Stratovarius – You played guitar and you played the drums, how did you end up with vocals?

Stratovarius has been around since 1984, then known as Black Water. Today no founding members are left in the lineup, the longest standing member of the band is frontman Timo Kotipelto who took the stand in 1994. Since then Stratovarius has released fifteen albums with number sixteen, titled “Eternity”, hitting the stores on the quite famous date September 11 in Europe and September 18 in the USA.

Stratovarius Photo by Eternal Press Jarmo Katila
Stratovarius Photo by Eternal Press Jarmo Katila

Let’s start off with the first track, My Internal dream. That was composed by Matias (Kupiainen, guitar). I can’t remember exactly when, but probably in the beginning of this year. I think the song is kind of a traditional Stratovarius power metal stuff. It got a 90’s power metal vibe to it.

The lyrics, they can be about me as well as anyone when they are young who are, not weirdos perhaps, but somewhat different than other kids. Some are in to sports, some people are into other stuff and if it’s about me it’s about music. It’s about fulfilling our dreams.

Did you feel different as a kid? I don’t know. I played a little guitar when I was a kid and my parents was actually supporting me. Then I changed to drums when I was like 13 and I played that for three years, and then I was even trying to study economics but it wasn’t me.

I just had that feeling in me that music is my thing, but I didn’t know how to fulfill that dream. My relatives were like “When are you gonna study and get a real job?” and I said that music is what I want to do.

Stratovarius Photo by Eternal Press Jarmo Katila
Stratovarius Photo by Eternal Press Jarmo Katila

You played guitar and you played the drums, how did you end up with vocals? I was born in a very small town. One played guitar and one played the base and I happened to have a drum kit so we formed a band, but then no one could sing so someone said to me “You do it”, so I tried to sing and play the drums at the same time, but I wasn’t a good drummer and I sure wasn’t a good singer either.

This was when I was around 16 or 17 years old. In the same time there were two others that wanted to play the drums, so it ended up with someone else on the drums and I were the one who got left to sing. That’s how it all started out, but pretty soon I joined another local band who were older than me and a little better at their instruments.

Suddenly I was singing some Rainbow stuff and some others in that kind of music, without knowing my range, vocal checks or anything. It just happened.

By the way. Have you ever read the book by Mikael Niemi, “Popular music from Vittula”? Actually I’ve read it. It’s very good. I just got to think about it when you said that you were born in a very small town, and your relatives saying ‘aint you gonna study and be something for real’, joining a band and everything, kind of reminds me of that. (Laughs)

The book was awesome, and I do have to point out it wasn’t all of my relatives, but some.

Most of my friends, relatives and my parents supported me. Let me tell you about Finnish mentality, here in Finland people are basically very negative about everything. The logic in Finland is like “what are you gonna do if you don’t win this competition” for example.

This actually pisses me off ‘cause we are so fucking negative about everything! (Laughs) That’s probably why we drink so much! (More laughs)

Moving on to track number two, Shine in the dark. That’s a song that Jani (Liimatainen, Sonata Arctica) and me composed a year ago.

We had this project called Cain’s Offering, Jens (Johansson, keyboards) is also playing on it. At first we were gonna use it for Cain’s Offering, we had a plan to start recording. I have a very good feeling about this song, even when we composed it.

We did it at my cottage and I felt like “Damn! There’s some really good parts in this”. Good melodies and stuff.

Stratovarius Photo by Eternal Press Jarmo Katila
Stratovarius Photo by Eternal Press Jarmo Katila

So originally this was a Cain’s Offering song? No, originally we wrote it for Stratovarius but it took about a year for us to start recording, so Jani and I were asking ‘Do you want this for Stratovarius?

Otherwise we will use it in Cain’s Offering, or something else ‘cause we think this song is so good that we don’t want it to just be on a demo’.

What about this cottage of yours, do you have a recording studio there? It’s more like a room that is sound proof. I have the best possible microphones and stuff. I have the possibility to record vocals and drums in the other room, but I haven’t done it yet so basically we have been recording voices for Cain’s Offering and Stratovarius there.

We have done three albums vocalized in my place but that’s it so far.

Track number three, Rise above it. That’s a song written by Matias. It can be a little bit like the older stuff but to me it’s more like Matias style of guitar stuff. We composed it at the end of this year, or… I’m sorry, I meant the beginning of this year.

