Olli Koskela - Valerian

December 3, 2004


Photo Credit: www.citycanyons.com

You guys are from Finland. Tell us a little bit about Finland.

It's really cold and it's snowing. Well, it's not snowing right not but it's pretty cold. We've got minus degrees here Celsius. The music scene here, it's a small country. Helsinki is a small city.

Helsinki is a major city isn't it?

It's the capitol but still it's only half a million people. It's 500,000 in Helsinki and only 5 million in Finland. Comparing to, for example, New York or Austin, TX or Houston or L.A. or you name it, it's a small city. Everybody knows everybody. Not exactly but in the music scene, if you give me a name I probably know the band. Stuff like that. I know the guys that play in the band. It's kind of claustrophobic.

A lot of really cool bands have come out Finland. Hanoi Rocks, H.I.M., and Children Of Bodom.

Hanoi was great of course. You know them? Thatís cool. Children Of Bodom, thatís interesting because heavy metal, like the traditional heavy metal scene, is very strong here. Bands like Iron Maiden and Helloween, the old stuff, theyíre pretty strong here. Have you ever heard of a band called Stratovarius?

Yes.

Stuff like that, the classical influenced heavy metal scene is very strong here and Hanoi Rocks is a little bit of an exception to the rule so to speak. Theyíre still up and running but there was a time when there wasnít much glam rock. There werenít any bands here that were glam bands. Now, at the turn of the millennium, glam bands have started to rise again. Valerian, weíre so different from everybody that itís hard to describe what our situation is here in Finland.

Your band reminds me of Guns íN Roses style vocals.

Oh yeah, Iím a big fan of Guns íN Roses. Iíve always been. The first time I heard them, back in the day, was so cool. It blew my mind, it was so great. Axl with that grinding vocal style and Slash and Duff and the other guys. It was just great. Of course it influenced me a lot in a lot of ways. Artistically as well as the look, the attitude, that sort of thing. Guns íN Roses has definitely been a major influence for me. For most of us I think.

Who are some of your other musical influences?

I started out listening to bands like AC/DC, KISS, Iron Maiden, Van Halen, Twisted Sister, WASP, and that sort of í80s hard rock and heavy metal scene. Then again when I was a teenager, a lot of my friends used to listen to bands like garage bands and early punk from the í60s and í70s. Bands like The Cramps and The Hard Ons and Mudhoney and stuff like that. I think that itís a mixture of those two things. Hard rock that I used to listen to when I went home. I would put on Appetite For Destruction and Iíd listen to that. With my friends, weíd be listening to Rocky Erikson or Iggy And The Stooges and stuff like that. They used to listen to a lot of garage bands or alternative rock which wasnít my thing at that time. Nowadays I donít listen to that much music. I just sit around and listen to the radio. I donít have any money to buy any CDs nowadays because Iím broke.

Youíre supposed to be turning into this rich rock star, donít you know?

I donít know about the rock star thing but maybe someday Iíll have the money to buy more CDs but right now Iím starving here. Living in poverty. Thatís the way it goes now being in a rock band. You have to be a starving musician to get what you want.

They say the best music is always put out when the band is young and hungry and broke.

Yeah, I definitely think thatís true because you have the fever to do something if and when youíre down and out and youíre broke and you donít have anything to eat. You just concentrate on what youíre doing. Playing music. Later on if you become a star, you get so much money to distract you. I donít know because Iíve never had that kind of money but when youíre a millionaire, I assume that itís hard to focus on what you were doing and thereís so many distractions going on. Youíve got managers, youíve got record companies, youíve got promoters, you name it. Everybody wants you and everybody wants a piece of that cake that should belong to you. I donít know but thatís in the future. I have no knowledge of that kind of life yet.

Hopefully you will. How did Valerian get together?

