Friday, May 21, 2010
Success is made by a lot of work and a little bit of luck. Finland’s Negative once again prove this to be true. The guys have been around for many years, releasing four albums and doing a huge number of live shows. Their tours can easily be called large-scale (if not for the size of venues, then for geographic span) and fan base – remarkably loyal: the band’s supporters were not turned off by experiments with image, active search for a “unique sound” or the recent line-up change. This is all thanks to unbelievable persistence of the guys, their energy and combative spirit. But having achieved recognition in their native Finland and made their names known outside the country, they band are not going to stop, as there are new goals ahead. Last year Negative signed to major label Warner Music, which is a strong claim to fame. And though nobody can tell what future holds for these five Finns after the release of their upcoming fifth album “Neon”, they have made a step in the right direction. Jonne Aaron, the singer and moving force behind the band, spoke to us about how it is like being on the threshold of new achievements…
Last time you were here in Moscow you were filming the audience from the stage after the show. Does it mean that you’re gonna make a documentary, something like “In The Eye of The Hurricane” DVD (2008)?
Probably yes. We have that camera all the time with the band wherever we go. We really try to film all kind of things that happen in our life. Hopefully our label will put these materials together some day. Maybe this time… I think this “Neon” album will be the biggest album from our band so far, because we have a major label for the first time. And I think while touring with “Neon” we’re gonna make a DVD at some point. We’ll see. We’re gonna do something for sure, but we don’t know yet how big this release’s gonna be, you know. We’ll see if it’s gonna be some “bonus” for the album or something for the limited edition or just a normal DVD. Only time will show.
And if it’s possible to choose the venue where to film the show, what will it be? And what do you want this show to look like?
Now we have this really strong “neon-feeling” of the album on stage. I don’t know if you’ve seen some live pics so far, but we’ve been already touring for three weeks in Finland. And we have massive setups on the stage. Neon signs and so on… Visually, it’s probably the strongest show we ever had. But we don’t know where the filming is gonna happen. “In The Eye of The Hurricane” was filmed in Tampere, our hometown. But I believe if we’re gonna shoot something during this tour it will happen somewhere outside the borders of Finland. Probably in Europe…
Maybe in Moscow?
Never know, never know. Probably. “Live in Moscow” would be great! (laughs) We had awesome audience in Russia every time. And I’m really grateful to everybody who comes to our shows there. It’s always pleasure to play there. But once again only time will show.
I’ve heard that you’re gonna be here in September…
Yeah… Actually I haven’t seen any schedules yet, so I can’t confirm that. But I know that we’re gonna come to Russia, of course.
Talking about your new stage, where have you got all these gorgeous neon signs from?
From all over… (laughs) Mostly from the USA. We were recording in LA, so… I just went on eBay and found something there… And then I started to decorate the studio and one step led to another and that’s the whole story. Actually some of them are… How can I say? A kind of “self made”. Not by us, but by one neon company. It is one of the biggest companies in Tampere. I went there and told them that we needed a neon horse for the stage. We have this massive white neon horse on stage. This kind of setups was my idea. I’m glad that I’m able to express myself and express our band this way. It’s really nice.
How does it feel for you to have a major label now? Has it affected your work somehow? I’m asking you that, because they say it can be the reason why the release of your album’s been postponed. For example, some say that the label didn’t want it to be released in the same period of time with HIM’s “Screamworks: Love in Theory and Practice”.
No… Actually… Of course we have the same label as HIM, but it has nothing to do with the release dates. Warner Music didn’t know the promo-plan for Europe for Negative. And that was the main reason why it was pushed up. And actually we were running out of schedule with mixing of the album. To tell the truth we just weren’t satisfied with the first mixing. The album was supposed to be released last fall, but it couldn’t happen. In this business it’s always like that… So HIM has nothing to do with our album. I would wish… Probably not yet… But it would be nice that we could be released the same day. It could be like Oasis and Blur in the UK back in the 1990s. (laughs)
But isn’t it a weird situation that you’re touring now with some new songs and your fans are not able to listen to them unless they come to see you live?
