Arranging the meeting with S-Tool was a bit surprising. As I did not find a media contact, I wrote to the band directly. I knew they had read the mail immediately and still nothing happened for weeks. So only short before Nummirock I sent a reminder. “Of course we do it!” was the reply, very quickly by the way. How could I have doubted? Well never mind, their media folks arranged the details.
Waiting at the back stage gate, just as we had agreed, Kimmo (Hiltunen, bass) ran into me . After a short but friendly welcome we went to their backstage container. Kimmo offered me a seat and took the opposite spot for himself. These containers have neither been designed nor equipped to spend a comfy time in there. They might be well suitable for a party. But that’s it. Bare walls, a long, narrow table, two such benches and on the far end a worn-out couch. Kimmo explained that Ville (Laihiala, vocals/guitar) would join us any minute but if I would like we could start already.
“The first name I noticed and that actually made me check out S-Tool was Aksu (Hanttu) whom I had seen some years ago standing in for Vesa (Ranta) touring with The Man Eating Tree. Only then I noticed all the other great names. So my first question is, of course, how did the band find together?” Kimmo: “I got a call from Sami (Leppikangas, guitar) about two years ago or something like that. I am not so certain about the time. It is not so important, anyway. So I got that call from Sami: ‘Guess what. I got a call from Aksu that Ville is looking for players for his new band.’ And he wanted to know if we were interested in his new band and so I told Sami like: ‘Ok, have you got any material?’ And he said like ‘Yeah, you know, he sent us like some 30 demos or something like that.” – “30?” I wonder? And Kimmo confirms: “Yeah.“ But I have to make sure I got it right: “Only 30?” Kimmo smiles and nods “Yeah, yeah. So we went to the rehearsal place, and, you know, we kind of just went through the songs, and thought there might be something in there. Actually some of the songs were at the time already like ‘these will be big songs’ and ‘this is the kind of material that we would like to play’. So it was pretty easy to call Aksu back like ‘Ok, you guys are serious about this? And is going to be an actual band and not like solo project or anything?’ So that was that.”
The door opens and “And I think, here they come”, says Kimmo but a friendly woman with a brush and a bucket looks into the container asking if we were doing an interview. She postpones cleaning the container.
“Ok. So that’s basically how we got together, and some time after that we went through some of the songs and learned some of the songs and Ville came and Aksu came down to Helsinki, and we rehearsed for the first time just feeling out each other how the playing feels and, however, and after that ….” Another knock on the door and another woman looking in, speaking in Finnish with Kimmo. She leaves, after being told that he was actually the next band and how long our interview might take. I wonder: “A busy place we found here?” Kimmo is laughing, me too. He excuses. But what for? None of us had invited our visitors. He goes on: “So we played for the whole weekend, and had decided that this might be something and continued working and were working on the songs and so forth.”
“Is it complicated to have the half of Finland between you and Ville?” –“It is”, Kimmo confirms: “It is. Logistically it is quite difficult. I mean it takes for Ville to get to Lahti, where our rehearsal place is, like half a day. And we have, of course, to take all the gear with us. We have a rehearsal place down in Helsinki, me and Sami. So it is quite difficult. Yah! And so we don’t rehearse that much.”
“But I think there were even more issues getting it all started? I think it took you quite some time to have the album finished and I know there was this fund raising activity to which I will have more questions later. But were there more obstacles besides the logistics and the fund raising?” “Well, not really. It just … I really don’t actually know how and why it took such a long time. But that I know, for the album recording we planned the schedule way too optimistically. And we ended up needing much more time on basic tracks than we thought we would do. So that is one of the reasons.” He takes half a second to think and continues: “Well basically that’s the only reason. Also because the album took longer time to record than we thought in the beginning. Aksu has been the one who has been mixing it. And he had to post pone all his other work as you know he is producing other bands.” — “I know”, of course. “So he had to catch up with those and as a consequence the mixing of our album is under way. But it will be …” [In the meantime, Aksu proudly presented the CD, and that the mastering is finished.]
“Actually I had hoped with Aksu and all his studio, equipment and skill in the band would make things easier. It seems like in the end it turned out to be the opposite?” “Yo, well …” — “As he had to postpone all the stuff … “ – “Yah, and now he is like working fourteen hours just to, you know, get stuff done.”
