Leverage - 16/12/2009

LEVERAGE came out of nowhere in 2006, causing a stir with the release of its debut album, ‘Tides’. The group's blend of modern metal sound and old-school, melody-based songwriting earned rave reviews from the media and created a fan base both in Finland and throughout the rock community in many countries.

 

LEVERAGE’s third full-length album, ‘Circus Colossus’, which entered the official chart in the band's home country at position No. 27 was released on November 4 via Spinefarm Records. And so we tracked down guitarist Tuomas Heikkinen to ask him some questions about LEVERAGE’s latest effort.

 

 

Congratulations on the release of your new album ‘Circus Colossus’ which came out recently in Europe, of course we’d like to ask you a couple of questions about it. First of all, I’m not familiar with your band, so could you start this interview off with a short introduction?
 

Tuomas: We’re a bunch of seasoned veterans in the field of playing heavy rock, Leverage got started between me (Tuomas Heikkinen, guitar), Torsti (Spoof, guitar) and Pekka (Heino, vocals) in late 2003 when we started working on some demo songs I had written. I had played them to Torsti with a friend of mine, Kimmo Blom (Urban Tale etc), singing. Torsti liked them very much, and wanted to start working on making them into good demos. Then I ran into Pekka to play a cover gig, one of those somebody-get-a-band-together deals, I was blown away by his talent and quickly got him introduced to what I had so far. We hit it off really well right from the start, Torsti has a great studio (more about this later) and we little by little  got some good demo recordings completed while recruiting the rest of the band (Pekka Lampinen, bass; Valtteri Revonkorpi, drums; Marko Niskala, keys) on the way, leading us to having a 7-song promotional CD in our hands early 2005. To make the story short, we got signed a month later and started writing the rest of what became ‘Tides’ and entered the studio late ’05 to record everything over again with the now complete band. We played some cover gigs during ’05 and ’06 to get the band vibe going before the release of ‘Tides’ in August ’06.

 

How did you launch into writing material for ‘Circus Colossus’ and how much time did you spend on the songs?


Tuomas: This was pretty much a year ago, we signed with Spinefarm and realized that it was time to start writing like hell. From there on we spent tons of time writing, demoing etc up until May when we hit the studio. I believe everything you hear on CC was written or at least put together for the first time between November ’08 and May ’09.

 

Which approach did you choose to create this album, did you go for a more raw exposition.. Or something more reminiscent of your previous other works, or something all together different?
 

Tuomas: There was a big change in attitude, it suddenly hit us that the honeymoon was over, that we’d be making our third album which often is referred to as the do-or-die one. And with that, we wanted to make the biggest sounding studio album we ever could.

 

I still love the first two albums we made, the difference here is that we now understood the fact that we had not gotten to play live in front of all people who had our albums, that there would also be people getting the new one who would most probably never see us play live, and therefore the idea of making yet another album sounding as much as possible like a ‘Leverage-live-in-your-living-room’ setup didn’t make sense anymore.

 

I mean, that had been the guideline with both ‘Tides’ and ‘Blind Fire’, an honest sonic view on what our six-piece sounds like live. Then people at the gigs came to tell us that we sound bigger live than on the albums and we’re like ‘what the heck…?’ I guess it’s a fact that seeing a band live with a live volume doesn’t call for every audio track that is heard on the album to still be enjoyed, we just didn’t get that earlier.

 

So we decided to go for huge choirs when needed, some orchestrations, more overdubs on the guitars at some points etc, in other words we pretty much came to our senses and decided to start doing what you generally do in the studio.

 

 

Did ideas come easily so that you just had to write them down or was it more of a careful composing thing?
 

Tuomas: I can only speak for myself, and it varies a lot. More often than not I get started with some little idea, and then that little thing seems to call for some other thing next to it and so on, until you have the basic structure with some holes here and there that need some ‘glue’ material, my demos really  are a mess in the beginning. It’s like ’this part needs to be really heavy’ and I’ll just quickly build something on the computer and kind of try to mold and sculpt it all together the following day. Often the end result is very simple compared to a demo stage. I try to follow the rule of thumb: ‘Does the song really need all this?’. But there are songs on CC, especially “Wolf and the Moon” and “Worldbeater “ and maybe “Prisoners” also that I really tried to put together carefully.


