Poets of the Fall: “Inner peace is the most important thing“
The Finnish rockers Poets of the Fall celebrate their 10th anniversary this year. In those years they’ve stayed true to themselves and their own style as well as independent from major labels. They have released five studio albums and one “best of” compilation, received numerous awards, toured through a dozen countries and are far from being tired. Currently they are working on their next album (to be released in 2014), are touring Finland, Russia and Ukraine and planning their first ever live DVD, recorded at their Moscow concert. In the middle of all this, between soundcheck and dinner before their concert on the cruise ship Viking Grace, singer Marko Saaresto took the time to answer a few questions for STALKER.
So, ten years of Poets of the Fall...
It´s quite close to the actual tenth anniversary, you know, ´cause it´s the 25th of April. That´s the actual birthday date that we´ve decided, but the whole year is of course a jubilee.
In those ten years, what have you learned?
Oh I think I´ve learned a lot of things, to be quite frank. First of all, it started out and we were very wet behind the ears, really green in the business. We were just eager to do everything and anything. You learn from your own point of view, that you have to take care of yourself first, you have to eat, you have to sleep, you have to take some time off, you have to warm up your voice before you go on stage. And every now and then you have to sort of check out that you still sing the same song that is on the album. They sort of live when you sing them live, they change and I sing different melodies and I sing different lyrics.
Around the “Carnival of Rust” time we started seeing things. The first (album) “Signs of Life” was like „Yeah this is like that and this goes like this and here we come and let´s do everything“, and you think that you know so much. Then you suddenly do the second album and that goes out and you go on tour and you start seeing that “Wow, I thought this thing was like that, but it´s actually a little bit different“ and we started seeing things from different angles, which is actually quite interesting, because I´m always trying to look at things, get a new perspective and new points of view, so that I can take a topic like “love“ and write a 100 songs, if you have so many different points of view to that.
Then came the idea of “Oops, maybe I should be careful what I wish for, ´cause I just might get it” and then there was Revolution Roulette (the third album). So every year, every album, every song that you do teaches you something. Every tour you do teaches you something about yourself, about people, about music business. It´s a real jungle you really have to learn a lot about that. Whatever, from boring legal text to getting a good tour manager, that´s all really important.
So if you look back at those ten years, is there anything where you´d say “I would totally change that“ or would you do everything the same way again?
I don´t know. That´s difficult, because when you go back and you change one thing, it changes some of those things that you wouldn´t want to change as well. So maybe there are a couple of things that I would probably change, do differently. There are some opportunities that I didn´t care enough, so I passed them. Maybe I wouldn´t now - I´d grab them and say “No, no, no, we´ll do this!“, but I have no regrets really, because I´ve lived this life for ten years and it´s been uphill and it´s been downhill, but if you look at it from far away and you see the whole rollercoaster, it´s been going uphill all the time. And like you just asked about what have you learned. We´ve learned so much, especially about ourselves, to come to the realization that the same idea, that inner peace is the most important thing. You go through all these twists and winds along your way, and then finally you understand at some point that “Yeah, the original idea is really good. It´s still working“. It´s just like Poets of the Fall – it´s still working and it´s still giving us stuff, and sometimes we get tired of it or ourselves or we fight among ourselves and think that we´re gonna quit, and then we just go back to playing music and finding the inner peace.
What´s still on your list of things you want to achieve?
A stadium tour. We´ve already done some smaller stadiums, but I want more of those, ´cause they´re fun.
So you like the bigger gigs better than the smaller ones?
Not really, no, they are different, but they are equally good, ´cause you wanna achieve something like a certain amount of audience that you wanna have. You´re at that level where you wanna go and add that, and then you can go and start smaller club gigs again with much more zeal. If you just keep on doing small club gigs and you never see the bigger audiences, you think you´re not moving on, not getting anywhere, but once you do a stadium tour, you´re like “OK, I´ve seen that“, and then you can do something else again. That´s one of those things. And of course you´re always looking for that next new song that´s gonna blow your mind and everybody´s mind along the way. It´s a voyage, it´s like a journey of discovery and I still wanna discover, I´m still not fed up yet.
Speaking of audience. When you look at your audience, what do you see?
Hopefully I see a lot of happy faces, people bouncing up and down and singing songs. But what I see is almost like a miracle. You have all these people there and you know where you come from and what your origins are, and you come to realize that we have actually achieved all this, and these people are here because of us and what we can give them and what they can give back to us and all this sort of communication and all of this energy and love going back and forth. So I kind of tend to think this is like a miracle.
