I guess really, it all starts with Sonata Arctica. I love those guys and have been a dedicated fan for quite a few years now. It was while looking up something concerning Sonata Arctica, or more specifically, Tony Kakko, that I learned about a band called Northern Kings. This was a band of four highly acclaimed Finnish vocalists getting together and recording covers of various ‘Top 40 Hits’ from the 1980’s.Those four singers included: Tony Kakko (Sonata Arctica), Marco Hietala (Nightwish/Tarot), JP Leppaluoto (Charon) and Jarkko Ahola (Terasbetoni). Out of those four, it was only Ahola that I was previously unfamiliar with..but not for long! After hearing Ahola’s covers, in particular of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” and Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” I knew I had to learn more about this man and his band, Terasbetoni. I am glad I made the effort…it was well worth it!
Terasbetoni is a hard hitting power metal band that fans of Manowar, Virgin Steele and like bands should find in much to appreciate. The only catch is, if you don’t speak Finnish, you’re not going to understand anything of the lyrics. Don’t let that deter you however! I find that does NOT ruin my enjoyment of the music whatsoever and I don’t think it will you either! I can honestly say that although I am a newer fan of Terasbetoni, they are high on my list of bands I would encourarge others to check out and I would also credit Jarkko Ahola as one of my new favorite singers, hands down!
1.) Can you please give a little background history of Teräsbetoni for the people who are not already familiar with you?
Jarkko Ahola – Sure. Teräsbetoni was founded in 2003 by me, Arto Järvinen and Viljo Rantanen. We had this idea, a vision, of a Finnish metal band that would honor the legacy of heavy metal and do it in Finnish. This might not sound like a new idea, but the concept of singing those ‘sword and might’ songs in our mother tongue was something none had ever done before, at least without making a joke of it. (For a reason or another the lyrics of this style sound easily pretty lame, silly or something like that in Finnish.) Anyway, we wrote three songs: “Teräsbetoni”, “Teräksen Varjo,” and “Maljanne Nostakaa.” Since we didn’t have a drummer, I suggested Jari Kuokkanen who was a friend of mine (and still is!). We recorded those songs and released them through our website. Pretty soon we were enjoying very nice underground success…and I guess, for us at least, the rest is history.
2.) You just released your 4th CD and so far, no line-up change. A lot of bands aren’t that lucky. What do you think makes your line-up so strong? Similar work ethics? Are you all friends and spend time together outside of the band as well?
J – Pretty good question. And a hard one to answer! I think we’ve had hard times, but every time, going out there and playing for the loyal fans is something that makes those problems, what ever they are at the time, seem so vain and stupid. You just realize that THIS is the reason why we are doing this. Singing our songs to the people who are there to scream for you and to support you. We love it. We are friends – there has to be some kind of a friendship there, since you’re together pretty often because of the gigging. But no, we don’t see too much outside the “job”. I’d say that we see eachother often enough, hah.
3.) I see that Teräsbetoni has been doing very well in your homeland of Finland. How good is your promotion beyond Finland and Europe in general? -Do you do many interviews for sources outside of Finland?
J – I think we have no promotion outside Finland at all, since there hasn’t been any releases outside our country, besides our 1st album was released in Germany. I really don’t know what happened with that project since we didn’t hear of it too much afterwards. It’s a shame, because we seem to have some fans abroad as well. When it comes to interviews, every now and then we get requests from guys like you who have heard about us and maybe want to know more.
4.) Did being a part of the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest help boost your success abroad? Are you glad you participated in that or do you have any regrets?
J – We got pretty many personal messages telling us that we were definetly the best act that year etc, but I really don’t know how much it affected our success. Our label didn’t tell us if there were any attemps to get our album released abroad. And yes, the whole trip to Serbia was great and we had a great time there. The ESC is a bedlam and a shallow event in itself…but forgetting that, we had lots of fun. A great experience.
5.) You were invited to be a part of Germany’s Waken Open Air festival in 2005. How did that happen for you and what was the overall response to your performance?
J – We got that invitation through our label and they took it as a promotional act, so to my understanding Warner payed the whole trip. It was of course a great first time experience for us. Our hotel was pretty near the red light district of Reeperbahn. I didn’t visit the area, but I guess some of us went to see it. There’s no such place in Finland for example. I don’t know if it’s a loss, but anyhow… The weather was awful that day. And almost everything was organized pretty broad-minded. We didn’t have a backstage until half an hour before the show that was 25 minutes late anyway. The VIP area was almost empty and we couldn’t grab our selves even one beer. The area was covered in mud and so on. When the show began, we were received well by 2,000 people (it was a large tent) and many guys were singing along even though they didn’t know the lyrics. Sadly after something like five songs, our show was cut off because of the delayed schedule. After all the hardship and accidentally “stolen” guitar (which Vili got back later), we liked the whole trip. And besides, we had a great gig the next day in Finland, in front of 10,000 people, so all the little flaws were soon forgotten.
