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Interviewed by Pablo Castelar. "Infinite" is the new studio album of Stratovarius and once again the band has shown why it's considered one of the biggest melodic metal acts to become notorius in the 90's. But "Infinite" is also the definitive proof that the line-up of the band is more firmly established than ever, and the evidence of that is that here drummer Jörg Michael (who only came to join Stratovarius on the Episode album) representing the band in this interview.
Jörg is one of the top drummers of the world, and was very kind and cheerful in this interview. Here he tells us how the response has been from the fans and critics for the new album,Infinite, the tour in Europe with Rhapsody and Sonata Arctica, and the band's plans for the future. Stratovarius recently released Infinite, it's eighth studio album. How has the response from the fans been so far, and from the critics?

Jörg Michael: It's been really outrageous...I mean, it's turned out to have an even been result than the whole Destiny album, which was a very strong album for us as well. So far the tour has been going on for about six months.

R2K: This album has songs written by other members of the band other than Timo Tolkki. For instance, Glory of the World was written by Jens Johansson. This is unusual since Timo normally made all the song writing. How did this come to be?

JM: Well, not really, we've had some other song writers before, like Timo Kotipelto and Jens Johansson, who was writing some songs for some other bands as well. But, of course, Timo Tolkki is the best song writer in the band and we always like to put the best songs on the album we have. It's very hard to compete against Mr. Tolkki! ( laughs ). I thought Glory Of The World was a very, very brilliant track. But there is another track that Jens made recently, called "Why Are We Here?", it's a very nice song, I like it very much. But basically we have to say that Mr. Tolkki is the best song writer in the band and we keep it that way, so that the best songs can appear in the album, and he's the guy that writes the best songs. Most of the songs will also be, in the future, by Mr. Tolkki.

R2K: How did you come across Derek Riggs to make the cover artwork, which is being considered the best ever in Stratovarius albums?

JM: Yeah? Well, do you like it as well?

R2K: Yes, I thought it was amazing.

JM: Well, we always had different designers for our covers, right...the Episode one was made by a very well known Finnish guy, in Vision we had Marschall, who's done Blind Guardian covers and all kinds of bands. The Destiny album was an idea of Timo Tolkki when he saw two paintings, and we just combined it in a cover, with a computer lay-out detachment. We always thought that we needed some guy to fulfil a new idea. We thought that Mr. Derek Riggs had the talent to do it, but he was more into the shocking material, like Iron Maiden. But Stratovarius has a completely different approach making artwork, we didn't want to have the shocking thing, because we have something else to say. And all of a sudden the work of Derek Riggs appears on the last Gamma Ray album. How unplanned! So we saw he could do other things as well. So we gave him an idea, and we already like the first design he came up with, it was like, absolutely brilliant and everything else he came up with as well. He's actually a very nice guy, on top of that. So we really appreciated working with him, it was very nice and we're very happy to have this cover for us. It really shows what we want to tell.

R2K: It appears that, not only on this album, Stratovarius shows in it's songs a general concern with the future of mankind and the whole planet. Is this a constant inspiration for the band, lyrically speaking?

JM: I wouldn't say it's always an inspiration. I haven't always been in the band, but I know, for example, that in the first albums they had like, normal, simple heavy metal lyrics, like Reign Of Terror. But, of course, recently it became more and more involved with these themes, in songs like Mother Gaia and Infinity. So, it's become more and more important to the band, we get and idea of the whole, since we are playing in world wide shows, so a lot of people are listing to us, then we can make a statement. Also, I think, it has to do with the fact that we've grown up a little bit more, with our surroundings and our environment. And, of course, it's very hard to understand why, if we're the only creatures living on this planet, people are trying to destroy themselves.

R2K: How has been the touring? We know you toured around Europe with Rhapsody and Sonata Arctica.

JM: Oh, that went very, very well for us. Even in countries we hadn't played in before, or in places we hadn't made big shows, it went great. I have to say that in Europe, this time, we had a very strong ticket sales with Rhapsody and Sonata Arctica. Rhapsody, in some countries, they are very huge already. It was all very unexpected. I mean, we always had a couple of thousand in Italy, another couple of thousand in Spain, the highlight this time was Milan, with almost four thousand people, and normally we had some two thousand people there, so that gives you a bit of an idea. In my home country, here in Germany, we also played in a little bigger venues, like for example, when with Running Wild. So we're going to do a second leg of shows in Europe at the end of the year. In Summer time, we didn't play in so many festivals. We just came back from Japan, which was also very successful for us, an the ticket sales there were also a little bit bigger for us. But it's not only about the ticket sales, I have the feeling that the Infinite album is a really strong album for the band, and that the people really like it. So the reaction from audience is even a little more berserk than before. This makes us all very, very happy, of course.

R2K: Do you prefer to play in larger places, such as stadiums, or in smaller places, like in clubs?