What always impresses me about your music and about your lyrics especially is how every word seems to fit, there´s never a metaphor out of place. How do you write? Do you sit down with a dictionary and look up the words or does it come naturally?
I write pretty intuitively. It´s like a train of thought. Like you have the song “Don´t mess with me” – I wrote the whole song in ten minutes. I write with pencils on torn up envelopes, cause when I get mail to my home, I tear up the envelopes and I look “Oh it´s a bill” and I put the bill aside and pay it later and I use those torn up envelopes that I put in a paper basket. If I get an idea, I know there´s paper there. “Don´t mess with me” is one of those things. We were at Captain´s place at that time – he had piles of bills on his floor, the place used to be a complete mess, so it was really easy. You reach down and you probably always hit a torn up envelope. I took a couple of those, two actually I think, and I wrote the lyrics. Just sat there and wrote the lyrics and I never changed a thing, it was just there. So that´s the intuitive part.
But sometimes I just write one phrase, two phrases or I write fifty, a hundred phrases and I start mixing and matching and see what fits, and at some point it´s like a puzzle and the pieces fit and you know this is it. There´s a word “contemplate” which is you think about something without reaching a conclusion, so you just let the thoughts and ideas come and you don´t look for a conclusion or anything so that´s the way that I sometimes write. I just take these bits and pieces and I put them together and at some point they start making sense and I think I didn´t have anything to do with it. It´s like you have a puzzle and just try every piece with every piece, and all of a sudden you realize it makes a picture. But then you also have to see the picture and I have to understand “OK now this makes sense”. There´s a story in it, there´s a meaning in it and I know what the meaning is and then I can write the title, because I know what the story is about.
And sometimes yeah, I read the dictionary, just for the sake of finding new words, and if I find some interesting word and that word sparks up an idea then I write about that.
So it sounds like you first just write and go with the flow and later you figure out what the story is about...
Do you work the same way when you write for other artists and not for yourself?
Not necessarily. I mean I can sit down and have a topic and just write about it. I´ve done it with Poets of the Fall as well. The way I do it is I think about cool album names, and when I find a cool album name, I make a song about it and it never becomes an album, it just becomes a song. So I have a title and I write about it.
Sometimes when I write for other artists, they may have specific ideas what they want to have the text to be about and then I just go with that. I think sometimes it´s almost easer to do it that way, to have s specific topic to write about. I´m not really sure, I guess that would get boring after a while, but when they give you a context, it´s kinda easier to stay in that context and just go with the flow inside the context, but if I did it every time, I would probably just be washed out after a little while.
I think writing lyrics is like painting. You just go with the flow until the picture is done. It´s almost like the way Jackson Pollock painted.
What I also like about your music very much is that you always capture the emotions so well, like the lyrics and the music go together and they capture emotions. If you had three words or three feelings to describe each of your albums, what would they be?
Three words for every one, yeah...
This is not probably what you expected, but “Signs of Life” is “Opening my eyes”, “Carnival of Rust” is “Seeing for real”, “Revolution Roulette” is “It´s a jungle out there” – that´s more than three words. “Twilight Theater” is “Dancing in the Dark”, “Temple of Thought” is “Coming of age”, “Alchemy Volume 1” is “mix and match”
OK, let´s talk about the DVD.
Anything special you have planned for that concert in Moscow where you´re gonna record the DVD?
Oh yeah, we have a lot of plans for that concert.
First of all, we´ve been at this for ten years and we have so many albums out. We wanted to play something from each album and some of the things that we haven´t played in a while and some of the stuff that people kinda would want us to play and we almost never play them. When most people come to the show, they ´ve seen us once or twice, so we play the hits as well.
Then we talk to the guys who make the lighting and we want them to make something really ooomphy, really powerful. We try to leave a possibility open, then we can do something that we haven´t done before, spur of the moment kind of things. But we do rehearse everything beforehand, because you wanna know what you´re doing on stage with that kind of a band. We have such a huge setup that we really have to know what we´re doing. We´ll see what happens..
Also it´s pretty spectacular that we are finally doing a live DVD and we´ve been promoting that now, and we hope that everybody will come to the show and see it and there will be a lot of people there and they will get to scream their voices hoarse when they are in the audience.
How come you´re not doing that in Finland?
