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Urban Tale - 2003 Interview with Erkka Korhonen

INTERVIEW: Urban Tale (Mar 2003)
Vital signs are recorded thanks to UT guitarist Erkka Korhonen.

In The Spotlight - Urban Tale
Interview with - Erkka Korhonen
Written by: gdazegod (March 25, 2003)

Finland - the country of a thousand lakes. The 'Minnesota of Europe' as one person described it to me. It's also the home of a thousand great bands coming out of the area. OK, that bit might be an exaggeration, but one can't help but be impressed by the quality of some of these. Case in point - Urban Tale. Well known to melodic rockers the world over, thanks to their wonderfully melodic debut from 2001. The 'new Journey' said many pundits, though I'm sure the band think otherwise. So says Urban Tale guitarist Erkka Korhonen, who opens his account recalling events from Urban Tale Phase I. 'Listening to our first album was a good experience in many ways' he says. 'Don't get me wrong, we liked the first album, but didn't want to redo it like so many bands do.'

January 2003 saw the release of Urban Tale's second album for Frontiers - 'Signs Of Times'. A prophetic title considering the times we are living in, and we'll touch on that further on in the interview. The two year gap has seen the band move in a slightly different direction, and it is one they feel comfortable with. 'We are really happy with the sound' says Erkka. 'This time it's not as Hi-Fi as the 1st album, it's a lot punchier, drier and has more healthy bottom end. This was definitely the band's goal for this album, after listening for the first one.'

Keeping true to Urban Tale's vision of intertwined melody, music, and lyrical waxing, some things have remained intact according to Erkka. 'Yes, the composing didn't really change that much. We had some of these songs lying around already when we did the 1st album, like 'Mary' and 'Still Strong'. Also, each songwriter in the band is finding his own voice. Tuomo, our bass player, bought two songs in this time, 'Houdini' and 'Morning Smoke'. They have a clear personality. It's easier for us to work as a band now too, since we can look in the same direction when we arrange the songs. Earlier it was a mess, when everybody had a different opinion on everything. After all, I think that the idea of Urban Tale and our style has become clearer for us and we now know better what we want to sound like - so evolution has happened!'

If one looks deep enough, they can see that 'Signs Of Times' relates to Urban Tale's progress at a personal and developmental level. 'We feel that the title fits perfect for the time being' says Erkka. 'We are evolving as a band, hopefully to the right direction and everything around us. It's sad that anything 'new' is consumed so quickly and nobody seems to have time to concentrate on what we have and what's happening right now. All changes must be drastic, and 'old-fashioned' is flushed out and recycled after a decade or so, it's called the ever-so-lovely nostalgia cycles or something. We believe in growing and that's what the title is all about. We make mistakes and sometimes lean on to the past in order to learn and move forward. We are lucky having this opportunity reaching some people with our music but in the Big Picture we're still just little drops of paint.'

The coincidental association with whats happening on the planet right now dovetails quite nicely into the bands message of hope. Good timing I reckon! 'It was time for us to step into the more serious topics with the lyrics. Kimmo wrote two texts about world politics and war, 'Starship Of Giants' and 'Son Of A Gun'. Also, the songs about human relations are not that happy this time. Life has its difficult moments as well, as we all know!'

Second time around finds the band in the same hearty spirits as they were for the recording of their debut. I asked Erkka whether the novelty and excitement had worn off or were they still as fresh and keen once recording for 'Signs Of Times' got underway. 'Actually, we almost ran out of time before the recordings' he says. 'We did most of the pre-production about a month beforehand. This didn't give us too much time to plan but everything went smoothly in the end. The band was at least as enthusiastic this time, since we believed that a lot of the material was pretty special. We are still total rookies when it comes to album productions, but we're getting there. Also, our working relationship with Theo has naturally deepened. He knows us better now and vice versa. We have a deeper mutual trust and this time our co-operation was a lot better and he really wanted our input on several things.'

