It’s a pleasant spring evening in one of the up and coming, trendier areas of North London and Ghost Cult is enjoying a coffee and a chinwag with Mikko Von Hertzen of Von Hertzen Brothers. Our discussion takes in musical choices and, of course the new record, New Day Rising (Spinefarm)…
“It’s YOU, isn’t it?” A 30-something woman looks somewhat star struck, gazing at the man stood next to me. “You’re the SINGER aren’t you?” My tall, elegant companion is polite enough to acknowledge that, indeed, he is the singer and it is, after all, him. The singer in question is Mikko Von Hertzen, lead vocalist with Finland’s finest rock band, the Von Hertzen Brothers and this, dear readers, is what being a rock star is all about; meeting and greeting fans and generally being far too cool for school.
Mikko poses for photos, takes hugs that go on ever so slightly too long and then it’s down to the business of meeting the media. Well, in this case, your humble Ghost Cult scribe. It’s a pleasant spring evening in one of the up and coming, trendier areas of North London and we are enjoying a coffee and a chinwag with Mikko, right at the start of the band’s UK tour in support of their latest and, perhaps, greatest record to date – the fresh and spiky New Day Rising (Spinefarm).
The seemingly inexorable rise of the Von Hertzen Brothers from hardworking studio grafters following in their father’s footsteps to feted cult progressives and now into internationally acclaimed rock band looks probably more swanlike to the outsider than the actually reality of matters for the band, but Mikko seems relaxed ahead of this leg of their European tour.
It’s 4 weeks to the day since New Day Rising came out. How have you felt about the reaction to it?
I feel good, man. Although it’s been out for only a month, we had the record ready since mid-November last year so, yeah, this is a case of living in your own shit for quite a while before you can get the record out! When you’re doing international releases like this one you need a long lead time for all the teams to be ready, to do the planning of the release – the marketing and so on.
As artists, of course there were moments when we we’re thinking “Is this too far to the mainstream?” or “Is this too rock or too pop?”, but this last month it’s been very encouraging. Our fans love this record and it’s been pleasing because, in addition to that, we have been able to gain a lot of new territories, new audiences. There are people who are looking at us for the first time, taking an interest in what we are doing, wanting to review the album, interview us for the first time so, yeah, it’s been a good few weeks.
Personally, I was hesitant about the album around Christmas time but now I feel very confident about the album being good, and it’s been fun to work the last month with better crowds than we had for the Nine Lives (also Spinefarm) tour.
If truth be known, everything feels like we are riding a bit of a wave…..
How do you deal with the pressure of having all these expectations on you – the production teams, marketing, management and so on demanding new songs? Does that affect you at all?
It doesn’t affect me that much to be honest. When I am writing songs, I am only thinking about the songs and I don’t really think about whether people are going to like it, but I do put a huge pressure on myself to want to pull something out that is good, to find new ways of doing things, to bring out new ideas for songs. Of course, we then have the discussions about what songs should be the arrowhead for the new record, are we going to go with a rock song, a pop song, a prog song…
Because we do all of that…
Indeed they do. New Day Rising is striking for its diversity of styles yet, running through it all has also been a straightforward approach that has perhaps only been hinted at on previous releases. Our conversation moves on to the band’s musical diversity and its effect on their relationship with their dedicated and knowledgeable fan base. In particular, the UK prog scene has been a particular champion of the band’s work. I wondered whether there was a risk that they might alienate their following and, in effect, inadvertently end up biting the hand that fed them. Mikko is reflective:
I think that we might be going through a cycle, he explains. Let’s look back at where this band has come from. The first album was, if you will, a bud that we…. probably…. took too early: it wasn’t a flower in bloom. It was an idea. It wasn’t a fully formed idea but we just went with it, you know? The second and third records were the Prog records where we nailed it but, and I have said this before, I don’t just want to do an another Approach (Dynasty).
We want to find something new, do something different. The reality is we like different types of music. We’re not just prog heads who like just Dream Theater and Pink Floyd. We love Abba. We love Dire Straits.
This love of different things was ingrained in us from a very early age from the stuff that was played in the family home. In some ways, the new stuff is often a reaction to the older stuff so this album especially we have reached the point where we have become the most straightforward as we are likely to.
It’s all about simple structures, simple rock songs or pop songs. It might be that the reaction to that will be an out and out prog record!
His smile is genuine and genuinely mischievous as he says it.