be studied. I think thereís something fundamentally wrong in the human character if this kind of thing can happen. I mean, why the f*ck it happened? It shouldnít happen, it shouldnít happen.
OT: No, no it shouldnít. And, yeah, I agree that it should be studied as well. I mean, God forbid that anything like that would ever happen again.
Timo: But these insane mechanisms are operating in the world at the moment. Itís not about Hitler, itís about humanity. Hitler was one guy but he had many followers, so you canít help something like this along, something in the human character; we have to find out what it is.
OT: I think now, more than ever, thereís the possibility of something like that happening again just because of all the terrorism and the things going on in the world; itís just not a good time.
Timo: I would say the whole terrorism thing is just, I think that itís not so, itís actually not as bad as itís made to look like. I donít think so, butÖ.
OT: You donít think itís as bad as what people make it out to be?
Timo: No. I think many people are using this for their own purposes. In the next fifty or seventy years weíre going to run out of oil and itís gonna to be very big changes in nature, temperature-wise, we donít know whatís gonna happen. I mean in the next hundred years we really donít know whatís gonna happen. Itís time to pay the consequences of our actions. In the last hundred years with the industrial revolution, we managed to do a lot of bad things and we think that we can control nature, but we canít. Weíre gonna get a big celestial kick in the butt. To me, I donít think it can be stopped anymore, unfortunately.
OT: Yeah the ballís kinda already rolling; itís just a matter of how weíre going to contend with the results.
Timo: Yeah itís gonna be harder, itís gonna be much harder I think.
OT: I have one more question concerning the last album. To me it seemed like a comeback statement, ďthis is StratovariusĒ. Were you trying to make a statement by just having a self-titled album?
Timo: Sort of. I couldnít think of any better name, it sort of felt right. It wasnít likeÖ, itís not a record that Iím proud of and itís not a record that has the best songs in it. We donít play any songs from that record anymore.
OT: Oh really?
Timo: Yeah. (Laughing)
OT: Wow. Ok.
Timo: That says something. But for some people itís their first Stratovarius record that they hear and I donít think that really gives an appropriate image, how the band really is.
OT: I really liked ďThe Land Of Ice And SnowĒ.
Timo: Yeah of course, thatís a nice song. ďBack To MadnessĒ I wouldnít like because itís extremely weird and opera andÖÖ I like very much to find some new lyrics to express myself. Find something that doesnít have form. Iím very, very, very bored of any form, any kind of Ďformí. Iím looking for ways to express myself without a form or any preconceived ideas.
OT: That probably answers my next question which was, have you given any thought to doing another classical album?
Timo: Yes. I donít know if itís gonna be classical,
but definitely I want to do something with a female singer, like the opera,
little bit opera singer; something even much more sensitive than Stratovarius
even with our drums, something etheric - atmospheric
stuff. I have this need to do something different. Iíve actually auditioned some
American and Canadian singers in
OT: Cool. What about the vocalist that you were gonna work with in Stratovarius?
Timo: Miss K. I have some songs for her but at the moment sheís singing in a band which is in Finnish. Iím not really so much interested in that kind of stuff, I want to do stuff in English. She was just in the band for a couple of weeks. It was just one of those things; I mean Ďmanicí you can do pretty much anything.
OT: I just wondered about her because she just kind of disappeared after the whole thing and I didnít know if youíd had any contact with her.
Timo: Yeah I do have, actually. I havenít been having any time really, with the record for her and stuff. I wouldnít mind really because sheís a good singer.
OT: Right on. Now Iíve wondered about your tattoo, whatís the meaning?
Timo: Everybodyís asking.
OT: Yeah are they?
Timo: This is sandscript and itís like Tipperton, the Tipperton Monks chant this in the mornings. It brings me good luck, itís a good luck charm, thatís what it is, and I like it very much; itís a most painful thing.
OT: So everything that youíve sought out, philosophically, whatís the most important thing that you think youíve learned?
Timo: I canít say just one thing that I learnedÖ. thankfulness, humbleness, just being really humble, because life brings you to your knees if you think you are too big; ultimately. So Iíve learned to actually be thankful for all of it. I appreciate each moment; Iíve learned to live in the present, which is actually extremely difficult. I live in here and now, in this moment, there is no past there is no future, thereís only the here and now. That is one of the biggest gifts Iím trying to achieve.
OT: Iím sure. Takes away a lot of the stress factor.
Timo: Yes it does. Of course you have to plan out some things but, for me, when I look at this crazy world outside, I feel so separated from that, some kind of belonging; I donít belong there. I donít want to be part of this; I donít want to go to that madness any more. So I am an extremely alienated person, I have very few friends; I live in a very different place. But I am a musician and I go on tour and I play to people; I serve them. I go there, we go there, and we play to them and if they have worries they come to our show. We serve them, we really, really play for them and try to make a name of the event and when they go home they have something good to remember.
OT: Absolutely. We feel good when we get home, we do.
Timo: Thatís cool. And the energy we have now, that
is extremely possible. Like the shows in
OT: Iíve managed a couple bands in the past and thatís one of the things Iíve always told them, the more energy you put forth the more youíre gonna get back; itís a give and take situation. If you go out there and you donít give anything, then youíre not gonna get anything back.
Timo: Exactly. Itís completely like that. And also I feel extremely thankful for the fans and that they are still there after all these years. Theyíve been with us for all the records and that is a good thing. Although Iíve been having all these problems and troubles, thereís another side to it too, and I feel like Iím real lucky; and that makes me happy.
OT: Thatís cool, man. Now what about doing a live DVD?
Timo: Yeah, weíve tried many times. The last one was Brazilian, Sao Paolo just last year and I was listening to the tapes. Because I donít want to go and repair the stuff, many bands do as they play the guitars and vocals. I donít want to do this so I said to the guys, ďWe canít release this like this.Ē Itís eight songs but it doesnít sound good. I mean itís a huge financial disaster, if you never release that. But to me itís more important to have a really good sound and performance.
OT: You have to have an accurate representation.
Timo: Yes, yes. And I think that weíre going to do something in a few years because we have many gigs actually recorded, we have a great sound from three or four gigs, so we can maybe combine stuff and make sort of a package with history of the band, and interviews of old members, how it started and stuff like this.
OT: Yeah that would be interesting. Definitely something the fans would like.
Timo: Yeah. But a whole concert, maybe it never happens. (Laughter) We need something to happen.
OT: So when we saw you the last time you said that you had a lot to say, and youíve said quite a bit today. Is there anything else on your mind, in your heart that you want to share?
Timo: There are a lot of things.
OT: Probably more than what my tape will hold.
Timo: Yeah. I think I would like rather to say them in forthcoming songs because thatís really whereÖ. I mean itís very naked, itís all there.
OT: Well great, weíll look forward to that then.
Timo: Yeah, cool.
OT: Thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it.
Timo: Youíre welcome, youíre welcome.