It’s really exciting, I would say! Because otherwise people would have some expectations… And now it’s more interesting for the band, because we’re able to, you know, flash a little bit of what we’ve got for the album. Of course it is weird and most of the bands won’t do it anymore… But actually if you remember the “Use Your Illusion” tour of Guns N’ Roses, they did it that way. They’d been touring quite long before the album was released. Now we have played only four songs from the new album. And the rest of the songs would probably be a kind of surprise for the fans.
Can you reveal some details and say a couple of words about the album in general?
Of course. The album will be strong music-wise and lyric-wise. We spent way more time on pre-production and writing stuff… We had something like 25 or 27 songs and we picked up only 12 of them. Only the best. (laughs) And it’s been the hardest recording process in my life. I had to open myself in a whole new way. We went to the USA and of course there were native speakers around us all the time, not to mention our producers… They worked with big artists before and they were really able to bring new elements to our music. I believe we’ve grown up as artists. I don’t know about the skills, but now we’re fatter than ever before because of the restaurants in the USA. (laughs) While writing the songs for the album I had to pull out something that really moves and shakes the earth. Usually we were like… How can I say? For example we had 12 tracks for “Karma Killer” (2008), and we’ve recorded them all. And for “War of Love” (2003) we had only those songs… And for “Sweet and Deceitful” (2004), and for “Anorectic” (2006) too. We skipped only one song, “Blood on Blood”, and it’s gonna be on this “Neon” album. And this time we were writing and writing and writing… And I just had to open a new layer of my shelter. The wounds were deeper than ever before. You can hear it on the album. It’s like salt and sugar at the same time. You love them both, but we were trying to find that golden middle way, so you can enjoy those flavors of salt and sugar at the same time. (laughs) I used to say it before in my songs, you know. Pleasure is quite close to pain. And that’s all about the album. And it sounds “Negative”. You can’t say anymore that “OK, it sounds like this or that”. It sounds like Negative. And we didn’t have this idea: now we’re gonna be Americans. No, we’re Finns. On our previous albums we were working with top Finnish producers, but this time we wanted to make it more international. But still we shouldn’t and we never will forget our roots. I love this melancholy that is running in my veins. I will never forget that and I will never deny that.
You’ve already said that you were surrounded by Americans while recording the album. Didn’t you feel a bit uncomfortable knowing that your lyrics are somehow judged by native speakers?
Of course I did… But it brought only a good vibe to the lyrics. For example we’ve skipped one song from the European release… It’s gonna be a bonus-track for Japanese release. It’s called “Eat You Alive”. It was the first track we wrote for this album and we thought, “Oh, it’s gonna be an awesome ass kicking live song, we love it”. But then we went to the studio and our producers were like “no way guys, it sounds like a cheap Motley Crue-like song of the 1980s”. Because of the lyrics. It was about fucking. I mean… Not about fucking of course – making lo-o-ove. (laughs) It’s about how you tempt somebody to… you know. Well, about flirting and how one step leads to another… So in the end we skipped this song, because it didn’t fit the album. In all the other songs we have this romantic side, and this one was too…
Yeah, maybe. But in most cases I don’t care what they say. I’m that kind of person. I have my own vision of things and I believe in it. And all the guys in the band are like that too. We always have some “image” of the album, what “color” it should be. And now we have all the colors of rainbow. And it’s gonna be neon rainbow. (laughs)
Does it happen to you sometimes that you write a song and it seems to be great, and then you show it to the guys and they say, “Man, actually we don’t like it …”? Is it a problem for you?
No, it’s not. Usually we have like 99 percent of the same kind of taste. But Antti (Anatomy) and Jay (Slammer), our rhythm-section, turned down two songs written for this album. I thought… and Larry (Love, guitar) and Snack (keyboards) too… that one of these songs could probably be our biggest hit ever. It had a “Living On A Prayer” kind of atmosphere. But they didn’t like it and I couldn’t force them to play that. So I’m gonna do it when I make my solo career. (laughs) Just kidding, just kidding. But our rhythm-section is really orientated on heavy music: Slipknot, Metallica… And Larry, Snack and I, we’re more like… You know, I’m for all kinds of music. I love all kinds of music and I think there’re no genres and limits in music for me. And Larry and Snack are that kind of people too. But Antti and Jay are more masculine, they don’t dare to show their sensitive side. (laughs)
By the way, you seem to like some pop-ish Finnish songs. You sometimes sing them during your shows.
