After the short break from extensive touring, Finnish prog-rockers Von Hertzen Brothers are back on track, ready to hit more venues and present the songs from their new album, New Day Rising. AlteRock.net has called Mikko Von Hertzen, the frontman of the band, to ask him tricky questions about the accidents on the tour, his own dark sides and happiness. Read our exclusive interview to find out which famous rockstars Mikko enjoyed meeting in person, how he manages not to succumb to his own ego, and with what routines he starts the morning of each new day rising.
May 25, 2015
As you’ve already played a bunch of shows presenting your new record, what has the feedback from the crowd been so far?
I think that the first five gigs were kind of getting used to the new songs. It always takes a little bit of time to get the songs ingrained in you so you don’t spend much time thinking: “Is it going well or not?” We played about 25 shows after the album release, and I think most of them have been really good. The feedback has not only been very positive but also kind of praising in a way that people liked the new album a lot. And that’s what we always aim for.
What was the most memorable, hilarious or weird moment that you’ll always remember from the touring you’ve done with New Day Rising?
We’ve just played a few gigs in the UK. The London show was the first one and we were a bit nervous, because we knew there were a lot of media and press there coming to see us play. During the first song something happened to my guitar. The guitar tech was running everywhere trying to find out what was wrong. And it happened at least twice. Then, at some point Jonne, the bass player, lost his string and we didn’t have a spare bass! So I asked everybody to join me for a drink at the bar, left the stage and went to the bar in the middle of our gig. The rest of the show went well, of course. But small things like that happen. I’m using new gear now and there are some tricks you should know so that everything starts working.
Are your shows experimental and unique in any way this year?
Yeah. We thought: “What would be cool to do this time around?” The stage looks great with all the white gear around, so we can play with the lights quite a bit. And we’ve also been playing with kind of blazers on, a little different than before. We thought: “Let’s put some effort and see what will look good on stage”. When we see the pictures in the magazine reviews, it looks very cool what we have now on stage.
With every new album you release there are more and more songs created by Kie and Jonne, alongside with the songs written by you. Why weren’t there more of their works on previous albums?
At first, the responsibility of the writing had always been on my shoulders. But with Nine Lives we skipped a few tours so we had more time to go and write. We agreed that each of us would have a certain amount to write music, and then I would write the lyrics. Kie went to our summer cottage and spent two weeks writing there, and Jonne spent 10 days writing there too, while I was writing all the time. Eventually, we had 30 songs, of which 10 were Kie’s and Jonne’s, and 20 were mine. We write in a natural way: I write certain kind of songs, Kie and Jonne write songs of their own style. If it had been only my songs, it would’ve been more one-sided, so we wanted to have a broad spectrum of songs. It was a very democratic process: we sat down with the producer and manager and chose 10 best songs for the record. So on the new album, half of the songs are mine and half are by my brothers. That really shows our many faces, our identity.
The promo photoshoot for the new album with you jumping high up in the air is pretty awesome and reflects the title, New Day Rising. Would you say this is the most cheerful and positive record you’ve made so far?
Oh, it’s a hard question, let me think… Yeah, ‘Sunday Child’, ‘Hold Me Up’, ‘New Day Rising’, ‘Dreams’ are very happy songs, then there are a few songs with a lot of longing like ‘Love Burns’ and ‘Hibernating Heart’. ‘Trouble’ and ‘You Don’t Know My Name’ represent a darker side. They all have to do with love and many aspects of love. So there’s pretty much everything, but maybe a little bit on the lighter side.
Which events and changes in your life gave rise to the songs you wrote for this album?
Of course, everything we do somehow seeps into the music but it’s not really conscious. You know, I’m already 42, and I have had so many experiences in life – good and bad. When you sit down and have an idea for the song, you try to crystalize a certain mood. You don’t really think about it too much. It’s the feeling that stimulates a certain part of your brain, memory, knowledge and emotional me, and I try to convey all that into the song.
In one recent interview, talking about the song ‘Trouble’, you said that you’ve been trying to fight your ego and your selfishness for years, so that not to let it take over you. Why do you have to fight your ego?
Everyone is bothered mostly about themselves and their own needs. It’s just that many people are not conscious about it. Many people don’t see that it’s a kind of hindrance to the happiness that they can experience. We give a lot of room in our lives to the negativity we carry: resentment, pride, lust, greed. We think that they play an important role in our lives but they aren’t really necessary. And that’s how ego disturbs our happiness. I’m also not happy with the negativities within me, so the song portrays the struggle I’ve been having with this issue for more than 20 years. I don’t want these things inside me. I want to be free from them. But they are always lurking and always taking you by suprise, just when you think that you’re over it. And it’s my life mission to get rid of all that.
What are you doing to avoid becoming arrogant and looking upside down on people? Could you give any recommendations from your personal experience on how to reduce one’s big ego?
One good thing is to remind yourself that whatever you gain in this life – whether it’s success, you become more famous, you have more money, or whether girls look at you in the way that you think you’re cooler than others – those are the things that might change at any given moment. It all comes from my background: I lived in India for many years and studied all these things. I was fed up with my own behavior and how I looked at life from my own point of view. It was very ignorant about the bigger issues and what happiness actually means. It’s my personal experience that happiness is very different from what we think it is. It’s not something we can actually gather from outside, stuff that can make us happy. It’s something that comes from within. I like seeing people who are really grounded and humble, even though they are very successful. Those are the people I get really inspired from.