“I shall hope he has time left to sleep and eat….” “Well” more a heavy sighing than a word. “So he won’t break down on stage?”— “Well, I think he slept one hour last night so, I’m not so sure about that.” Laughing in some kind of awe I ask: “How can we make sure he will survive the gig?” But Kimmo is convinced Aksu will make it: “Yeah, yah … well lots of beer, and a slice of pizza, and he will be alright, you know.“ I am laughing. And Kimmo points out in a sharp voice: “He’s still young … kind of!” I wonder: “He is actually a good deal younger than the rest, isn’t he?” “Yeah, he is still under 40 so … you still manage some nights without sleep when you are under 40.” Laughing I try to concentrate on my next question. But Kimmo points out: “After that it gets hard!” And I mumble, “Yeah, I know.” Laughing out loudly Kimmo agrees “Yeah, me too!”
I give it another try. What was the next question, I think. “You did a bit of touring before actually coming up with the album. Was it hard to get the slots and venues for the tour?” Kimmo says: “Actually, I don’t know. We have the … what do you call it?” – “The booking manager?” “Yeah, the booking manager. And he was interested in early-on gigs. And we did three gigs without him and arranging all kinds of stuff like that, you know. Toni [the booking manager], he came and saw the last gig and wanted to tour with us, and so I don’t know if he had any trouble in finding slots or whatever. But we’re just happy, you know, it was about eight months before we knew anything about the album release or anything. So he was still able to get the slots here and at some other festivals and was it eight or nine gigs we did earlier this year? I thought, it was just crazy to go out without the album. I thought ‘we’re still a fucking demo band’, you know,” laughing out loudly “basically.” I ask:
“But what was it like?” “Oh it was like I couldn’t believe it. Just amazing. You know in that sense that we are still a demo band.” – “Exactly in that sense” I confirm. “At that stage, we had released like two songs. And the rest of the material was unknown to the public. And still, you know, people were going for it”, he tells me still obviously impressed by this early success of the shows. “… tearing us up, you know. Feeling the music and then I thought: ‘if this is the reaction from people without the album, wait till you get the album.’ And then we start touring again.“ I smile excited and admit: “yah, I can’t wait to have it.” – “Yah.” And then Kimmo kind of whispers: “Me, too!” We both laugh and I point out: “But you do at least know it already!” He looks questioningly. So I repeat adding: “…the album.“ And with a tone of humorous superiority he says: “Well, that is true!” – “And me, I just know these three songs …” Still laughing he states: “This is gonna be a killer album.” Then he calms down a bit and tells me: “Actually quite a lot of good songs, and I am really picky about music. And even the good bands I listen too, they have like three or four good songs on an album and the rest is like, you know, just filler stuff. And I am really picky about our stuff. So I’d say on the forthcoming album, we have like five maybe six good ones.” – “Out of ten that makes a good ratio, I think.” “Yeah, absolutely”, Kimmo agrees. “I am really critical about music, you know, in general. But I am extra critical if it comes down to my own, where I am kind of playing and so on.”
“What kind of music do you listen to privately?” – “Oh, hm, quite a lot of different stuff. If we are talking about metal scene, old bands like early Metallica, Slayer, Pantera, of course, and some Entombed.” – “Very traditional”, I comment. “Pretty, pretty traditional stuff, you know, from that era, and also you know, of course, early AC/DC, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, of course. That’s my main thing, has always been. And when you’re talking about metal, I mean, Black Sabbath is the king. Has always been. Besides that, then early ZZ Top, Jimmy Hendrix (all time favourite), Nora Jones even, Primus, Miles Davis some of this stuff.” I sigh to agree. “Very emotional.” – “Yeah, I mean, pretty much, no matter what style the music is, if it’s good. If there is emotion in there, if there is passion in there, then I don’t care what it is. It sounds good.”
I think the moment has come to raise the sensitive topic of money. “Speaking of money, means crowd funding in your case. How did you come upon this idea?” And Kimmo replies: “I have no idea! And we saw it on a webpage”, he explains chuckling. He is not comfy on this topic, as it seems. “One morning you know like … “ The door is opened again. Sami comes in, speaking with Kimmo in Finnish. He leaves again after a couple of sentences. Kimmo murmurs something commenting Sami leaving again and somehow I have to think of an old pair of friends – perhaps a bit like Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in “The Odd Couple”. Kimmo continues as if nothing happened: “So actually, we didn’t have any clue that this was gonna happen. And I was like ‘Well? Hm. Well? Ok!’ Basically.” He chuckles on the moment he remembers now. “So I can’t say anything about that. Or the idea behind it or anything like that. I was like ‘Alright!’ ”
“Did you get the amount of money you needed?” “I mean, we got close to it but I mean, we’re still broke. There is no denying it” The door is opened again. Loudly. “No niin”, Kimmo says happily as Ville enters. “Hi”, a coffee paper mug in his hand, we introduce each other before going on. He takes a seat on the far end of the bench I sit on as well. “Sorry for keeping you waiting. We were waiting outside for the interview to start”, Ville explains. He might not have noticed that I am totally fine with the course of events. Then he asks Kimmo: “Can you join me for this?” Kimmo agrees, of course. Then Ville asks me “Is it ok for you?” “Sure.” – “Cool.” “I am absolutely happy with Kimmo being here.”