Which leads us onto the bands working schedule with producer Anders Theander and the entire Roastinghouse facility. I doubt whether Urban Tale would get the same level of flexibility elsewhere - something Erkka agrees with. 'RoastingHouse has a great family feeling to it, it's really something special. It helps to be real friends with the guys there. I think that it would be difficult to find such a cool working enviroment easily. Also, it's great to be able to spend considerable time in the studio, making a better production since RoastingHouse pays the recordings for us.'

Referring back to our review of 'Signs Of Times', I suggested that the band didn't like being lumped into an AOR pigeon-hole, and that perhaps it was time for a break-out. Erkka offers his view on precedings. 'Of course it would be great to hit the mainstream market, but it takes a lot of work and money. The AOR audience has received the band really well and it's great to have an existing fan base. We have to be careful with the little steps we take with our music, since we don't want to alienate our current fans and listeners. It's totally clear that our next album cannot be rap or disco! We are trying to add little modern and contemporary spices and ingredients into our music while maintaining the band's sound and keeping the music rocking. The thing is that when we started to write our own music, we didn't try to write AOR specifically. Of course our Journey tribute affected the early songwriting but it was other people who stamped the AOR-mark onto our foreheads, so to speak. The other influences we have are slowly coming into the picture as well.'

An example of adding in their 'modern and contemporary spices' (great way of putting it actually!) are the two tracks 'Hello Light' and 'Monsters'. Could this be a new direction in which to take Urban Tale. More mainstream perhaps. Not according to Erkka. 'The tune 'Hello Light' almost didn't make it onto the album, since the pre-production of that song didn't sound too cool. Theo was able to squeeze out a better vibe and the album version is acceptable. It's not my favourite song though. It's funny, that it sounds contemporary and modern, even though the groove is a '60's kinda thing! It reminds me of old Motown and also Stevie Winwood. The end result for this song was that we were not able to re-create the album feel at the rehearsals, so we had to drop it off the live set.'

'Monsters' is really stretching the limits! We wanted to do the song even though it divided our opinions at first. I remember hearing Timo's demo for the first time and I went 'What the f...???' The song is very much of a studio experiment, not a live song nor our future direction. The reviewers of the album have had a difficult time in trying to categorize this one! Also, there was a reviewer who said that all of our songs are made by copying parts directly from other bands' songs (Journey, Toto etc) and just putting them together. I'd like to hear what Journey songs we copied for 'Monsters'!' he says.

'Starship Of Giants' - great song, uses some well known band names.. 'Journey to Boston' would've been an interesting title. Again, it's lyrically very topical considering the issues happening around the world - looking for outside intervention so to speak. 'Maybe we should have had 'Journey To Boston' or 'A Foreigner eats Styx with a Survivor in the middle of Kansas' on the next album!' says Erkka with a bit of humor. 'We actually realized the bands' names on the title but decided not to change it. You are the first one that has mentioned it.' (hey hey, strike one to GDAZE.. Ed).

'The lyrics deal with a lot of current topics, now that the war started in Iraq and everything. Many have asked if the song is about the 9/11 terrorist attacs in NYC, but the scary truth is that the lyrics were written way before that happened! The message of the song is that religious fanaticsm and fundamentalism are not good, be it with any religion, not just Islam. The christian fanatics are equally bad. These people seem to seek the answers from these 'outside interventions' and have lost their common sense. They have forgotten the first rule of any moral or ethic system, and that is to treat others as you yourself want to be treated.'

'Son Of A Gun' is one of my fave tracks. Again, the lyrics and theme look toward a new hero to help us out of a mess. I asked Errka whether the guys went through a philosophical stage in their song-writing at some point. 'Again, a surprisingly current topic! 'Son Of A Gun' was inspired by the 'Band Of Brothers' tv-series produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. The story of the song is about families that have soldiers in several generations. The fathers have seen the horrors of the war and now they have to watch their sons experience the same thing. They are proud of their sons but also very scared and wouldn't want their sons to experience what they had to. Also, they haven't told everything about the war to the sons who just think it's about getting Purple Hearts and being heroes. The key lyrics of the song is in the second verse:

'Fathers remember but it's in vain, history repeated again. As sons come back the world has changed, once hailed, now walking in shame. Fathers know it far too well but once again, our flag needs defending...'