6.) Your song, “Taivas lyö tulta” was chosen to be the goal song for the Finnish ice hockey National Team A in the Karjala Cup Tournament. That must have been an honor for you. How did that come to be? Did you attend the tournament? Are you a hockey fan?
J – Sure it was, but I got to tell you, that those times our songs were played all around in many occasions. So, when it happened it didn’t feel THAT great even though it should have. We were just everywhere at the time. Somehow especially hockey teams have taken our music to theirselves. Maybe metal and hockey fit together, but no, I’m no hockey fan.
7.) You switched to a new label for this release. How is Sakara Records working for you compared to your previous label?
J – Sakara Records is a much smaller label and that fact has its advantages and disadvantages. We are treated equally compared to them and our opinions are taken very seriously. We can affect almost every detail of the record (and the things around it) that is being made. That wasn’t the case with a bigger label. I guess it’s partly the organization. When it grows bigger, handling of the details gets harder. So, since WMF is bigger, they had more money for the marketing. That is a pretty big disadvantage from our point of view now, but I don’t complain since we got to do our best album yet and people from Sakara listened to our music very carefully and gave a lot of thought to our album.
8.) What is the biggest challenge you face each time you begin work on a new CD?
J – I think it’s hard to say when you’re making it. Every project has had its own difficulties and challenges, but you see them better afterwards. Generally writing a good song is pretty hard…and making more than one is even harder. Choosing the songs to the album is hard stuff, too. Sometimes when recording vocals for example, my voice just doesn’t work. This has happened maybe two times (glady not more often), and those are the days when you just have to say: “let’s try again tomorrow”. I guess losing your voice is the thing that every singer is afraid of.
9.) So far, what has been the overall fan & media response to Maailma Tarvitsee Sankareita?
J – Well, our fans have given only positive feedback which means a lot to us. Media has always had some kind of a problem with us. For some of them we’re a joke or just a group that can’t be taken seriously. On the other hand some reviews I’ve read have been very positive and some of the critics have actually listened to our album. There are obviously many who haven’t. Fools.
10.) Your CD title (Maailma Tarvitsee Sankareita) translates in English to The World Needs Heroes. That is very true considering all the problems in the world today. What is your personal definition of a ‘hero’?
J – Phew. I guess it’s something when a person is ready to sacrifice something valuable for the greater good, to risk his or her own good. Or sometimes it just can be something on a smaller scale. You win yourself. You pull yourself from a bad situation and grow as a human being. The heroism…what ever it means in different cases, shows later. You can’t say to yourself: “By doing this and that, I’m a hero.” Heroism is mostly an unselfish, bold act.
11.) I can’t find English translations for ALL your lyrics, but I know many of them focus on epic battles and the brotherhood of metal, etc. How do you feel your lyric writing has progressed over the years? I heard you mention in one interview that you are touching on more modern themes with Maailma Tarvitsee Sankareita. Can you give more detail on that?
J – I’d say some of our lyrics focus on the things that you mentioned, but I’d also say that we have used those things as an allegory…a special place with special words to tell about universal stuff, like winning yourself, losing someone special, suffering in life, joy in life etc. Our new album has maybe a more modern touch in it. Not too much swords and shields, but words that relate to today. Just like the song “Maailma Tarvitsee Sankareita“. Those lyrics are very straight forward and understandable. Or a song called “Eteenpäin” (translated “Onwards“, but I’d maybe name it “Move Ahead“) that is not in touch of any kind of battle or fantasy imagery.
12.) I understand your reasons for writing songs in your native language of Finnish. It would be strange for you to suddenly change that too, in my opinion. But would you ever consider writing like 2-3 songs in English on future albums (kind of like Korpiklaani does) in order to reach a broader scope of non-Finnish speaking fans? Or is success beyond your area not that important to you?
J – I am very open minded to new ideas and this is something I’d be ready to think about. Let’s just say that we all have a little different opinions about this language matter. Of course it would be important to have that promotion abroad as well.
13.) Obviously you are a metal fan. However, Teräsbetoni is reputed to be a kind of “parody” of “true metal” bands. I know some bands take the ‘image’ and ‘lifestyle’ of “true metal” very seriously and encourage their fans to as well. But it seems you basically have fun with it. What are your thoughts on all that?