I know, but… These are the songs that are really important to me in my private life. And I want to share these feelings with the audience. I don’t plan it, I do it quite randomly. It’s just… whatever comes to my mind on stage. For example during the acoustic part of our last show in Oulu I played some Guns N’ Roses songs. Right before we came to the stage I asked the rest of the band: “What should I play tonight?” There’re the same people in the first rows, I see these familiar faces of people who’re coming to see every show of Negative. And I was like: “What am I gonna play? Every night we play the same songs, should I do something different?” And the rest of the band were like “Surprise them, show them something else”. And I played some Guns N’ Roses songs. I don’t know why, but I just did it because I felt like it. I played some “Estranged” and “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”, that’s actually Bob Dylan’s… And what else? Some “Civil War”. Not the whole songs, but little parts.
And not long ago you surprised your fans by singing a song in Finnish with a lady named Katri Helena.
Yeah, Katri Helena. She’s got probably the longest career here in this business. She’s been in this industry for 47 years. And she’s the queen of Finnish traditional music. It was such a pleasure to work with her, of course. We made this Negative Reino shoes. Reino is the brand. These are traditional Finnish shoes, warm and comfortable for your feet and you can wear them in summertime and in wintertime, you know. Pretty nice and easy to take off and put on… So we designed these Negative shoes for Reino. And Katri designed her own shoes as well. And we did a lot of promo here in Finland together. That was the point. And that’s how we ended up on stage together.
Don’t you think about singing a duet with a female artist on some of your albums?
We’ve done it already on “Neon”. There will be a little surprise in the end. Listen to it really carefully. It’s quite an epic thing. And there will be more invited artists on this album. Not too many, but just a few. But I wanna keep it a secret.
OK, as you wish. And why haven’t you ever done any song with your brother Ville? He’s also a singer, so why not?
I produced their latest album (the band is called Flinch – ed.), so I was a kind of “coach”… But yeah, we sing together. Actually we were supposed to sing today. I was supposed to jam with him, and now I’m in our rehearsal place in Tampere. I was just decorating the place with the new album... Ville was supposed to come over here, but he had some things to do. But sometimes we do it for fun. Probably we’ll do it on stage some day. We’ll see. He’s such a good singer, so I don’t wanna… He’s gonna beat me… as a singer. But it must be interesting. Actually we did this “Too Much Love Will Kill You” (a cover version of Queen – ed.) a few years ago, and he did the backing vocals for it. And I was singing backing vocals for their album as well.
Yeah, but that’s not that interesting… It’s even hard to hear if it’s you or not.
Oh, OK. But you know backing vocals bring so much to a song. You can’t even imagine. If we were in the recording studio and I’d turn off that backing vocal track… You know, it brings all the colors to the song in the end. Without these backing harmonies it usually sounds like shit. Except Freddie Mercury… He always sounded good.
Let’s return to the new album. I’m really interested in this song called “Blood on Blood”. This title looks a bit strange among all others…
Well, I can tell you the meaning of the song… A long time ago I had a really important person in my life. And I lost her. I really thought… I was a bit naïve, probably… But I thought it would last forever, it would be a lifetime relationship. But I lost her… And actually I realized during the recording of the album that in all the songs there’s a little bit of this person. And this song is about her and about that situation. There’s some age when everyone goes through times like that. It’s usually around 20… It happened to me around 18-19, when I was just breaking through teenage years to a grown-up. She was by my side then, but at some point our ways separated. And I’ve noticed that I’m thinking about her a lot, really often. I even surprise myself, but… So I’ve put all that misery and all the nice feelings I had for her as well in this song. It was so long ago, but… It’s just life. I had my band and things were going on. And she had something else. And we were like best friends then. But something happened… You can’t turn back time. You just need to concentrate on what you have now and how you can make your life better for tomorrow. So “Blood on Blood” is about those times, when we meet some people and make promises that we’ll stay like this forever. You know what I mean: “I love you and I’ll be there forever”. But sometimes it won’t go this way.
