Pekka Ansio Heino: From Leverage to Brother Firetribe.
2006's Vocalist Of The Year talks about those two debut albums and funnily enough - those 2 brand new ones, including the awesome new Leverage release Blind Fire.
So Pekka, how does someone appear on the scene in 2006 with two of the best debut albums in recent memory and then walk away with my Vocalist Of The Year Award?
I'm probably the luckiest S.O.B. walking the face of the earth. To have met all the right people and being able to make the kind of music I love with them is truly a blessing. 2006 was something I could never ever have predicted a couple of years earlier. What comes to winning the award, I still can't believe it. Having followed your site for so long, it was just plain weird to see my name up there!
Brother Firetribe and Leverage seem to have a formed a neat symmetry between the two, both being releases almost side by side in 2006 and now again in 2008...
Yeah that's right...it just happened so with the debuts, nothing intentional about it. Both bands got signed about the same time so the debut albums came out basically at the same time, which in the long run meant that the second albums are gonna be released again around the same time. Talking about symmetry between the two, Torsti from Leverage and Jari Mikkola mixed the new BFT, which was cool as hell.
Lets start at the beginning. I know you are a monster AOR/Melodic Rock fan. When did you discover you had a great voice and what were you singing along to in the early days?
Yes sir, I sure like my AOR. Quite a few amazing singers - past and present - on that field, so it's really difficult for me to put myself even near to those names, which means I'm not sure I'd say I have a great voice. On a good day I can get the message through though. I started singing in bands when I was around 13-14 years old. I guess I was the only one brave enough to try. Whatever band I was in, we always wrote original stuff, we didn´t play covers that much. Back at home I was listening to different kinds of albums like crazy. I never took any lessons, everything I know I've learned by doing and listening.
And what albums/vocalists have inspired you along the way?
There are so many but I have to say Michael Monroe and Hanoi Rocks is the biggest reason why I'm doing this. Their Two Steps From The Move album started the whole thing for me. The next big thing was Bon Jovi´s Slippery, after that there was no turning back, especially after seeing all the videos from that album. Journey, Van Halen, Foreigner, Night Ranger, Baton Rouge, KISS, Whitesnake, Mötley Crue, you name it...Steve Perry is the best singer there´s ever been.
What were your first bands?
The first band with real instruments and a rehearsal place was called Ervin Köster. We had fun but never gigged, which is probably a good thing looking back now... Then I was off to Cashmir with whom I spent around 10 years. We made one officially released album back in 96 and one in 98 which was fully recorded but never released. It was a great band with the usual story of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It wasn´t the best thing in the world to play hard rock back then...Tomppa from Brother Firetribe was in Cashmir too and Cashmir´s drummer played on the first Leverage demos...
Starting with Leverage - where and when did the band form and how did you get into the mix?
Me and Tuomas met in Helsinki back in 2003-2004 through a mutual friend. He heard me singing a Bon Jovi tune on a crappy recording from a cell phone. Doesn´t take much to impress the guy obviously!
Anyway, Tuomas had a bunch of songs he´d demoed earlier with Kimmo Blom from Urban Tale. Kimmo was really busy at the moment so Tuomas asked me to try a couple of them. I was really blown away, thinking "nobody writes this stuff!" when I heard the first songs. Tuomas knew Torsti from his Jyväskylä days and sent him the demos. Torsti already had his own studio and he was supposed to sort of produce and arrange the songs. We knew he was a great guitarist (Tuomas was actually his first guitar teacher) so we kind of forced him to pick up the guitar and join in as a player. The rest of the guys came along through Torsti from Jyväskylä during the recordings of a 7 track demo which eventually lead to a record deal. It´s still incredible to think I´ve run into these guys, they´re incredible musicians and great friends.
And Brother Firetribe?
After Cashmir had slowly being put to rest, I really had nothing to do with band activities for awhile. I was dead tired of the musical climate and banging my head against the wall. Then one day in 2001 Tomppa came up with a riff that sparked something...the riff was what eventually turned out to be the main riff in One Single Breath. We finished the song in no time and had the time of our lives with music after quite a while. It was refreshing to not give a shit bout what the record company of whoever else thinks, we just did the kind of stuff we wanted which is still the main thing with BFT.
