Stratovarius Keyboardist Discusses Live DVD & Next Album

By Andrew Bansal

Finnish power metal band Stratovarius underwent a major lineup change late last year, with the departure of drummer Jörg Michael. The band did a five-show ‘Jörg Michael farewell’ tour of Finland in November 2011, and recorded the Tampere show for a DVD/2-CD release, titled “Under Flaming Winter Skies – Live In Tampere”. It came out recently on August 28th in North America via Armoury Records, and now with new drummer Rolf Pilve in the lineup, the band is hard at work on the next studio album slated for an early 2013 release. Yesterday on October 10th 2012, I caught up with keyboardist Jens Johansson for a brief chat about Jörg’s departure, the live DVD and the next album. Read our conversation below, and visit the official Stratovarius website for more info.

I’ve been following your facebook updates, and you’ve been posting pictures from the studio. How’s the recording process for the next album coming along?

It’s going actually very smoothly this time. I think we planned it a little bit better than some of the other times in the past. There’s less scheduling problem, let’s put it that way. We decided on the number of songs very early so we wouldn’t end up recording too much, and we also made scheduling decisions and who’s supposed to do what, and these type of things. We also got more time to do this album as compared to the last one “Elysium”. When we were working on that album, we had this offer for the Helloween tour in June of 2010 or something like that, but it was so early that there was no way we could get the album done in time for the tour, so we decided not to tour with Helloween. But when we started recording “Elysium”, the Helloween guys came back to us and told us that the tour was actually delayed by a couple of months. For us, at that point, yes the tour offer was a great thing, but then we really had to hurry up to make the record. In the end we got it done, but this time we could take longer and everything will go smoothly until the finishing of the mix, which will be in mid-November. Everybody has plenty of time to do their thing. So far so good, knock on wood!

That’s great to hear. So, how has Jörg’s departure affected the band?

Even though he was able to write and was allowed to write, and we didn’t have any rule that he shouldn’t write songs, he chose not to write songs. He decided that he was good at drumming, and not at writing songs. So, as far as songwriting, it hasn’t made any difference actually. And the guy that has replaced him on drums also hasn’t written any songs. So, it was the rest of us guys that came up with the material, and I have to say Jörg leaving the band wasn’t so much of a shock because he told us already last year that he was going to be leaving. He just didn’t have the time anymore to be in the band at this level on top of the stuff he’s doing as a booking agent, but yeah, I wouldn’t say I was shocked, really. And I’m actually happy it happened the way it did and he could leave completely on his own terms, and pick a time to do it that was good for everybody, and we had no bad vibes or anything like that. We are still on speaking terms of course, because he’s still our booking agent. We still talk to him everyday. It’s a little bit sad when somebody who’s been in the band for 15 years leaves, but he didn’t die or anything like that, and I talk to him everyday, so everything is fine in that sense.

That’s cool, man. You did the farewell shows with him and you recorded the Tampere show for the live DVD. Would you say the set list is a good summarization of his time in the band?

Yeah, I think so. We played our normal show but also played some cover songs which him and the singer Timo agreed upon. So it’s a little bit longer than our normal show because we were recording, and of course it was fun for us to play in front of that crowd because they knew they were being recorded, and screamed extra loud for us that night. So it was in general a very good night, even though it was a farewell show. He was leaving the band, but I’m glad he didn’t die. One year later, of course he had a cancer scare. But he got completely cured from that, and as I said earlier, he basically retired from this band just because he didn’t have the time for it anymore.

So, how’s the new drummer Rolf Pilve fitting into the scheme of things?

Well, like I said, he didn’t do any writing. We put the question to him to see whether he was interested in writing any songs, but then he said the same thing as Jörg, that he didn’t have any songs. But of course he has played on the new songs, really nice guy, good player, and much younger than the rest of the guys in the band. He’s like 25, but he’s very calm and easy-going, and it’s really important to have that sort of person because we’re going to do a lot of work together on the tour bus. He’s the kind of guy that’s very difficult to upset, let’s put it that way. That’s the first impression I got from him. He doesn’t seem to create drama or freak out, or do anything like that. It’s really nice to have him in the band.

What plans do you have for the near future, in terms of touring?

We are finishing the record now, and that’s going to take another month. Then, I think we are going for a February 2013 release. We’ll probably be doing some gig starting late February or mid-March, and after that there will be a world tour, with summer festivals in Europe. Beyond that I don’t really know. We can’t predict too far ahead into the future, but that’s the plan for now anyway.