Poets of the Fall is a story of determination, ambition and never giving up on what you love.
They are Finland’s one of the most popular rock bands, formed in 2003 in Helsinki by singer Marko Saaresto, guitarist Olli Tukiainen and keyboardist Markus Kaarlonen through financial struggles and deliberate times.
They sold everything they had. They moved into a friend’s basement, built a custom made studio in a living room, and used their car as an office space.
The other members of the band are Jani (bass), Jari (drums) and Jaska (guitar).
All band members live in Finland mostly. When they get a break, they spend their times with friends and families.
Their music is some form of hybrid. “We’ve tried to categorise it so many times, but having just any one label always seems to fall short of the mark and place unnecessary limitations to what we do, and we don’t want limitations,” says Marko.
How did Poets of the Fall come to be formed?
Marko: Very deliberately. It was do or die time. I still remember sitting in Olli’s old beat up car all those years ago and writing a dream plan together. I’ve gotta tell you, it works. You write it down, you break it down into small steps and you start walking. It will get you places. Places you never knew existed.
You went through a lot of financial trouble in forming the group. When did you first feel like you may have a future?
Marko: I take it you mean “future with Poets of the Fall”. I guess it was around the time Signs of Life hit #1 on the charts. We’ve always been willow bendy optimistic about stuff, but I remember it was a real struggle to get to that point, even with all the good times we had writing the album and recording it and all that…
Did you ever think you might be on there one day? (there, as in being popular)
Marko: Well, there’s always that funny little bugger called hope nagging us to keep at it, making us think way bigger than we dare say out loud.
MUSIC AND LIFE
What were your early musical influences?
Marko: The earliest stuff is a blur of anything translated into Finnish (Finnhits) and jazz, classical, and more. Then came for us bands like Pink Floyd, U2, Metallica, Van Halen, Dio to name but a few, and that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface…
Do you remember your first paying gig?
Marko: I remember my first gig, but I was three and got no money from it. I also remember my first gig with Poets of the Fall, but that wasn’t my first paying gig. I really don’t remember when my first paying gig was and what band was I playing in at that time, there’s been quite a few before Poets of the Fall (PotF), but we’ll leave those in the past.
How do you manage lyric writing?
Marko: The songs are a collaboration in the end. Who does what and at which stage varies with every song. The lyrics are usually my ball game, but I do discuss my ideas with the guys and ask for opinions from time to time to see if my thoughts resonate.
MUSIC AND PHILOSOPHY
What is Poets of the Fall’s contribution to rock in general?
Marko: Well, suppose rock’s always been about breaking the rules and doing what your heart tells you to do, it would seem we keep up the attitude by being honest to what and how we carry on with our work… buuuut we’ve never really cared about politics… and that’s really what all this hoodoo with genres and categories is all about. It’s just super boring.
We write music. Let other people worry about jamming it into boxes with labels on them.
Which song would you identify as the beginning of your band?
Marko: Late Goodbye.
What particular inspirations do you have behind the songs?
Marko: Creativity is like an inner voice. It’s there all the time, hollering its bright ideas, you just need to learn to stop and listen to it. Sometimes it takes a while to hear it, because most of us have been taught so well to ignore it.
Are there any correlations (series) between your albums?
Marko: Yes there are. In short: Signs of life – Carnival of Rust – Temple of Thought, in other words: “innocence – disillusionment – becoming.”
And then: Revolution Roulette – Twilight Theater – TBA, in other words: “Be careful what you wish for – Because nothing is what it seems – TBA…”
So, two trilogies, the second of which seems to be holding out for its completing third part.
There are many references to relations between human emotions and nature in your songs. For example, “I’m thirsty for your love dancing underneath the skies of lust” in Carnival of Rust, “At the edge of a rainbow she thought the solution” in Signs of Life, “White crippled wings beating the sky” in War, “Mercy, like water in a desert” in Dreaming Wide Awake. Why?
Marko: Many times I write from what I see in my mind’s eye. So it’s like I’m writing about a film clip or a picture only I can see. I find this makes for a great platform for finding metaphors to create a backdrop for the story I wanna tell. In any case, everyone seems to interpret the text in their own way, and that’s really the whole point. Whether it’s what I meant or not isn’t really the issue.
We’re only happy when people can find their own meanings in the lyrics.
Would Asian values have any influence on your art such as Taoism?
Marko: I’ve always been fascinated by the orient. Taoism for one is very interesting and holds wonderfully practical ideas to contemplate. The pragmatist in me seems to be drawn to ideas with functional value, you know, stuff that makes sense, that works.
What was the inspiration behind your song “War”? What does the song tell us?
Marko: The spooky thing about War is that we, Olli and myself, had both composed that song, apart from each other, without knowing the other one of us was simultaneously coming up with the exact same tune.
