Interview conducted May 22 2013
Interview published June 02 2013
Metal Covenant was given the opportunity
to talk to former Stratovarius main man Timo Tolkki
about his new project Avalon. The first session was canceled, without
any explanation, but when I eventually hooked up with him, it didn't take
long to see that Timo is a man with many sides, not afraid to talk about
inner emotions and his personal life.
Tobbe: So how are things doing in your camp?
Tobbe: Yes, the word says you're already
in the works for the next record. You're a busy man.
Yes, I figure. Let's talk about your new album now, before we get further
into volume 2. You know, when I hear your name I usually refer to some
kind of symphonic power metal. I've heard the new album quite a few times,
but in your own words, what's different with this new Avalon album, compared
to your past works?
Timo: I don't define music in this way. I don't
consider that's power metal or whatever metal. I mean, for example
when I was still in Stratovarius, the songs I composed, people were
calling them power metal and I thought "What is power metal?".
I have ballads in there and I have some really sensitive moments and
all kinds of things, very poppy stuff as well. So is power metal an
accurate word to describe what my music is? I don't think there is
a description to it, it's just music you know. It's heavy rock influenced,
melodic music, I would say.
Tobbe: You know people always want to label
things and put a name to it.
Tobbe: Why this plethora of singers? Why
so many? Wasn't one male and one female vocalist good enough?
Timo: When you are doing something that is
formatized as a metal opera, you have to have a cast of singers. I
am operating within the boundaries of a format here. It is a clear
format and I am not denying that. I had an executive producer in this
as well, for the first time in my career, so I had to okay everything
with another person. It was an experience and I've learned a lot in
these 25 years in this business. You can also learn, in a good way,
from a person that is in a way judging your music. You can take good
things from that. 15 years ago, if somebody would have come to me
and said that he's my executive producer, I would probably just had
said "Fuck you!".
Tobbe: Yes, you're pretty used to doing
things the way you want to.
Tobbe: Kind of odd.
Timo: Yes, it's like Star Wars. Start from
the middle, but I started in the end. Actually I wrote the whole story
for three albums and I chomped it up to three pieces and then I figured
out that I should start at the ending. I wrote about 16 or 17 songs
to the story and certain singers started to come to my mind and I
got all of them.
Tobbe: You got all singers you asked?
Timo: Exactly. Everybody I asked. No one turned
my offer down. You know, singers want, like all musicians, publicity
and they want their name around and there's also a financial aspect.
So I got everybody I wanted and I was happy about that, because the
singers are really the key to this album.
Tobbe: Yes, with the opera stuff, even if
there's not much actual opera on the album.
Tobbe: Well, what about the chorus on the
Timo: Yes, Avalanche Anthem in the chorus.
Probably because I really don't like that hysterical opera vocals,
female opera vocals. I wanted it to have basically good songs with
good memorable melodies and hooks and catchy things in there, and
good vocalists. That was my idea.
Yes, you have some really strong vocalists on that album. That's awesome
you could get them all.
Timo: Yes, I was surprised about that. You
know, I really just asked them. I got in touch with them and I asked
them "Would you be interesting in this?", and then there
was just a matter of logistics.
Tobbe: So all these vocalists and all musicians.
On what locations did you all guys record this album?
Timo: Of course, most vocalists in this metal
opera, did their own vocals, although I, as a producer, would very
much prefer to be there. The main vocalist on this album is Elize
Ryd and I actually was spending a week in Örebro, Sweden, recording
her vocals. That was something I definitely wanted to do as a producer.
She was kind of feeling a bit weird about the songs, because they
are so different to Amaranthe's. There's so much more space in here,
for her voice. Many times she told me that this sounded strange to
her. I told her that it's only because there are so much space for
her voice and she's not used to hear her voice like this. She's a
Tobbe: You told me you had an executive
producer. What about that?
Timo: Well, I was doing one hundred percent.
I had to do it. These days I write a lot of songs anyway. For other
artists as well. All kinds of music, pop music, other stuff. Songwriting
business is like this. You have somebody that pretty much tells you
how it should be. I was always like that, that I really knew what
I was doing. I know very much what I'm doing in every area of recording,
because I've been doing this producing and engineering for over 20
years, so I'm really aware of all the technical aspects.
It's the same way with cinema. There is director's
cut and there is a producer who says that we don't need a certain
part, because it makes it too complicated. So that's really the executive
producer's job. He taught me a little bit about how to think a bit
more commercial. In these times when the record industry is going
down, it's something you sometimes have to do, but I cannot say that
when I was composing the songs, I was thinking about something like
that. I kept on writing songs until he was happy. He was never saying
like "The verse is not good, but we'll keep the chorus".