The band was formed in Ď97 when our previous had just split up. I put an ad into a local music magazine searching for a drummer and possibly other musicians. Tipi our drummer called me and we met and thatís how it all got started. Tipi and I just started jamming together and playing whatever came to mind. There was just the two of us. There is Toni our lead guitarist and Jake which is now our ex-bassist. They joined the band in the summer of Ď97. Thatís how we got started. Later on Jake got bored with the whole band. He had a lot of his own stuff going on and material he wanted to do that wasnít like Valerian and he wanted to concentrate on that so he left the band. We knew Janne because he had replaced Jake a couple of times playing live with us. He was kind of like a stand-in for a couple of times so it was easy to get him in the band. That was it. When Valerian started out, I was the singer/guitarist so I played guitar on stage as well but later on I decided that I wanted to concentrate only on my singing because I felt like I need my whole body to do it. Singing, you need to use your arms and you need to use your legs and you need to use your whole body. When I had my guitar with me, it was kind of hard. I felt like I wasnít giving 100 percent to my singing so I dumped the guitar and we started searching for another guitarist and we found Matti. Then the lineup was perfect at that time. It feels good right now because I get to only sing and concentrate on my singing. I donít have to worry about playing guitar live on stage. Of course sure, Iím a good guitarist so I do it all the time in the studio. For example, this album, Intimations Of Sorrow, there are a lot of guitar parts that are mine so to speak but thatís how we got started. That was in í97. Thatís almost eight years ago, wow. Weíre still breathing.

How did you guys decide what direction you were going to go in musically?

That was kind of a funny thing because Tipi and me never talked about it. We just started to play. Actually we didnít have any plans for the future. We didnít have a certain direction where to go and we didnít have any kind of visions about what we were going to do. We just wanted to take it day by day and rehearsal by rehearsal and gig by gig. Just develop the stuff and play the songs that we felt were good. That we thought had potential. We never had a big plan on paper that this is what we want to do and this is exactly what genre we are. It goes right now as well. I donít want to go into a certain direction and blocking all the other stuff out. Thatís not Valerian. Valerian is open-minded stuff. This record, that was it. It was then. Itís now and it was then but the next record that weíre going to do, I donít know what itís going to sound like. It might be very different but then again it might be just like Intimations Of Sorrow. Thereís no big plan or vision for us. It goes with other people too because people seem to hear a lot of different bands in our music. For example, you mentioned Guns íN Roses and weíve heard people say that we sound like Stone Temple Pilots or Faster Pussycat or even Poison which is not a good thing to say because Poison is not a good thing. If a band starts reminding you of Poison then thatís a bad thing. Anyway, people hear a lot of different styles and a lot of different bands when they listen to us. I remember one guy one time told me that we sounded a bit like Red Hot Chili Peppers and I was like ďwow, where did you get that?Ē Red Hot Chili Peppers is a great band but Iíve never listened to them. I donít have their albums so they havenít been a big influence on me. Seriously, if you listen to the Intimations Of Sorrow album, I donít know where you get Red Hot Chili Peppers. I donít know but of course, itís their thing. They have their opinions about it and itís cool with me. I donít mind. It doesnít bother me.

I canít honestly say that band entered my mind when I listened to the CD.

Exactly. Thatís what I told the band later on when I tell the story. It came out of the blue. Say what? Red Hot Chili Peppers? Well yeah, sure. Thatís the way it goes. People have their own opinion and thatís fine with me. It doesnít bother me. Of course itís just great that there are so many bands and styles that people hear when they listen to Valerian. It shows you that weíre not just one thing.

Youíre not pigeonholed under one label.

You canít put a tag on us that we are a hard rock band. Of course, weíre a hard rock band but much more than that. Maybe itís all much more clear when years go by. When we get to record more albums.

Who does a lot of the lyrical writing in the band?

Thatís me. I do all the lyrics.

When you write lyrics for a song, what goes through your mind? What inspires you?

I read a lot of books. I love to read. I love John Irving, I love Kurt Vonnegut, I love Stephen King, I love John Steinbeck. A lot of stuff comes out from the books that Iíve read. For example, one of the songs on Intimations Of Sorrow called ďNever Bring Me DownĒ was influenced by George Orwellís 1984. Thatís one place that my mind searches, the books that Iíve read. And of course just every day life. The stuff that Iíve seen on TV. The stories Iíve heard and the stuff I hear on the radio. The things I see on the street. We have a lot of religion maybe. We have a song called ďLiarĒ which is about religion, about God. People wondering about whether or not God exists. Or if he exists, why he lets wars go on.