J – Well, to me heavy metal has always been a style of music and it’s very hard to “glue” it into a specific lifestyle. Why would I want to do that? Every sane adult person knows that we all live our “normal” lives. We have to. I couldn’t live with myself if I’d have to wear leather pants and a vest when I’m going to a grocery store or cutting the grass. I’m sure you know what I mean. All these lifestyles and imageries behind the different styles of music have been created to sell more records. I too, when I was a kid, rode a horse and killed enemies in my mind when I listened to heavy metal. Hah. That is all fantasy and I understand its power, but still, an every day beer drinking muscle man who is playing guitar and fucks a new chick whenever he wants, is a fantasy character. (But a great one!) So, in short: I take heavy metal music very seriously. Music means everything to me. But all the imagery and lifestyle stuff…I don’t see it, but I do realize its meaning. Of course gigging and playing in a rock band is a choice of lifestyle, but it’s nothing glamorous – unhealthy I’d say!
14.) Do you get a lot of song ideas that would not fit well with Teräsbetoni? What do you do with them? – I read that you are eventually working on a solo project. Anything you can tell us about that so far? – How would your solo project differ from Teräsbetoni?
J – Sure. I write all kinds of music. Teräsbetoni kind of heavy metal comes out easily, but I also like to write songs that have more…soul…uh, tone in them. Definetly rock music, but with a broader scale of expression. Kick ass riffs, cool rhythm, interesting harmonies and different solutions, etc.
15.) When you originally became interested in playing music, your first choice was to play drums. But now you play bass guitar and sing. When and how did you discover that you had such a powerful voice and what made you decide to play bass instead of drums?
J – For me, the reason why I chose vocals, was money. I just didn’t have the cash and the space for the drumkit. Our school band was in need of a singer, so I was kind of forced into that position. Imagine that! Someone might call it fate, but I am not too sure if such a thing even exists. I had a guitar, though. I liked to play it often, but I never got too good with it. I’d still love to be a great guitarist, but hell, I am left-handed and I had to learn to play with a right-handed guitar. So, even today my strings are backwards. Anyway, the reason why I got to play bass was also money (what a terrible human being I must be!), since when I handled the bass and vocals, we were able to minimize our group into three. This was when we were starting to play in local bars and the pay sucked. My friend Ville lent his bass to me for something like four years. A big thanks to him!
16.) Do you have custom bass guitars made because it is helpful to you as a left-handed player? Or do you just enjoy their uniqueness?
J – Both. Left-handed instruments are pretty hard to find here and since my strings are backwards, some special adjustments are needed. Oh, and because I love the look of Rickenbacker basses. I first wanted to order one from them, but the delivery time was from two to three years. What?! These guys from Amfisound Guitars hand-craft high quality instruments in a reasonable time and with the specs you want. So, a big thanks for them!
17.) I know many of your earlier influences, such as Manowar, Rainbow and Deep Purple, etc. What newer bands do you enjoy listening to these days?
J – There are many of them…and from different genres. I like Danko Jones, Mustasch, Livin’ End, Shinedown, Ennio Morricone, Vangelis, Richard Hawley…there are so many artists. I even liked White Lies’ album To Lose My Life, but the new one isn’t as good anymore.
18.) What other kinds of music do you enjoy besides metal/hard rock? Are you actually a fan of Big Band music as your Oulu All Star Big Band project might suggest?
J – I guess I already kind of answered this. When it comes to OASBB, I mostly see it as a big band that can play almost anything. So, to me there’s no music style called big band music. Anyway, Jazz…I am not too fond of it, but I’ll try to keep my mind open. And those guys for example play so well, that it’s just fun to listen to it.
19.) Is your Metal Warriors (Manowar tribute) band just something you did once for fun, or have you performed with that often?
J – It’s mostly for fun, but we all like Manowar very much. Jussi, the guitar player, knows the older stuff very well and unlike many musicians, he doesn’t look down on Manowar. They have written many great songs and performed them with an unforgettable style. We’re going to do a few gigs this summer actually.
20.) Do you find that people often compare your voice to other metal singers? Any certain one(s) you are compared to in particular? When I first heard you, I thought of Ronnie James Dio. (A strong compliment, of course!) But the more I listened to you, the more I heard in your voice that was unique as well. (You are one of my favorite singers, in fact!)
J – Thank you very much. I am always happy to hear compliments! There was a time when people compared me to RJD (rest in peace), but I’ve also heard comparisons like Ian Astbury from The Cult or John Lawton from Uriah Heep. Sometimes people hear Eric Adams from Manowar. But no problem, all those guys sound great to me! Hah. But nowadays I don’t hear it too much. Maybe I have created my own style. I don’t know. Hopefully, since that would be the greatest thing of all. To be identifiable.
21.) On the topic of Dio: I saw some videos of you performing some of his songs at a memorial tribute show (and you did an amazing job too!). I did a tribute page in my last issue, where people shared their thoughts and memories on how Dio and his music affected them. Do you have anything special you would like to share?
