20 years and no sign of retirement - the crazy Waltari guys were among the first successful Finnish Music Exports into the wide world! Founder and Mastermind Kärtsy Hatakka speaks with STALKER about the past, the present and the future of the band, and how it feels to return from Outer Space...
You´re wearing an In Extremo shirt, big fan of German Mittelalter-Rock? Kärtsy: (laughs) Yeah, they just gave it to me at the festival last year, we´ve played together. You see them – say hi from Waltari!
Kärtsy Hatakka - Photo by: Marina Sidyakina
So, your anniversary, 20 years on stage, a long time…
Yes! I can´t get it into my head really… Because we don´t feel like that. When I was a small kid and Rolling Stones turned 20, I was like: “F***, they´re old!!!” But you know, I´ve listened to the new album and we really don´t sound like 20 years old…
Not at all!!!
No! So we don´t really care! We had a good laugh about it, it´s just numbers, you know. And we´ve started very young, so we´re still not very old…
Did you ever have those expectations back then?
No no, we´ve started as a hobby band. 20 years now is from the very first show, the very first gig, but our first album came 15 years ago, in 91, normally we count from the first album. But anyway, we had our first show under the name Waltari in Spring ´86. But the first years were more like a hobby years, and at the time we released some EPs and singles, something like that. Our real career in a serious way started 91, so I personally count from that time… You know, people like to play with the numbers, so… (laughs)
At what point back then did you realize that this is something bigger than a hobby band and will actually go somewhere serious?
At the time we got our first international deal from Roadrunner, of course, when our first album “Monk Punk” came out, which by the way will be re-mastered and re-released in a month. So when we´ve heard that it will be released in Germany and other European Countries, and then we decided to leave Finland and go to live Berlin for a few months and we played in mass-happening called “Berlin Independence Day”. It was our first international show in Germany ´91 and then this one girl came backstage. She told she´ll be working at Roadrunner and she will suggest us to be signed there, we were like just having a laugh: “Good joke, we´ll never hear from you again…”And then we were very surprised when our manager called us the next day, saying there was one girl from Roadrunner calling… So at that time we´ve started thinking that maybe this will go somewhere, because the first years we were just thinking that we want to play, but no big expectations.
And what´s the plan for the next 20 years?
(laughs) The next 20?! The same! Playing, and you know, we´ve been like, since the first album came out in 91, we´ve been full-time musicians after that, of course I hope that as long as we are healthy and willing to go on, to tour and so on…
"The next 20 years?! The same!"
I saw you have a concert coming up at Semifinal (31.5.2006, a very small underground club under the wings of mighty Tavastia).
That is because of the re-releasing of the “Monk Punk”, which is in fact a double release: there is a “Monk Punk”, our first album and then a compilation of old EP singles “Pala Leipää”, “Ein Stückchen Brot” is its second name. It´s a funny CD, old stuff, very freaky, crazy, Finnish stuff really, from my early days. And because it´s a double CD, there was some space left and then the Stupido Twins, who originally released this album and now wanted to re-release it again, they asked us to go to the studio with our original lineup to play some old songs, which were never made in the late 80s. Ok, so we went to the studio with our first drummer and the music at the time was very different. We recorded then 10 songs which now will be released in this double CD.
And how come you´ll play at Semifinal, it´s so small…
Yeah, because we want to keep it small, it´s more like for us, you know, we don´t want to play at big halls, like: “Hey! Now we´ve 20 years anniversary!”. We don´t feel like that, so we wanted to hire an intimate small place, where we could just have some fun. There will be some media people invited, so it´s kind of very intimate small happening. I don´t like this anniversary things, it just makes me feel stupid, which I don´t think I am. Of course it´s a good reason to celebrate; I´ll invite some friends from the early days… I will drink for 20 years surely! But the next day we´ve to fly to a festival in Slovakia and then Check Republic.
You´ve mentioned you moved to Germany for a while, how was the culture shock, coming from Finland?
It was great! At the time we were very young kids we were longing for leaving Finland, because Helsinki was not the city it is now, it was very boring; and going to Berlin, where Kraftwerk is from and where David Bowie recorded, you know, we enjoyed it a lot, didn´t want to leave!
During all those years, what was your motivation and inspiration?