It’s hard to ask anything about the new songs after a story like that, you know… But still there’s “Fucking Worthless”, for example. It seems to be a happy love song…
Well, I’m quite optimistic in a way. Still there’s no bitterness on the album, I’ve got an optimistic way of thinking. In the end of the tunnel there will be light, you know. After the rain there’ll be sun, every time. And without rainy days those sunny days won’t feel the same. That’s what it’s all about. I’ve got a story about “Fucking Worthless” too. I got the idea from Russia, actually. I got a fan letter, and the person was writing, “I saw your concert. Thanks for your music”, etc. - you know that’s how it starts usually… I was at home, in my living room when I was reading that letter and somehow it really caught me up, when I read something like that: “When you’re on stage you’re so fucking perfect, but one can see it in your eyes that you’re so worthless”. And I was like, “What the hell?... That’s true”. That was the first sparkle for the song. I took these lines and wrote them down in my notebook. In a few days I came back to that idea when I was reading my notebook, and I wrote that song. It’s my confession, that’s my love letter to someone who’s really important for me. And that “someone” could be the audience of Negative. There’s double meaning… You know, it could be you, it could be anybody who came to see the show… And I think that song can help the band to get in touch with the audience during the show. I want everybody to sing that “nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah” (laughs). That’s the song I had to fight for. Because the producers and the rest of the band were like: “It sounds too much like The Beatles’ “Hey Jude”, it’s Paul McCartney”. And I was like “no, I love it”. That song is really important to me. Maybe that’s the most important song on the album to me personally.
On this album you have another song with the name that sounds very personal – “Days I’m Living For”. So what are the “days you’re living for”?
Some kind of “breakthroughs”, some kind of crossroads. I believe life goes in seven-year circles. Our first album’s been released exactly seven years ago, and a new seven-year period is about to start. So we’re standing at a crossroad. These are the days I’m living for. I like this song. “Days I’m Living For” is a fresh, but basic Negative track, I think.
As far as I know you’re gonna sing the National anthem of Finland before the hockey game…
Yeah, tomorrow… It’s gonna happen tomorrow. And it’s gonna be really nice. It’s such an honor. There will be a Finland-Russia game on the Hartwall Areena in Helsinki. It will be broadcasted in Russia too, I think. So check it out if you can. I haven’t done that kind of things ever before. It’s a challenge for me, you know.
Are you a hockey fan?
Yes I am. But actually we play Xbox in our tour bus and at our rehearsal place sometimes too, after rehearsing… But I’m more into pinball, you know, that pinball machine. I’m from that generation, I love old school pinball machines. And this table hockey! Do you remember it? That was awesome!
Of course I do remember it! Do you have any other traditions in your band except playing Xbox after rehearsing? I know that you have this tradition of giving roses to the audience after your shows, but maybe there are something more…
The reason we give roses to the audience is that we got a lot of flowers from our fans during our first years and we decided to give them back. And Guns N’ Roses were giving roses to their fans as well… I think it’s nice, it’s polite. It gives something to remember if somebody catches the rose. Well, I don’t know if we have any more traditions… My tradition before the show is to warm up my voice. I need one hour for myself to exercise.
And talking about your voice, it feels like it has changed a bit by now. What do you do to make it sound better? Are there any special ways for you to improve it?