I knew Jason from the army and we had played on the same band circuit forever. Emppu had just moved to the same town with Tomppa and Jason and learned to know them through Cashmir´s bass player who was working at the local guitar shop. Emppu and Jason were more than happy to hop along as soon as they heard the demos. We were never supposed to put the songs on the album but things changed quickly when we were offered a deal. The excuse to hang out and down a few brews had turned into something else. Well not entirely but still...
The debut Brother Firetribe had a bit of advance PR due to the involvement of Emppu Vuorinen, but Leverage came right out of nowhere! Was that the plan, or did you guys just feel something magic was being laid down and everyone else would find out eventually?
A bit of advance is really an understatement...his name obviously weighed a lot when we were offered the deal. Without his involvement, I think no one would´ve signed us even though we loved what we did and thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. With Leverage it was really different. None of us were household names even though each of us had had our share of playing in different bands and projects for quite some time. No one expected anything from us which was kind of an advantage. We knew the material and production was good, so we just hoped that people would find it.
The debut really was something special mate...what was your feeling having completed the album?
Thanks. We were thrilled. It came out really good if you think about the fact that we had never played live together before the pre-recording rehearsals. So in a way it was still a project, not a real band, if you will. All that changed during the actual recordings and the following tour. All in all, we´re really proud of Tides, and it´s cool to hear other people appreciate it too.
The release was basically for Finland and Japan only right? Was it a big label in your country and how was the response?
Yeah that´s right basically. The response was amazing for a debut, most of the reviews were awesome, people seemed to be thinking "who are these guys, where the hell did they come from, they can´t be this good ´cause I don´t recognize any of the names involved???", which was really nice. "Tides" obviously didn´t sell like hot cakes compared to the big names but OK for a debut. It laid a nice foundation to build upon.
Obviously Frontiers now has the album re-issued for areas that were not able to release the album first time around. Do you get feedback that new people still discovering the release?
I think that was a great move as I really think Tides deserves that. From what I´ve heard, there are messages saying "I just bought your new album Blind Fire, I love it and looks like I´m gonna have to buy your debut too." I´m really glad Tides is given another chance, so to speak.
You have what I would describe as a menacing power, an authortive delivery of your vocals, yet to retain that totally melodic feel that singers like Robin Zander carry when singing both rockers and ballads. How do you achieve that sound?
I´ve always been a sucker for a melody. If you don´t have a melody you don´t have a song. During all the years, I´ve found a way to sing that fits and suits me, and I´m really comfortable with it. I have just enough range to handle this kind of stuff convincingly and I always try to sing it like I mean it, which is really important.
Right now I´m fortunately singing the kind of stuff that´s closest to my heart, the stuff I grew up with. I really don´t see myself singing something else. Swing maybe, but that´s it! Thanks for mentioning Robin Zander by the way, I love his voice.
With a debut album making such an impact, there is obviously a certain pressure on the band to deliver with album number two. How did you guys deal with that?
Of course there was some pressure, I guess. But all our worries were gone as soon as we heard the demos, Tuomas had really pushed himself and Torsti delivered too. The song material was strong enough to make an impact, now all we had to worry about was to get the songs on tape in a decent way.
Personally I wasn´t worried at all, knowing what these guys are able to do. It was actually easier for me to get a grip of their songs, as this time they wrote the songs knowing exactly what sounds good coming from my mouth. I was having a ball when recording, no struggles whatsoever.
The new album Blind Fire is the result and to my ears you guys have done a great job in delivering what fans were probably hoping for. You agree?
I sure hope so. If you liked Tides, I don´t see any reason for not liking Blind Fire.
As far as the new album - bands have in the past been heavily criticized for both varying too much from what was expected and also delivering a carbon copy release. A no win situation obviously, but I think Leverage has avoided that with a familiar record, but still a few subtle differences between them.
Exactly. Blind Fire has that something that made Tides what it is, but with some more depth and variety in the songwriting department. There´s definitely some of the heaviest stuff we've done so far and at the same time some of the most intimate stuff. It´s maybe not as easy to access as Tides but I´d like to think there's a great reward waiting if you give it a few spins. I see it as a definite grower which is usually the best thing for record. That means you´ll probably listen to it much longer than some others.