The style what we´re using, I think, because we´re a pretty unique band I think, there is no other band like us, so maybe that was the reason. If we would´ve played like normal Heavy Metal or something, we would get fed up with it already ten years ago. But with our style there´re no limits, we can always find a new way to mix things and that´s the thing which keeps playing interesting. We had a three years break after year 2000, because I´ve been working from year ´86 straight ´till the year 2000, so we were a little bit tired and we didn´t even know if we wanted to carry on or not, it was time to stop and sit down and think where we wanna go. At the time our drummer, with who we played over 10 years, left the band and we didn´t know what to do… At the end we were thinking there´re still many people who are hungry for the next album and there´s no other band coming from Finland that´s like us, so we looked in the mirror and “Hey, hey, we´re Waltari and we´ve still a message to tell to people about open-mindness of pop music”.
Yes, your way of combining all the styles is very unusual…
Well, with those styles, but if you think about the old styles, many bands in 70s and 80s did music like ours, think about Led Zeppelin, think about Queen and stuff like that, they´ve mixed many, many different things. The funny thing is that nowadays if the band starts to play mixed styles, they do it in the old way, like they imitate Queen or Led Zeppelin, they try to sound like that. But we had this idea that we wanted to bring new styles, we wanted to mix Death Metal, Gothic, Electro, whatever, and Punk or Rock music, or so, Rap as well, we wanted to take those new styles from 80s and 90s and we wanted to mix this and not do it like the old bands did it, to mix Blues and Jazz and whatever, we took new styles and mixed them. That way it´s possible to do music which nobody has done before and on the other hand we arose with the crossover styles in the early 90s. Some German magazines write that we´re the only band remaining from the early 90s crossover era and that all the other bands have gone by now, but Waltari, the crazy Finnish guys, are still rolling on, and this gives us a good feeling and a feeling that we still have something to show to people. So the idea with mixing styles isn´t so new, but we take newer styles and use them and that became unique only Waltari sound.
Looking back over the 20 year history, you´ve done so much, different albums, music styles, etc. Is there still something left to do?
Yes! Progressive music! The next album will be a lot of that, I want to go back to the progressive music, I enjoy it a lot, for example you know MEW from Denmark? They´ve a crazy world of music as well.
"We looked in the mirror: Hey, we´re Waltari"
So again will be something totally different…
Yeah, there´s a plan to do one song which is half-an-hour long, so we still move on.
Can you explain the title of the new album?
Yes. The original title of the album was suppose to be “The European Blood Sample” and the concept is a little bit like impressions of today´s Europe in a way. We got the idea on our European tour in year 2004, touring with the “Rare Species” album, and we were so happy going back to touring and when we got there, we´ve had this feeling that something has changed since our last trip in 2000, so the concept for the “Blood Sample” album started during that tour. We´ve thought it would be a good idea to write about different countries of Europe, write about the impression of the people and impression of the atmosphere, nothing like politics, but as an outsider to see what´s going on there. We also had an idea of doing an album which is very wild style-wise and that way writing about different countries kind of suited to the musical ideas.
And what about the art-work on the cover?
We´ve had this ´space´ theme on our previous albums, “Radium Round” and “Space Avenue”, and the concept was about space. On the new album there´re those people who have been traveling everywhere in space, they land back to the Earth. It´s like in “The Planet Of The Apes”, where the man lands on Earth without knowing what planet it is, everything has changed there. So the same idea is that we landed somewhere in Europe and we had a curious look: “where are we?”
But the lizard is still the same…
Yeah, it´s our logo from the “Rare Species” also, but if you look very carefully, you can see some basic monuments from Europe, for example there´s Coliseum and so on, it´s not so easy to see.
Because of all your traveling and seeing so many places, whilst being from such small country yourself, would you ever think of moving somewhere?
Not anymore. In the early days I had a feeling about leaving. But in fact, Helsinki isn´t so bad nowadays and because we´ve traveled so much already, now it´s the contrary of that, it´s nice to come back to normal life, see friends and all. There´s a chance if you leave permanently, you´ll lose your mental legacy in a way. It´s good to have your basic background, where you can always return to.
What inspires you into writing?
Sometimes the music gives me an idea for the lyrics and sometimes the other way around. Of course if I write lyrics, it´s a feeling or a personal experience or an idea from reading a book or something… I don´t have any certain way to write, it changes a lot, and now I´ve started with this, no idea what will come out. (plays a piece of upbeat techno music on his laptop) So sometimes it´s a rhythm, or I play an acoustic guitar and whatever, you never know.
Oh… You know our DVD? It hasn´t come out in Germany yet, so far it´s been released in Finland, maybe there are the biggest things. There´s so much, I really can´t separate… of course one has to be playing with Symphony Orchestra in the National Opera on the main stage and have it sold out 12 times… It was second biggest selling show that year in the National Ballet after Madame Butterfly, it was a big success really…So this was one and another of course playing with KISS.
Which one of your works are you most pleased and proud of?