It was always "I don't like this song" or "I like this
song". That's how it went.
Tobbe: You know, when I listen to the album
I find two outstanding tracks, the title track is awesome, and also Shine
with Elize singing. Do you have any special moments or favorites songs
yourself or are all equally as good, you think?
Timo: I like I'll Sing You Home the best and
that's maybe because what happened in the studio, which people don't
know about. When we were recording the vocals it got really emotional.
I spent a lot of time in the studio getting emotions out of Elize
and in this particular song you can actually hear her crying in the
end. If you listen really careful, you can hear her sobbing after
the last word.
Tobbe: I've listened to that song quite
a few times and I didn't pick that up. I've gotta listen to that song
when we're done talking.
Timo: It's very faint, but it's there. I always
spend a lot of time with emotions with singers. The guitar solo in
that song is also one of my best ever. It's not technical, but it's
emotional. I was surprised myself too, like "Is that me?".
Tobbe: Good to have those moments so deep
into your career.
Yes, that's a good feeling, huh?
Tobbe: What about promotion for the albums
with live shows or tours? Obviously it will be impossible to gather all
artists for a tour, but will there be any touring, live shows or festival
appearances at all?
Timo: In this moment I am kind of concentrating
on how this whole thing is going. The whole music industry is in a
big change and the touring circuit also. Everybody wants to tour,
but there is not enough audience for everybody. I'm not interested
in playing toilets. I did it before, like in '86 and '87, enough.
Tobbe: But then you were young and you were
going into business in a good mood and you wanted to become someone.
Timo: You have to do that, but it's different
when you become more successful and I did the whole thing in the 90's
and the early 2000's. You know, I played to 60000 people. In this
moment I'm very comfortable with not touring, so I'm kind of looking
at things. Frontiers was approaching me about releasing a live DVD
after all three operas are complete.
Tobbe: So when is part 3 up for grabs?
Tobbe: Okay. The third record?
Tobbe: We'll see what happens. You never
know in this business.
Tobbe: I've heard mostly good things about
Frontiers and you seem very confident with them too.
Timo: We have a good relationship. So the thing
with these parts of the opera is that I want to have different casts
on each record. That of course makes it much more difficult, so I
have to decide which part to do next. Part 1 or part 2. I have to
know already now, because I'm looking for people and the story dictates
the music and the music dictates the singers. I have people in mind
already. I have contacted about 10 people and I am sort of fishing
at the moment.
Tobbe: I guess you don't wanna mention any
Tobbe: I totally understand. I wouldn't
tell either. Like you said, touring isn't your top priority and you've
been in the business for a long time at this point, but you write music
for other artists as well, so there's no time to rest?
Timo: Yes, I really love music. I would probably
tour if the conditions were right. For example, I would really love
to do one record and a world tour with the Stratovarius guys. It's
something I think the fans would appreciate. I don't need it, but
I think it would be a cool thing to do.
I would definitely catch a set. Since your time in Stratovarius you've
been running a lot of projects like a solo record, Avalon and Revolution
Renaissance. Do you think, in a near future or when you're done with Avalon's
3 records, you will try to form a solid band again? You know, like 5 members
keeping intact? You have been in and out of bands in recent years, although
they were your bands.
Timo: When I left Stratovarius, I didn't anticipate
how difficult it is to start a new band. So coming up with Revolution
Renaissance, I very quickly noticed that it's very, very difficult
to get exposure and even gigs. Revolution Renaissance and the other
band I had, Symfonia, weren't meant to be projects, but really solid
bands. In both cases, the results, like sales figures and nobody basically
showed up at the few gigs we did. You know, I'm a professional musician
and I play to people and if there are no people, that means that there's
something wrong. I'm not in the age anymore, where I'm interested
in building up a band for 10 years. I'd rather call it off, you know.
After these 3 operas, I'll be 50 years old and then I will have to
see where I am at that point and if I am becoming a full-time songwriter.
Probably I would like to do the Stratovarius thing, if it happens,
and then I would like to do a solo record.
Tobbe: Like you said, you will always have
your songwriting to fall back on if things don't work out the way you
want to, but what do you do besides creating and playing music? There
must some other activities you care for or is it music full-time?
Timo: Now being 47, I'm of course beyond my
wild years. My life is very simple, because I simplified it. It was
about 3 years ago that I decided that there were so many people in
my life that were no good to me, so I terminated a lot of relationships.
I have come to a point where I only know a few people. My life is
very simple. It's really being at home and I have my own studio 7
kilometers from my home. My hobby is photography and I spend a lot
of time in the nature. I actually live by a big forest by the sea.