The sonic impact of Leverage is remarkable. Pounding rhythm section and swirling keyboards, all swayed by the massive riffs and your melodic vocals. How do you get such a mix just right - from the studio to the finished product?
Leverage consists of unbelievable musicians who know exactly what they want their music to sound like and have the tools and talent to make it. To have two guitarists of that caliber in the same band is just ridiculous, and both are incredible songwriters too. Then there´s the studio knowledge, no outside producers and mixers are needed. Could be worse, eh?
I get the impression that a number of Leverage and even Brother Firetribe's songs could be suitable for those big soundtrack moments of the 80s - which like me I know you are a fan of! BFT have already covered two absolute classics in Mighty Wings and Chasing The Angels. Which other classic soundtrack tunes inspire you most?
Oh I´m a huge fan of that stuff. All that stuff that makes you do push ups, you know. Actually with BFT we´re always aiming for that feel somehow. Among my favourite soundtracks are Rocky IV (probably the best ever), Top Gun, Heavy Metal, Miami Vice II, Vision Quest, American Anthem, Cobra, Fast Times In Ridgmont High, Fletch, Purple Rain, Days Of Thunder and many more...From individual songs we´ve already mentioned Andy Taylor´s When The Rain Comes Down earlier, which is awesome. Survivor´s Burning Heart, Coverdale´s Last Note Of Freedom, Chicago's Hearts In Trouble, John Waite´s Deal For Life, Jon Butcher´s This Raging Fire etc. etc. I could go on here.
On Blind Fire - which are your favourite songs to sing?
Right now King Of The Night and Heart Of Darkness. I like all of them and my favourite song to sing changes pretty regularly. Hellhorn is really something to watch out for live. If I´m having a bad day I really have to struggle with that to go through it.
And what might a Leverage live set feature in it?
We just started the tour in Finland and at this point the set list includes most of the songs from Blind Fire and 4-5 songs from Tides. It´s a cool package, 1.5 hours of good stuff in your face. Who knows, we might throw in a cover at some point if the circumstances are right. Probably something from Rainbow or Purple or Whitesnake or Van Halen or whatever.
It´s awesome to play the new stuff, getting better and tighter all the time. There has been some talk about playing outside of Finland but nothing´s confirmed yet. Hopefully something turns up.
Onto Brother Firetribe - the new second album for your other band is now in the can. What can we expect from that?
No compromises, very AOR I think. It´s funny and exciting to see what people think after False Metal. Kalle joined the band already during the recordings of False Metal but this time he got to play more than just the hi-hat, which makes the sound different...Kinda hard to say anything about it except we dig it. A lot. Torsti and Jari did an awesome job at Studio Audio mixing it, they saved our asses after some difficulties we had with the first mixer who is really good, a total pro, but had a different vision of what this band should sound like. Too modern, in other words.
BFT is a more melodic and lighter sound - do you prefer one style of singing over the other?
No not really. I have a chance to record and perform big heavy rock and that AOR vibe in two amazing bands, what could be better?
Any touring plans for BFT?
None whatsoever right now. Nightwish is touring madly all over the world God knows how long, and Leverage is out there as we speak. At some point we´ll do something but that´s not current right now.
How is the melodic vs the metal scene in Finland now? There seems to be a far greater acceptance of new artists in Scandinavia, whereas the USA for example places almost all their emphasis on the classic acts.
I think the metal scene in Finland has hit its peak as far as success and the amount of bands go. New bands come up all the time and record companies are signing them like crazy without paying too much attention to the quality. Makes me wonder how much longer it stays like this. Eventually kids start to look for something else instead of that 64th Children Of Bodom clone. God I hope no one digs up grunge...then we´re fucked again, hah...
Does either Leverage or Brother Firetribe have any working plan to tackle the American market?
Frontiers has some distribution in America but we really don´t have any working plans at this point. Sounds pretty strange to talk about America to be honest.
What should we watch for next from you? Solo album?? :)
Hah, no man, I think I have my hands full right now. Well, if Jack Ponti wrote all the songs, then I´d do it in a heartbeat!
Anything you would like to add mate?
Yeah, thanks for the support everybody and thank you Andrew for an amazing job over the years! Long live Melodic Rock, amen.