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The Von Hertzen Brothers are without a doubt the hottest prog rock brothers Finland has to offer to the world of music today and have often caught STALKERs attention at various festivals in the past (e.g. Ankkarock, Helldone – see your festival reports in the SPECIALS section). High time to dedicate a special feature to this amazing band and have a close-up view on those Finns on and also off stage (thanks to Mikko Von Hertzen).
Mikko, Kie and Jonne Von Hertzen (yes, this is their real name) are the three wildly beating hearts of Von Hertzen Brothers, and together with their drummer wizard Mikko Kaakkuriniemi and keyboard & Moog magician Juha Kuoppala they make music that is spiced with occasional touches of the orient, has definite twists of the progressive kind and is, more than anything else, superbly played and totally enjoyable rock.
It´s remarkable that after a long career in different bands, they only started to play together by the turn of the millenium, when Mikko asked his brothers to share his vision, resulting in the debut album “Experience” (2001). The second album “Approach” took four years to complete and became a huge success - gold status in Finland as well as winning a Finnish Grammy for the “Best Rock Album of the year 2006″. The third album “Love Remains The Same” is the most gigantic piece of art by Von Hertzen Brothers. Released in Finland in May 2008, it stayed at # 1 on the national sales chart for 3 weeks. The album includes the hit singles “Faded Photographs”, “Freedom Fighter” and “In the End”. In 2011 the 4th studio album ”Stars Aligned” was released, a psychedelic rock album married with sing along pop choruses. The band draws their lyrical influences from writers such as William Blake, classic Indian authors, and numerous well-known Finnish poets. Dec 1-4, 2011 saw Tavastia club in Helsinki totally sold out on 4 successive evenings when the band celebrated their 10th anniversary with their fans, dedicating each evening to one entire album (but luckily they did not forget to play some other hits as well in their extended encore section).
((A fantastic gooseflesh-tears-in-your-eyes-happiness-experience which STALKER chief editor deeply enjoyed - not in ”official mission”, though - on one evening too, by the way... the chief-ed.))
This spring the Finnish fans saw them on a short tour in Finland. I was able to catch two of the shows, the one in Vantaa and the last one of the tour in Helsinki where I was also able to sit down for a little chat with the lead vocalist and guitarist Mikko Von Hertzen. This Finnish spring tour continued the celebration of 10 years of VHB´s career and at the same time this was a perfect way to launch the brand new The Best Of –album (see STALKER review ).
The gig in Vantaa took place in a hotel nightclub called Tulisuudelma. I hadn´t been there before and was surprised to see how big the place was. For the audience, that is, not for the band. The small stage by the dance floor was packed with the Brothers´ gear, and since the fans would be right next to the stage, I was looking forward to an intense VHB experience. I wasn´t disappointed, as the band delivered an energetic full length show.
More photos in the gallery; link in head section
There is something special about VHB gigs. The band´s positive energy levels never fail to bring a smile on my face and for some reason I always think of summer and sunshine (and sea) when I listen to them. All of the brothers ooze charisma – Mikko always seems to be really happy about being on stage, Kie bounces around the stage like a jack-in-the-box released and Jonne balances out the two older brothers by his calm presence. Kaakkuriniemi and Kuoppala are never forgotten, their presence and skills are always acknowledged and recognised, both in introductory words and in action, as the brothers all move around to play their tunes with them, each on their turn. I take all of this as a sign of the fact that the guys really enjoy working together, whether they be brothers by blood or by band.
The set list in Vantaa was a nice combination of old and newer songs. From the first notes of Gloria to the last ones of the encore Disciple of the Sun this was a “best of” gig. On the spring tour gigs the brothers also played the classic prog rock cover, King Crimson´s 21st Century Schizoid Man. I heard them play it for the first time ever in Naantali last fall, and it seems the band has really gotten into playing it. I think their version is probably a bit less complicatedly progressive than the original, but no less interesting. However, I´m not sure if the crowd in Tulisuudelma was fully appreciative of the classic, as it really ventures deep into the world of progressive and not all people present were there only for the band. Most of VHB´s songs are easier to approach than this cover, if you´re not exactly a fan of the band to start with. On the other hand, I wasn´t a bit surprised to hear Mikko say that the audiences in London went nuts for the VHB take on the old Brit prog classic.
My only bigger regret on the Vantaa gig was that the audience didn´t get the band to return to the stage for a third encore. I clearly saw The Willing Victim on their set list taped on the stage floor, but it didn´t happen that night. In any case, I had totally enjoyed myself and was already looking forward to the gig in Helsinki a couple of weeks later.
The Helsinki gig was in Nosturi, which just happens to be the Brothers´ home stage. They have a small studio, edit room and space for rehearsing & recording their music there, and I was delighted to be able to visit and have a little
chat with Mikko backstage before their curtain call.
This gig was the last full length one for the band this year. They´ll do a few festival gigs in the summer, but Mikko told me that he is eagerly looking forward to being able to write new music again, even though he enjoys being on the road as well. “I´ve got to change my mindset, get into the creative mood and really start working with the new material. We´ve got lots of ideas and a deadline, so there´s also a bit of pressure to keep to the schedule. It´s so important especially keeping the international markets in mind. If we did this only in Finland, where we have a more solid fanbase already, it wouldn´t matter that much if we got the next album out whenever it´s ready. But to keep up the pace and to make things easier for our agents, we have an 18-month plan and we now know when the first single comes out, when the album comes out, when the Finnish tour will begin and when the international tour will begin”, he said. “We´ve got to keep the flow and keep working for this thing. We´re so incredibly lucky to have this chance for example in the London scene, as a foreign band. We can´t afford to keep them waiting for too long.”