This flue is really fucking me up, I can’t even think straight, this is so bad! I’m on antibiotics, I shouldn’t talk probably but canceling the interview didn’t seem like an option because I don’t know about your deadline or anything. Even if I fell a bit sick you know, shit happens, and at least I didn’t have to sing today.

Anyway, the song is about all the bullshit going on in the media nowadays, so it’s about finding your own way and not letting propaganda from all these sources get to you. You have to learn how to read media, if you know what I mean. Very often if you just read the headlines you get the wrong impression.

Very often we are fed twisted truths. In Finland we are taught that Finnish media speaks the truth, in all of Scandinavia it’s pretty much the same. But if you read news from, for example, Russia it can be very different, but anyway, it’s about rising above all the bullshit.

Track four, Lost without a trace. It was composed by Lauri (Porra, bass). It’s about a guy who’s afraid of commitments. You know, when a guy meets a perfect woman and she suggests moving in together, and this person, he is lost without a trace. Basically the song is about that.

Track five, Feeding the fire. Again, composed by Matias. You could say that this is traditional Stratovarius power metal. I’ve always said that this band is not about politics or religion, but there is so much bad things going on.

It’s often that the media is just feeding this fire to the people, especially if there’s bad news, they get more hits out of it than the good news. This is also about if we don’t take care of our nature and our world… well, it’s been a terrible summer in Finland. It was like two days of warm weather.

Stratovarius Photo by Eternal Press Jarmo Katila
Stratovarius Photo by Eternal Press Jarmo Katila

We are soaking in rain! If we look at the world you see that this might not be so good. So that’s about feeding the fire. So, number six, In my line of work. That’s the other song that Jani and I composed more then a year ago. Most of it were composed by Jani.

I had these punchlines written down in my phone, ‘cause when I’m reading some books or watching movies I usually come up with stuff to write down.

First it was just “Line of work”, but Jani said let’s call it “In my line of work”. This song can be interpreted by all the people who are away from home for days or even weeks at the time. In our case, of course, it can be for months and it’s not that easy.

The song is about that you need to do what you need to do, especially in our case ‘cause we love to do this, but very often when you are away from your family, it’s not super easy.

I have a girlfriend but some of the guys in the band have kids so it’s harder for them, but it’s enough hard for me because I have been away from home too much.

The song is not only about musicians, I think the song can also be related to truck drivers, people who work at oil platforms or things like that. This is about people that’s off for work and also miss home.

With all the years of missing your home and family, is it really that much fun for you anymore? It’s different compared to when I was 24, yes. I don’t like all the travelling, but it’s still all about playing live that I love. I remember one time, we had 22 shows and 25 flights and that was like “AAAH, SHIT!”.

Travelling is not what I like to do. Singing is my life, that’s what I love, so it’s like good things and bad things, but of course it’s not getting easier the more you travel. Holiday travel is different but then again, I don’t do it so much ‘cause all the touring.

Every time I go on stage I need to deliver. I have to concentrate on the show and I have to make sure that I sleep enough, that I drink enough water and not too much alcohol, and that I’m mentally and physically prepared so it’s more work than having fun.

The fun part is only when I’m on stage but everything else is just work.

Work, including interviews? Yes, that is also part of work. To be honest, I’m not interested in publicity. Nowadays there are also these reality shows, which I dislike a lot, and also I don’t wanna draw any attention to myself when I’m in a bar.

I don’t like to be the center of attention, so basically I do this ‘cause I understand that I need to do this but I don’t want to talk about my private life and I don’t wanna talk about me, but it’s part of the job and I’m happy to do this interview, don’t get me wrong, but it’s only part of the job.

Track number seven, Man in the mirror. That’s written by our Swedish country man ny the name of Jens Johansson. It’s like… to be honest, sometimes I don’t even understand what the fuck he is writing about. He’s a mystical man.

I try to remember his lyrics but you should probably ask him what he means with this. I guess he means that the person that’s in the mirror is a different person than he wants to be, but I’m not actually sure.

Track number eight, Few are those? That’s also one of these songs that have a different background. It wasn’t even planned to be on the album but when we recorded the drums I told Matias that ‘I have a good feeling that me and Jani is coming up with a good mid tempo song.

We have some parts but we don’t know yet how they will be connected, so why don’t you just record to the drums.’, so this song was half composed on the drum tracks, then we changed the chorus a couple of times to make it better but I think it turned out to be a pretty good song.