JM: I have to admit that I don't like to play in places so small that you can hardly stay on stage. We call in "playing in toilets", right? ( laughs )...that gives you an idea. But I'll tell you something, Peter Criss, of Kiss, has mentioned this in one of his recent interviews, that a lot people say they prefer to play in clubs and small places than in stadiums, well, that's just because most of them have never had the possibility to play in stadiums!!! (laughs ). It's great to play big venues, but of course, when we play in big Open Airs, where the audience are about 50 metres from the stage, it's a little bit hard, you know. I personally prefer the middle of it. Places with good capacity, for some two thousand people, and it's also a nice venue, with good sound, where we can get the music nicely across. But where we can also get the reaction from the crowd back, because that's what's the most fun when playing.

R2K: As I've mentioned before, Stratovarius has 8 records released. That makes a lot of songs to pick to make a set list. How do you choose songs, and what can the fans expect for the South American tour?

JM: Well, first of all this tour is being called "Almost Infinite Tour", so that means we play a lot of songs from the new album. But we also play songs that people want to hear. We don't play so much old songs, the last four albums are so much more popular in the world, than the first four albums of the band. So there's really not so much old material for us to play.

R2K: Speaking of fans, you're notorious for being very friendly to everyone who comes after you. How is your relationship with these fans?

JM: Oh, Really? I think it would be more appropriate for other people to talk about that. I think we just consider others as human beings, you know. We just act they way we normally are. We don't have stars shining out of our ass. It's always nice to talk to the fans, to get back a reaction, it's good to listen to them and also the reaction in our homepage. But, of course, we have our own vibe, and our own attitude, so some fans come after the show and ask, "why didn't you play this songs or that song", of course. There are so many songs to play... We can't fulfil every request of the fans. But it's very nice to hear that we come across as being friendly to our fans, I think we do.

R2K: You've played in many bands, such as Running Wild and with Axel Rudi Pell. Now you've finally settled down with Stratovarius. What is it that makes you happy to be in this particular band, for example, you've made a tattoo with the Episode album symbol on your arm....

JM: Because it's a band!!! I don't feel like a soldier anymore...I feel part of the band, where we discuss things, and there I am accepted as a human being. When we sit down, we're all five people discussing about things, discussing about our future. Of course there is the one person behind it all, that is Mr. Tolkki, but I think a band needs a leader, specially when a discussion doesn't go anywhere. We have so many different opinions, so somebody has to say "Ok, we go this way". It's not like in Running Wild, that you've mentioned, where Rockin' Rolf was the leader, and there was nothing you could say about anything. He made all the choosing. This tattoo was the first record I did with Timo Tolkki, and our friendship has come so far...he has actually the same tattoo. In the Episode album, we actually went to a Brazilian tattoo artist in Germany, called Julio, from Sao Paulo. So I asked if he was willing to do this tattoo for us, and he came to a show here in Germany, and he did mine very quickly. I think it took one hour to do it. So, it shows a little bit of the friendship we've got.

R2K: After Infinite, we can make a overall look at the Stratovarius history and see how the band has grown. Stratovarius is today one of the most well-known bands in the heavy metal scene. How do you react to this fact?

JM: Oh...if it's really like that, it sounds, of course, very nice. But that's not so much important for me, what's important is that we have a good understanding and a good relationship in the band, and the rest comes by itself, you know, it automatically appears. When you feel good in the band, when you come to play, than the rest comes automatically. When you start up, you work so hard for that dream, to go all over the world, that when it comes true you can hardly hold in it your hands, you can hardly believe it. When you say that we're one of the biggest heavy metal bands in the world, I can't believe it, it still feels like a dream, it's something hard to realise. Does this make sense to you? It's really how I feel about that. In this Infinite tour, we've done about fifty to sixty shows, and the tour is still continuing, actually now it should go on until February, so it's all very nice for us. When we see the reaction from the fans that have bought this album, and the comments of the homepage, we feel a reward for all the work we put in this album.

R2K: The critics for Infinite have been going really well, and many fans feel it's one of the best albums Stratovarius has made. It's been very successful, wouldn't you say?

JM: Yeah...I would say, from the fans side, that the Infinite album is almost as strong as the Visions album. But without the Vision album and the Destiny album, not so much people would know that there would be a new album coming out called Infinite by a band called Stratovarius. So, every album is a certain step, every album is a little milestone, if you know what I mean. I also have the feeling that for the fans, the Infinite album is a very strong album, perhaps the strongest we've had so far. Wee see this on the reaction of every show. In my opinion, Infinity may well be the strongest song we have ever performed, written and played. But that doesn't mean that I dislike the songs of the other albums, or something. For example, Episode, in my personal opinion in the whole thing, is the strongest album of Stratovarius. It has a certain hungriness and roughness that we don't have on the last album, for example. Every record is a little bit different, anyway. What I can tell you is that we try our best in every album we do.

R2K: Since it's an obvious topic of the new album, Infinite, how do you see the new millenium for heavy metal, with so many new bands and new record labels showing up?

