|INTERVIEW FOR STEINBERG - EARLY 2001|
Stratovarius are one of the most successful Finish metal bands. They have an evergrowing fan community all over the world - especially in Europe, South America and Japan.
Their current CD "Infinite" just went gold in their home country. They just returned from their South American leg of the Stratovarius Infinite world tour.
Taking part in this interview is finnish songwriter and guitarist Timo Tolkki who joined the band in 1984 two years after the band was founded. He is influenced by bands like Rainbow, Deep Purple and classical music.
Another member is Jens Johansson, swedish keyboardplayer of the band and long time experienced player in bands like Dio, Ritchie Balckmore and Yngwie Malmsteen. In his own words he describes himself like this: Voted best keyboard player in japan, spain, argentina, finland, italy bla bla bla. A true genius with the looks of a greek God. Kind, fair, wise, and beautiful. Owner of the largest penis this side of the Gulf of Sidra.
The last member joining this interview is German drummer Jörg Michael. He is playing drums for over 22 years now and soon focused on the hardrock and heavy metal genre. Some of the bands he worked with over the years are Mekong Delta, Running Wild, Axel Rudi Pell and of course Stratovarius which he joined in 1995.
STEINBERG: This is the third Stratovarius release in a row that received gold status in Finland. This is not easy to achieve for a metal band these days. Had you ever dreamt of a golden record back in the days when you started playing in bands?
Jörg Michael: Of course I had dreams before I started to play in bands. But more than dreaming about golden records I dreamt about sold out shows because that is what gets you going over all these years. Playing live where you get direct reaction and spontaneous response I like the most being a musician. Beside that: When you decide you play Heavy-Metal it's not because of golden records why you do that. It has more in common than that. It has something to do with attitude, rebellion maybe, definitely able to do what you wanna do. Only a very selective small scene supported this kind of music at the time I started, so if you going for golden records you are better off trying mindless music like Modern Talking or else.
I didn´t dream of anything like that. Playing guitar was a necessity for me, sort of survival method.
Suddenly there was some kind of meaning to my life ; guitar and music!
I still don´t dream of gold records, I dream of perfect record which in my opinion cannot be done, but it´s good to dream about that anyway.
STEINBERG: Jörg, what was your motivation to join Stratovarius?
JM: The music I guess. I found it pretty excotic getting a call from a guy in Finland asking me if I want to be a permanent member in his band. I asked him to send me the new material and it actually blew me away. He send me the demos of the "Episode" album and it was fantstic already.
The reason that we are still working in the same line up now is the fact the we became friends on top of that we have great understanding for each other. Out of my experiences I can say that´s very rare in the buiseness. Just call it a real band.
STEINBERG: Are you planning to continue playing for Axel Rudi Pell and Running Wild since Stratovarius are more and more turning out to be a major act themselves?
JM: That´s correct. It´s very hard to have time enough now to satisfy the other band with a professional performance because everything is focused on Stratovarius. It was great playing in these bands at the same time but I think it is better for everybody not to do so anymore. On top of that Timo Tolkki really didn´t want to answer interview questions like: „It´s Jörg really in your band and is he playing the next tour as well with you?“ anymore. So he told me he would like to see me exclusively in the band or he is looking for another drummer. I didn´t need to think twice about that!
STEINBERG: Stratovarius are a multinational band. Joerg lives in Germany, the keyboader Jens Johansson lives in Sweden, the other guys are from Finland.
So how do you rehearse and compose? Do you have your own studio for preparations?
JM: We hardly rehearse much. For the last album we rented a house near Helsinki were we practised a bit, basicaly we threw some different arrangements around (and went to Sauna every day) for 4 weeks. We did that because we had fun together not because rehearsing the songs really. Other albums we just met in the studio and worked there, e.g. with the "Destiny" - Album because Tolkki wanted to have recorded on tape what the other musicians play the first time when they listening to the songs. Before we go on the road we rehearse a couple of days and most of the times we do that in Helsinki as well where we ask friends who have a studio or else.
But of course everybody is very well prepared when we meet. I normally start to practise old Strato-Songs in my rehearsal studio 1 or 2 weeks before we get together. Jens and Tolkki are genius anyway and Jari and TK playing every day anyway, so there is no problem.
STEINBERG: What was the initial reason for your decision to work with audiosoftware instead of only using "real hardware" ?
TT: It´s quicker.
I like recording the vocals and I don´t have to rewind. It offers more choices and possibilities to work the sound directly.
Jens Johansson: For me, forst of all, it's the possibility of integration of MIDI and audio data. As far as the audio bit, I like it because of the ease of use of effects. But more importantly, if you're recording audio this way, you then have a very easy, quick, transparent and natural way to
choose between takes or even splice them.
This is true whether you're dealing with audio or MIDI data in Cubase, actually. This is possible with hardware-based audio recording systems
too, but then you lose a lot of control and transparency. And every
operation takes a lot longer from thought to completion, making you less
likely to experiment and try out different things. You also lose the
overview within the song structure. Overarching structure is a very
important thing when you're making decisions concerning music you want
people to understand!
STEINBERG: So how do you compose new material? It sounds like you utilize Cubase VST a lot for these initial demos.
TT:I compose new songs with guitar and keyboards and then make a demotape with drum machine.
I record drums and keyboard parts to Cubase and then make a very rough sounding demotape for the band to rehearse the rough forms of the songs.
JJ: I must admit that I composed my stuff using Cubase Audio XT, because I did it on my laptop and it's a bit too feeble to run VST. (VST is a lot
stabler under WIn-98, but there's some problem with the driver for the built-in sound chip, I think.) But since I am the keyboard player it's
perfectly OK for me to write only using MIDI sequencing.
