By Andrew Bansal
As traditional and underground it always has been, the world of heavy metal has been no stranger to experimentation, whether it be in blending other genres to form strange fusions, or the style of playing metal covers. Enter Steve ‘N’ Seagulls, a Finnish quintet that puts their own twist on hard rock and heavy metal classics with bluegrass and Finnish folk flavors. Thanks to the YouTube generation, they got recognition rapidly through their videos, and here they are, ready to release their second album, ‘Brothers In Farms’, out September 9th 2016 via Spinefarm. Metal Assault recently spoke to Tomi ‘Remmel’ Tajakka (vocals, acoustic guitar, mandolin) for an interview about the album, the history of the band, future plans, song arrangements and more. Enjoy the chat below.
First of all, just to introduce people to the concept behind Steve ‘N’ Seagulls, how did everything start out for this band?
The band started in 2010-11. I wasn’t in the lineup back then, I joined in about three years ago. The whole thing at first started as kind of a concept thing and a side-project just for 10 or 20 shows, and there was the theme of Spaghetti Western or stuff like that. So, it was a little bit different in the beginning, but about three years ago we started doing things more and more acoustic and found out that a lot of hard rock and heavy metal songs worked pretty well with this kind of an arrangement. That’s how the band kind of found its form. And then, because we had the new lineup, we wanted to make videos to help our booking agent in Finland book gigs. Suddenly those videos took off. First it was ‘The Trooper’ by Iron Maiden, the second one was ‘Holy Diver’ by Dio and the third was ‘Thunderstruck’ by AC/DC. It just took off by an accident (laughs), and here we are now, releasing our second album. So it’s been quite interesting for the past two years.
Most bands talk negatively about how it is nowadays in the industry, but you guys probably find yourselves lucky to be in the YouTube generation. You got famous quickly because of it.
Yeah! We are extremely lucky. Of course there are a lot of changes in the music industry and the media in general, but I think it’s more important to try to come up with new ways of doing your thing or finding new channels. Things change always, and sometimes, some other things come back, like for example vinyls are coming back really strong now and CDs are not that strong anymore. I think the best thing that musicians can do is just try to make as good content and music as possible.
Exactly. There are so many cover bands doing gigs, and there’s good money in it in a lot of places, specially based on what I can see here in America. But, when you decided to do this project, it was obviously not about just doing regular covers. You wanted to do something out of the box and get more attention because of it, right?
Yeah, there’s a lot of cover bands in Finland also, and at some point we figured out that there might be something a little bit unique in what we do. We kind of see ourselves mixing bluegrass, Finnish folk music, pop music and metal songs. It’s a mixture of many things, so I think that makes it a little bit unique in a way.
Right, so this new album ‘Brothers In Farms’ has 14 tracks. In hard rock and heavy metal there’s just so much over the years that you could pick from. How do you go about selecting tracks?
I think most of the songs are something that we already know, for example when I was younger in the ’90s I listened to a lot of Megadeth, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Pantera, Sepultura, all this kind of stuff. Another thing is that it must be a good song, that there is a good riff or a good melody that you can start working around. We tried about 30-40 songs that never quite found their new form or their place, so we just skipped them. It’s usually an idea that one of us or some of us come up with. That’s mainly how it goes.
On this album, among the songs that made it, which were some of the harder ones to arrange in your way?
Actually it might have been the one from Nirvana (‘In Bloom’), because in a way Nirvana is pretty unique because it’s grunge, the song is basically kind of simple and it has a good melody, but the original version is mainly all about energy and about how it’s played on the track. So, I think that was a tough one.
Interesting. Aside from releasing albums you play shows as well. What is your aim with this? Do you actually want to do this more on a full-time basis, specially now that it’s getting more popular?
Yeah, we’ve actually been doing this band full-time for about two-and-a-half years and in different bands before that. But this is the one and only thing we do now. We focus all our energy into this band and we’re really happy that we can do stuff that we do right now. As said before, we’re really lucky and we realize that, so we want to aim everything towards this one. And of course, in a way it’s a dream come true already to be able to play live to so many people in different countries. So yeah, it’s 100 per cent this right now.
After the release of the album, what are your plans, touring-wise?
We’re starting an album release tour from South America. We’ve not played there before and we’re playing in Brazil and Argentina. And then we come to Finland for three gigs, and we have a sort of official release party here. Then on September 23rd we start our US tour, which is our third, so we’ve been there twice before. And for the rest of the year we’ll do shows in Finland and everywhere else in Europe. So it’s going to be a busy end of the year for us, but South America is something new that we’ve not done before.
