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The Finnish Hard Rock band Tarot were promoting their new Album CROWS FLY BLACK in Germany. At the 8th of February they played a gig in Cologne Underground and Vicki B. got the chance to make an interview with Marco Hietala.

 V.B. 08.02.2007

Vicki Borns asked...
 First of all, how are you doing?

Marco Hietala: Doing, well, quite fine actually... yeah. I had quite a hangover this morning, but it seems to be fading. So, everything is better.

There are probably not so many people in Germany that know about Tarot yet. So, can you tell something about your band and give us a little bit about your background?

Marco Hietala: OK, well, the group is me, Marco Hietala; then there is my brother Zachary, he 's playing guitar; Mr. Janne Tolsa on keyboards; and Mr. Tommi Salmela, doing also lead and background vocals and some vocal samples. And this is Mr. Pecu Cinnari, having some mayo on his lip (points at him; everybody laughs), he plays drums. And I guess basically we started out with this band when we were just out of our teens, me and my brother and Mr. Cinnari here. When we three got together we kind of had the first line-up that you could call 'serious'. And, so in 1984 we got that line-up, then in 1986 we got our first record deal, we got signed. We hired a second guitar player, went to do a couple of albums, Spell of Iron (1986) and Follow me into Madness in 1988. Then we sacked the other guitarist, he was an asshole. Then we got this keyboard player, Mr. Janne Tolsa, he has been with us ever since, so almost 20 years with him as well.

Zachary Hietala: He is an asshole.

Marco Hietala: Yes, he is an asshole, but he is our kind of asshole. (laughing) Anyway...

Pecu Cinnari: I'm the craziest one. (all guys crack up…)

Marco Hietala: Well, so and then we got on to the 90's with it, a couple of albums, To Live Forever in 1993, then Stigmata in 1995. And when we got touring from that album, Mr. Salmela joined us on the road, first as a roadie and then we kind of figured out that he could do some vocal stuff as well, because we had known him for some years and he had been playing in different bands in our hometown. So, then again he has been with us also over ten years already, something like 12 years now. And then we've been doing albums now and then.

You just mentioned it, you now have another lead vocalist. Why did you take that step for the new album now? Why did you decide to make him a second lead vocalist?

Marco Hietala: Well, I think we could have done it actually earlier already, because it was just a thing to realize. I was writing the song "Bleeding Dust" and was figuring out that if we gonna make the song work, we would need to have another vocalist. And then it was like 'Well, we HAVE another vocalist.' It was just a matter of asking: 'Hey, would you like to be at the front?'

Where do you see your musical strength as a band?

I think the strength of the band is that we're able to combine a lot of different things. We stayed, how would I say, we've been up to the things how they are happening today and we follow up how metal is done these days, but then of course we got the roots also in the old stuff in the 70's, in the starting of the 80's, and we can combine those things in a certain way. To use the band's groove as a rock'n'roll band, use that and then use the technical side as well, combining the modern metal guitar riffs and then some 70's Hammond organ and work with a little bit different atmospheres and grooves and everything. And that I think is something that probably can make the band a little more personal.

Have you ever considered writing your lyrics in Finnish?

Well, I've written some stuff in Finnish, but then again not with this group. We started out to do it in English and I guess that's what we're gonna be doing in the future as well.

Some of you also play in other bands, so how do you set priorities? Have there been disagreements in the past or disappointments to some of you? How do you cope with the situation

Well, for instance with Nightwish, with Tarot, with Janne's side thing Turmion Kätilöt and all these bands, we have the same management and same booking office which pretty much helps the guys to sell the gigs and book the shows, because they know where we are all the time. So it helps in that way to let those guys handle the things and so we don't really have to set priorities and we don't have to fight about that. And everybody knows that I make my living out of Nightwish and I don't have any side jobs or anything, except playing in these two bands. Then again Janne, he has his studio, Zac and Tommi they have their youth instructor jobs and everything, so it's just the way things are right now.