'Still Strong' has made a reappearance. It was one of Urban Tale's earliest tracks, and gets resurrected here as the album's ballad. 'You're right. We didn't feature it on the debut since the album alrady had four slower jams. At first it wasn't considered for this album either, but our drummer insisted on listening to it. In the end we made the decision with Theo and our manager. It had to be made between two similar songs, 'Still Strong' and a song called 'Paris Farewell'. The choice was very clear in the end. Kimmo wanted to do changes with the chorus lyrics, but we didn't let him do that! Hahaa... After all, there has to be a mega-ballad on an Urban Tale album, right?'

One of the features of the album are the interesting modern keyboard effects supplied from Timo. Playing alongside such accomplished and youthful bandmates brings out the best in Erkka's guitar playing. 'I think that Timo brings a lot of the modern influences into our songs with his keyboard programming. It really adds nice layers and interesting details to the songs. Timo gets a lot of his ideas from electronic music, such as Massive Attack. Timo and I have free hands with our parts and we usually come up with a lot of stuff, but Timo is mostly responsible for the weirdest stuff! 'Son Of A Gun' would've been a very ordinary guitar-driven AOR/Hard Rock song, but Timo's keyboards just lift it to another dimension! We don't know too many bands who do this kind of stuff. As for the other guys, it's great to have such fantastic players to play with. It's like getting a good free ride at a musical amusement park! Those guys can groove like hell, making it heavy and rocking at the same time! Tuomo is especially really cool, since he's improvising constantly, creating really cool lines. And it's also very secure to play with him, since he never forgets the form of the songs.'

I commented in my review that the track listing was perhaps a little awkward. In hindsight, I wondered whether the band wanted to change it. 'Maybe a bit' says Erkka. It was our own flaw that 'Don't you know' and 'Beggar and Thief' ended up next to each other. Maybe we should've lifted 'Morning Smoke' higher and probably dropped 'Son Of A Gun' a bit lower, but let's not speculate. Frontiers and the management accepted this running order and it's already released, so...'

So far the reviews have been very good, and I recall Erkka mentioning to me previously that many Metal sites have picked up on 'Signs Of Times' as well. 'Yes. The support of those metal sites has been a big surprise to us. Maybe it's the heavier production and the slightly darker overall feel of the album that has appealed to them. The reviews have been good elsewhere too, even though the scores haven't always been as high as with the debut, but we understand that. After all, when somebody tries to create new things within the 'genre', all of the reactions cannot be totally positive.'

As far as Urban Tale's profile back home in Finland is concerned, and regarding the local Finnish fans, do they still support you alongside bands like Nightwish, Lullacry, Stratovarius - who are huge on the world progressive metal standing? 'We share a lot of the same fans, and we expect that this album will widen our fan base, and appeal to more of the metal fans. Whenever I go see a band such as Startovarius or Sonata Arctica live, a lot of people come to talk with me since they recognize me as the Urban Tale guitarist. That's great.'

Urban Tale held a release party on January 31st, and a good night was had by all. 'Oh yeah! The night started as my birthday and when the day changed it became Kimmo's birthday! We had a great evening and a good audience. Of course the after-party was as cool. A nice review of the gig with the setlist is found at'

As for future gigging, Erkka explains the bands immediate plans. 'We were supposed to tour Europe with another melodic rock artist this spring but the tour was postponed to September/October. We hope to hit the road then! Of course we have done the usual magazine/webzine/radio stuff with interviews and such. I have to say that the interest has been lot bigger this time around! It's also great to see the Finnish media waking up to the thing!' Hope it goes well, let's hope the world does it's thing and hangs in there a bit longer! Thanks Erkka! We all hope for that. Thanks again George... will I see you at the Gods? I hope so...'


Related Articles:

Urban Tale - 2001 Urban Tale

Urban Tale - Interview with Erkka Korhonen (Oct 2001)

Urban Tale - 2003 Signs Of Times

Urban Tale - Interview with Erkka Korhonen (Mar 2003)

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