JM: That's, of course, a very hard question. When things are raising, or rising up, there's always a border line, where things have to go down. In my opinion, heavy metal wen up basically since the 70's. Then we had the NWOBHM with bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest along with bands like Saxon...then came this new generation like Helloween. Then in the 90's came bands like Blind Guardian and Stratovarius who took it even further. I don't know how it will end. What I know is that we have a lot of talented new bands coming up, so we won't die so easily! For example, when I see the Swedish band Hammerfall, these guys are so young! And even being young, they are not influenced by grunge music, or some other music, they are influenced by 70's and 80's metal. As long as the quality of the music is alright there will be people to listen to it. Of course, if the quality goes down, then, I think, only the bands that have already achieved a certain level will survive. This is basically how I feel about it.

R2K: Since you've just mentioned Hammerfall, could you name a few new bands that you personally like?

JM: Well, like I've said, Hammerfall I like very much. The first album was very, very rough. Also the German band Edguy are quite good. They seem to be influenced by bands even like Stratovarius and other bands of the genre. I think also the Finnish band Sonata Arctica. These guys are very, very young!!!! I think the oldest of them is 23, and the rest is all under 20. These guys are very, very talented. I really liked them, and I also really liked their attitude. When they were asked if they were happy that people said they sounded like Stratovarius, and so they said "Of course, Stratovarius are our heroes!". So they turned that journalist's faces upside down. I like to see very young bands, that at first are very shy on stage, and they go on playing and after 10-15 shows, they have their own attitude.

R2K:What are your plans for the future, personal and with the band? Do the other members have side projects on their mind?

JM: With the band, I can tell you, that when this tour is over, we'll definitely have a break. We'll release before that a Home Video and also another special album, where we'll put B-sides, singles and all the additional songs we've only given to Japan, Germany or France. This should be an album with a special price, we'll maybe try to put it at half-price, than the price of a normal album. We' ll try to put all these songs into this album, plus maybe two new songs for half the price....I think it's a good idea, so the fans can all listen to it. After that we'll probably take a break, Mr. Tolkki and also Mr. Kotipelto should be releasing their solo albums. I don't know the plans of Jens, Jari and me. I'll probably just go down and watch a lot of soccer games, maybe go travelling. But, of course, with Stratovarius even if we take a break, there's always a little but of work to do behind the curtains, to keep everything going. My personal plans also depend on that, because Stratovarius has kind of become my life. I don't do anything else, so I think I'll take things with time.
R2K: How do you feel about the internet, and this whole mp3 issue that's been going on?
JM: Oh, that's a tough question, I haven't made up my mind yet. I think I'm going to Pearl Jam's side. They're putting their own bootlegs, recorded from the mixing board on the internet, so that fans can actually download it. Mr. Kotipelto is always a little bit scared about these mp3 existing all over the world, but I tell him that as long as there are bootlegs existing of Stratovarius, that means the fans are still interested in the band! I haven't seen any band go down because some fans are downloading mp3 files. I think, about mp3 files, it's now up to the record company to make it more interesting for the fans to buy records. It's not all about the music. There's the booklet, for example, which is much better to have than just one little page. I think fans should go ahead doing this, if that's what they prefer.

R2K: Speaking of listening to music, what have you been listening to lately?

JM: Of course, my all time faves which are Judas Priest. British Steel, Screaming For Vengeance, Defenders of the Faith, that kind of stuff. I also like the German Band Rammstein, which I've been listening to a lot lately too. And I like a band called Dead Can Dance too, which haven't a lot to do with heavy metal, but I think they're brilliant, I really like them. Besides that, I basically listen to a lot of Stratovarius, to find my weaker points and make them better next time.

R2K: Stratovarius is about to come to Brazil, to play in some of the major cities. Do you have good memories from the last time?

JM: Yes, I believe for the whole band, it's one of the favourite countries to play in. The fans, I have to admit, are the best in the world, together with the Argentinean. You don't want to listen to that!! ( laughs ). But it's actually true, I have to say that Brazil is a completely different country than any country in Europe. Maybe Portugal and Spain are a little bit similar, but the Brazilian fans go so much berserk, they practically eat and drink life. If they give you a present, it's the best present, they always listen to one another, they're not so egoistic. They have a completely different attitude towards life. So, I think we're are looking forward to coming back to Brazil very, very much, we're already very excited about it. There are also so many other South American countries to play in, like Venezuela and Columbia, in which we've never played. There's always a little problem, with promoters, time and management. In Brazil it's different, the support we get from Rock Brigade is very, very nice. We've been to Argentina twice, it's always been very nice, we've also played in Chile once, which was great, very nice venue, nice people too.

R2K: Is there any country that you've never played in, but that you still dream of going to?

JM: I think the one country that we've never had the opportunity to play in, but I've always wanted to go is Australia. That would be nice, to play down there.

R2K: Okay, you can leave a message for the R2K fans, if you want.

JM: Please tell everyone that I personally look very forward to come down to Brazil and play again. I would like to say thank you for al the support we get from down there. We're already coming for the third time, and I'd never played in Brazil with any other band before, so it's something very special to me. All my Brazilian friends know that I'm a big fan of Brazil, and I consider moving down there sometime, to the town of Recife. I cross my fingers for you guys. I hope we can see all the Stratovarius fans in the shows we'll do there. Besides that, all I can say is metal up your ass and keep metal alive!

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