The Album

Your new album CROWS FLY BLACK has recently also been released in Germany...

Yep! can you tell me something about it? In what way is it different from your other albums?

I don't know, we kind of started on to do things where we left off with the previous album Suffer our Pleasures. So, in a way we didn't really think that it would radically be any different or anything, just different songs. Of course, we tried to do as good songs as possible. Anyway, I think that somehow those were times that we were constantly doing shows and were living in different places, then somehow the album got a little bit darker and heavier and gloomier, I guess. Even though it's not like what kind of guys we are in any way, but that's how it turned out and well, it didn't really bother us when we realized that this is the direction we're going, because we like heavy stuff.

How did you come up with the title and what does it really mean?

It's kind of a statement or an attitude how we do things as a band. Well, if you got like crows flying black over a battlefield and they are about to eat some corpses, then we'll just put on our black pants and get on stage and gonna hook your ears, something like that. It's pretty obvious when you think about it that way.

Along with your album you have also changed your record label from Spinefarm to King Foo Entertainment. What were the reasons for that?

Well, with Spinefarm the thing is that they sold the majority to Universal a few years back. And that didn't work out well for us. In Finland Spinefarm really did a good job and everything, but because of the Universal connection we ended up in some daughter companies catalogues with no promotion whatsoever. As a record company they are in the big league and we as a band we are not. So we just weren't compatible and thought it would be better if we got on to do this with someone who is more independent. Which plainly works out well, because now we've done the album with King Foo in Finland and then Nuclear Blast has released the album here and I've been doing a lot more promotion than ever with the albums of this band.

Last year in May your single "You" hit the number one spot in the Finnish charts and it was the first number one single for Tarot. How did you celebrate that?

Well, we had a show in Tampere at the same day that we heard about the number one position, so it gave us a good boost for the show. And then we had a few drinks afterwards. Everyone was really pleased about it.

You also shot a video for the song "Ashes to the Stars". What's the story behind that?

Well, the lyrics of the song, they are basically kind of science fiction, because I feed my head with a lot of that stuff, I read it a lot. So it sometimes affects my songwriting as well. And I gave a copy of the song to the guy that we were figuring could be directing the video. We gave him the song and the lyrics and he called me and said 'Why don't we do like an old-school science fiction movie out of it like in the way of Stanley Kubrick's 2001 (A Space Odyssey).' I was like 'Yeah, why not, if you think we can make it work, because this is like a big risk and it can turn out like a parody or something.' He said 'No, no, we can make it really serious and make it look good and, you know, with the old-school spaceships models and everything.' I said 'OK, if you think so, we'll do it', and it paid off. I think it looks really good.

Touring Germany...

This is the first Germany tour for Tarot. How have the shows been so far and what expectations do you have towards the German audience

So far the shows have been good. I mean, of course it's a new situation, so at the start of the shows things are maybe a bit slower than to people who know us already, for instance in Finland. But by the end of the evening we usually have been getting the crowd really going. Of course, there's only been two shows so far, but at both of those the crowd has been really pleased. At least that's what I think. They have been cheering and shouting a lot.

As you said, the people in Finland already know your albums and your songs, they can sing along, and a lot of the German people here might just check you out now. Has that really been a factor at the shows? Have you noticed that a lot?

Well, I don't know. Or course, it's kind of a relief, we don't have to do all the old stuff that we do in Finland. So we've been concentrating on playing a little bit on the new stuff and also a little bit shorter set, now that we're doing this first time. But, well, things might change…who knows?

So how do the new songs work live for you in general?

Quite well! If you're familiar with the songs, if you're playing something that you played for a long time, they usually work better, but with this album I think we made the whole album kind of in a situation where the hands were warm all the time. We were doing recording at summer time, also doing festival shows at weekends and then getting back to the studio and playing, singing really a lot, all the time almost. So when the album came out and we started doing live shows in Finland, we just had a few days in rehearsals and then went on to do the live shows and everything seemed really familiarized by let's say the second show already. !

