New Day Rocks – Mikko Von Hertzen of Von Hertzen Brothers


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On their latest trip to the UK, Ghost Cult caught up with Mikko Von Hertzen of the Von Hertzen Brothers where, over very strong espressos to nurse away hangovers, we talked about touring, more touring and, surprisingly, the joys of cricket….

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2015 may be entering its final quarter but for the Von Hertzen Brothers, they can already look back on the last nine months with a combination of pride, satisfaction and, dare we say it, contentment. A universally acclaimed album, tours that seemed to get bigger and bigger and a series of summer festival appearances that cemented their burgeoing popularity… 2015 seems to have been a good year for the Finns.

The last time we spoke, New Day Rising (Spinefarm) was about to drop. This is now your third time back in the UK this year. How have the past few months been?]
“(laughing) You know… festivals are really the cream on top of the cake. It’s a totally different experience playing at a festival compared to a club where I can see the faces of the crowd. For me, it’s all about the interaction with the fans – whether the music is making them happy, whether they think you are doing something cool and they get caught up in the vibe of it all. At a festival it’s bang! 15 minute turnaround and bang! 20 minute set and bang! you’re outta there! In those 20 minutes you have to come out, perform and hope you connect with people.”

“At Download, we had no idea at the time if it was going well or not – about 95% of the people who came to see us were new to the band and the stage was so far away from the crowd that it was hard to tell if it was working or not. But, it seems like it had an effect in a good way because our agent told us that at that time of the morning we had 16,000 watching us and the reviews have been very kind so it must have had some effect.’

“If I am being honest though, I am a fan of the smaller more intimate gigs.”

How do you compare that set with the smaller, acoustic one you also played that weekend? Some friends of ours said that they thought you were the highlight of the weekend…

“Oh man, that was an unreal moment. We could see Faith No More in their white suits playing at the same time that we were about to walk on stage and they start playing Epic and we go “Fuck! How do we compete with THAT?!” But that’s good because it’s a challenge and we like a challenge. It was not unlike the time when we toured in Sweden with Opeth and they wanted to do a stripped down version of their show and they asked us to do the same and it was really cool.”

“That acoustic approach is also good for testing the strength of your songs; to see whether they really are as good as you hope they are.”

“You know, looking back on our summer, those Download shows really were a moment for us. At the time, the mayhem, the rain, the quick turnarounds, you don’t appreciate how important it was at the time but looking back it was really important for us.”

So, you’ve book-ended a couple of live dates around your appearance at the Prog Magazine Awards…

“Yeah, we thought we would tag a couple of shows around those as we were already flying everyone over and it was a great decision because it’s good to follow up what we did earlier in the year and say thank you to those people who have been supporting us. The ticket sales have been really good and I feel that every time we come here it feels like it is building and really going somewhere like a step by step progression; people are talking, the band are getting better known and it just feels….right.”

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Going off subject for a minute, we read an article about you from back in 2006 that said your favourite sport was cricket, a very English game and not one we would normally associate with the Finnish people. How did that come about?

“Yes, it’s true! I lived in India for seven years and every one of my friends there was crazy about cricket. At first I didn’t get it at all: a bunch of people standing around for hours with nothing happening but once you start to get the rules and what everyone is doing you get into it; I love it. When we were recently on tour there I was “ I should really go and see all the important tourist sites” but I ended up staying in my hotel room for hours and hours just catching up with games, wherever and whenever I could find them! So, yes, I’m a fan!”

So what’s next for the Von Hertzen Brothers?

“For me, I’m moving house! I get the house move sorted and then we have a short break and then, come end of October, beginning of November, we start another European tour….”

How do you keep going? What’s the secret to eternally staying motivated and focused on the road?

“You have to believe in yourself and that you have something worthwhile to offer. For me though it is about the fans. The fans are like a family to us. They are long term friends. In order to keep it going we have to come up with something new and fresh and not repeat yourself. That is a big motivator. When you do come up with something, you get a fresh sense of momentum and that keeps you going too.”

“Being on the road means you can meet new people and that is fantastic. It is part of the reason why we keep coming back to the UK. This is where it all really began for us outside of Finland; not just for our band but in terms of the style of music that we love and the bands that we love. The UK is where we belong musically, this is our spiritual home.”

And with a shake of the hand and a draining of the coffee, we are done.

WORDS BY MAT DAVIES

 


Dawn of a New Day (Part II) – Mikko von Hertzen of Von Hertzen Brothers


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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, ditching b-sides, ambition, being on the road and, of course the new record, New Day Rising (Spinefarm)…

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New Day Rising also marked a change for the band in terms of recording and production duties. The new album was the first that the band had recorded outside of their native Finland, a decision that Markko explains was entirely purposeful:

Well, look, there’s no one who doesn’t know us in Finland. Everyone has an opinion on us. We felt that as a band we needed someone who was new, who would listen but who would challenge us. So we chose Garth (Richardson, producer of Rage Against the Machine, RHCP, Crue and literally 100s of others). He was cool. He looks at music from a very different perspective from us. We look at music as artists and composers. He is more of a consumer of music.

