MIKKO VON HERTZEN (VON HERTZEN BROTHERS) “It’s A Calmer Album Than Our Previous Records”

VON HERTZEN BROTHERS (Live at Newcastle University, Newcastle, U.K., December 8, 2018)
Photo: Mick Burgess

Having just released Red Alert In The Blue Forest, their first album in five years, Finland’s, Von Hertzen Brothers, are hitting the road bringing in its support. Mick Burgess called up Mikko Von Hertzen to talk about getting back out on the road again and how they made the latest record during the Lockdown.

How have the last couple of years been for you?

It was hard for our families not be able to see each other especially my brothers’ kids who couldn’t see their grandparents. Not being able to see people you love is something that you wouldn’t think could happen. On the positive side we were able to polish our new album and get everything how we really wanted it but it was really hard to keep ourselves going with delay after delay. It looked pretty gloomy at one point for the whole industry. Money was tight and seeing friends really struggling was hard. We were lucky that we had planned a break to work on the album but it just went on a lot longer than we ever thought. It was both hard but good for the art as we had time to work on the album and I think it came out softer as a result. It’s a calmer album than our more recent records

It certainly hasn’t got any easier with Russia invading the Ukraine. How do you feel about the threats that Russia made to Finland and Sweden about joining NATO? Scary times?

On top of coming out of a worldwide pandemic we now have the war in the Ukraine. Have we not learned anything from history? We’ve all got so used to a certain standard of living and now we are looking like we’ll lose some of that, people are freaking out. It is very scary especially those in the middle of the conflict. We have had globalisation for decades now and we’ve come to learn and understand other people’s cultures but all it takes is for a handful of people who can create this kind of chaos. Having such a long border with Russia is a worry.

Have you played any shows since the lockdown was lifted?

Last summer there was a little bit of an opening here from July onwards for about two months and we were able to play about 10 shows. It opened up again in November and we were able to play our 20th anniversary show. The 20 shows we were supposed to do were reduced and we could only play in Finland. We weren’t able to play abroad, in the UK or anywhere else which was frustrating. Our current tour was delayed too due to Covid but hopefully things will start to get better again.

Talking of touring you’ll be over in the UK for an 8-date tour starting in Bristol on 11th May. It’s been 4 years since your last tour here. You must be looking forward to playing throughout the UK again?

Very much so. We haven’t been there after Brexit, Covid or after the war so there’s been hurdle after hurdle to overcome. We’ve been so touched by our UK fans not giving up on us and sending us messages of support. Now we are able to come over and we can’t wait.

What about the setlist. What have you got lined up for this tour?

We’ll probably play six or seven songs from our new album but as people in the UK haven’t seen us in ages we’ll make sure we play their favourite tunes too. As we are headlining, we’re able to play a little bit longer, so that’s really cool. It’ll enable us to show everybody what we are about as we have such a variety of songs. The response to the new album has been really good in the UK so we’ll probably do half new songs and half older songs. We get a lot of messages from people so we have a good idea what they want to hear.

Are you pleased with the reaction so far to your new album, Red Alert In The Blue Forest?

When you take a little bit of a turn from your previous album into an area that you haven’t really explored before it’s so nice to get that feedback that people appreciate what you are trying to do. The last couple of albums have been very forward, energy wise and this one is more epic, standstill and see what’s around type of approach, so it’s really nice that people understand what we are all about on this album.

It’s been 5 years since your last album, War Is Over. When did you start writing for the new record?

We started working on the songs back in 2019. We’d been playing quite a few shows and then began writing. We planned to write for 6 months where we’d all write separately then come together to see what each other had. Then I got stuck in India, which is where I usually go for writing, then the pandemic hit and I had appendicitis so everything started getting delayed but then we were able to get time to write and work on the material. The album was actually finished back in August so it took us almost 2 years to do it, from beginning to end.

Did you have any ideas left over from your previous album to give you a head start or did you start writing from scratch?

We mostly started with a clean slate for this album. Jonne had the idea for “Northern Lights” for a while and I remembered hearing a version of it maybe three years ago but everything else is new and all of the lyrics are new and written during the pandemic. You can hear that there’s a lot of reflecting on loss and the kind of things that we’ve all been experiencing over the last two years.

How many songs did you write in those sessions?

We had about 30 songs to choose from and we chose those which we felt belonged in this moment. We decided not to go for the safe option. We had three 10-minute songs so we decided to do them all. We had a load of songs left over and the melodies and everything are done but the lyrics aren’t finished. We just concentrated on the eleven songs on the album.

This is your eighth album now. How do you see this as a progression from your previous albums?

A lot of bands start off with a strong debut then do a couple of really cool albums then they’ll start repeating themselves and dilute the vision that they had in the first place. I’m so pleased to think that on our eighth album that our standard is still up there and can take many of our listeners by surprise. It sounds really fresh and cool and we’re very proud to have pulled this off. It’s a double album, over 70 minutes of music and I don’t think there’s a weak moment on there but that’s only me. Somebody else could have another opinion. As creative siblings we just want to create something that we love ourselves and then seeing it resonate so well with our fans is just really, really cool.

What will you do with those that you didn’t use?

We have demo songs done and we’ll take a sideways glance at them at some point to see if there’s anything there that we can use. “Flowers and Rust” was one of our biggest songs on ‘Nine Lives’ and it was a four-year-old song that just didn’t sit well with ‘Stars Aligned’ so we just left it and it ended up being our most popular song on the next album. I know we have some good songs there but we just couldn’t find the right arrangement for this album but they may work on the next one.

Where did you record the album?

We did the basic tracks in East Sound Studio about 40km out of Helsinki. It’s a really nice room for the drums. Then we did some work in our home studios. We also often went to our cottage where most of the lead vocals on the album were recorded. It’s just a stress-free environment. You have the time to try things out and you don’t have to worry about the cost of paying for it. You could just wait and record the vocal for the right time when your voice was just ready for the song.

What about the producer? Who did you work with?

We worked with James Spectrum producing the album with us and it’s almost like team work. He was involved in the mixing and going into the detail of the songs. He was producing from a very technical position and how everything sits together. We took the responsibility for the arrangements and the melodies. Musicwise, we produce ourselves but sound wise, James deals with that. He takes our vision and makes it right.

Are you spending most of the year touring to promote your record or do you have time to fit any other projects in?

The plan for the rest of the year is to get the tour rolling and playing as many shows as we can and we may do another music video and towards the summer we’ll start writing some new songs. We loosely have an idea of what we’re going to do and we’ll work on that between playing shows.

Von Hertzen Brothers UK Tour starts in Bristol on 11th May. For more information visit vonhertzenbrothers.com

Interview and Photos By Mick Burgess


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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