Track number nine, Fire in your eyes. A song from Jani again, and this is a song that I like a lot. It’s a really nice ballad were I can sing very soft and low key. This is one of the sad lyrics. His lyrics are very much mood related. When he feels sad the lyrics are too.

Stratovarius Photo by Eternal Press Jarmo Katila
Stratovarius Photo by Eternal Press Jarmo Katila

What is more of a challenge for you? To sing really fast with a lot of high notes or a ballad that have a lot of feelings to convey.

I think singing a ballad is harder in a way because when you try to deliver certain feelings you need to be in a certain mood and it doesn’t happen every time.

Even if the voice would be at a 100% condition but if you feel to hectic or something then it won’t work, and suddenly maybe the next day it does.
High notes are more of a technique so I would say that the ballads are more difficult.

What do you do when you’re out on stage and you feel like “I’m not really in the mood for this song”? On stage it’s a little bit different. It’s a live situation and in a way it’s often more difficult to sing properly because anything live goes so fast, in your mind at least.

Often the timing is not super precise or not even the tuning but then again what helps is that you have been singing the song already on the album and been rehearsing it. All of the songs will change, at least a little when I’m singing live compared to when I recorded it.

Album and live versions shouldn’t be the same I think. Why then should I be playing them live? I think that’s really a key element when it comes to rock music.

The fans have the songs from the album in their minds before they go to see the band, and at least in my opinion they get more out of it if there are at least some differences in the song. A live situation is a live situation and sometimes I actually think I’m singing better live than in the studio, there’s the audience and you get the feedback from them and then you try to deliver that feeling back at them.

Sometimes it actually happens that I get goosebumps from myself and then I think ‘Oh shit, now I totally nailed it’, but don’t worry, it doesn’t happen that often. (Laughter)
These are the moments that I’m truly looking forward to, but it’s hard to say before a gig if this is gonna be super good but that’s what I like about playing live.

Of course you always try to deliver the best you can but sometimes you succeed a little better.

Speaking of singing techniques, I noticed a little thing called “Rock the Camp”. Can you tell me about what kind of things you’ll be teaching? This whole thing started 2009. I was part of this TV-show called “Körslaget” with a little quire in Finland. We got some money from a TV company to invest for the local kids or charity.

We decided that we were gonna make a rehearsing place for the bands in my old village to play in, so we invested money in that and the rest of the money we used to teach music in this rock camp. Kristian Wahlström, a guitar teacher from Helsinki,very talanted. The bass teacher, he is more of a church musician, a very nice guy, Ape Anttila.

Then there’s Matias from our band and then the drummer, Kai Hahto from Nightwish (also Wintersun) and then I’m teaching vocals.

We’ve been the same guys the last seven years. Next year we are planning to get more international because I think we don’t have many music camps where we are concentrating more on the metal stuff instead of pop.

Of course there will be these younger kids as well but we are also trying to get the guys and girls that are not youngsters any more. We had this competition on our website where we gave free entrance for one lucky winner.

We are gonna take in 25 persons, five per teacher, and we’re also teaching them as a band. It’s been a lot of fun, you know, when they learn something you go like ‘Oh shit! I was actually teaching something!’

Last but not least, track number ten, Lost Saga. This is the song that Matias composed and he told me that this was gonna be an epic song. He said that he wanted the lyrics to be about vikings and we never had a song about blood and war and killing you know, it’s not so much in our music, so this was something new for Stratovarius.

When I first got the tracks from Matias it took me a couple of hours just to really understand the music. When I got the song the voices was a stupid keyboard that he had been using, it’s very annoying to be honest. I didn’t get the whole picture of the song, it was so complicated that I was kind of like “Is this a verse or is this a bridge?”.

For the first time in my life when writing lyrics I had to start by marking the parts in the song trying to figure out what was what. There wasn’t any vikings in Finland so I had to do some studying. First the facts and then I read sagas and then I came up with an idea that this was gonna be the lost saga that were lost in history.

I probably spent five nights studying stuff and then trying to write the basic story and then the fifth night Jani and I sat in the cottage and it was a lot of work, but this is one of my favorite tracks on the album. I didn’t see this happen four months ago. I really like this song.

It is a very very nice melody Matias wrote. The story is basically fantasy but these things did happen in the past so… I like it, it’s different. One guy told me that to him this song sounds like atmospheric Iron Maiden on a Stratovarius album.

Thank you Timo, and we all hope you feel better!


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