What comes first, lyrics or melodies?

 

Tuomas: Very often it is a case of humming a chorus line with ‘work lyrics’ that sound good, whether they make sense or not. If they do, they’ll most likely end up being the guideline to the actual lyrics, if not I’ll have to start elsewhere. But it is melody first with an idea of what that type of melody might tell you about.

 

What were the goals you had in mind when you started to record ‘Circus Colossus’, any elements you definitely wanted to have on the album?
 

Tuomas: Choirs and orchestrations, this we had decided early on. Big choruses. Really ‘chunky’ guitars.

 

Was it a conscious decision to do it this way?
 

Tuomas: Yes it was, the orchestration part is a result of the recent development in software, just a few years ago those sample based orchestras were really not that convincing, now they’ve become really good. We couldn’t pay for a real orchestra anyway, so we’re really happy about the fact that these days you can get a very good ‘next best thing’ with a budget such as ours.

 

How can we imagine you work on new songs, what's the typical writing process like for Leverage? For example, is it a group process or did some people write more songs than others?
 

Tuomas: I think some of this is covered already. But I’ll put it like this: we’ve been together as a band for some time already, I know how the guys play, how Pekka sings, what they’ve liked in the past and so on. So I am fairly confident that if I feel a song will be good for Leverage, it most likely will please the guys, too.

 

With that said, here’s the data on CC, of the 10 songs I’ve written 5 all by myself, one with Torsti (“Movie Gods”) and one with Valtteri (“Don’t Keep Me Waiting”), Torsti has written the music for two songs (“Rider of Storm”, “Revelation”) all by himself, there’s 10 if you count “Rise”, that is totally played by Sami Boman, the orhestra guy that helped me build “Wolf and the Moon” to what it is. “Rise” is actually the intro for Wolf, I had an intro on the demo with the basic harmony, and he took it on from there.

 

I have also written all the lyrics on all Leverage albums up until now, on the Japan version of CC there is a song called “Mean and Evil” that Pekka wrote the lyrics for with a friend of his.

 

 

After the release of your previous album, one of Leverage’s long time members Pekka Lampinen left and Sami Norrbacka stepped in. Did this line-up change have an influence on the new songs?

 

Tuomas: No, Pekka was still attempting to stay in the band, and he also plays on CC, Sami was merely the substitute Leverage live bass player until it became clear that Pekka would not be able to play with us on a regular basis anymore and then we asked Sami to become a permanent member of Leverage. They’re both great players and good guys, we’re sad to lose Pekka but happy to have Sami.

 

What is the utmost important ingredient for a song according to you?
 

Tuomas: A story with a memorable chorus. A mood.

 

Could you please describe the implications of the title ‘Circus Colossus’, what does it stand for and is there a special meaning behind it?

Tuomas: That thing is very much tongue-in-cheek. We thought we had made a very big sounding album, and were passing all kinds of ideas back and forth for a title. At some point I just mailed. ‘You want it big, how about Circus Colossus?’ I thought it was funny as hell, but the guys loved it. And after having given it some thought, it made everything else we had discussed look very small. So we kept it.

 

Can you give us a short explanation of what the lyrics are about, is there a story behind them?

Tuomas: So I am the guilty part. I’d rather let people interpret the lyrics the way they want to, and a couple of times I’ve been very surprised talking with someone hearing how they’ve turned a song’s lyrics into something that fits their lives or their way of thinking in general. On CC, there are elements that can be connected to my own life or to the story of someone I know, but not quite directly. I’ll give you an example, “Worldbeater” describes a situation where you’ve just had enough of someone running his mouth, and decide to do something about it, come what may. We’ve all had those, I believe.

 

How did the recording process proceed this time, did you work differently than on previous albums and how much time did you spend in the studio?
 

Tuomas: It went smoothly, even though it was a lot of work with the track numbers passing 100 here and there. We started late May and were done in August.

 

 

Who produced the album, and what made him the perfect man for this job?
 

Tuomas: I would say Jari Mikkola and our Torsti did the actual hands-on producing since it’s their studio, I sat there a lot, too and maybe deserve my name on the album sheet as the third producer.

 

In which things/songs on the new album can one clearly hear his vision and ideas?