“So, what do you wanna know?” he says leaning actively back to the wall now. I sum up that we were speaking of the crowd funding and the question if the band managed to raise the money it needed, and of course how the idea came up. Kimmo fills in ”I have no idea”, to make sure Ville gets all information we exchanged by now. “For me it was like”, Ville begins to explain, “I was like fed up with corporation music business bullshit. We do an album and you sign a paper where you basically give your live away. And to make a long story short, without the artist, either is a book, a sculpture or music those companies wouldn’t be alive. So that was my main idea. Asking the people: ‘Do you want us to do something? Please. So that was the chalice. Because we didn’t have anything to give to them. Nothing, like in return. You know, so that was the basic idea.” I try to comprehend the idea: “So it is a about keeping the independence and of course, the (copy)rights of what you’re doing.” “Yeah and the truth because none of these bands on this festival wouldn’t be on stage without the people who support them.” – “Yes, of course”. In all these discussions of labels and bands complaining declining album sales, Ville’s statement highlighting the support fans provide sounds like and revelation to me.
So it is easy to put the focus on the supporting people: “Speaking of that, how important is fan management? I mean, made by the bands directly. I noticed that some bands really spend a lot of time and effort on that, like online, after the shows and so on while others are just like act like it is more a job for the label to do. How important is that to you?” “That is important!” he says clearly and with remarkable weight. “But for us, we’re just starting. The album comes out after the summer. Obviously, we have kind of a perspective on that. But it is important, of course.”
“What was it like after the shows of your recent tour? Did you meet some fans? Did you get some feedback?” Kimmo says laughing: “Yeah, absolutely. We are approachable guys.” – “Was it the feedback you hoped to have?” “Well the most. Yeah, mostly I would say. It is part of the Finnish kind of attitude: if you’re not drunk you usually don’t say bad things about other people. It’s basically more like you know more the shoulder-clapping type who comes talking to you after the show.” Ville agrees with a short: “Yeah”, while Kimmo goes on: “Usually, later on, you know, when the bar is closing, then you get: ‘Man you suck!’ But I think we’re not getting that many of that. There are always people who complain about something. Always, and always will.” Ville contradicts: “Not really, but like Kimmo was saying, when we did this small tour, we’re talking about some people coming and saying ‘This is just what we’ve been waiting for.’” – “Yeah, absolutely”, Kimmo agrees while Ville continues: “So we got that feedback also and just referring back to this fan thing you talked about. I hate the word fan. I hate the word people, also.” – “But then what is appropriate?” I would like to know. “It’s an atmosphere-energy-attitude going back- and forward and if you call them fans what do you call yourself? You know like, they’re the fans and we are …” – “The musicians”, I suggest. “Or idols”, suggests Kimmo with dripping self-irony. “Of course”, I support laughing his suggestion. Somewhere hidden in general laughter Ville says: “You can come to my house and fuck my sister” to Kimmo. And I come up with if this idol thing should work, “Maybe we need someone to make us 30 years younger again.” “Please!” replies Ville to me while Kimmo explains: “Well that is the idea that is Ville also trying to say is, we don’t put ourselves on any stands.” He utters an agreeing “Yes” while Kimmo explains: “We’re all fucks. You know, we don’t care about being fucking rock stars or whatever. We just want to play. We just wanna do the music that we enjoy playing. And hopefully people will get something out of that. That is the equation, you know. There needs no … well … that was good English … “ Kimmos says. Ville supports passionately. “Like Kimmo is saying. We want if we book a gig, we want them to laugh, cry, whatever and go like you know … and go like ‘Fuck you!’” – “Be emotional?” “Yeah, we’re like this! We play straightforward, fast, heavy music. Like you can go like you have a heavy week on work or whatever you do put your briefcase down and there will be S-Tool all over your face“ Ville says as we all laugh out loudly. “Bury the suit, put the briefcase down and get s-tool-ed”, Kimmo says and Ville agrees “Yea, yeah, yeah!