Thatís a question I have.

Well you should listen to ďLiarĒ because thatís the question the song is all about. I think everybody is asking that question. If God exists, why is this shit going on every day and all the time? Weíve got a lot of stuff going on, on the album. Thereís a song called ďNothing Will Ever Take Me Away From YouĒ which is influenced by Thomas Harrisí Hannibal book and the song is kind of like a love letter from Dr. Lechter to agent Starling. Itís like this creepy murder-love thing. Then we have ďAngel Of DeathĒ which is of course about death and weíve got a lot of stuff going on there on the album. I think that for Valerian the lyrics are a major part of the songs and the band because I donít want to do stupid lyrics like boy meets a girl. Of course we have this kind of stuff also but I donít want to do the whole album like a Bon Jovi thing. Bon Joviís great but itís just not us. Itís not Valerian. Valerian is much more like a thinking entity. I like to ponder about things sometimes. I wouldnít say intellectual. We arenít intellectual. Weíre stupid. Weíre five stupid people playing straight forward rock and roll. Iím not kidding you there. I like to put effort into my lyrics. I want to give them time and effort definitely.

For a guy who lives in a foreign country far, far from mine, speaks a completely different language from mine, and totally comprehends the English language, you canít be that stupid. I canít speak a word of Finnish.

Sure, but youíd learn. You would learn so quickly. You just come here and Iíll tell you all about it. I grew up watching Hollywood movies when I was a kid. Thatís where I got the English. Thatís where I started to learn English. Basically the whole concept of my youth is filled with Americanism. The bands that I listen to. They almost all come from America. All those movies that I watched. I try to say what they say. I started to learn the language that way. Of course my mother is used to me. Sheís retired now but she used to be an English teacher here. I guess itís in the genes also. It has to be. I donít consider my English very fluent. There are so many mistakes. If I get to do it like this every day regularly, it would improve but itís hard here. You still have to deal with Finnish people which is obvious because after all it is Finland.

Tell me a bit about Intimations Of Sorrow.

When we started to record the album, we didnít even know that we were going to record the whole album. We started out recording two of the songs. The first one, ďHomesickĒ and then the song called ďLiarĒ. We did those two and then we just figured out what to do. We started to shop the tape around and then we sent the ďLiarĒ song to City Canyons Records and Trebor contacted us. He loved it. He was thrilled about it and thought it was great stuff. He wanted to hear more and at that time we were actually in the studio. That was in the summer of 2003 and the whole album was recorded at Mattiís parentsí house. They were on vacation in Greece. This is a funny thing. They were on a vacation in Greece for two weeks and at that time we sneaked into the apartment and started to record the album. The neighbors were wondering what the hell was going on. What is this raucous all about. There was a hell of a noise coming out from that house and we were just banging away putting it all on tape. It was great because that was the first time that we actually had the chance to do that. The one place that we could hang around for a week and a half. We recorded for a week and a half and we stayed there all the time. Got up in the morning, started to do drum and bass stuff, and hang around the house all the time. That was great. I loved it. There wasnít any pressure. It was laid back. People were chilling out and having a couple of beers. There was no pressure. There wasnít any hurry. It was great. If and when we start recording the next album, Iíd like to do that again. Not to have a studio environment where you have to go. We started at 10 oíclock and weíd stop at 6 p.m. Punching the clock. I donít like that. Thatís not art. Thatís not rock and roll. Thatís not music. There comes a time in the studio when maybe you start feeling that itís not happening right now. It might happen when we wait an hour or a day. For example, for me a lot of the vocal parts that I did, I needed to find the right moment. When you get up at 10 oíclock and you walk up to the microphone, you canít just start putting it on the tape because it doesnít work for me that way. You need to have the feeling. You always have to remember that whether itís rock and roll or whatever, itís still art and you need to have the feeling for it. It was great that we had that kind of luxury so there wasnít any engineers or managers hanging around. ďOkay boys, we need that stuff and we need it now.Ē We took it easy. It was a laid back situation and it was great. That was the process of the album. Basically Iím the song writer of the band. Most of the songs are mine and the lyrics so I put a lot of thought into this album because when we started recording it, I knew from day one that we were recording a good album. Later on when we were mixing it, I understood that no this isnít a good album. This is a great album. I understood that we were dealing with material thatís really great. Itís a classic album. I donít mean like classic rock. I understood in the process of recording and mixing that we were dealing with stuff that really might have a chance internationally as well. Not just here in Finland. Looking at it, it turns out that it seems to be going much more better in the States than in Finland. Iím not that surprised because after all Intimations Of Sorrow is pretty international. When you listened to it, did you feel that it was definitely a Finnish band or a European band or a Scandinavian band? Did you feel that this could be from practically anywhere?