That’s awesome, man. I’m sure you know about the folk metal bands coming out of Europe, and some of those bands are getting bigger here every time they come, for example Korpiklaani or bands like that. Have you been aware of that, and did it have any impact on what you’re doing?
I don’t think they were an influence but on the internet and in the music magazines and stuff like that, it’s really nice to read about Korpiklaani which is a Finnish band, to see that they’re doing really well and touring in a lot of different places. We’ve been following them, and you could say that they’ve been some sort of an influence because they use the kind of ‘out of the genre’ instruments in a really cool way. But yes, we are aware of the Finnish bands that tour in the US and it’s really cool.
So, when you arrange these songs, how does it work in terms of putting it in the non-traditional instruments like the accordion, mandolin or banjo?
It is a challenge but it’s an interesting one, and surprisingly, the banjo for example seems to be a pretty good heavy metal instrument, even though it’s an acoustic one. It has a lot of attack and it can actually be a really heavy instrument. So, it is always nice to explore new things with these instruments, and we also try new instruments all the time and we have some new ones on this album. For the next one we’ll also figure out something new.
One thing that some people might be wondering about bands recording covers is, do you have to go through any effort to contact these bands and get their permission?
Of course there is stuff that has to be figured out with the publisher and stuff like that. Luckily the record label is in charge of that, so they’ll do that, contacting the bands, companies, publisher or whoever they have to, and they ask for the permission.
And in terms of the shows that you’ve played so far, what songs do you think people love the most?
Well, it’s a little bit dependent on the area but it seems like ‘Thunderstruck’ is the most mainstream kind of ‘genre-breaking’ hit everywhere (laughs). Also in Europe, Iron Maiden songs are pretty popular, but I think one song that always makes a good impact on the people is ‘Black Dog’ by Led Zeppelin. It reminds me every time about how big of a band Led Zeppelin actually is in the world. It’s not even their best-known song but it seems that everyone knows and likes that song. It’s really cool because Led Zeppelin for me is one of the biggest bands ever.
Agreed. And you said earlier that this is 100 per cent what you’re doing right now, but is there anything else that you’re doing musically?
Our bass player has this really cool upright bass and tenor saxophone duo with his friend, which is pretty artistic stuff. All of us or at least most of us play our instruments every day, and we try to compose, write and arrange something new. So, I think there is something going on all the time because music is very much a lifestyle for all of us. But other than that, we don’t have any side-projects or anything right now because this band is just really busy at the moment.
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‘Brothers In Farms’ track listing:
01. Aces High (Iron Maiden)
02. Sad But True (Metallica)
03. Wishmaster (Nightwish)
04. It’s A Long Way To The Top (AC/DC)
05. You Could Be Mine” (Guns N’ Roses)
06. November Rain” (Guns N’ Roses)
07. In Bloom (Nirvana)
08. Symphony Of Destruction (Megadeth)
09. Fill Up The Tank (Steve ‘N’ Seagulls original)
10. Burn (Deep Purple)
11. The Pretender (Foo Fighters)
12. Self Esteem (The Offspring)
13. Out In The Fields (Gary Moore/Phil Lynott)
14. Born To Be Wild (Steppenwolf)
US tour dates:
09/23/2016 – Brooklyn, NY @ Knitting Factory
09/24/2016 – Cumberland, MD @ Rowdy on the Roof at Frederick Street Parking Garage
09/25/2016 – Lousville, KY @ Haymarket Whiskey Bar
09/26/2016 – Lexington, KY @ Cosmic Charlie’s
09/27/2016 – Indianapolis, IN @ The Hi-Fi
09/28/2016 – University City, MO @ Duck Room at Blueberry Hill
09/29/2016 – Fayetteville, AR @ George’s Majestic Lounge
09/30/2016 – Guthrie, OK @ Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival
10/01/2016 – Kansas City, MO @ The Riot Room
10/02/2016 – Minneapolis, MN @ 7th Street Entry
10/03/2016 – Moline, IL @ Rascals Live
10/04/2016 – Des Moines, IA @ Vaudeville Mews
10/05/2016 – Madison, WI @ The Frequency
10/06/2016 – Columbia, MO @ Rose Music Hall
10/07/2016 – Omaha, NE @ O’Leaver’s
10/08/2016 – Brighton, CO @ The Armory Performing Arts Center