The recent implosion of Finnish power metal kings Stratovarius has been sad and very public drama. But those of us who commented on the ongoing debacle tended to forget that the real people were being deeply affected by these events. After he was cast into the cold, Ex-Stratovarius frontman Timo Kotipelto took some important steps toward building a career apart from Stratovarius. Duncan Glenday caught up with Kotipelto and discussed the demise of Stratovarius, and the details of his second solo album, Coldness.
(Click here to see our review of Coldness)
Due for American release on May 18th.
Duncan Glenday, Sea Of Tranquility : Are you familiar with the Sea Of Tranquility webzine, or its previous incarnation as a hard-copy magazine?
Timo Kotipelto : I think I've seen it at some point the name is very familiar to me. I think I remember it as a hard-copy magazine.
SoT : Timo, for people who are not yet familiar with who you are especially as a solo artist, could you give us a quick overview of your background, and what you're doing now?
TK : Well most people who know me know me from this ex-band of mine, Stratovarius. I was in the band a bit more that 10 years and did 7 or 8 albums with those guys. I'm a Finnish guy, a singer, and I sing quite high when required [Laughs] I think my musical direction combines some of my roots from the '80s bands like Iron Maiden, or Rainbow, or White Snake; and mix them with some power metal influences. Then you have the combination that gets to something like what I'm doing with my own band.
SoT : I was going to ask you if you think of yourself as heavy metal or power metal
TK : It's hard to say. I think it's not only power-metal. I have some heavy metal, and some people have said hard rock it's a combination.
SoT : What happened with Stratovarius? A lot of us have been worried about what's been going on there, and ad far as a lot of people were concerned your voice defined a major part of the sound of Stratovarius. So what on earth happened!
TK : Well there have always been some minor problems in the band, but not big ones. I think it has a lot to do with the Finnish mentality. We aren't used to talking about our problems. Instead we store them, inside, and then of course small problems will get bigger and they pile up, and unfortunately what is quite normal for us is when we trigger we really trigger, and we let these bad things come out in the wrong place.
I also decided to leave the band because well it all started 6 years ago when we had the Destiny tour which was quite heavy, and Tolkki was drinking quite heavily after every gig and when we came back to Finland he disappeared for 2 weeks. I heard through a mutual friend that Tolkki is thinking about quitting the band. But after 2 weeks he called me and said he'd started doing some kind of therapy
I know that at that time he'd had some problems with his ex-wife and he's been doing therapy since then. I'm probably not the right person to say whether the therapy is working or not. If I have problems I'd rather talk to my friends or my brother or my family rather than these very expensive therapists.
Then he's always been the boss of the band and he's decided what to do, and when and where, and the reason I started doing my own songs was that there was no chance of having them on Stratovarius albums, and I thought I had the right to express myself as well, which is why I started doing my first album. When it came to the second album, Coldness, I had composed most of the songs a year ago, when I was still in the band. I didn't know I would be out of the band a year later. But things happen, you know
SoT : You've given us a very detailed, candid account, and I appreciate. Right now a lot of people are wondering about what is happening with Timo. Is he okay, has he gone off his rocker, is he back on the straight-and-narrow where is he right now. Do you have any idea?
TK : As of yesterday he was still in hospital. I heard from a mutual friend that he was in hospital because of a very bad depression. I heard that it's really bad. Of course I hope he will get better he has this manic depression condition. There are two sides when you have this manic thing going on you have a lot of energy, you don't sleep and you think you can do everything. I remember last autumn when he told me that he has great plans and he'd been composing for the next Stratovarius album and he's been composing for some other musicians and so on. Then of course when you've used a lot of energy as he did for 5 months, then comes the depression part and it can be quite bad.
SoT : Well we all hope he recovers I know that condition can be debilitating. Tell me - do you know anything about this lady who's supposed to be singing for Stratovarius now?
TK : I've never met her and I haven't heard her singing. Someone told me there are some MP3s somewhere, but I've never listened to those. I mean without all the blood, she looks pretty okay! [Laughs] But obviously she has something I don't
maybe she will be a good choice! [Laughs]
SoT : We'll see!
TK : Yeah, we will!
SoT : Let's get back to your music because that's what we're here to discuss. How did you start out in this business?
TK : It all started when I was young 6 or 7 years old my mother made me go to piano lessons, but I didn't like them. Then I got a guitar but I didn't like that either. Then when I was 11 or 12 they bought me a drum kit and I played for a few years, and almost by accident I started to sing, and I played drums at the same time.