I thought it was a good hard rock band. You can relate to a lot of that stuff. You picked topics that people anywhere have experienced at one time or another.

Then it served its purpose. I wasnít even worried about me sounding foreign on that album. My pronunciation. The lyrics might not be idiomatic and the pronunciation might not be exact, but the thing is that you can be a little bit off the target. You donít have to have a bullís eye and Iím talking about pronunciation. I wasnít even worried about that. Actually what I worried about was if and even when we get a good deal, actually I didnít want to land a deal with a Finnish company here, so when City Canyon and Trevor Lloyd from City Canyons Records contacted us, it was heaven sent for me. It was just yes. Itís so great that Trebor is doing a lot of work for us in New York. What can I say? Itís a dream come true partly. Of course we still have to climb all the way up to the number one spot on the Billboard charts but hey, that will happen. Maybe not right now, December, but next year.

You have to shoot for goals like that.

Maybe thatís a little bit megalomanic. Of course, sure you have to goals and dreams like that. Of course weíre going to go out and climb up that Billboard chart but thatís in the future.

How is your album being received in Europe?

Actually, itís only been released in the United States at the moment. People here in Scandinavia and Europe havenít had the chance to listen to it but that will happen in the future. Iím sure for example, Germany is a good place for hard rock bands like ours because in Germany there are a lot of bands from Finland that are pretty famous. Nightwish and Stratovarius and H.I.M. and bands like that. Theyíre pretty big. They made it big in Germany. For us itís coming along. Trevor is doing work for it as we speak.

Iíve seen Children Of Bodom three times here in the States. They opened for Dimmu Borgir, Iced Earth, Fear Factory and Lamb Of God.

Dimmu Borgir is from Norway. Thatís real heavy metal. It would be great to come to Dallas some time.

Yeah, it would be. It hardly ever snows here.

Yeah, if you have real nice rock clubs weíre there. Bring on the beer and weíll be there.

Do you do a lot of live gigs in Finland?

Yeah, the last show that we did was in August here in Helsinki in a place called The Semi-Final which is a cool place. Itís a rock club and a lot of bands go there. As I said, Helsinki is the capitol of Finland but itís a small town. Itís just a town. There are not many night clubs you can play at it. I could say that in Helsinki there are maybe three or four or maybe five reasonable places to play at. You canít go on playing only in Helsinki because people get bored about you playing again at the same club. Right now touring in Finland seems to be, I wouldnít say a waste of time, but City Canyons is doing work for us in New York so itís a little bit frustrating to start touring in Finland. We donít have anything going on here. All the stuff is happening in the States so it would be much more convenient and efficient to tour all of North America but of course right now weíre just sitting on our asses waiting for Christmas and drinking beer. Next year weíll be in the clubs again and playing live. No doubt about it.

Any other thoughts or comments?

Iíd like to say a few words for the Dallas people. You take it easy down there and chill out. When the times are bad, you just need to focus on the future and while youíre at it, put on a Valerian record. Intimations Of Sorrow.

Valerian