Brother Firetribe’s Pekka Ansio Heino: “Van Halen’s ‘1984’ is in our DNA!”

Brother Firetribe’s Pekka Ansio Heino: “Van Halen’s ‘1984’ is in our DNA!”

Finnish AOR gods Brother Firetribe have a new album out. Scott Adams finds out more...

Brother Firetribe aren’t a name that gets bandied about in many households, more’s the pity, but hopefully with the release of their splendid new album Sunbound that lamentable state of affairs will start to change. Certainly if we here at Sentinel Daily have anything to do with things it will, and, as we’re always locked in a crusade to bring great music to the masses it was a no-brainer when we were offered a chat with BT throatsmith Pekka Ansio Heino to discuss that new opus.

Battling a phone line that placed both of us seemingly in sixty feet of ice cold water whilst trying to speak, we manfully discussed all things Firetribe, the eighties, and ‘Tennis Heavy’…

Let’s talk about the new album. It’s been out a little while now and debuted on the charts in Finland at number five. You must be pleased with that? “Oh, absolutely! When we first got the mastered version of the album in our hands we knew that we were on the winning side of things. We’re doing a club tour at the moment in Finland and the places have been packed, people are singing along with the new songs – it’s great and we’re very pleased with things”.

Is it hard being an AOR band from Finland, a country that has a reputation built on much heavier bands and music? “It’s hard to be any kind of band right now! If you look at the world and how it is it doesn’t matter what kind of music you play. We don’t think about the tags that much. If there are people out there who enjoy what we do then it’s all good, and I don’t see any difference. People are always trying to put us into categories. Some people call us a metal band which seems pretty funny to me but who cares? If there are people out there who get something out of this… for the way things are, for an AOR band – if you want to call us that, and I don’t have a problem with it – we’re doing pretty good”.

So, you’re clearly not a metal band, but would you say ‘Tennis Heavy’ is still a good way to describe Brother Firetribe? “Like the name of the band, that kind of came out of an ‘in-joke’ (laughs). The way this band came about was that me and Tomppa (Nikulainen, keyboards), we were together in our first ‘real’ band for almost ten years, released a couple of albums, but we got tired of banging our heads against a brick wall. It was the classic story of a band almost getting signed to a big label, blah blah blah… we went through the usual bullshit of our record company telling us what to do, what to write, and we got tired of that so the band (he’s talking about Cashmir, by the way) just sort of faded away in the early two thousands. What came out of that was the attitude between me and Tomppa to just do something for the fuck of it, play the kind of music that we liked and brought a smile to our faces. Don’t give a shit whether somebody else likes it or not. And that was Brother Firetribe to begin with. Then it was all about Emppu (Vuorinen, the Nightwish guitarist who also lends his six string smarts to BT) and Jason (Flinck, bass) jumping in; it became a good excuse to get out of the house, see the guys and have a few beers. The music was a side product! But then things got out of hand! And other people, who heard that we were jamming, would ask ‘what kind of music are you playing?’ and off the top of my head I’d say ‘well, it’s kinda… ‘Tennis heavy’. Don’t ask me why. It just sounded like that to me. After that somebody was mad enough to sign us, so we got together an album’s worth of material but we had to come up with a name. Once you’re forced to do something, nothing happens, so that was it, nothing happened. Then we spent a weekend at a friend’s summer cottage here in Finland; a boys’ weekend. You know how it is, by the Sunday morning, everything is very quiet. The master of the house was lying face down on the floor, passed out and everyone was tiptoeing around him. But all of a sudden the guy just jumps up and says ‘Veli Paloheimo means Brother Firetribe in English!’. Veli Paloheimo was a famous Finnish tennis player back in the day! So that was too good to miss, and we said OK, that’s the name of the band!”

It’s a great story. And just as good to name a band as any other. “Oh hell yeah!”

So when you were doing those things at that time, what sound were you going for? What were the influences that you were trying to bring out when you first wrote together? “It’s always been the same, even to today. When we write a song we’re trying to come up with something that makes you want to do pushups! You know, we’re always after that soundtrack feel from back in the day. It’s good to get something motivating and positive out of a song. The soundscape goes back pretty much to Van Halen’s 1984 album. We can’t get that out of our system! It’s in our DNA!”

So who made you personally want to pick up a microphone? “Well I’ve ben listening to music pretty much since I was seven years old so as you can imagine there are a lot of names… but for me Steve Perry of Journey is the King. No two ways about it – his voice was something like God would have.

It was indeed. Going back to Sunbound, I’m a big John Parr fan, and I was interested to hear how you came about recording Parr’s Restless Heart for the record? “I’m a huge fan of his too. We’ve had a habit of doing covers from that era, when film soundtracks had all those great songs – ever since the first album we’ve done that. So we needed one for this album, and we made a list, like we always do, but for some reason it was really difficult this time. So we forgot about it for a little while and concentrated on our own songs, and it just got to the point where we felt we weren’t going to find a suitable song. Friends, everyone really, was suggesting songs, giving us lists, but we went back to the first list we made and Restless Heart was at the top of it! We ‘re like ‘how the hell did we miss this? It was right there in front of us!’ And once we recorded it, it was obvious that it was the right choice”.

It really could have been written for you, couldn’t it? It fits the Brother Firetribe style and sound completely. “Yes, exactly. And that’s what we’re always after – the kind of song that sounds like Brother Firetribe!”

And thinking about that, if somebody came to you today who knew nothing about the band, what song on the new album would you say is most quintessentially a Brother Firetribe song? “That’s a tough one. I’m so close to the songs. But a ‘traditional’ BT song that could have appeared on the other albums is, I’d say Help is on the Way. But I’m also so happy to have come up with songs like Shock, or Phantasmagoria, which still sound like Brother Firetribe but just jump out of the box”.

They do – especially Phantasmagoria. “Definitely. That song was born out of a funny little melody that the bass player played on guitar, which became the chorus, We recorded a basic demo with just an acoustic guitar, keyboards and drums but we couldn’t find the right arrangement for it until the very end, when somebody suggested adding the orchestration to it. So it’s still a Brother Firetribe song, but it sounds refreshingly different”.

And that was when out time ran out – we briefly chat about possible Australian dates in closing- there’s no chance at the moment – so my advice would be for you to invest in a copy of Sunbound as soon as is humanly possible in an event to turn the cash-obsessed heads of local promoters and get the band down here- make it so!

Sunbound is available now on Spinefarm Records.

Scott Adams
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