STEINBERG: To what extend can recordings done with Cubase VST be found on the final Stratovarius release?
TT: We have used that a lot. Jens Johansson records his keyboards into his Cubase.
JJ: In my case you can perhaps say there's more of CAXT on the songs,
because I also did a lot of the final stuff as MIDI on that same laptop
in a Helsinki hotel. Then we just transfered the stuff into the other computer. Basically only the solos were done "audio" as opposed to "midi".
STEINBERG: Could both of you give us a brief insight on your studio setup? What kind of hardware do both of you use?
TT: Now I am using Nuendo with 2x 8 I/O A/D,D/A converter, 96/52 audio card, Timelock Pro and Midex 8 midi interface.
I record drums with Nuendo or with Tascam DA 98/38 setup and then transfer them to analog 2” tape.
I like the sound of analog on drums, but I prefer recording it digitally.
Also for bass and heavy guitars and I prefer using analog, although I might record it with Nuendo to edit it digitally.
Everything else I record digitally. I use Behringer, Avalon and Presonus mic preamps to record the sound and I am just monitoring through a Behringer desk.
JJ: There's a copy of VST installated in every place where I need to work. Timo T has a copy on all his machines, Finnvox has a copy (Mac version),
and we have a copy on the Pentium 600 that's in the control room at the Heptagon studio ("der Bunker").
I also have a laptop -- An IBM Thinkpad with a Pentium MMX/300 and a USB MIDI interface. This is what I do a lot of work on when I travel --using CAXT as mentioned before.
STEINBERG: For how long have you been using Steinberg products?
TT: I have been using Cubase for about more than 8 years I think.
JJ: Since 1988, that is, about 13 years. That's a pretty impressively long
time in the computer world! How many people are using Wordstar or Lotus
STEINBERG: On which platform did you start (Mac, PC or Atari?)
TT: I started with Atari and those have given me lot of grey hairs because they are veru unreliable. I am very happy with my setup now!
JJ: I started on the Atari (ST). I actually even had a copy of Steinberg Pro-24, but quickly decided to get Cubase. I believe it was version 1.5 on the Atari at the time.
STEINBERG: In which ways do our products offer you new ways for being creative?
TT: In many ways, but one thing is that they are easy to use but still offer lots of possibilities. When I create, I don´t want to think about technology too much.
JJ: For me the "old things" about Cubase are what offers new ways! It gives you a very transparent way to think about music, and to make changes, to explore "what-if scenarious" very quickly. Of course all the "new" features are amazing but it's still the tried-and-true user interface (the track/part/editor paradigm) that makes it a very valuable tool for me.
Somehow, my feelings are like this: The fact that my old MIDI sequencing program now includes a digital multitrack audio recorder, a whole storage room of synths, a hammond B-3, a digital mixing desk and a rack full of outboard gear is more of a fringe benefit for me. (It does help saving on shipping costs a bit, though!)
I guess as a Cubase user since 1989 I have earned the right to sound like an old fart in this regard. "When I was your age, sonny, we soldered a serial to-MIDI plug to get 16 more MIDI channels out of the Atari..." :)
STEINBERG: Do you make use of any VST Instruments for preproduction?
JJ: I don't know so much about this and I must admit I haven't gotten past
the experimenting stage as far as virtual instruments. I have enough
physical instruments, I suppose you sort of get used to their quirks!
Besides, cargo companies have to make a little bit of money as well!?
STEINBERG: Cubase VST 5.0 Inwire offers the possibility to take part in sessions with musician from all over the world.
Have you ever thought of using the Inwire technology for Stratovarius?
TT: We have used this technology by incorporating keyboard files recorded in New York to Helsinki Finland to our mixing studio.
It worked beautifully and actually saved the session.
JJ: what the fuck is "Inwire"? :) The latest copy I got was VST 3.7 I think. Seems I need an upgrade disk
and a new key!!! :) I hope VST 6.0 comes with some sort of hologram support so I can lie in
my bed and wank while we go on tour.. that would be nice..
STEINBERG: Are there any things you’d like to see being improved in Cubase VST in the future?
TT: Actually when I try to think of that, nothing comes to my mind.
JJ: I wouldn't mind seeing a Unix version, or (if I'm allowed to dream)
an open source Unix version of just a MIDI sequencing Cubase. But until
that happens I'm quite satisfied with what there is.
STEINBERG: The Virtual Studio - can you imagine producing a complete record on a computer or is it rather a really useful addtion to an analog studio?
TT: It depends of the project and the music;I like the best of both worlds but I could do it completely on digital.
JJ: I can imagine it being quite useful, but for the style of music that we do
I imagine analog stuff (effects and instruments) will be along for a
STEINBERG: I've heard that Stratovarius intends to take at least two years off. Are there any new projects you’d like to start during that time or any musicians you’d like to work with?
JM: It's right, we are taking a short break right now. Our Infinite World Tour ended on DEC 18, 2000 in Athens. We will release a b-side, bonus track, cover song album May 28, 2001 called "Intermission" with 4 new songs and we are planning to play a very selective choice of festivals this year. The next Stratovarius Album probably comes early 2003.
Here and there we are involved in different project like Jens or me but basically we take the time off to get a fresh breeze and organize certain things for the bands better like the home page where we didn´t had the time anymore. My dream would be to play one show with Ozzy Ozbourne one day. But I won´t be that disapointed when it stays a dream!
TT: I am recording my solo album to be released in Jan 2002.
In this project I am heavily utilizing Nuendo!
Reproduced with permission.