INTERVIEW: BROTHER FIRETRIBE – Pekka Heino; Sanomatalo, Helsinki 2020

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With the release of Brother Firetribe‘s fourth studio album, Feel the Burn, coming up on September 18th, 2020, it occurred to us that we’ve never sat down and talked with the band about their music. On September 8th, 2020, we remedied this by meeting up with vocalist Pekka Heino at Sanomatalo in Helsinki, where we discussed their sound, as well as many of the songs on the upcoming album.

 

First of all, how are you?
Pekka: Thank you, not too bad. It’s raining outside but I’m feeling warm and fuzzy inside [laughs].

Awesome! Now, you have your upcoming album set for release quite soon, so when did you start writing it? Did things begin before shit hit the fan, so to speak?
Yeah, we did. I don’t know if you’re familiar with how fast or slow we do stuff, but we started writing… I think the first songs we came up with were pretty soon after we finished touring Sunbound, the previous album. We thought, shit, we’re on a roll, this is a new beginning. Then we did those two songs and things slowed down and we fell back into the old routine of Brother Firetribe where nothing happens. That must’ve been around 2018 and I think we finished in May of this year, something like that.

Did the lockdown have a big effect on this album?
Not a very big one, but yeah. We got unlucky and lucky. How the story goes is that we were supposed to go do a European tour starting in March and our friends from One Desire were there, and another band from Sweden, The Night Flight Orchestra, and we had to bail out from that tour right at the last second because of the financial situation. We’re really sorry about that, obviously, but the guys took off, those two bands, and it didn’t end up well because they had to cancel the whole thing after three concerts and they came back home from the trip and everybody had caught the virus. It just so happens that the guitarist from One Desire, Jimmy Westerlund, who produced our album. He got really sick, so the whole process of making our record got delayed because he couldn’t get up from bed for a month or something. So it affected us and of course we had to postpone the release, but that’s about it.

At least most of the writing and everything was done, you were able to get together to record?
Yeah and it was great just to have, during this weird time… because obviously we’re unemployed, so it was great to have some kind of focus, making a record, to put all your thoughts and energy into that instead of being home and staring at the four walls. That was cool.

Going back in time just a little bit, what was it that drew you to adult-oriented rock?
It wasn’t like we chose anything, it’s just the kind of stuff that comes out naturally. I grew up with that stuff, listening to that kind of music. The way I sing will always show up like that, no matter if I join a black metal or death metal band, I’d still be singing the way I do. That’s the lines of melody that I understand and that’s how the songs will always be. It’s the background. It always comes down to what you grew up with and it’ll always show.

You were singing in Leverage for a while. I’ve never heard the story of why you left, so did it have anything to do with the heavy metal genre or was it something else?
Not really. We did three great albums with that band and those guys and I love those guys, they’re the greatest people. But after the last album we did, Circus Colossus, in 2009 or 2010, something like that, we really worked our asses off making that record and realized that the record company kind of killed it, so it was a big downer for us and we didn’t break up but we hopped onto this undetermined hiatus. Being inactive. Then it came time to… my good friend, my big brother from another mother, Tuomas Heikkinen, the guitarist from Leverage, had started warming up the idea of making something with Leverage again. My mindset and everything had drifted so far away from the heavy metal thing that I didn’t feel comfortable with it. The other end of the spectrum was that he was really into making some angry metal stuff. We didn’t want to make any compromises, so we settled on them going on and me not being a part of it. I’m still making music with him all the time, so it’s not a problem.

Speaking of line-up changes, I also heard that Emppu [Vuorinen] has left Brother Firetribe. Was that due to Nightwish responsibilities?
Yeah, sure. We had to sit down and, when we started making the album, we started recording, Emppu was still very much a part of the band and he plays on some tracks on the album, but after those songs were recorded, we had to sit down and talk about the tour and it became painfully apparent that he’s going to be doing so much stuff that Brother Firetribe couldn’t have done anything for at least 4-5 years.

You’d need a guest guitarist to fill in?
Or Emppu would’ve been constantly on the road, which is not fair for everybody. So we made a decision of going our separate ways, but Emppu is still very much around and there’s no bad blood at all. It was just a fair thing for everyone.

A practicality?
Exactly.