Tarot has been existing for over 20 years now. Can you see a development in the live shows? Have they changed a lot over the years?

I don't know. Maybe there's a certain kind of more down to earth feeling. I mean, when we started out we had a lot of boyish kind of enthusiasm and all that kind of feeling, a lot of equipment and everything, and now it's more concentrated on letting the simple things, letting the band do the talking, so to speak.

Do you think that a lot of the German people in the audience got to know you because you are a musician of another very well-known band and do you think that a lot of your popularity is drawn from that fact?

I don't know. Of course, for some people it's easier to get interested and come out and check out the shows, check out the album or anything because of my connection to that other group. But in the end, I think that the thing which matters is the music that we do together with this group and what these people think about that. That is what's gonna count, if they think we suck or we rock, which is the way how it goes.

Do you see this maybe as a burden or more as a positive thing? On one hand you get some extra promotion for this group, but on the other hand people might have certain expectations…

In a way it's kind of a double-edged sword, but like I said, in the end it comes down to whether they like the music and if they don't then they don't, and if they do then they do. Of course, it's no use to expect anything like, well, of course some things are similar: it's a heavy metal band, we got a guitar player, a keyboard player, a drummer, and a bass player and a couple of vocalists. Of course, there are also certain similarities in the sound and everything, but basically I think that, if we think about Nightwish, it's more like, if we use this kind of symbolism, it's kind of a dark romantic fantasy or something like that. Then probably this group is more like violent science fiction. So, there are certain differences. I think this is more for the hairy metal guys.

Do you think that besides this whole Nightwish thing, you are also confronted with certain expectations from the audience or clichés concerning bands from Finland in general? And what do you think about the development of the popularity of Finnish music, especially keeping in mind the success of Lordi lately?

Hahaha! OK, that was a good statement from the rock listening people in Europe to vote for Lordi and everything like that. But I also think again it's a double-edged sword, because everything that becomes mainstream will lose its teeth. And in that case it's also the question: How will the people who normally don't listen to rock'n'roll, how will they relate to that kind of thing. I think they will only say: 'Oh, they got some hell of a pyro show and wear those costumes.' And basically the music doesn't matter to them at all. But still it's a good statement from the people who listen to Rock'n'Roll that voted for them. That was a good thing, definitely. And if we talk about this Finnish Heavy Metal business and Hard Rock business and Metal scene how it developed, it's been some strange 20 years.
When we started out in the 80's, there was no metal scene in Finland. There were a couple of bands starting out. We were there and then in '87 came Stone where Mr. Roope Latvala was playing guitar, he now plays in Children of Bodom, and they went on to become really successful at that time as well. It was kind of a time when we started out the whole Finnish metal scene.
And then in the 90's, and especially at the end of the 90's the whole thing just snowballed. And now all around the world, if you meet with Metal-heads and kids who like Heavy Metal, they know that if you got some metal from Finland, it's about to be really good. And it's an absolute change from something that was nothing into this really huge thing.

The Future...

You are going to tour again in Germany on the Earthshaker Roadshock Tour 2007 in April/May. What are your expectations towards that?

It's gonna be a survival trip, 17 shows in a row every day. Well, the expectations, there are some familiar people that I already know in some bands, so probably should be good fun. And hopefully no one will get sick or anything, because that's gonna be, like I said it's gonna be a survival trip doing shows every night for 17 days.

Tarot obviously has a strong will to last, so what can we expect from you in the future?

Now we got time until September when we got the next Nightwish album planned to be released. But until September I think we're gonna be doing these tours, then doing some summer festivals which we are negotiating right now actually, or the management is. After that, I guess I will have to switch camps for a year and a half again, but by the time the Nightwish touring will start to close, I think, we've already written some music and demos and stuff. So we'll be starting to do those things then.

Thank you very much

You're welcome!

  • www.bandname.tld 

    ¬ Tarot
    ¬ 08.02.2007 deu | eng
    ¬ 08.02.2007

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