STRATOVARIUS Mainman Says He Doesn't Like Band's Last, Self-Titled Album

David Priest of OnTrackMagazine.com recently conducted an interview with STRATOVARIUS mainman Timo Tolkki. A few excerpts from the chat follow:

OnTrackMagazine.com: How are you feeling these days?

Timo: Pretty okay. I mean I went through some really black depression after the last tour again, 'cause I get this.

OnTrackMagazine.com: Really?

Timo: Yeah, yeah. It can be, like, six or seven months; really, really black, where I don't 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. It's, for me, very much like this. I do take medication for that though and I've done therapy for seven years. I have a lot of baggage but I've gotten rid of most of it, there is still more though. I guess I'm one of the tormented artists. (Laughter) I've just accepted that.

OnTrackMagazine.com: 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 don't try to do pretty much anything, actually, when I write; I let it flow. It's 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 don't come, then I know that the time isn't right; I don't push it.

OnTrackMagazine.com: I know that prior to the release of the last album there was a huge explosion that happened….

Timo: No kidding. It was a real field day.

OnTrackMagazine.com: 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.

OnTrackMagazine.com: 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 f*ck, imagine if MAIDEN…. and Dickinson was out and they got a female replacement you know? So that's when I realized when I was over with that, that I needed medication for that. So now I actually take lithium, which is medicine for bi-polar disorder which keeps it in check. But there's a down-side too because it does take away the edge of it, it takes away the edge from the "manic." Because "manic phase" is extremely creative, full of energy and ideas and stuff; many records I wrote I was pretty manic. But for this record it was easy to write. I sense that it takes away some of the edge, I don't like that, but I have no choice.

OnTrackMagazine.com: That's 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, so… (Laughter)

OnTrackMagazine.com: Do you think that's 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 don't like that record. It wasn't how it's meant to be done with us. The process wasn't the usual way how we do things because actually, when we were in the studio, that was when I had the breakdown. Jörg, the drummer, had to do his parts alone because the bass player didn't 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.

OnTrackMagazine.com: Yeah I know that whole time just kind of confused fans.

Timo: We've come to hell and back together. Somebody like [Timo] Kotipelto [vocals], he's 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; it's a really, really great feeling.

OnTrackMagazine.com: That's really good to know. And I hear the new album, it's gonna be more of a traditional STRATOVARIUS-type sound?

Timo: Yeah, I wanted to write more old sound songs, not so dark. But it's still…, it's not completely like Visions, I mean you can't really write the same record twice; well you can, but I can't. (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 we're like MANOWAR or something. Heavy metal, I don't think we're heavy metal. And then there's this power metal, I don't know what that is either; people have these categories.

OnTrackMagazine.com: It's so hard to avoid that and to describe it to somebody.

Timo: I know, I know.

OnTrackMagazine.com: The easiest way is to say, you listen to it and describe it yourself, don't 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 don't 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 didn't think, "Is this rock?" or whatever it is, there were so many good songs, I liked it.

OnTrackMagazine.com: (Laughing) Well, right on. Now there was a song that was going to be put on the last album about Hitler.

Timo: That's this song; (pointing to 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; they're a German label in Berlin.

OnTrackMagazine.com: (Laughing) Oh no…

Timo: I told them, one of the songs is called "Hitler" 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 can't name a song "Hitler". And when there is somebody telling me I can't do this…. "I am an artist and I did something and I want to do this, you can't tell me I can't do this, what is your reason?" And they said that it would promote Nazi image. And I told them, of course they are in Berlin and we are dealing here with the collective guilt of Germans from the Second World War and I have managed somehow, once again, to cause this…, whatever it is that it was, I don't even know. Then there was Jörg, our drummer, he's German, I was mixing that song and somehow it leaked to the press that we have a song called "Hitler". And in Finland it was like huge tabloids, "Record Company Bans Stratovarius Song Called 'Hitler'." And then we are there in the tabloids — a STRATOVARIUS picture next to a Hitler picture. (Laughter)

OnTrackMagazine.com: (Laughing) Oh no!

Timo: Then the Berlin office heard what's happening in Finland and then Jörg calls me and screams at me that he leaves the band. I was just mixing that song in the studio and he calls and he shouts at me for, like, fifty minutes and the funniest thing is that he sounded exactly like Hitler. I just let him vent and put the phone somewhere, and then I explained to him, "I don't know, I want to do something. The song is anti-Hitler, very much." There was also part of a speech by Hitler in the beginning of the song, and that was another thing they said I can't do. And to me that's like stifling my art, I mean I did a song and somebody is telling me that I can't do it; I hate that. But then I started to think that maybe I should, at this time, back off because it is a touchy subject. I was really pissed off, and the next title I actually said, well I'm gonna call it "Why", the song. And then I came up with this "Zenith of Power", Gotterdammerung. It's a German word which means, actually, "Twilight of the Gods." And there is his speech at the end, it's very low but you can hear it at the very end, it's like thirty seconds. And there is on the net, on YouTube, there is some fan who made a video of that and there is the speech in the beginning and it's like World War II stuff and it's a great video. It's really very good, really well made and it's exactly the point I wanted to make with this song, because to me the Nazis and Hitler actually represent the ultimate evil of all mankind. Just one guy managed to almost destroy a whole culture: just one guy. And this must be studied. Why? So it will not happen again.

Read the entire interview at www.ontrackmagazine.com.

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