J – Well, first I have to say that Dio has affected me mostly from the times when he sang in Rainbow and Black Sabbath. I think he wrote better songs with other strong personalities like Blackmore and Iommi. When he founded Dio…something was lost, even though songs like “Stand Up And Shout” and “Invisible” are great. When I first heard “Gates Of Babylon“, I almost went crazy. I think I was angry that I hadn’t heard that song earlier. I think I was 13 or 14 years old when I first heard it. That song was, and still is, something so special and genius that it blows my mind away. Great riffs, great lyrics, great vocals…you know, a perfect song that sounds timeless.
22.) (A few Northern Kings questions here.) What was it like working with Tony (Kakko), Marco (Hietala) and JP (Leppaluoto)? Did you all know each other prior to Northern Kings? Judging by the videos I’ve seen, you all seemed to be having a good time with no clash of egos.
J – Definitely no clash of egos. Just pure admiration towards each other and having a good time. I met Marco and JP the first time during the Raskasta Joulua-tour. For me then, Marco was something distant and star-like. But in no time he showed only signs of normal Finnish shyness and hard drinking habits. Haha. JP is a funny guy who is very easy to get close to. Always talking and laughing. I am not sure when I first met Tony. He might have sang with Raskasta Joulua, but I am not sure. Anyway, he is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
23.) Did you choose your own songs to cover in Northern Kings? Did you do so individually or as a group?
J – We chose individually mostly. I wanted to do my own arrangements on the first album, and I did the arrangement on “My Way” on the second one, too. I think mostly those arrangements worked great, and of course the musicians on that album are great.
24.) Out of all the Northern Kings songs you sang solo on, which is your personal favorite? Which did you find most difficult?
J – I think “I Just Died In Your Arms” is my favorite. The arrangement brings the song on a new level and everything just fell in place. I am still very happy with the results. I really didn’t have any problems with my solo songs, but when I had to sing harmonies or parts I didn’t know about, it was sometimes like hell. When I know the song, everything goes smoothly, but if I have to start learning the melodies and the subtleties in the studio in a hurry…I go crazy!
25.) Have you heard any feedback from any of the original artists about what they thought of your covers of their songs?
J – No, unfortunately not. I’d love to hear!
26.) I have seen several comments from people that Timo Kotipelto should have been in Northern Kings as well. Do you know if he was ever considered or invited to be?
J – No, I haven’t heard anything like that, but I don’t know what the production level has negotiated. On the other hand, to my knowledge this whole Northern Kings thing rose from the Raskasta Joulua-project which Timo didn’t take part of.
27.) Any talk of a 3rd Northern Kings album?
J – There has been from time to time, but the details are totally open yet. And of course our international stars are quite busy, since Nightwish is doing a new album and Sonata Arctica is touring a lot.
28.) What are some of your non-music interests/hobbies? (Do you enjoy any sports, have any pets, etc,?)
J – I like to jog. I always say I should jog more, since the older you get, the less you should eat and the more you should move. I should move! I also like to watch good movies. Movies can just be entertaining, touching, inspiring…you name it. I like cats, but hairy animals make me cough and sneeze. And like almost every musician, music is my hobby as well. I breathe music.
29.) I have seen your video for “Metalliolut.” I find it very enjoyable and entertaining. I have to ask…what is the difference between just beer and Metal Beer? 🙂
J – Of course, beer tastes better when you listen to Heavy Metal! That makes it Metalliolut.
30.) If I were to go by bands such as Sonata Arctica and Korpiklaani, it would seem that vodka is the Finnish drink of choice. Would that be right? Any particular reason, you suppose?
J – Yup, vodka is the one for me too. I think Russia has influenced our choice of alcohol, since “votka” is their choice especially. Good vodka tastes very soft and the hang-over you’ll get from alcohol every time (for sure!) seems to be slightly easier from vodka than from whiskey for example. And besides whiskey makes many people angry or irritating.
31.) For fans overseas (such as here in the U.S.) who would love to see Teräsbetoni perform some shows in their area one day, what advice/suggestions would you give them to help make it happen?
J – Uh, well. I guess if you guys know any promoters who like to bring new bands in your country, give those people a hint. I know that the U.S. market is hard to reach, but maybe one day. Just keep on spreading the word!
32.) Jarkko, thank you SO MUCH for doing this interview! It really means a lot to me since I am a big fan! I have introduced many of my American metal friends to Teräsbetoni and they have all been impressed. Keep up the great work! -Is there anything you would like to add in closing?
J – Thank you, Lisa. The pleasure was all mine. Even though there were pretty many questions, they were bloody great. No nonsense here! All I can say, is that I wish we could play in the States one day. Take care.