Of course the latest album! I don´t know what the people think, but I´ve a strong personal feeling that our music is getting better all the time and the band feels the same, that we are getting more and more professional all the time. So far we´ve been always most proud of the latest album and I hope that we´ll continue and when not, then perhaps it´s time to stop.
You are known as crazy Finnish rockers…
Or Metal rockers… (laughs)
Even better! But are you as wild and unpredictable in your everyday life as well?
No, not really. Maybe I put all my wild and unpredictable habits into my music life. Of course after 15 years living like this, my way of life became so artistic… at least I try to be pretty sensible, but maybe my girlfriend won´t agree… (laughs) But anyway, I don´t think I´m more complicated than my music – I´m a big music fan really! Maybe the one reason why we wanted to play style like this is due to the fact that we´ve always been big music lovers and listeners, that if I´m not working with music, I´m listening to music and to listen to music is my hobby too.
What are you listening to?
Any kind, last week I was listening to Sibelius´s symphony, classical stuff and one week before I was watching Anthrax here and the week before that I was watching Ray Davies, the old song writer from the 60s and singer in The Kinks, so anything musical, really.
Do you ever see music as business?
Not with me. That´s the one mission with Waltari is that we want to try to show people that it´s possible to live from music without thinking music-playing in a business way. I know so many bands who are always having this thing that we´ve to think first what can we play? – I don´t get it!!! What´s the point?! It´s so nice to be in a band like Waltari to have the chance to disturb this so nice (sarcastically) Rock´n´Roll business, so nice kids, so nice boys and girls. So our mission is to come and endanger it all. So I´ve to think that ok, music business to my taste is to bring music to the listeners and that´s what original meaning of it is, to have the chance to bring it to as many listeners as possible, but to me that´s it. Everything else is crap.
"Maybe I put all my wild and unpredictable habits into my music life"
But if you want to reach as many listeners as possible you´ve to play at bigger venues, then it becomes commercial eventually…
It´s up to the artist really, I personally enjoy playing in bigger places, but still we don´t this so much, because we aren´t so big band, but anyway it depends… On the other hand I don´t belong to this community that thinks playing big halls is boring. I think that music can be good at any kind of circumstances, it just needs to be done in the right way. If you play at smaller places it´s easier to play there, easier to create this good intimate atmosphere, it´s much more challenging to play at bigger places and get same feeling there, it needs a lot more visuality, it´s more like going to a show, but I think both are needed.
What is your impression of the current situation in the Finnish music scene? There´re so many new bands coming out everyday…
Yeah and it´s marvellous! I was one of the first guys to shout about Finnish bands to every media in Europe that was already 15 years ago! And the people were still asking from us “Are the polar bears walking on the streets?!” and maybe half the time we´ve said “Yes, yes!!! There are!!!”, but of course we knew already at that time there are good bands in Finland and quality of them is amazing! And I´m very proud to say that we´ve one of the best music-making countries, after States and England, of course depends on the music styles. I´ve always been an England fan!
What´s your opinion about the Eurovision situation this year and Finnish entry with Lordi?
I think it´s funny! On the other hand it´s kind of pure entertainment, but then I´ve kind of feeling that Metal isn´t the same as it´s used to be after the band has played at the Eurovision Contest, but I´m looking forward to see what happens. The song isn´t so good, but the idea of bringing Lordi there is good.
Would you ever like to participate in this Contest?
Yeah, in fact maybe not with Waltari, I´ve been thinking about composing something for it, because I´ve been watching the contest and every time I see it, it´s like “F***! What f*****g bad-bad songs there are!” Maybe I should write something for them, but so far it´s just been an idea.
Do you have any side projects in mind or already active one?
Yeah, I´ve also started in one other band called Wax. It´s not a thing like Waltari, it´s a brand new project, and we´ve just been playing some cover shows, but now we´ve a chance to make a record, so why not?! Waltari plays 60-70 shows per year nowadays, so there´s still space for more left…
What kind of music is Wax?
It´s a mixture of guitar-rock and then House music, but there´s no programming, just playing and no synthesis, just guitars. I sing and play bass, surprise-surprise, but I use a bit different technique then in Waltari. Sometimes I even imitate Prince, this high voice, so it´s very different.
After having played with Kiss, are there any other bands you´d like to play with?
Many in fact! KoЯn or System Of A Down, because we come from a very similar heritage as SOAD, this crossover tradition.
Since you are involved in the band and became full-time musician, how did it influence the sort of person you became?
Like I said, I´ve a very artistic lifestyle. This only means that I´ve freedom to put up my own timetables, I´m sure that if I had a normal job, I´d get bored in a week. I´m used to living this artist life, I don´t know any other way.