It's a great place and almost every day I walk there and I get a lot
of power from there. The daily life is revolved around music, writing
songs or working with projects. At this moment, I'm working on 4 projects
on Frontiers, I think. One is Allen/Lande and I've just finished the
songwriting for that and we're going into production next month. Jörn
Lande is a great singer and it's really great to write songs for a
singer like that. I really like to work with good singers, you know.
I mean, I always had good singers.
Tobbe: You've had a pretty successful career
in heavier music and have you come as far as you hoped for when you were
young or do you believe you can grow even more and reach out to bigger
masses again, like those you had with Stratovarius?
Timo: In metal, no, I think. When I started
playing when I was like 14 and rehearsing 8 hours a day, I never had
any dreams or never wanted to achieve something. I was just playing
for the love of it. The same thing has maintained throughout my career.
When we were on top with Stratovarius, I never had thoughts of that.
It was only about creating, composing, touring and expressing. If
I really want to reach the masses, I need to go into songwriting and
then you have to find your own style and your particular corner in
the music field. In five years maybe there are no record companies
anymore. The music industry is very young, so what we are facing now
is probably just something that makes it healthier.
Tobbe: I really can't say I agree.
Timo: If you think from the record companies'
perspective, it's definitely not healthier. I'm thinking of it as
a whole. I am connecting everything to this. I'm connecting the media,
the press, the record stores, the pressing plants, graphics. Everything
is connected. If the cake is not equally divided, there's gonna be
some kind of a revolution and now we are in the middle of that. I
guess we will know in around 5 years where we end up. But one thing
is for sure, if you can write good songs, you can always make a living
out of music, no matter what is happening.
You said you write both pop and metal songs. Is it rather easy for you
to switch from pop to metal or do you have to focus real hard?
- Timo: It seems like I have some kind of a weird
talent for that. I'm in this moment composing an album for a female
singer, which sounds something like Within Temptation and at the same
time I'm composing another album for another female singer, which is
more like pop. If you start thinking about it, then you're off. You
just have to do it and not think about it too much. It's easy for me
to write songs, you know. It's a gift in many ways.
I am a huge fan of Max Martin. Basically, he's
one a my biggest idols, when it comes to producing and songwriting.
He found his own style and you can definitely always tell that's it's
him and this guy has a metal background. We in Scandinavia have something
that enables us to write melodies that, for example, Americans cannot.
That's why Britney Spears, Céline Dion, Pink and all these
people are running marathons to Stockholm. He found his thing and
he's doing it for the love of music, not for the business. Of course
the money comes, but it's not the other way around.
Tobbe: Do you ever reflect on your own past
and take pride in what you've done? Like, I have achieved pretty much
in my career?
Timo: I am a guy with a very low self confidence.
When I look back at my career and my life, I'm thinking about how
fast everything has gone by. It feels like 1995 was yesterday and
I feel like I have been in a time warp or something. I have done like
400 songs in my life and still, in some way, it doesn't mean so much
to me. For example, I don't own any records. I try to live in the
moment and I try to concentrate on the future and what's past is past.
Other people, like fans, other musicians and journalists, are talking
about the past. For me, recollections of some recording sessions and
tours are something I do remember, but I really don't take notice
of them. I can't say that I'm proud and that word is alien to me.
I'm just doing things, you know. I'm writing music and it comes and
flows very natural.
Tobbe: I would have taken some pride. You've
had a rather successful career in the metal business.
Timo: Sometimes I wish I could say "Man,
I really did some cool stuff", and of course, on an intellectual
level I understand this. Although deep inside the core, it is not
Tobbe: When talking about your past. Are
there any songs through your career you care a little more for? Are there
also songs you wish you never released?
Timo: Well, of course the first Stratovarius
album. When I listen to it, I'm just "Oh my God, this is awful".
We did it in 4 days, but still Black Sabbath and The Beatles did their
albums in 2. Oh man, it's so bad. I'll buy every copy and destroy
There are some songs that I am proud of, or
maybe albums. If I'm proud of any album particularly, it's Stratovarius'
Elements Pt. 1, because I really put so much energy and time into
that production. I wrote the lyrics in 4 weeks and I really thought
about them a lot. That album was, for me, the peak of that band and
after that there was not so much to do anymore. And also pretty much
the songs that move me and bring me emotions. You know that moment
when you are in a big cinema, watching a film, and everybody feels
like crying, but nobody does. That's the moment I am looking for in
music and in some of my songs, like Season Of Change and Coming Home,
it's there. But there's so many songs, like 400 and I don't even remember
all the songs I wrote.
Yes, there are too many. Going back to Elements Pt.1, I totally love Soul
Of A Vagabond, one of your best songs ever.
Timo: This song is basically about myself,
but I guess it's not valid anymore, because I actually settled down.