Yes, there are. You know, it’s just singing. Life itself and work itself teach you. As long as you repeat something you do it better and better and better. And I quit smoking about four years ago. That’s been probably my best decision ever, considering that I’m a singer. Otherwise I couldn’t reach high notes. Nowadays I feel like I’m a real singer. On our first albums my voice wasn’t “deep” or “wide” - it was more like talking than singing. And now it’s more like singing. I’m using my whole body, and I have to warm it up before every show, otherwise I just can’t cope with our songs. Album after album I’m pushing myself to the edge of what I am as a singer. And still I’m able to get better. During recording this album I felt almost like Freddie Mercury at some point. (laughs) Actually even our producer told me that he was really surprised by me and his main point was to show the audience the skills I have as a singer. So I was like… You know, these ships they have a kind of figure in the front part of them. It’s made to decorate the ship. So I’m like that. (laughs)
So you’re ready to have a healthy lifestyle to be a good singer, I see… By the way, you are a sporty guy, aren’t you?
Yeah, actually I love running. It keeps me in good shape. I want to be an awesome singer someday. I wanna become a real singer. So I have to work for that. Running is just one thing I can do. If you have dreams of being a singer you have to have some natural gift for that, but you’re also able to develop your skills. It’s all about decisions you make. So yes, I am a sporty guy. I love to feel good. I hate hangovers nowadays. I used to drink like a beast. I remember that while we were recording our second album “Sweet and Deceitful”, and “Anorectic” too, I felt like hangover was my normal condition. Every day the same… I was like, “What the hell?” Now it’s different. You know, you get older and wiser some day… So now it’s not the same for me – but I’m not talking about the rest of the band. I’m talking just about my life as I see it.
Well, some people never change. For example I remember my interview with Sir Christus that I had last year… He still has that kind of “sex, drugs (hmm… alcohol?) and rock-n-roll” guy, I believe.
Yeah… You know, Christus came to see our concert in Helsinki and he also came to the backstage to say hello to us. I invited him… Well, actually he called me one week before the show in Helsinki and said he wanted to come and see our show. And I was like “yeah, you’re welcome”. And he came to my place and we talked for like three hours two month ago. And now everything is fine between Chris and me and we’re able to move forward with Negative and he’s able to go on with his new band.
Yes, another new band… He’s already tried to play with a few bands, but no luck yet.
Yes, I know… But actually I don’t know anything about his private matters. All I can see is that he’s doing better nowadays than he was doing when our ways separated. And I’m happy for him. And I’m glad that everybody is alive… We’re just human beings and you know… Life is too short to have hard feelings for somebody. So everything is fine now, considering our past.
Well, Tommi (Jonne’s brother and Negative’s manager) is now working with Chris and his new band, so he definitely believes that Chris can start over again…
Yes, I believe so… And I believe his new band is really good. They have a good crew. Now they have a good booking agency and professional people around them. But it’s all about songs. So only time will show how it’s gonna be. If they’re able to write great songs, their future’s gonna be fine. Only songs will show what the direction of Chris’s band will be.
You know, Chris told me that he’s been writing a lot of songs, but we just had no chance to hear them.
Yeah, he’s been already writing songs when he was in Negative. He was writing a lot, but that stuff didn’t fit this band. How can I say? Since I’ve formed Negative, I’ve been a really creative songwriter… I still am, actually today I’ve already written one song, I’m writing all the time. I was listening to the songs Chris had back in those days, and they didn’t feel like Negative songs. I couldn’t hear beautiful melodies. They were more like “street” rock-n-roll songs. Old school… hmm… “Cadillac rock”, you know. I couldn’t see any possibility to have them on a Negative album. But of course he brought some good ideas. For example the riff for “In My Heaven” (sings) was his idea. In that kind of things he was really good. But… I’m really careful in all these things. I have my own vision of how Negative should sound like and what kind of songs fit this band. You have to have this vision, otherwise it’s gonna be crap. I’m not saying that Chris’s songs were crap, actually they were quite good, but I couldn’t see myself singing them. I need the shivers, I need to get chicken skin, you know. Otherwise it won’t work. That’s the thing.
But he’s also a great guitar player…
Yes. And he was a showman.
Oh yes, he still is. But what I want to say is don’t you feel like your sound is not that powerful with only one guitar left?