In 1991 or so I went to this music school in Finland for a year and from there I applied to this very famous school in Finland and stayed there for 4 years studying music. After the first year I joined Stratovarius, and that was why I never really graduated from the school. And of course I was quite lazy! [Laughs] But I studied a lot, I did vocal courses and I can read music scores, and so on.
SoT : You mentioned earlier who your earlier influences were but what's in your CD player now?
TK : Actually I'm listening to Sarah Brightman. I just came from the sauna and I have speakers in there, and she's very relaxing and I just love her voice. But that's basically the only non-metal that I listen to. I've recently been doing some cover gigs with some of my friends and I have to sing some Whitesnake and some Rainbow older stuff so I listen to those. And I still have to learn some Iron Maiden stuff because I promised a journalist friend from Italy they are having a 400-issue party and I was asked to sing some of those songs. Basically, if it's metal, then I'm listening to those older bands. But when I'm composing or preparing for a tour and training my vocals, then I don't listen to anything because that would just be too much.
SoT : What do you think were the best metal releases of 2003, besides Stratovarius and anything you were involved with?
TK : Well Stratovarius was not the best for sure. I think the last Children Of Bodom was pretty good. They're very talented guys, even tough it isn't my kind of music. But they're very nice guys and excellent players.
SoT : You're not very well known in the USA yet at least not as a solo act. What has your reception been like in Europe? Do they know you yet? And have the Finns turned you into a big celebrity?
TK : Well I'm doing pretty good in Finland. It's a small country and at least the metal-heads know me. But non-metal people they know Stratovarius quite well. But then I released my first single from Coldness in Finland and it went straight to no. 1, which was amazing. They've been playing that song quite a lot on the radio stations. So it looks quite promising, but I've been in this business for so many years that I don't believe in miracles. In Europe, in the metal scene, everyone knows Stratovarius. And in the power-metal scene, a lot of people know me. But what does that mean? Basically nothing [Laughs] because my first album sold just enough that the record label took the other option. If this one sells a bit more it will be possible to do some touring, so we shall see!
SoT : Are you a family man?
TK : Actually no and that's one of the reasons the lyrics on the album are quite depressing. Just a couple of months before all this band shit happened I separated from my girlfriend.
SoT : I'm sorry to hear that, Timo.
TK : Yeah - we were together for 5 years, so that's why the last 8 months have been the most difficult in my life. I guess it's like Murphy's law when the shit comes down, it really comes down.
SoT : Timo, what elements of metal or music in general would you like to try on your albums in the future?
TK : I'm actually interested in doing something non-metal. I did some songs for the latest Disney movie called Brother Bear. On the original version, Phil Collins sang the songs. But European Disney corporation asked me if I would like to do those songs in Finnish, and I did that. It was very interesting and I liked it a lot and believe it or not it was a bit strange for me to suddenly sing in Finnish! But it was a nice experience, and the best moment for me was when I went to see the movie with the kid of the guy who played drums on my album. It was a great pleasure for me to see this little guy staring at the screen and afterward the drummer called me and said Hey, Timo, I've been listening to your song like 700 fucking times because my kid made me buy the album because of you! [Laughs] I said Aahh that's the way to go! Great! Buy the album! It was something different. Also when I was studying vocals at that school, I had to sing other kinds of music and I actually discovered that I liked some musical stuff like Phantom Of The Opera and Jesus Christ Superstar, and that was how I found Sarah Brightman's music.
SoT : Well if you think about it look at who sang the lead role in Superstar!
TK : Exactly. Ian Gillan.
SoT : Yep so that also has reference to those early metal roots you spoke about. Moving on to something else what have been your favorite songs on Stratovarius or on your solo albums?
TK : Well from Stratovarius for some reason I like the song "Eternity". It was pretty cool a bit older, I think from the Episode album. From my own stuff there's a small outro from the first album called "The Movement Of The Nile", which is pretty cool. And I have to admit that now I've been listening to some of the new stuff I like the song called "Reasons".
SoT : That leads me to another question on your web site you refer to the single Reasons. Which came first? The album, the single
TK : Well the single came out here in Europe that's the one I spoke about earlier on March 17th in Finland, although I don't know about the other countries. You see, I have my own record label, although it's just for Finland. The rest is up to Century Media. Very often they will release on different days
I just heard that the album should be out in the US sometime in May but I'm not sure when.
SoT : Well I can tell you. I have a promo copy here, and on the back it says the release date is set for May 18th.
TK : Aahh! Cool!
SoT : So you released the single first, then the album? How many tracks were on the single?