“ And in a fat laughter Kimmo adds: “You’re s-tool-ed” putting a strong emphasis on the u sounding very long. Ville repeats laughingly “No. Niin. Get s-tool-ed!” As Kimmo repeats, too: “Get s-tool-ed”. The laughter isn’t ending. And in this moment, I am really looking forward for the show. These men on stage?! That must be pure energy and all the fun there is in music. “Get s-tool-ed again”, Kimmo says once more, as we’re calming down, a bit. “That’s you know, mind fuck”, Ville says before Kimmo explains: “It’s always been an idea, I mean, if people want to talk to you on the music after the gig or whatever, we’ll be there.” “Yeah, Ville confirms. “Unless at least that we’re so exhausted or whatever that we can’t do it. But that hasn’t happened yet to me at least. Always talk to people if they want to talk to me.” – “And sorry, I am going back to that fund raising thing”, Ville says, “we are on stage because this amount of help of people who donate for the fund raising. Obviously, when we get off stage, like Kimmo was saying, like fifteen minutes or half an hour and then we go and talk to the people. Because they are the reason we are there!” –
“Do you have the idea or the impression that this fund raising created some kind of community around S-Tool already?” – “I’d like to think so”, Ville says carefully. – “Because the people now have the idea being a little, tiny bit part of S-Tool or of what’s happening?” “A big fucking part!” Ville says before I can end my question. “The people paid like, let’s just say if you like far get the money somewhere” … The door opens again. “The people paid the studio. People paid the mastering or whatever.” Somewhere amidst Ville’s statement, Aksu and I introduce shortly. ”I don’t know if we wanted to be this community. We just wanted this band to start like … how should I put it? We’re on this together. You know what I mean?” “A company? A team?” I wonder half loud, thinking. “If it goes to that, overwhelmed and heart-felt” Ville’s hands underline these words with gestures of feeling touched. “And I think the rest of the guys are …” – “Sure”, Kimmo says. While Ville goes on: “You can’t force. The only thing you can do is shit out of your arse. Everything else is … you can’t force it.”
“But those people came for free.” “Yes. Exactly”, Ville confirms. “On their own choice”, I go on. “Exactly”, Ville confirms again: “And you know, we don’t wanna lie to them. We’ll be on stage like ‘fuck you, here it goes’. But then all the ‘fuck you’ is from the heart. Fuck you from the heart”, he repeats. Weird enough my mind sees space to consider the question if all these ‘fucks’ would be needed to be blackened before posting this interview in the US.
“There are other bands doing a lot of fund raising (by crowd funding) and they have like really, really big aims. Has this for you worked out well enough so you think it might be something for the future? For the next album? Or to go on?” Ville: “We think it like this, we got this start from the people.” In this moment the container door … Aksu leaves. “And from this radio in Finland and I think like whatever we earn, we take something out obviously, because we have families to support” – “Yes of course” – “But we keep money in the band and use it to build the band more. We got this start from them. If we need their help, we ask for it. But … I don’t know. It depends.”
“It seems a bit like it is a bit more honest than the label stuff.“ – “Exactly” Ville sighs it more out than speaking, and it is incredible how many emotions he puts in these few syllables. Than he whispers: “Fuck the labels!” Disgust, disappointment, frustration – you can hear all this, too. Ok, I admit, I am a incredibly curious person. And it was a hard thing not to follow this obvious lead. Perhaps we were still sitting there with Ville telling all the stories that brought him to this point. At least, he had missed his gig. So I decide not to go for it and say so. “I could fucking tell you one hour”, Ville answers in a most cynical tone, while Kimmo’s laughter reveals that he knows these stories and agrees with the consequence. “And I can tell you this much, the deal we got, I don’t even call it a deal, the album to bring out, it’s not a recording deal. It’s just a …” Yeah, what actually? “… deal to get the album out”, Kimmo fills in laughing hysterically. “Basically”, Ville states in a calm and controlled voice, “So we are not on any label. We’re releasing it like independently with the help of Playground Music.”