From the music scene, when I met Foo Fighters, it was such an experience for me to see how down to earth they are, even though they are so big. And from the spiritual world, it’s Amma, my guru: I see with my own eyes how humble she is. She is a famous person and she could be anything she wanted, basically, but she chooses to be humble. Even if our band becomes really big, I try to remember, it’s the humility that makes life beautiful – not pride, being egoistic and behaving badly. I’m not telling anybody how to live, I’m just trying to become something like that.
Being proud of yourself and your accomplishments is a good thing, to a reasonable extent. Which song off the new album are you most proud of, and why?
You know, being proud is not bad. It’s how you treat other people that matters. On this album there are many good songs. Every song is like a child and you cannot say that this one or that one is better. But of course I’m very happy with ‘Trouble’, because I finally managed to pull that theme out of myself and make it a song. And I think that ‘Destitute’ is a really nice song. It’s written by Jonne, but the words and the mixing make the song sound so well.
In ‘Sunday Child’ you sing about being far away from home. But in fact like all musicians, YOU are the ones who are very often away from home. How does it feel, being away from the ones you love?
Well, I’ve been travelling all my life. I have a home here in Helsinki and I have a home in India, but it’s harder for Kaakkuri [Mikko Kaakkuriniemi, drums] and Kie, because they have kids, so being away from your kids must be really hard, I cannot understand what it’s like. I mean, I have a cat but it’s not the same. (laughs) You have to make sacrificies, like being away from home, if you want to be in the rock scene. If you want to play for new audiences and make this whole thing go somewhere, seeing that people like your music is an award. Everybody can choose whether to stay home and not play in a rock band, that’s fine too. We have chosen the other path but at least now we are still happy doing it. We are always happy to go and play for people who really want to hear our music. It’s not only true for music but also for business people who have to do a lot of travelling. When you are a musician, touring is where you do your work. When we plan a tour, we see if everybody is fine with doing it, and if not, we skip it.
Are any of you, brothers, still single? You don’t tell media much about your personal lives…
We are all so to say “taken” but we don’t usually talk those things. It’s more for celebrities: let them talk about those things if they want to. We want to talk about music and the work that we do, not much else. It’s personal and doesn’t have anything to do with what we actually do. Of course, everybody can choose for themselves, whether they want to open their wardrobe to the press, but we are the kind of people who like certain privacy. And so far the media do not mind them, because I guess we are not that interesting. There was a time when I was a part of the talent show in Finland, as a judge, and I remember being a lot on TV at that time, because people were interested in those things. It’s not like you need to talk about those things to be successful. I give so much from my life to the people: I go and play, talk to people, and I’m all the time in the social media, sharing things that I think I need to share. We have pretty much drawn the line where we wanted to be, and we hope that people will respect that.
From the numerous pictures you post on Facebook I couldn’t help but notice your love for the nature and being out in the country, surrounded by lakes and forests. How important is nature in your life?
I can tell you a story about that. When I was 19, I went to the U.S. for 8 weeks, which I spent in New York and Los Angeles. New York was exciting for me during the first week with all the big buildings and all those people on Manhattan, but the last ten days what I did is I went to the Central Park, found a place under a tree, where I read a book and nobody disturbed me. I remember thinking: it’s funny that I want to come to New York to sit under a tree and read a book. I don’t mind visiting big cities and spending 3-4 days there: for example, I spend a lot of time in London. But a week is the maximum for me in the big city. That’s the kind of person I am and I think all the three of us are. We love nature and we don’t really like urban surrounding, so whenever there is time, we try to go somewhere where we can enjoy the beauty of nature.
Among the places you’ve been to, which are the ones with the most beautiful nature?
I love, for example, Portugal, the Himalayas, south India, I love the place near Helsinki where our cottage is. Driving through the Alps in Central Europe is beautiful. There are so many places.
Are there any other dream places for you to visit?
I want to go to South America, I’ve never been there. And I would actually like to go hike the very last part of Siberia, where the Amur tiger lives.
Have you been into any concept, practice or philosophy recently? Something you’re dedicating your free time to, apart from music these days?
Recently? Not really recently. There was a period when I lived in India for seven years, and I found what I thought was really my thing: the philosophy of non-dualism that all of the oldest Indian scriptures are talking about. It’s called Vedanta. I was studying not only Vedanta, but also Eastern philosophy, Christian philosophy, sophism and so on. But this was something I felt was the truth and that’s where I am at, that’s where I lean on with my spiritual outlook of the world. I do small practices every day, which are not so time-consuming. I just repeat the mantras and try to train the mind to think good things, be patient, and I may do some yoga.
As each new day is rising, what is the thing or ritual you when you wake in order to make you feel good for the rest of the day?
Usually I just throw my feet off the bed, I sit there for a while, trying to concentrate on the breath and to gather my thoughts that it’s going to be a good day, and read a small player. I always start the day with drinking some water. You don’t want to go to Facebook first thing in the morning – you can do it half an hour later. I like mornings because you have that kind of calm. Most of the writers wake up really early and then maybe by noon they are down with their day’s work. There’s something in the early mornings that is inspiring.
What about the winter in Finland, when it’s dark in the morning and almost all day long?
Yeah, that’s when I feel I should be somewhere else than Finland. (laughs)
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
I would choose to… always stay positive. It’s something that I always want to be. It’s not like I want to fly in the sky with my fist ahead, like the Superman. I want to be a nice and humble person.
Thank you, Mikko! Have a nice day and always still positive!
Thank you! I’ll try.
by Tatiana Vinichenko
Photos: Ville Juurikkala