How did you find his replacement, Roope Riihijärvi?
I knew him from doing this for a living, playing the same kind of freelancer circuit, cruise boats and private parties and company parties and stuff like that, so I’ve known the guy from those circuits. I’ve played with him on numerous occasions and I knew his style, I knew his ability as a player, and I knew his sound, and I knew that he’s a great hang. After we had the meeting with Emppu and decided to go our separate ways, it didn’t take me too long to call him up and that phone call took about 30 seconds and he was in the band.

Incredible. Talking about the new album, I’m fairly new to your sound. What sort of things do you tend to sing about?
Oh it’s mostly about the constant battle between a man and a woman, the traditional thing [laughs]. What else?

Personal experiences, that sort of thing?
Of course. I mean, I’m fucking 44 years old. If I didn’t have any of my own experiences, I’d be dead probably, but in this line of work that I do, I get to meet a lot of people and I hear a lot of stories and you mix them up. You get some fiction, you get some facts. It’s epic, writing about stuff between a man and a woman.

There’s always drama to be found.
Forever. It’s not going to end.

The first song that I wanted to ask about is “Arianne.” I’m always interested in how named songs get their names, so why that name?
I have no idea. It sounds exotic and I came up with that chorus and I had that rhythm. Before I started scribbling down the lyrics, I had that rhythm [hums the melody], sounds like it has to be a traditional “girl’s name” [type of song]. I don’t know where I got Arianne.

Is she based off any real person, or is it a mix of experiences?
Ehhh, why not, why not? What else? There’s a line that says, “how you swayed on the hot desert sand,” I don’t think that has ever happened [laughter]. Don’t tell anyone.

It just sounds good.
[laughter] Yeah.

You also have “Chariot of Fire.” I love the reference to A Streetcar Named Desire. Was there a specific link there?
Oh, you caught that! Yeah, I once again had the chorus and for some reason I just started chanting “chariot of fire” and I’m all too familiar with the Vangelis song and the movie, so I thought I had to replace that. But the more I thought about it, I’m not going to change it, it’s way too cool. Light that chariot on fire! So I wanted to add a pair for that, so I started thinking about that old movie, A Streetcar Named Desire, which is mentioned in a KISS song, so it was obvious. I think the chorus turned out really cool.

I’m also curious about the ballad, because ballads generally run a fine line between cheesy or not, and I was very impressed that this wasn’t particularly cheesy. 
That’s why we put it there.

How do you find that fine line between sounding like every other ballad and finding something unique?
I know exactly what you’re talking about and we’ve been really cautious about putting a traditional ballad on the album. We’ve done that once, on accident basically [laughs], and I still kind of cringe when I hear it, but let’s not talk about that. In the case of this song, I had an idea for some good moments and then Jimmy, our producer, came up with the great idea to change the mood into something that’s not sappy or too syrupy. I’m proud of that song. But you know, if you make a bad power ballad, there’s nothing bad in the whole world. It’s just fucking terrible [laughter].

Especially romantic ballads. You can only rhyme “life” with so many words and “knife” is pretty dark.
[laughter] You can always mix them up. “I stuck a knife to my wife.”

And ended her life.
[laughter] Yes, that’s the next ballad we’re going to put out.

The last song I had a question about was “Rock in the City,” largely because I know there’s a festival in Finland also called Rock in the City. I was curious if there was any link there or if it was a coincidence.
Those guys asked us to make a theme song for them. They requested a traditional kind of Brother Firetribe song and it just so happened that the song was called “Rock in the City.” Genius. The song itself turned out so good that we didn’t want to waste it, so we wanted to make it a Brother Firetribe song and put it on the album. That’s the story behind it.

Do you guys have any gigs coming up yet?
Of course not! [laughter]

Streams, perhaps?
Nothing. We talked about a live stream, just to celebrate the release of the album, but I have mixed feelings about the whole streaming thing. It’s not too much fun to perform the entire set for a camera. It doesn’t make sense to me. If you want to do it properly, it takes a shitload of money, so I think we’ll have to wait and do it properly when the time allows us to do it, just to get in as many people as we can.

Fair enough. That’s it for my questions. Any last words to comment on?
I’m done. [laughter] No, just everybody hang in there and be patient and keep your hopes and trusts in a better tomorrow, and while you’re at it, grab a copy of Feel the Burn and I hope it makes you feel good.

Amazing. Thank you so much for your time!
Anytime!

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