Timo Tolkki, one of the most respected guitarists of the world, gave me this exclusive interview by Skype in 2009, talking about his project Revolution Renaissance , the former band Stratovarius, the music market, personal feelings and much more.
Maila: Revolution Renaissance has released a CD this year and since then we´ve been waiting for a tour. Why hasn´t it happened yet?
Timo: This is a good question. Actually our agents have tried to do it but somehow it´s been very difficult. They tried to book a tour for us even in South America but it didn´t happen actually. But anyway many things happened this year and we even had a line-up change. We changed the bass player and the keyboard player so the plans are to work on new material, record a new album maybe.
Maila: I´ve heard about the line-up change. But do you already have new bass and keyboard players on the band?
Timo: A new bass player I do.
Maila: And who is he?
Timo: Well, I cannot tell you at the moment but I can say that he is a very famous person in the music scene. Anyway very soon everybody will know who he is. But if you are really curious you can try to call our agent and ask him, maybe he will tell you! (laughs)
Maila: No, I´d rather be surprised. Actually I like very much the feeling of being curious about something and then being surprised. It´s exciting.
Timo: Yes. And I think you will be surprised ´cause everybody knows him.
Maila: Since we´re talking about line-up, could you tell us how is it to work with musicians from different nationalities as you´ve doing with RR?
Timo: Well, I don´t actually think there are differences because of the musician´s nationality. Who ´s into music usually deals with it very well and for me it really doesn´t matter where the person comes from.
Maila: You have two Brazilians in the band. How has it been working with them?
Timo: Actually I don´t think Gus and Bruno are typical Brazilians...
Maila: Why not? What makes them different from the usual Brazilians?
Timo: Well, their aftershave sucks! (laughs). Just kidding. They are actually calmer than the usual Brazilians. Well, except Bruno, who is insane but in a good way. He is also a genius. I wasn´t really expecting anything like that when he joined the band. It was a great and big surprise to me.
Maila: And how did it happen? How did you end up choosing two Brazilians to join the band?
Timo: Well, I put an ad searching for musicians and got almost 2 thousand applications. When I saw those my first thought was: God, what am I gonna do now? It was a real hard work to listen to all of them. After analyzing them all I kept a hundred or something and they were in this set. Looking for a singer, which is the most important thing in the band, I wanted someone with a rougher voice, someone like Kiske and Gus has just this kind of voice, and at the same time he can do very soft vocals too. So I chose him.
You know, I am very picky on vocals. Not in an authoritarian way but in the emotional thing. I believe there must be a lot of emotion in the way a singer sings a song. There must be emotional exchange when interpreting a song and this is something that really matters to me.
Maila: You left Stratovarius and decided to restart everything; a new band, completely different people, it might represent a lot of change in your life. What kind of click you had in mind that made you take this decision?
Timo: It wasn´t really a click to me and I don´t feel as if I had changed everything in my life. I am actually the same guy, nothing changed in me. That was a very sick band and I just had to get out of there. This is what happened. I thought that wasn´t a place for me to stay and I don´t think it was a big change in my life. I left something that wasn´t good for me and went on making my music with different people. I know press and people say a lot of things but you shouldn´t believe in everything you read.
Maila: You bet. Press likes to create the wrong image of famous people. Things are usually over said and the real feeling doesn´t usually matters to them. They go on with the thought that it´s better to say something bad than something nice about a famous person.
Timo: Well, some people have the wrong idea about me. I´m not the same guy the press shows. People usually project things on famous people. They create an image which is not the real person and sell it. I´m a person who speaks with my feelings, I like to exchange feelings and of course sometimes I get pissed off. But I believe if you speak with your heart this is what matters but I know some people say I´m an asshole.
Maila: It´s just a matter of analyzing what you read. I´ve heard things said by others but I´ve never read asshole stuff really said by you. I mean, they say you did it but your words are not there. Whenever I read something you write, like the message you wrote to the fans on your website when you left Stratovarius, I always think those words come from a very sensitive person, not an asshole at all. The same happens if we just listen to your songs paying attention to them. Of course those lyrics and melodies come from a sensitive person. It´s clear!