He knows what works and what doesn’t work from the perspective of the listener and that is very valuable for us. He was good in saying “Hey, that vocal isn’t right, that guitar part is too loud, or not loud enough, that section doesn’t work”. We needed that.

 

I wondered how that might work in practice with the brothers all being effective songwriters and all having strong opinions about how the record might work. Mikko explains:

Garth brought discipline for sure but he also was good at distilling the songs to what they really were. He stopped everyone pulling the songs apart! He also ensured everyone had time and space to do their parts without interference so he was an effective manager of that too.

 

New Day Rising is also striking in terms of its brevity-its ten songs come and go in what feels like a heartbeat. Mikko walks me through the editing process:

Doing the record in Vancouver we actually recorded 16 songs, ten of which ended up on the album. To be honest, we felt that some of the songs just were not as good as they could have been, so they got left out. There were times when something didn’t quite click in the recording, or we didn’t feel that the song worked 100% so we decided to have a session – the band, our producer, manager and engineer; 8 people. We and we sat down and decided “Ok, these 10 we will keep.”

We then worked on those songs that were left – I guess you would refer to these as our B-side s- with the record engineering students at the complex where we were laying the album down to give them some first-hand experience of what it’s like to work with a real band.

 

I suggest to Mikko that listening to the album is a bit like listening to a vinyl album where there are two sides with ‘Dreams’ being the “turn the record over” point. He pauses for a brief moment before agreeing

Exactly! That’s how we think! Whether this way of listening to music is so deeply ingrained in us I don’t know, but that’s what we wanted to do. We knew early in that the record was going to be versatile but the sequencing of the album is deliberate in that it takes you on a trip.

So, for example, the placing of ‘Dreams’ is absolutely purposeful. It’s like “Bang!” – onto the next part of the journey. Equally we ditched the idea that the record needed to sound a particular way. Basically if we think a song is good enough it goes in. We don’t care whether it is in keeping with any “theme”. What I mean is, we don’t consciously look to take a song and feel obliged to make it more metal by adding more heavy guitars or more prog by adding additional musical parts to it. the song just needs to be.

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This sense of artistic freedom coupled with a self-belief (but not arrogance) has seen the Von Hertzen Brothers grow their level of support in a very impressive manner but, as Mikko expands, the band remain resolutely ambitious:

Look, in this band there is a lot of talent! he laughs, although you know that there is more than a kernel of truth in this: We knew that if we want to take this band further we have to make a record that is as good as Coldplay or U2 or Foo Fighters. It doesn’t matter what band you choose but, you know, that league. We need to be in that league sonic wise, song-writing wise, the whole thing. All of this has to be as good as the very best.

I’m not sure we are there but we are trying to make that step up. We wanted to do something that would appeal as something fresh, even now at album number six. We have ambition. Not to have wealth or be famous, but musically. We really want to improve and take our listeners by surprise by what we are doing: we want people to say “Wow! This is their best record! each and every time we do something new.

 

It’s evident that for all their experience to date that this remains a band as hungry today as they were on day one; from arguing over the setlists (“choosing for the festivals is going to be a fucking nightmare” apparently), to worrying about whether anyone will turn up to see them on tour, you’re left with one abiding reflection – if there was one band that you would hope would make it into the big time, you could do a lot worse that hope for these guys.

At the heart of this band is a collective joy at making music, a confidence in what they do but a band who have roots and values and principles.

We are Prog says Mikko as we part our ways. Despite how straightforward this new record is, we are still a prog band. That’s never going away.

 

Who says nice guys can’t finish first?

 

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MAT DAVIES


Dawn of a New Day – Mikko von Hertzen of Von Hertzen Brothers


 

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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)…

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“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…

 

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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.

 

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MAT DAVIES


Von Hertzen Brothers Releasing New Day Rising On March 24


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Finnish rockers Von Hertzen Brothers, will release New Day Rising via Spinefarm Records on March 24, 2015.

This time, the brothers -Mikko, Kie & Jonne Von Hertzen-entered the studio, The Farm in Vancouver, with Grammy-nominated Canadian producer Garth “GGGarth” Richardson (Biffy Clyro, Rage Against The Machine, etc.), plus regular drummer Mikko Kaakkuriniemi and keyboard player Juha Kuoppala, and the result is their most ambitious release to date.

VHB frontman Mikko Von Hertzen said,

“Working with GGGarth and Randy felt like we finally got to operate with true maestros-the crème de la crème of Canadian know-how. All bullshit aside, the end result is all that matters, and quite frankly, I’ve never been prouder of anything we’ve done. Together, we raised the bar to a whole new level, and only time will tell if we’ll ever be able to beat that or raise the bar even more. I mean, we are talking some serious Sergey Bubka heights here!”

Mixed by Juno Awards winner Randy Staub (Metallica, Alice In Chains, etc.), New Day Rising blends the key elements of VHB’s music-atmosphere, intelligence, epic feel, progressive leanings-with an even greater focus on melody and hooks. A New Day, indeed.

Track Listing:

01. New Day Rising
02. You Don’t Know My Name
03. Trouble
04. Black Rain
05. Hold Me Up
06. Love Burns
07. Dreams
08. Sunday Child
09. The Destitute
10. Hibernating Heart

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