We wanted to get a good venue that we´ve been before that we know and we know the crowd and we know that people come there from all over Europe to see us. They come to Finland as well, but we don´t really have such big venues in Finland, so we just wanted to have a good-sized venue really. The venues in Finland are a lot smaller than that.
I mean we could have done a live DVD in a Finnish venue, but I think it would have been a different production all together. We wanted to make it like this
Who came up with the idea of the fan funding?
That was a collaboration. Our manager had the idea and we´d been talking about it for a long time and we decided that if we were gonna do a DVD, we should try it out and see how it goes. I think it´s going great. And I think it´s fun, because we sorta get to keep people up to date with what´s going on with the project.
In Russia we were promoting the DVD, and all of a sudden in the middle of promoting, we heard that the crew that was gonna shoot the DVD backed out. Suddenly I was on radio, on air promoting the DVD, and we didn´t have anyone who would shoot the DVD. So that´s kinda like “am I supposed to talk about the DVD or am I not supposed to talk about the DVD? So what´s gonna happen?” But luckily now I think we have good contacts and I think we´re pretty much settled with a new partner there.... I´m sure our manager knows better about this. I´m just the guy who sings.
If someone came along and wanted to make a documentary about Poets of the Fall, what would it be like?
We´ve been talking about this actually last year. We wanted to do a documentary some time maybe this year, next year, some time along the way and we´ll probably do it. It would probably be like a pastiche of the reality what it is to be in a band and tour. Cool black and white Herb Ritts, Annie Leibovitz style I don´t know. Almost like “Lost in Translation”.
I remember you mentioned in an interview that when you were 15, you said you wanted to be a rockstar.
Yeah, I did
Now if you could go back and talk to your 15-year –old self, what would you tell him?
I´d say “Way to go, man!” (laughs)
How do you decide what to put on a setlist?
We have 50 or 60 songs or something like that now. You know, there are certain songs that you are expected to play. So you have those there. Then you have songs that either mellow it down or bring some heat into it and you try to balance those. And then you see what you don´t wanna play, what you´re fed up with, ´cause you´ve played them for four years in a row or something and you leave those out and then you see that maybe there´s something you might add and at that point you realize that your setlist is so long that no one´s gonna wanna hear it, and you have to start taking things out, and that´s the hardest part - which ones to leave out. When you leave it out, you go “I just really wanted to play that song, we haven´t done that in two years or we haven´t done that one at all”. It takes hours when you start doing it and then you send it to everyone and you get their comments, and if they have good comments, you try to accommodate and change it accordingly, make it better. Sometimes you´ve already done such a great job (laughs) that no matter what they say you´re not gonna change anything.
Or you could play longer shows.
Yeah, I know. We used to have these acoustic parts in our shows, where we just played stuff that we wanted to play acoustically, and then we had a set that we would do, and a different set that every night we would pick a different song from, this variety set. Just to keep ourselves on toes and things interesting.
Are there going to be any more acoustic shows this year? I know there is one. Any plans?
Yeah there´s one. I´m so out of all our gigs. They just tell me where to go and then I go there. But I actually had to hear about this one acoustic gig. I love doing acoustic shows, we all actually love them, so I´m hoping that if not this year, then maybe the next year or with the next album we could do a few acoustic shows or something special.
Those are really cool ideas. I don´t know if it would be possible to maybe bring some other musicians in to bulk it up a little bit. Productions are always really costly, and when you´re doing something that´s really expensive, you also have to think about “Can we afford to do it?” but if the venues grow like they´ve been growing steadily every year, then maybe when we are at the point when we play to venues of say 5000 people all over that place, then it´s possible to do acoustic shows with an orchestra or something, who knows.
What do you like most about going on tour and what do you dislike most?
I hate the waiting, I totally hate the waiting and what I like most is the reward that the actual show and the singing brings. Singing is so dear to me that if I just had no band, no nothing, knew one song, not even words I would say, didn´t even have to know that one song, and I was in this echo-y hallway, I would just sing and I would feel OK.
Thank you for the interview!
A few words on the DVD recording concert in Moscow: The previousday’s gig in St.Petersburg had been the dress rehearsal to make everything perfect for Moscow and it worked. I can’t really tell if the light was “oomphy“, but it looked great. The concert was amazing, included an extra encore and not only the band but also the audience gave their all. This DVD is one to be looking forward to.
Projekt to help funding the DVD: www.pledgemusic.com/projects/poetsofthefall-livedvd