 

Tuomas: Jari kept Torsti and me focused on the work at hand, and helped out tremendously in getting everything done. As far as visions and ideas go, we’ve developed a great rapport in the studio with the three recording burdens, so I can’t really say where each or any single one of us has a clear stamp on something, it is very much a co-operation thing.

 

Do you have any favourites on the album?
 

Tuomas: Yes, but they keep changing, I am very happy with that. I don’t listen to it too much right now, but when I do I don’t press skip.

 

Have you received any feedback on the album yet?

 

Tuomas: Yes, we have. The fans loved it, the critics have had mixed opinions, we seem to be getting real physical releases country by country which is great.

 

Are third party opinions (press, fans, etc.) on your music important to you? Or are your music and band the only things that matter?
 

Tuomas: Fans are of course very important, they’re the reason for us to get out and play live. Media is important for us to develop Leverage’s ‘career’, and we’re glad to give interviews and such whenever needed.

 

Overall, are you pleased with the outcome of the songs or would you have liked to have changed anything in retrospective? Which element of the CD are you the most proud of?
 

Tuomas: There’s always some little things here and there, but overall I am very happy with the end result.

 

How has the band's sound progressed from your first album to ‘Circus Colossus’ in your opinion?

Tuomas: A friend of mine who’s a great player said that ‘you guys somehow seemed to hold something back on the first two but not anymore’. I think that is well said, we really weren’t as sure about what we wanted to sound like on the first two albums as we were this time. They both turned out fine, but this time it was not a matter of luck but finishing what we had planned.

 

Which song is your favourite one to play live? Which song do you find is the most challenging one to play live?
 

Tuomas: “Wolf” is the opener and has that great adrenaline flow in that sense, “Prisoners” is a bit challenging ‘cause we need to play really sharp at some points to make it sound right.

 

 

Can you tell us a little about yourself and the kinds of things that motivate you in your writing, your poetry, and your lyrics?
 

Tuomas: I have been a heavy rock fan all my life, since I was 9 or so, and my musical influences date back to old Rainbow, Purple, early Van Halen and such. I have also been involved in contact sports at an international level for a long period of time, and I believe some of the things I believe in come from there. I read a lot and with a lot of variation.

 

With several albums under your belt, how far has Leverage surpassed your original dreams and what would you say is the most rewarding part of being in the band?
 

Tuomas: In some ways, we’ve already gone further than I thought we would. In some others, some things seem within reach but hard to get. The most rewarding part has been getting messages from people all over the world that they’ve started to like what we do.

 

What were the highlights and low points throughout your career?

Tuomas: I hope the highlights are yet to come. The low was the music scene of the 90’s, the grunge-era and all that rubbish, there was absolutely no place for the type of music I love.

 

What is your opinion on the metal scene these days? What do you think about the overload of bands at the moment and is there anything missing in the scene?
 

Tuomas: The heavier the music the better…I think metal has become its own victim in many ways, it has grown bigger and now all the side effects that are mostly connected with popular music are visible, bands mimicking each other and so on.

What might be missing, purely in my opinion, is the feeling of music that seems to be replaced with aggression and showcases of technical skill. Nothing wrong with either, but those things alone do not make up for lack of emotion in the music.

 

What can we expect from Leverage in the near future, any touring plans?
 

Tuomas: More wishes than actual plans at this stage.

 

Where do you see the band going within the next five years, and where do you see the band’s musical direction going for the next album?

 

Tuomas: We’d like to get to play for as many people outside of Finland as possible in 2010, and as far as the next album goes, I hope we’ll have some serious live playing to do before we start even to plan it. The musical direction will be interesting to see, that’s all I can say for now.

 

Any last statement?

 

Tuomas: Thanks for the support, keep rocking and hope to see you one day!

 

Thanks for your time.

Eugene Straver

 

 

Members:

Pekka Heino - Vocals

Tuomas Heikkinen - Guitar

Torsti Spoof - Guitar

Sami Norrbacka - bass

Marko Niskala -Keyboards

Valtteri Revonkorpi – Drums

 

Albums:

(2008) Blind Fire

(2006) Tides

(2009) Circus Colossus

 

EP’s

(2007) Follow Down That River