But before their new album is all ready and out (expect it to hit the stores in about a year or so), they had this last bit of spring tour to play. Their new compilation album “The Best Of” CD+DVD had just come out three days earlier, and the fans in Nosturi would really get the best of VHB that night.
“Releasing a ´best of´ album is really a bit like looking into a rearview mirror”, he mused. “It´s always such a thrill when a new album comes out, but this is more like a look into the past. We have, however, gone through a lot of trouble to make sure that we could be proud of the collection. We really put a lot of time and our own money into making this DVD. We hired some Big Names for the job, because we really wanted it to be great and sound good. For the Finnish fans this is something they´ll buy, if they want the live-DVD, but for the international market this is going to be a very important tool. It´ll showcase what the Von Hertzen Brothers is all about, and once you´ve listened to the album and watched the DVD, you´ll have a pretty good picture of what we do. ”
And that´s for sure. The Best Of has tracks from all the four VHB albums and according to Mikko they tried to make the selection a balanced one. “We started out with what we felt were the most important songs to us and which songs we´ve played most on our gigs. And which songs would we like to play in the future as well. Naturally a collection would have to include our biggest singles, even though we´re not really a single-driven band. Once we got all the songs picked, we made sure the list wasn´t too long to still keep the quality of the tracks as high as possible.”
When I asked if Mikko feels his “relationship” with the older songs has somehow changed through the years, he reflected a while on the evolution of the band. “I think we can be proud of our songs, at least almost all of our songs”, he chuckles. “It´s been fun to listen to this collection, when the songs are disconnected from their original context. They´re separated from what was originally thought to be the arch of the album. Sure, I can hear the mistakes in them, but we´ve never released anything we felt was half-heartedly done. Every song has had a place in the whole, has had the right feel. So in that sense I can look back and think that we´ve had a great career so far. We couldn´t have done it any better back then. It´s quite like with authors and their writing. The first novel is something, the sixth or seventh novel something else. You´ve evolved, your writing has improved. You learn on your way.”
When talking about evolution, there are other recent developments to reflect on, e.g. the world of social media and its meaning to the band. Mikko: “I think the idea of a ´mysterious´ band was cool back in the 70´s and 80´s. It doesn´t work like that anymore. People want to know more. Of course there are fans who would rather form their own interpretations of the band and besides, who knows what these so called mysterious artists are really like? Let´s take someone like Jim Morrison, for example. It´s an urban legend already, what he supposedly was like. Or someone like Pete Walli. He lived dangerously and died young – but you know what? We knew the guy well and sure, he was very charismatic and talented, but at the end of the day, he was a regular guy. I don´t know what the point of keeping up a wall of mystery would be today. This is what I´m like and what my music is like and if someone doesn´t like it, I can´t do much about it”, Mikko finishes.
When I asked Mikko about the interaction between fans and the band, he really emphasized the importance of the shared experience. “It´s awesome that the fans come here through wind and wet snow, to see us goof on stage. The fans really give us the reason to do this. That´s also why I came back from India after living there for several years. I felt that music gives me joy and now it´s my part to share it.”
And that they do. They share. First of all they shared their stage that night. Their opening act was a Finnish band called Toot Toot. A guitarist and a drummer with a confusingly huge sounds, considering the fact that there were only two people on stage. I made a mental note to myself to check this “happy hardcore” band out later. They sounded really interesting. Plus they had a fun visitor as well, as one of the most popular participants of the Voice of Finland competition, Mikko Herranen, came to join Timo Kämäräinen and Olli Krogerus on stage for the last song. Nice touch!
Then the Von Hertzen Brothers came on stage to share their music with their fans. There was quite a good crowd and when the new intro song Rubicon began, the audience was more than ready to welcome the band. We got a performance that was everything I have come to expect from this band. Energy, good vibes, fantastic music, great entertainment. And this time around even the last encore song was played.
There were a few differences between this gig and the one in Vantaa. Mostly due to the size and elevation of the stage. Nosturi´s stage is an elevated one and a narrow photopit area separates it from the first row of fans. That meant that this time around Mikko couldn´t do the half stage dive he did in Vantaa (he really trusts his fans – he fell backwards on the supporting hands of the ladies in the first rows there) and because the Nosturi stage is considerably bigger than the one in Tulisuudelma, the brothers had more space to roam about. In some strange way it seemed to cool things down just a bit. Or perhaps it had just been a really wild night in Vantaa, but there was less of the crazy boinking around that Kie sometimes does and he definitely didn´t throw things around in Nosturi. There was a bit of trashing about in Vantaa, which was really rather entertaining. Not that I missed it in Nosturi, just noticed the slightly calmer feeling to the gig.
After two hours of “The Best Of” and then some, it had once again become clear that Mikko hadn´t been speaking empty words when he had said to me that it´s never really just the band that makes the gig. “It´s always the band and the audience. When we rehearse, it´s just the five of us, but when we´re on stage, it´s always a shared experience. And if I have enjoyed myself”, he added, “it´s only natural to want to thank the people who were there to share the moment with me. With us.”
More photos in the gallery; link in head section
And true to his words, the next day there was also a happy thank you – update on the band´s Facebook page. I´m sure many of us who had been on the gig felt like that made it all just a little bit nicer. We all shared something special that night in Nosturi.
I can´t wait for the next time I see this band play live again. Until then, I´ll listen to their music on repeat, watch the live-DVD every now and then and check their FB wall out for updates on what´s going on in the life of the wonderful Von Hertzen Brothers when they work on their new album – and I should be fine.
Vantaa gig 9, Helsinki gig 9,5
Johanna Ahonen; transl. S.Mahrer, K.Weber
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