“Have you considered – hm, I don’t know how far the production of the album is – the artwork already?” “Considered and thought about”, Ville says, “and it will be kind of boring.” It is a bit absurd, because Ville’s voice was so controlled and free of apparent emotions. But Kimmo and I we need to laugh on his statement or perhaps still on the absurdity of this kind of record deals. “Any more spoilers?” I wonder. “We have some ideas, at least me and Aksu have some ideas. There are two ideas and both are … we’ll leave the kind of whole art thing to this Jani Mahkonen, who did the ‘Shovel man’ video. It’s gonna be in his hands. If he fucks up so it’s his fault. But I can tell you there’s going to be a vinyl. So there is going to be put a lot of thought into how the cover will be.”
“I love seeing the vinyl return although for many bands it is only a tool to make money out of it.” “That was kind of my term when we did. There has to be a vinyl”, Ville interrupts me. As I describe why I love the good old vinyl, Kimmo throws some agreeing “yeah” and “true” until I speak of the unique sound which is when Ville imitates this scratchy sound and says: “It’s warmer.”
“What is your driving momentum in making music?” “This whole thing started for me like … we got together like 2015 … so to me it started in the tail end of the summer of 2014. Like I just watched the news, read a couple of books, just listened to what some politicians said. I don’t follow politics. But just: ‘we can’t be that fucking stupid!’” A “Oh yes, we can”, slips my mouth long before I could even think of stopping it, what Kimmo replies with a solid laughter. I feel I need to add: “I am sorry to say, but yes we are.” But Ville continues: “ That pissed me off. You know, it influenced a lot of the lyrics. There is not any idealism in it. They’re just my way of …” he imitates the sound of breaking walls. “Music-wise, I wanted to go back to … You know, I have a couple of cassettes. You do know cassettes?” – “Yes! I even have a cassette player, still.” – “When I was 17, I was playing in a band called ‘Rotting Angel’. That riffs, I knew, I wanna do that. And I was doing this in a home studio, not a studio. Just recording. Playing it. Going into the sauna. Listening it. And my wife like said: ‘Oh some are really good songs. You should do a band.’ Really? Then I started to call people. And I believe through a faith or something or something bigger I found all these guys.” – “Sounds good”, I murmur. “And it’s proven to be true when I got to know these guys, played with these guys!”
“I have one more question. It is not exactly very serious. …” I came up with the elephant question. It does not take too much imagination to consider an elephant following at your heels to be a threat to your gig. Well in the end the elephant turned out to be an amplifier. But we’ll talk of this later. “I drink some water, eat and sleep for half an hour”, Ville says. I don’t comprehend. “And then the elephant will go away?” “Yeah, I hope so. My elephant is alcoholism.” – “Great” I reply instantly, appreciating the honesty but swallowing my blunder all the same. “I’ll just make it play bass and retire early. You know bigger arse better blow bottom.” Honestly I wasn’t so sure in that moment what was going on. But then it didn’t matter that much. “Right?” Kimmo asked. He and Ville are laughing and so I relax again. “We’ve done this a few times”, Ville explains. I thank them both and in the same moment Ville adds: “No worries. And I hope you come and see the show.” I am back to myself: “Yes, of course” I say as passionately as I am really looking forward to see them on stage soon. I mention that I plan to take some photos and so Ville sees his chance to bring
up “getting s-tool-ed” again. “Oh, you don’t have to ask our permission. Publish whatever you want. Please. Because the more of you spread the S-Tool all over it’s better. A fuck. I love saying that. Spread the S-Tool!”
Doing this manuscript I feel even more impressed than during the actual interview. And believe me, in this moment I was damn impressed already. So many more questions popped up in my mind. So many more questions I have that would cross the border of an interview and turn it into a very intimate conversation. At this moment I had no idea I would take an interview of this very degree of intimacy in the small hours of the following night, funny enough sitting at exactly the same spot on the very same bench. It is our history that makes us to what we are and fuels our decisions.
I met two men that presented themselves as honest and straightforward as the music they played most passionately only an hour later. I have no idea what they told the Finnish audience when the amplifier of Ville’s guitar broke and no new wire fixed the problem. They waited to go on playing. Even another amplifier did not help. Many people lost faith in the problem being solved on time and left. More wires were tested as time went on. And then, finally, amplifier No 3 worked and the band went on delivering their energetic music. They did not care for the scheduled end of their slot, of course. It was far more important to go on playing a few more songs for those people who had loyally waited out the equipment to work again.
And it was worth the while as it surely will be when S-Tool are going celebrate their album release in a gig in Helsinki mid September.
And remember: spread the S-Tool!