Finland, together with its Nordic neighbors, is quite known worldwide to be the cornucopia of various metal bands. However, not many know that the local scene has much more to offer than the metal genre. Not everything that is made in Finland has to roar and shred. The finest example of Finnish easy-listening rock music is Poets of the Fall. These guys have been around for a while – for 7 years to be more precise – and have gained a loyal fanbase in their home country as well as in Russia and Germany. They have four studio albums in their collection and their latest record, Twilight Theater, was released in Finland in March 2010 and went gold during the first week. Despite this recognition, the critics were still divided in their opinions. It is definitely not the best album by Poets of the Fall. It has the band’s quality trademark, yet it somehow lacks the peculiar aftertaste you can get after listening to their previous works. Just as before, the lyrics were written by the vocalist Marko Saaresto, while music was done by the keyboardist Markus Kaarlonen and the guitarist Olli Tukiainen. Like all the previous albums, Twilight Theater was released via the band’s own label, Insomniac.
We met the band’s mastermind, Marko Saaresto, for a nice chat about the new album, about how to handle criticism, and the deplorable state of music industry these days. Most importantly, he lifted the curtain over the band’s name – it turns out their “poetry” is not exactly about the fourth season of the year.
You’ve released a new album recently. How would you describe Twilight Theater to a person who has never heard it, or Poets of the Fall for that matter?
The album itself talks about the occurrences you see in everyday life and in the world. The world is kind of like a “dog-eats-dog” world and that’s what it talks about. It talks about saving face, it talks about how things are not necessarily the way they are seen, it urges you to look closer and not take [their] word for it. Don’t believe everything they say, find out for yourself. Those are the general ideas. It talks about the idea of “hamartia,” which is basically from Aristotle’s Poetics. It is a mistake that is based on ignorance, a fatal mistake that you make, because you don’t know any better. And that’s what “hamartia” is. It’s a very old concept of how to build stories.
For instance, there is a very good story of a poor man who had a very good hunting falcon, and the falcon was actually so good that the king heard about it. The king sent a messenger to the man saying that he is going to come for a visit very soon. But the messenger didn’t tell the man that the king is coming to see the falcon, because the falcon is so famous. So the poor man said, “Oh god, the king is coming and I have nothing to offer him.” So at last he decided that at least he can cook his falcon and offer a good meal to the king. “Even though my home is very humble and there is nothing here for him.” And that’s what he did. When the king came along, the man has killed the falcon to serve his dinner. So that’s what “hamartia” is all about. This is what Twilight Theater speaks about.
Musically, Twilight Theater is a very melodic, it has some hard sounds along the way, but also very soft, very intimate, very mellow. We like contrasts, so we like to do very big things sound-wise. So it really gives you a good idea of what Poets of the Fall is all about. Of course it’s the latest album, so it sort of sets the bar to what we are at the moment.
Where did the name for the album come from?
That was something that I dreamed up. When I write the lyrics, I think about the concept, so it’s all me.
The new album is topping the charts now, but there were also quite rather negative comments on the internet. So how do you deal with negative criticism?
Whenever you do something, there are always going to be people who like it and who don’t like it. It’s the natural order of things and you can’t change it. This is one of the first things that you have to come to terms with when you start to have any career that has something to do with art. Because art is something that someone is always gonna like or not, or criticize or lift onto a platform. It’s one of those things that you can’t really pay much attention to. You just do what you do, you do your best at it, and hope the people, who are your audience, will like it and think highly of it and get something out of it. One of the best rewards is when people come to you, when you’re out touring. You go around the world, you go to some place and meet your fans, and they tell you what a good impact your music has made on their lives. In Russia, one guy came to me in St. Petersburg and said, “Your music literally saved my life.” It stops you in your tracks and makes you think, “Maybe I haven’t done everything wrong.”
You have made a new video for “Dreaming Wide Awake.” Why didn’t you continue working with Stobe Harju?
People have a lot of different commitments that they have to do at a given time. So at the moment, he just didn’t have the time because he’s got other commitments. Basically that’s one of the main reasons. We have our schedule, he’s got his own, and trying to fit those together is usually a very complex and a long-term thing and sometimes it just doesn’t work out.
If you put all the Poets of the Fall videos together, you can really see which videos were made by him and which were not, even without knowing it precisely.
Yeah, we have worked with, I think, four different people on eight videos and everybody has their own distinct style. He has one that we like very much. We’ve done three videos with him so far and I wish we could do more, but we’ll see.
You travel around the world a lot and see a lot of things. Can you remember anything that has absolutely astonished you? Like something totally out of this world that you have seen somewhere?
Yeah, for instance going to India when you don’t go to any of the tourist areas. And you get to see everything that there is. It’s an out of this world experience. First it’s a cultural shock and then it’s a wonderful thing to be able to open your eyes and see what there is and I think that has also contributed to the Twilight Theater idea, how things aren’t always the way they say things are. It’s like on one side of the street there are people who have nothing and on the other side of the street there are people who have millions and millions of dollars and build skyscrapers. It kinda makes you wonder where is the balance here and it gets you thinking if this is right. There are so many stories from India that I could tell and it would take hours and hours.
You have your own record label and it’s good to be your own boss in a way, but don’t you feel like you’re missing out on bigger opportunities since you’re not signed to a major label?
Sometimes. The way that things are in the world right now, we’re pretty happy with what we’re doing, because even bigger labels are pretty hard pressed with the “to do it” thing. They may take someone like Lady Gaga and put money into that, but if you’re not Lady Gaga, you won’t get anything from them. In those terms, we’re in good hands just doings things the way we are. But yeah, sometimes you get the feeling that it would be easier if there was a bigger label with all the needed connections. It’s already there and you don’t have to outsource new people and new opportunities all the time. Because that’s what we do and it’s a full day’s work and plus you have to go and tour, write your music, and produce it. It would be a lot less work for us if we had someone else to take care of all that stuff.
