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Mikko Herranen: Strong stories with strong emotions
In his home country Finland Mikko Herranen has been quite a household name in the last 2 decades, due to his numerous bands (e.g. Rust, Velcra) or as a producer. And regular visitors of Rock/Metal gigs in Helsinki might have noticed him, too... Yet it was the TV Show „The Voice Of Finland“ who put him into the limelight as a singer. His second solo album was released recently, which he presented on a small Finland tour – no doubt this is a music pro who has a lot to say...
The new album “Pahan Ajan Apokalypsi” has been out for some time now – what are the reactions so far, from fans, from critics? Do the reactions meet your expectations?
I knew from the start that this wouldn´t be an "easy listening album". It´s not easy to talk about bad times when people are living through them…People seek happiness and good feelings, not someone pointing out problems and questioning our lifestyle.
Still, it´s been very nice how much positive feedback the album has got. Both, the music and the message. I think music is at it´s best when it causes strong reactions, touches you somehow…
The music style between songs varies quite a lot from metal and grunge tones to softer pop and ballad styles to even rap. That´s why some songs have their lovers and their haters ;).
Still, I have to say that I awaited a little bit more…More talking, more reactions especially from fans and people completely outside the music industry.
Were the reactions different to the first album?
Yes, it seems that both albums have their own fans, they live their own lives at least some songs on both albums do. After taking part to The Voice Of Finland competition (before my first album was released), many people expected something totally different. I´m sure many got disappointed since I after all wasn´t "that smiling guy singing nice songs", they saw on TV. I think now, on Apokalypsi, people knew what to expect.
How is the tour going so far?
Great shows, not too much people showing up but those who have come have been very pleased and I´m sure the word will spread.… I have some amazingly talented guys in my band and besides being great musicians they also are good long time friends of mine…So when we go on tour it´s really like getting your "second family" gathered together.
The prices the gig organizers are willing to pay now are so low that I basically have to pay for my own gigs…That´s quite strange and sucks big time, but this is after all something I want (and feel I need) to do so I will go on as long as it´s possible.
What are the differences to the first album from your perspective – and was there less pressure or more pressure in comparison to the solo debut "Kylmä Maailma" (because it had reached the top 10 in Finland)?
"Apokalypsi" is very different to the first album…"Kylmä Maailma" contained songs from the past four or so years, when I made the album I didn´t have any schedule pressures until the very end of the process. I had my own personal studio in an old coal cellar, I recorded drums in a big room full of heating and water equipment, still one of the best drum rooms I´ve recorded in. When making "Apokalypsi", I worked in Sonic Pump, a big music studio in Helsinki. I had access to a very nice professional big money control room and I had my drum kit, my guitar setup, my vocal setup, my keyboards etc. all set up so that I could use them right away "when the time comes", so basically I just needed to wait for the inspiration and "do it". The problem there of course was that every day I spent in the studio was quite expensive and also that I had to do everything in small parts, 4 days there, then a week break then 5 days etc…A Band or an artist composing and preproducing their music in the studio is something that doesn´t happen too much these days, since there´s no more money in the business.
I think all in all there was much more pressure in making this album, but not that much pressure to especially make a hit album that would sell as much or even more than the previous one. Everybody in the record company understands that I´m not the guy who wants to (or could by any means) please everyone and also that my TV VoF star times are now over, so no extra help from that side either.
Why did you decide to stick with Finnish lyrics? Isn´t that a problem if you want to spread beyond the Finnish market?
Of course it would be cool to play in different countries and cultures but after many years, three albums etc. with my former band RUST in English, I really wanted to try Finnish. I love my language, strange and a little bit hard for beginners but full of possibilities for a poetrist or a lyric writer. It doesn´t mean that I couldn´t make albums in english in the future, but this is how it goes now. Also, I was told by the record company that they would be "much more interested" if my album was written in Finnish :).
Pahan Ajan Apokalypsi – can you explain the title a bit to people who don´t speak Finnish, and maybe tell us a bit about your songs, what the lyrics are about etc?