Should be called Soul Of A Settledown. I have really settled down
and I'm looking at life and music from a different perspective. I'm
more calm about things and I take things as they come. I still love
music and I consider I am here on this planet to create music, you
Tobbe: What if, let's say in 10 years, you
can't make a living out of your music anymore?
Timo: This is another aspect that every musician
must face at some point. I have actually already faced it, after Symfonia.
I spent like almost a year in depression, where I fell into an empty
space where I had nothing. I'd been earning a living through music
for about 20 years and suddenly I had nothing. It's been 3 years from
that point and today I am thinking about this thing in a way that
I believe that whatever the future brings, I trust in the future.
I think I am on the right path. For example, this metal opera came
right out of the blue. I did not expect this, so when the phone call
came, I was completely stunned. I couldn't believe it. It has been
such a positive experience and all these other productions and these
new ideas have brought freshness and a positive flow, which gives
me a belief that things will be okay. I know that somehow, somewhere
there is a place for me in music, always. I try my best to explain
how I feel about this. For other people this is an interlectual thing,
but I know this.
Tobbe: There aren't so many musicians in
this world that's making a good living out of music. It's only a small
part of the population.
Timo: It takes a lot of dedication. You basically
have to dedicate your life to music. It somehow needs that, because
whatever you do becomes your life. I believe that some people have
a talent for music. For example, I believe that you cannot teach music.
It comes from somewhere, I don't know where. I'm convinced I have
this gift and I have to use it. At some point you realize that you
have this gift and then it's all about expressing yourself.
I built this new studio with my friend in December
and I mixed this album there. It's the first album mixed there. Now
I have a perfect working environment for anything I wanna create.
It's beautiful and I can go there whenever I want to, day or night.
Tobbe: So now you're either in the studio
or out in the nature?
Timo: Yes, or at home. I quit drinking 8 years
ago, so I don't go to clubs anymore and I don't check out new bands.
It's a very simple life. It's music really, or at home and nature.
Tobbe: Sometimes it's good for musicians
and songwriters to not check out other bands, because they get influences
whether they want it or not.
Timo: Being influenced by things is something
I believe we are all connected to, in some way into a collective consciousness
where the melodies are. People have a tendency to compare songs and
bands and things. A lot of people is saying that my opera is an Avantasia
copy, because it happens to start with the same 3 letters, although
they haven't heard the music or read the story. There are actually
17 other bands named Avalon, so I am smart enough to not get into
that debate. It's not worth the energy.
Tobbe: People should listen to the record
before being judgmental.
Timo: But I understand it, because I've been
there myself, you know. Like in '94 or '95 I was a real hardcore metalhead.
I was like "Everything else is shit". Nothing else was good
out there, rap sucked and it was only metal. Now I can listen to anything
from Slayer to Shania Twain. I can understand that some people might
have a problem with this, but for me music is not religion. It is
a form of expression and it's an artform, and therefore it should
be treated with respect and dignity. I really don't think that many
people are doing that, with internet and things, what people write
in there. It's unbelievable actually.
Tobbe: Yes, it's safe to sit at home, you
know. Writing shit behind a screen.
Timo: It's very safe indeed. I stopped and
I took a look at my life and I made it to what I wanted it to be.
I made it very simple. I am able to live a more healthy life than
being a very hectic person, doing a lot of stuff all the time. I believe
that then your life just passes by in a flash second and you're gone,
if you don't stop.
You know what, Timo. That was pretty much it. I wanna thank you very much
for these pleasant 45 minutes. I got to know a little about the new record,
which was my main goal. That's what I mostly wanna talk about, because
that's what's most important right now.
Timo: With me it goes to different territories,
because I've done so many interviews in my life. I've heard the questions
before, so I tend to take the interview into other places. Some journalists
don't like this and some do.
Tobbe: I think the new album is most important,
but also the bigger picture as well. It's all contributing to the interview
and it also gets more interesting for the readers too.
Timo: Exactly, for me a good interview is also
a form of art. When you write, it's your property and your expressions.
I cannot write an article, it's a different thing. Everything is pretty
much art when you start thinking about it. A creation, what you create.
When you write, you shouldn't think, because then your fingers stop.
That means that whatever comes to the screen is coming from somewhere
else than from your mind. It's subconscious.
Tobbe: Well, if I start to think too much
of what to write, I may get stuck.
- Timo: It's the same in music. When you play,
the moment you introduce thought, you are lost. You cannot express if
Tobbe: Sounds weird, but also true.
Tobbe: Like I said, thank you for the interview
and it was great talking to you. I hope we can talk again later.
Tobbe: Maybe shorter than 45 minutes then?
Tobbe: Thanks buddy.
of the album The Land Of New Hope (A Metal Opera)