Timo: Well, I think it should happen when they listen to my songs. How could "Celestial Dream" be written by an asshole? But you know, I´m a very spiritual person and I believe when you walk on the spiritual path you have to battle evil for the rest of your life. I sometimes feel like starting a fight depending on the situation but most of times I prefer to let it go. I know that always many things will happen and I will know how to learn with them. Day by day we have to try to stay calm when everybody freaks out around you. Sometimes the situation gets really unfair and I lose my temper but I try to be kind. You have to be kind, you have to set up limits.
Maila: You are right. Well, now talking about projects, you will soon start a series of workshops in South America but they will be very different from the usual guitar clinics, they will be more like seminars. Could you tell us a bit about this project?
Timo: It starts in November. It will start in Colombia in three weeks. I have 8 or 9 seminars booked in South America so far and by the 20th of November I will arrive in Brazil where I have over 20 dates settled!
How the project works is a little difficult to explain but I intend to do it as a real seminar backed to any musician whatever they play or any music related professionals, not only for guitarists. It will be divided in different stages and I don´t intend to do it as a class, especially because I don´t believe music is something anybody can teach. It´s a natural gift people have inside themselves but sometimes they just don´t know it.
The seminars will be about sharing experiences. I will play but it won´t be as a clinic where I should do it as fast as I can. It will be a long section which will take about 3 hours. But of course there will be a local band too and I will play some of my songs with them.
Maila: And do you intend to do it around the world? Can we consider it as a new Timo Tolkki´s project?
Timo: Well, I had this idea 2 years ago and I got an email from Brazil asking if I´d be interested in doing clinics. I said no because they are really boring but I told I would accept to do a seminar where musicians could share experiences, have different explanations about different subjects, get tips about the industry. There are always questions and answers sections. I just hope they don´t ask things like which strings do I use. (laughs). My proposal was accepted and this is what I intend to do.
Maila: Let’s talk about the present music market. What’s your opinion about it? How does the way a musician works must be different nowadays?
Timo: I could say you have to be more creative and really pay attention to what’s going on because the industry is really changing. It´s not gonna take many years until we don´t have physical things as CDs anymore. Everything will be on the net. In Helsinki where I live nowadays we´ve got around 10 CD shops only. We´re living the Mp3 generation and this is what people do more. It´s ok for me. I know people complain about quality but I don´t really care or see things this way.
Maila: And what about downloading? It´s impossible to control it...
Timo: Well, it´s impossible to control anything. I am actually not against downloading in a certain way and I also don´t believe that the majority of people who like your work eventually buy it. Especially before the MP3 when it used to be very expensive to buy CDs. But if I compose a song it´s my song. If someone wants to have that song, to download the song, I can agree or not depending on the attitude. I think it´s wrong to download only because you think it´s right, there must be something else. You must have a real reason, a feeling to do that and not only do it because it´s free. You don´t go to the movies for free, for example...
Maila: I´ve heard you wrote a self-biography. I think this is a very brave attitude. When will it be published?
Timo: Well, it´s finished! I wrote it in English and in this moment it´s being translated into many different languages. I hope it comes out next month but since translations take time I don´t know exactly when it will be done.
Maila: And why did you take this decision?
Timo: Well, it´s a weird story. I had already 4 people trying to do it before but every time it was going on, something happened and it didn´t work, until the day I finally thought I should write it myself. You know, I´m an artist and everything I do in my life is self expression. Everything in my life is very different. I am really blessed by the gift of music and I´ve been using that my whole life. Now that I´m getting older, I feel I have the obligation of sharing experiences. Like I said I´m a very spiritual and philosophical person. I believe there is a path for me. When I wake up in the morning I know exactly that I am where I should be. I believe there is always a reason for everything, for you to be there and to be doing what you are doing.
Maila: Do you follow any religion or this spirituality is just a belief, something you have within you?
Timo: Religion... I think whenever introducing technique or dogmatic beliefs somebody has written, there is no spirituality. So I don´t believe in religion. I believe this is the best way for me. I have studied several religions and they are basically the same. Usually there is a lot of bad energy involved with rules and people like to oppose to things. I´m more for supporting something. If you oppose it´s usually bad. Let’s say that I really think everything you do come back to you.