"Pahan Ajan Apokalypsi" The apocalypse of bad times… Songs about things that really make me think and question…The tittle song is a "worst case scenario" What if some of the biggest really pressed the red button…There´s too many of us living in this planet, a fact, our world is going fast to it´s end or at least through some big change that will whipe away many of us…We can´t stand each other, foreign cultures or sexual or other minorities or the rich or the poor or the Yankees or the Russians or the disabled or whoever…Is the only way for human race to live in peace really to be in a situation where there´s only a few of us left…?
The other songs have their own stories and messages, i.e. Kauppias: Can I get a free ride to heaven when I pass way, is it really enough that you believe like the Christians teach you or should you also gain good karma (or something similar) by doing good and meaningful deeds...
Kuolemantanssi: Dance Of Death Every day is important since you never know when is your last….A story about life a nd death dancing for the victory, the dance is important, not the ending, where death of course always wins...
Strong stories with strong emotions.
In your FB comments you mentioned that you went through times you almost quit music, so what kept you going?
I´m still thinking of it every now and then…
Sometimes you just have to do a reality check…this was one of mine. The music business (like many other things now) is going through very bad times…Not that much gigs, not that much people going to the gigs (yes there is a connection ;), not that much records sold or money in general "coming in" for record companies and music makers…People listening to music more than ever but wanting to pay or make other efforts for it less than ever. Of course my music is also so marginal that it doesn´t move "the big crowds" so basically contrary to the classic rock´n roll dream "big cars, women, cocaine and so" I currently need to decide can I afford my music as it is now…I´m basically personally paying money to make my gigs and albums happen, that´s sucks big time and forces me to do these reality checks every now and then.
What then keeps me going? This is a question I also ask myself…The answer, I think is passion…This is something I want and feel I need to do. I have a strong passion to make music…All of this, composing, spreading your own message, going to studio, going to gigs etc. is IMO after all the best thing you can do with your pants on.
The Voice of Finland show introduced you to a wider audience as a singer – but you have been in the scene for quite a while, e.g. with the bands Rust and Velcra. Was it difficult for you to be on a stage “all by yourself” as a singer, or didn´t that bother you?
No, that didn´t bother me at all.. Before the Voice I had already done a thousand or so gigs with or without a band…Also actually I wasn´t alone at all, I had a band playing live behind me the distance from me to them just was more than usual :).
You still do the drums for KILT, and I saw you as sound person for MyGrain, what are your other projects (besides working in the Sonic Pump Studio)?
Actually I no more work in Sonic Pump, I have my own Noise Floor studio back in action and now in Pitäjänmäki Helsinki located at 5by5 Studios. There I produce and mix songs and albums for bands and artists…I´m thinking of starting an "online mixing service" so that people around the world can send me tracks to mix. Being a studio guru is as important as being a singer for me…My two strongest passions :).
I´m going to start making songs for other artists, that´s one future project…We have Iron Maiden-cover band called Mauron Maiden…It´s not that active but plays a few gigs a year.
My newest project I will start next year is to make a death / trash album together with Juhani Flink, a very talented trash metal guitarist from the band Dead Shape Figure. That will be awesome and loads of fun, I´m sure.
I´m in general open to everything new so actually I don´t know what the future will bring…I hope there will be many new and exciting things.
How far your projects are sheer passion - “for fun” - how far a necessity to pay your bills (as usually “being a musician in a band” does not do it)?
I pay my bills with my daily work as a music producer and by singing and playing cover songs every once in a while…That´s also why I don´t want or need to do any compromises in my own music, I just have a strong passion to do certain things…Now it´s been this grungish and alt.metal stuff but nobody knows what will happen next…The best part of being a solo artist (at least in the way I do it) is that you always can do whatever you want…I´m planning an acoustic record and also a more pop/rock styled thing…My next actions are as surprising to me as they will be to others.
Back to your new album – how was the presentation gig (see review ) for you? Considering your visual impairment - what was the most difficult thing there for you, what were you worried about the most? (when I was singing in a band, my major worries were “forgetting the lyrics”)
I don´t know…I wasn´t worried about things too much…I just wanted to sing and play and finally get things going. OK, the acoustic part, that we played only on the release party gig, was a little bit scary since we had only a short time to get those songs together in rehearsals…But it after all went very well.