So the next day we came to the studio and Olli went:” Hey, I’ve got this new thing I want you to hear”, and he started playing the intro to what is now known as “War”, and I listened to it for like two seconds and started singing what I had composed the previous night, and it was so spooky, it was the same song. You could just feel the hairs on your arms rise up. It was like we had sat at the same table and written it together.
War is a song about the fall and the redemption, the fallibility of man and the triumph of hope for something better through shedding ego and understanding what is truly of value… Make sense? No? Class? No? Anyone? No? :)
In relation to your song “Dreaming Wide Awake”, what is the difference between dreaming with closed eyes or dreaming wide-awake?
Marko: Well, dreaming wide awake (eyes open) makes steering more accurate.
MUSIC AND BUSINESS
Would you consider Max Payne 2 project as your break-through project?
How did you find/create the opportunity to be involved in it?
Marko: It was through my friend Sam Lake, who’s the scriptwriter/game designer extraordinaire, at Remedy, whom I talked with about the idea of a Poets of the Fall song in the game. To my surprise, he really liked the idea and went ahead to get everyone to agree to go through with it. So, three weeks later, completely out of the blue, he rings me up and asks us to write a song.
We were only too happy to comply.
Finnish gaming industry is on the rise with Angry Birds! Do you have any plans in collaborating with a game developer again?
Marko: Oh, it would be a blast. We’re open to it, as projects of the sort have always been good fun and very interesting. They’re a great diversion, and you get to see and learn a lot in the process.
All of your albums went straight #1 in Finland. What are the key defining elements in these successes?
Marko: Well, thanks, almost all, and every one of them debuted beautifully for sure, but whether the key was great songs, brilliant marketing, the singers devilish good looks, or all of the above (box ticked) it’s hard to say.
We like to think it’s the raw, bare knuckle labor we’ve put into the band to make it successful.
Your music videos are very creative.
Marko: We work very closely together with the directors to create the videos. We’ve always felt, the video is very much a part of the song once it’s made, so it has to “click” for us somehow…
MUSIC, CULTURE AND POLITICS
Why do you sing in English?
Marko: We all grew up listening to music with English lyrics… So for us it was only natural. On a more personal note, my mother would speak English to us kids at home, so I came to speak the language from very early on. Just to put it on the table, English is by no means the only language we write music in.
What are the difficulties do you find in singing in English?
Marko: I love it, it reaches so many people, literally all over the planet. So many people seem to get so much out of the music, the lyrics etc.
So, whatever difficulties may arise, they are easily outweighed with the rewards.
When you write songs, how do you manage being a creative bilingual person? Do you think in Finnish and then translate to English or all goes in English in your head?
Marko: Whenever I speak or write in English my thoughts switch into English and the same thing happens when I speak or write in Finnish… Multiple personalities I guess… haha!
In relation to acceptance of your sub-genre in Finland and the rest of the world, how do you cope with the differences?
Marko: We don’t really think in terms of Finland and the rest of the world.
We see the world as a whole, with Finland included, and where enough people want us to come and play, we go play. It’s really that simple.
How do you cope with the competition in singing songs in English against native English singers?
Marko: You can turn pretty much anything into a competition if you want to, but for us music is art, not a race. Running a race equals to missing out on the life you want to live, unless you want to be a race runner. If that works for you, that’s fine and I’m happy for you.
We’re in it for the music. We don’t compete. We sing.
What differences do you think Finnish musicians offer vis-à-vis to English musicians?
Marko: They speak better Finnish and have probably been to the sauna more often… and they would also know not to eat that yellow snow…
What would your advices be for new start up bands singing in English that want to break in Finland / world-wide?
Marko: It’s not a one night stand.
We thank Marko and the band for this exclusive interview.
Their upcoming tours are listed on their website at http://www.poetsofthefall.com/tourdates/. As Marko puts it, “I usually don’t even know the dates and places so well. I can’t keep up with all the details, scatterbrained as I am. Luckily our manager just tells me where I have to be next, and I do my best to show up :)” So keep connected to them ;)
So far, Poets of the Fall has received the following awards:
* Best Finnish Act at MTV Europe Music Awards 2006
* Best Finnish Music Video of all time in TV2’s Musiikki-TV and Best Music Video of 2006 at The Voice (video Carnival of Rust)
* Two Emma Awards (the Finnish Grammys) in 2005 – the best debut album and the best new act
* The Bronze Muuvi and People’s Choice Muuvi 2006 Awards (video Carnival of Rust)
* Best Finnish band at the NRJ Radio Awards 2006
* Commercial Radio Stations’ Newcomer of the Year Award in 2005
Poets of the Fall have played successful tours in Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, United States, Estonia, Russia, Lithuania and India.
Promo picture credit: Olli Haveri
Other photos credit: Tiia Öhman