It’s a bit different… If you think about Led Zeppelin, Queen, The Doors, they had only one guitar player and still could manage… Of course our previous albums were arranged for two guitars. But on our first album we didn’t have a keyboarder, and when Snack came around we realized that we probably don’t need the second guitar. Nowadays it’s fine. Instead of the second guitar we have this a bit distorted keyboard sound. And our sound is brighter and clearer now. We need to do more work to arrange the songs, but it’s OK. And now we’re not orientated on glam rock that much. It’s more like grunge melodic rock.
As far as I remember you tried to find another guitar player at some point, but the idea failed…
Yes, right. We wanted to try that, but… Chris was such a big person for the band. And in the end we realized that we didn’t want to replace him. We’d been working for so many years as a group, and it’s so hard to make this “chemistry” work with a new person who hasn’t ever been around. Gary, the one who played a part of the “Karma Killer” tour with us, was such a nice person and such a talented musician and everything was fine, but it didn’t feel right. We knew by then that there would be great things happening to the band, that we’d have this new record deal with Warner Music and everything… And the five of us, we’d been for such a long time together, we knew the rules, we knew everything about each other. And we decided that we didn’t need it. We thought we’d better make a brave start and try to manage with only one guitar. Now it works like hell, I can tell you. I’m so proud of what we’ve done in the end. Otherwise we wouldn’t exist. And I think we found a better way…
And what would have happened to you if you hadn’t found a way out?
I don’t know… But definitely I’d have been surrounded by music and involved in making it. I’d still have written songs. I will be a songwriter till the day I die. I’m writing for all kinds of artists, you know, disco artists as well. all kind of stuff. I like different music as long as there’s a good catchy melody. Or probably I’d have been a stripper. But that’d have been such a shame… I can do it only if I have some kind of surgery. (laughs) OK, just kidding. I’d have been a market seller. Something usual. But if I think about it seriously, I would love to help younger artists and younger bands to make their career. To make their first steps in this industry.
Some kind of producer?
Probably yes. Songwriter/producer. Or some kind of “artist coach” who gives advise. Probably I could tell those youngsters not to make the same mistakes that I made.
But you need a lot of money for that, I believe…
Hmmm… yes, we need to sell more albums. (laughs)
Yeah, and it’s difficult to do that, because people don’t want to buy CD, everybody is downloading music now…
If our music is all over the world I won’t care. (laughs) But still I would love to encourage people to buy original albums because it gives money to the artist and to the label. Everything costs money, you know. Our flights to the USA, our studio… Food costs money. And as long as artists get money for their music they can invest it in videos, marketing, live shows. If some day nobody buys albums and everybody is just downloading illegally bands won’t be able to tour anymore. And there won’t be new big “stadium” bands like Queen, The Rolling Stones, U2, Muse… So don’t kill rock-n-roll, please, that’s all I ask. Get original albums. I won’t judge people who download, but still… If you’re painting walls or driving trucks you’re paid for your work. And if you’re not paid, you won’t do it, you know. And if people won’t buy our albums I’ll have to become a stripper and I won’t have time to write any new Negative songs. So buy our albums and I won’t have to be a stripper. (laughs) It’s all about Russian audience.
OK, let’s put it this way: Russian fans, it’s your greatest mission to save Negative, so buy their albums…
Yeah, original ones!
It’s time to ask my final question. Here it is: it feels like LA is the city of your dreams and it has inspired the “Neon” album in many ways. What’s next? I mean, where will you find the inspiration for your next release?
We’ll see. Life itself inspires me. It always has inspired me to write songs. I’m just open for all kind of things and all opportunities. I don’t make that kind of plans. I just go with the flow and whatever comes to me, that comes to me. I’m just trying to enjoy the moment. The most important thing is the ride, not the destination.
Negative on the Internet: http://www.negative.fi
Special thanks to Maiju Asikainen (Frontier Promotion) and Tommy Liimatainen (Negative’s management) for arranging this interview
Interview by Ksenia Artamonova
Promo photos by Alexi Koskinen (taken from the band's official website)
Live photos by Natalia "Nuts" Reshetnikova
April 28, 2010