What was the most memorable gig so far, what happened there (you can choose if either the best or either the worst, and with which band, or solo)?
This is a tough one. So much has happened during the years and 1500 gigs I´ve done… I´ve been thinking of writing a book some day since there are so many funny and strange stories. That´s also why it´s now very hard to choose.
Maybe the scariest moment of all was when we were touring Finland with a group called Dimebag Beyond Forever, playing Pantera songs…Our bus started to burn like 30km before the destination…It basically burnt to ashes, only the metallic "body" left…Nobody got hurt, we got out in time but some of the equipment and merchandise got lost. It really was scary when the bus was totally on flames like 15 seconds after the last musician had come out running.
If I had to choose one golden moment, it would be the duet song I sang with the rock Legend Michael Monroe in his 50-year party in Ruisrock (the biggest Finnish rock festival) in 2012. Monroe is a legend for good reasons and it really was an honor to get to sing with him on one of his most important moments.
The list of cool or strange things that have happened to me and that I could tell about is endless…Maybe you just have to wait for my book or follow me on the Facebook to get to know at least some of the stories.
As a music biz pro, what do you consider your biggest reward (as musician, producer, person), and what pisses you off the most? (e.g. a band mate coming drunk to rehearsal/gig, insufficient backline at gigs and the like)
I won a VSA Young Soloist Award in 2001 and because of that got to perform twice in the US. Once acoustically with my longtime friend and "trusted guitarist" Kimmo Nissinen (who´s been with me in all of my bands since the late 90s) and once with my band RUST. That or the whole Voice Of Finland "trip" are the biggest rewards.
What pisses me off the most as music producer these days is the fact that more and more bands produce and record their albums all by themselves without any real knowledge, vision or understanding of what they really are doing…Of course it´s a budget thing these days but because of the bad situation and many good and reasonably priced tools available today, it´s now also possible to make good sounding and professionally produced albums with a reasonable price, so basically everybody´s got the chance to do it.
How did you begin making music in first place – what inspired you as a child to take up this career? Which instrument did you learn to play first, and how did you end up with Rock/Metal?
I began to play the piano when I was three years old…I began to play drums at the age of five. I don´t know…It was just something that felt right from the very start.
The same with rock / metal…My first big influence was a Finnish "new wave punk band" called Hassisenkone…I listened to them at the age of five when all the other kids were listening to children´s music…There was no turning back then.
Whose idea was it to take part in the Voice of Finland competition, would you do something like this again, would you recommend to take part in such TV shows to others who want to be “discovered” and start a career in music?
I think it´s not a good way to start your career but it´s a good way to get extra attention. The very first idea came from my mother and actually I, being a TV reality show hater of some sort, took part as a joke.
For me the only really interesting music show is and has been TVOF, I could never go to idols or some other program where they search for artists to fit to some sort of formula…But if there some day was another show that interested me personally, I don´t see a problem taking part.
What would you tell a young newcomer band / solo artist, what they should be focusing on, which trapfalls to avoid?
I think they should be focusing on the music and the art itself. The band is as good as it´s weakest link so practising by yourself outside the band rehearsals is a good and surprisingly underrated thing. that´s also how the ones who really make it big do it.. .. If you are a solo artist, consider taking a producer to work with you, don´t try to do everything by yourself unless that´s exactly what you want to do and what´s it all about (like my first album Kylmä Maailma was)…It´s good to think of your goals and actions, what you want to achieve and is it really possible or realistic…What is most important to you, the music, your own style or fame. Don´t blame the shitty world if you can´t reach your goals. This is tough business and only a few really make it to the top…It´s also good to remember that those who are there aren´t necessarily "better" than you, thy just do things that the big crowds find attracting…Music making is and should after all be fun, that´s how most of us started anyway, if you loose the joy in making music, you won´t be able to be innovative and quite certainly won´t be able to do your best.
What are your plans in the near future?
Well, Christmas with my family…I´m having a festival gig in Thailand on January. I will start to make new music.