TK : Three. There are 2 from the album "Reasons" and : "Seeds Of Sorrow". Then there's a song from the first album called "Vizier", but on that one there's an extended guitar solo from Mike Romeo. I can't remember why but when we were mastering the first album I thought the solo parts were too long and I just cut it in half. I don't know why, but later I thought "Aahh fuck the solos were so good, so let's put them on this single, so people can have something special. Also I put the price as low as possible it's EUR2.00, which is about US$2.50.
SoT : You said the first CD's sales weren't so hot?
TK : No it went okay! But it probably wasn't a goldmine for Century Media.
SoT : Where did it sell the most?
TK : It did pretty okay in Finland, and Italy and France went well. But it didn't do so well in Germany or the northern European countries.
SoT : Was it released in the USA? I haven't heard it.
TK : I don't actually know.
SoT : Your web site doesn't have very much information yet, so I'm not aware of who was in the line-up. Can you walk me through that?
TK : On Coldness there's Mirka Rantanen who's also in Thunderstone. On bass we have Jari Kainulainen from Stratovarius. On keyboards I have Janne Warman from Children of Bodom. Then there are two guitar players Mike Romeo from Symphony X, and Juhani Malmberg from Mirka's old band, Tunnel Vision.
SoT : What is the album about? You've already mentioned that it's quite dark is there a theme that runs through the album?
TK : Basically the lyrics are about how I felt between last August and last December. I went to 2 different cottages by this lake which is near my home town, which is about 400km north. I wrote the lyrics there and I already had some problems in my private life when I started writing, and later there were the problems with the band. So most of the lyrics are about my private life.
SoT : What about the cover-art? Who did that?
TK : It was a Swedish guy called Mattias Noren, I just sent him some of the pictures taken by my father, by the lake, and I told him I would like to have this frozen lake, and a rowing boat to symbolize leaving something behind. And what he did was amazing because he knew exactly what I wanted.
SoT : He's becoming one of the better-known cover designers, isn't he!
TK : I believe so. I asked him if he would be interested in doing this kind of cover and he wanted to do it because he normally does these science fiction covers, so this was a bit different.
SoT : But your previous album had Derek Riggs cover art. Is Mattias becoming the new Derek Riggs?
TK : Yeah, maybe. He's quite famous. I think he deserves it.
SoT : The metal scene in Europe seems to be very different to the metal scene in the USA. How would you describe that difference, and more important, how do those differences affect you?
TK : Well you have this Nu-Metal. I don't know if that's going away already, but we have more variety here, especially in Finland. We have many new bands coming up in all kinds of metal. But not nu-metal. Metallica is still very big over here. And I know that power-metal is not that popular in the USA, but hopefully it will be possible to do some touring there soon.
SoT : Speaking of tours are you planning any tours any time soon?
TK : I have some plans but I can't start touring before July because I may have to do some Stratovarius shows before that. And Janne is leaving for the USA soon I think they're touring with Iced Earth. If you have a chance, go and check them out! Even if you don't like their kind of music, go and check them out because they're amazing players. The guitar player, and Janne on keyboards they're so good! Anyway about the tours. I'm doing some club shows, and we've been confirmed for Wacken Open Air in Germany in August, and a few days before that there's a festival in Budapest. Then, if my booking agent can arrange it, I'd love to do a 2 or 3 week tour in Europe around September or October. And some touring in Finland. Also there may be a South American tour as well.
SoT : When touring, many singers I've spoken to say they've lost their voice because of all the smoke and the air conditioning and so on. Has that ever happened to you?
TK : I think the air conditioning is the worst. We did one South American tour and we had 21 flights in 20 days. So you can imagine you're sitting on the plane all the time, which is bad for the voice because the air conditioning makes the air so dry. And when you're touring in very hot countries the guys want the air conditioning turned right up and I'm saying hey you can stand the heat for an hour, because it might ruin my voice! On that tour I had to take a lot of medicines and I was able to sing the shows but after the last show I couldn't talk at all. And in Europe there are now non-smoking busses which is very good.
SoT : What about your plans for the future? Are you looking at any other projects, any new albums?
TK : I've had some good and some bad offers, but I've told everyone that I have to concentrate on the promotion, and the possible tours, but at the end of the year I'm interested. If there's a band with interesting music, and if the guys are cool, and if they're established, then who knows.
SoT : Do you have any closing messages for our readers?
TK : Yeah thanks to all the people that sent me support during the difficult times. I'm very grateful for that, and hopefully they will like the album, and hopefully I'll see them when I do some touring.
SoT : Well thanks, Timo, it's been great talking with you. I hope the new album does really well for you in the USA.
TK : Thanks and hopefully I'll see you in America soon!