Illegal downloading having a big effect on the music industry these days. However, there are bands that even encourage this as long as they get more listeners. What do you think about it?
In our case, we put out single songs sometimes, or single releases. For example, right after the Signs of Life album, we’ve put out an online one song called “Maybe Tomorrow is a Better Day,” which was a free gift to everyone. So when it comes to marketing, I have this one single and I am putting out and everyone can just go on our website or our YouTube channel, whatever, and check out the video or listen to the song, that’s fine. But we also like to sell the other songs, because that’s the way we make our living. And if nobody buys that, what it comes down to is that we can’t make a living, thus we can’t make any more music. Even if we could scrape by, what it means is that nobody in any other country, like the club owners, wouldn’t know how successful you are because the records don’t sell. They won’t ask you to come and play. There will be no money to go away from Finland, to play in any other countries. A lot of fans ask us to come over there and there, from all over the world. It’s not fun to always tell them that it pretty much boils down to the fact that nobody there has bought the album, everybody has downloaded it illegally. We really like it that you like the music and that you would like us to come and play. But no one there, who is a decision-maker… nobody knows about us because nobody there buys the album. And thus we don’t have the venue to come and play and we don’t have the money to come. So yeah, it works against us and it’s a sad thing. If you think about Spotify or other places like that, even our own website, we have samples and whole songs, but not everything is on the internet, because we also need to sell. I think it’s ok to listen to the stuff that we’ve put out there ourselves, but when it comes to the rest, it would be nice if you bought it from some place.
Has fame changed you or your life style in any way?
Yes. I did get recognized even outside of Finland, which is sometimes weird. I’d go, for instance, to Spain and people would ask me for an autograph there. How did they even know who I am? But it has taught me a lot, especially at first when the first album came out. You have to come to terms with the fact that people are going to recognize you. And maybe for a little while you’re kind of proud of it, that this is something you’ve achieved. But after a while it can get tiring when too many people suddenly recognize you and you can’t give your phone number or your address to the places where you do whatever kind of business. Everything has to go through a middle person so that nobody can get your information. We’ve had a lot of people who for odd reasons want to break into your home and stuff like that.
Has this actually happened?
Yeah. Most people, like 99% of them are really cool and very nice and I welcome them if they come to me on the street and ask for an autograph, that’s just fine, it doesn’t happen that much. But then there are people who are manically crazy, who try to find out where you live and then they want to sort of live with you. And that’s just not gonna happen [laughs].
There have been many discussions about this on the internet, so it seemed prudent to finally clear the air: Poets of the Fall… does “fall” stand for the season as in “autumn” or the actual process of falling?
This is actually the 8th year that we’ve been in this business with this name and now people start to realize the whole thing about Poets of the Fall name. The name is actually Poets of the Fall – “the fall” as in the biblical term, when Adam and Eve in the paradise took a bite of the apple – that was “the fall.” The way I perceive the name is like we’re the architects of our own demise, the script-writers of destruction, whatever metaphor you want to use here. But also, if it was fall as in autumn, it would be Poets of Fall, without “the.” Unless you think it’s like “the fall of this year.” Then it would be Poets of the Fall, like this fall right there, that specific fall. So we’re not Poets of Fall, we’re Poets of the Fall; that means we’re falling.
If you were a superhero, what kind of superpowers would you want to have?
I would be able to fly, I would be able to heal anything, I would be able to walk through the walls, in other terms become ethereal, I would be able to read minds, and I think being ethereal has also invisibility in it.
If you could speak to any person who has lived in any period of time, who would it be?
In any period of time? I’ll give you a couple of examples. I could probably talk to Buddha and see what he’s all about for real and then I could talk to Alexander the Great and see if he was really a superhero-type or just a crazy person, like a despot. I would also like to talk at length to people like Dalai Lama or Bono today. It would be interesting to hear about their experiences and the ways they have dealt with some things.
What is your main weakness?
That’s a good question. It’s actually something that every now and then and right now I am trying to find out. If I could do something differently or focus on something that is maybe pushing me off course. It’s in my nature that I get interested in something for 2 minutes, 2 hours, or 2 years, and then I lose all interest. And I have to rekindle that interest, find it again. This is probably one of my biggest weaknesses – my lack of concentration sometimes.
Is there anything that you would never be able to forgive another person for?
Probably, something like violence.
Violence towards you or towards someone else?
I’d probably find it easier to forgive violence towards myself than towards someone who is very important to me.
If you could name one song that could be your life anthem or portray your view on life, what song would that be? It doesn’t necessarily have to be one of your own.
So like any song? There are so many. One of our songs called “Shallow,” that pretty much describes at least a part of me. It gives you the idea, like the chorus says “Glad the waters are so shallow, when the river runs so cold.” That’s something that I wanted to write in a cryptic way, that you have to think what it means. Another song, “Roses,” is also kind of autobiographical. But if you read any of my lyrics, you would need me to be there and tell you what I meant so that you could understand where I come from. Otherwise it’s just you reading the lyrics and finding out where you come from.
Your music has helped to mend many a broken heart. What would be your advice to a heartbroken person?
I believe in the fact that time heals. Try to look outside of yourself. In a situation where you’ve been heartbroken, it’s really difficult to take a step back and look at yourself from the outside. Just relax, take a deep breath, and let the time pass. Don’t dwell on it, don’t think about it, just let things go. And after a year or two you may start to come to terms with that, whatever has happened. But it takes time, so you have to have that patience. Let it go, concentrate on something different ,and after a while you’ll start to see the light.
Text: Tanja Caciur | Photos: by Jana Blomqvist | Ed: Amy Wiseman