waltari band
© Jani Mahkonen/Loma Graphics Oy

25 Years In The Cradle

interview with Waltari frontman Kärtsy Hatakka

Interview By Pete Alander / December 2011

One of the most original metal acts in the world of metal hails from Finland. Not many bands can mix Heavy, Thrash, and Speed Metal together with Pop, Techno, Industrial, Punk and even Hip Hop, and still keep its credibility as a pure metal act. Well, Waltari can. They have been around since 1986, and with only a few membership changes, they are still going strong. From their early albums, such as the legendary ‘Torcha!’, to the latest anniversary album ‘Covers All’, Waltari has pushed metal boundaries to the limits, and opened gates to the – now so common – symphonic and classically oriented metal bands and genres.

Waltari just turned respectful 25 years, and celebrated it with a few big anniversary shows. Steel Mill was there, of course, and had a chat with their frontman Kari ”Kärtsy” Hatakka. The redheaded metal man turned out to be a true music lover.

Congratulations, 25 years in the music business, and Waltari is still like it was in the early days: interesting and a little weird.

It is hard to believe we are still here and going so strong. We are feeling absolutely brilliant and hope to have many more years ahead. When we first started we could never imagine there would still be Waltari as strong as this after 25 years.

In the early days you couldn’t imagine working as a musician?

No. It was just a dream for us all, but here we are. I still love music and, especially, composing and performing it. Even though it is harder to make a living as a musician nowadays, I still love what I do. I feel as fresh as when I was younger.

And you are still an interesting band.

I do believe so, yes. Back then, it was one of our main priorities to be fresh and a little bit quirky. We wanted to bring something completely new to the music business, and combine it with the traditional – one might even say “holy” – values of rock’n’roll. That is still our mission in 2011. That will never change.

How does today’s Waltari differ from Waltari in 1986?

To be honest, I believe it could be even more different. We have done some really extreme and different stuff in our past, but, still, we have cherished our own style. Each of our members like various genres, and we love music passionately. From Pink Floyd to Deep Purple and the glorious Speed Metal of the 80s… they were huge inspiration for us. Back then, we thought we needed to combine these styles somehow, and create something unique. I believe it worked, and the formula still works today, so we haven’t changed that much.

Kärtsy Hatakka ©Jani Mahkonen/Loma Graphics

During the past 25 years you have been in the front row of the music business, and seen how the music industry has changed.

Yes, it has gone totally upside down, compared to what it was when we started. Not all of it is bad, though. Whether this is a situation of a crisis is just the way you look at it. In the old days, it was enough for bands to put out an album and a music video. It helped if you managed to get a good position in the music charts. Now the charts don’t mean anything anymore. You can still be successful, it doesn’t depend on the album sales. Even the budgets are different than before. Bands also need to promote and market themselves in a huge variety of media. There are so many channels available these days.

But the music and the fans still count?

Absolutely. That is the core of it all. You still need good music as a starting point to make a success. Even if the business is more commercial than ever, music lovers all around the world are awake, and they will find your music. They will also know if you lose your soul to your music.

In a way, all these changes are also a really good thing: it leads to the point where bands and musicians need to be more humble and genuine. No more cocky divas ’cause it doesn’t work anymore. Bands also need to stay more focused and creative. Re-branding yourself every once in a while creates innovations, and leads to something new and fresh. Old paths don’t work anymore, so there are many good things, too, in today’s music business.

Waltari is a band well known for their challenging efforts to bring something new to the metal genre. In 1996 you released an amazing metal symphony concept album ‘Yeah! Yeah! Die! Die!’ and after that you combined ballet, classical music and metal in your performance ‘Evangelicum’. You’ve had good results combining various music styles. What is there to be done?

I truly hope we can still bring something new and unique to our music. We still want to experiment on different stuff, because that has been our “thing” since the beginning. In every album you should be able to challenge yourself, and dare to try new stuff. We want to keep our head full of ideas and creativity.

You have also always maintained the humorous side of Waltari and, still, you are a serious band.

Humour has always been like an extra spice in our music. It has not been the absolute value, but we are just such wacky guys that it is inevitable. All this lightens things up, and gives freedom in our music. You just can’t be too serious.

You have toured around the globe. Where are the craziest Waltari fans, and what kind of fans do you usually have?

We have been to many places, and we get mail from very different countries. I have noticed how fans in northern countries are more metal oriented and are dressed more in black than anywhere else. In warmer countries you can see all kinds of people showing up to our shows. Maybe the craziest atmosphere in our shows is in warm countries. All in all, we have many kinds of fans, some of them are really weird, but you gotta remember we are Waltari, after all.

Any special memories from your shows?

Once in Italy people were going insane, they were totally into us and having a blast. After the show we went to the backstage which was far away from the stage. We cleaned our make-up, changed clothes and came back just to realize the fans were still there! Shouting for more!

What happened next?

Well, we played some more! Without make-up and our stage clothes, we improvised just to make the fans happy. And they loved it. After all, it is the fans why we do this thing, so why not. These are great memories.

You have also visited the U.S.A during 1997-1998.

Yes, those were really cool times. We went there quite often, actually, just to see what can happen and how people react to Waltari. We played in various places, for instance in New York and Texas. Many of those venues were quite legendary, and it was incredible to play there. We wanted the right people to hear us play, and we thought we could break through there big time. We met some good people, and the audience really liked us. Unfortunately, we should’ve changed our style a bit and committed to the purpose 110%. But we were already heading for our European tour and to Germany to record our new album. So our American success is still waiting for us.

© Joerg Stanzick

You also warmed up for KISS in Prague.

That was amazing. What else can you say? There were so many people in that huge stadium, it was a remarkable experience for us.

To celebrate your 25 years, you have released a biography written by Pauliina Tuomola. Is it more like a traditional biography, or can we expect some shocking revelations from your career?

It is somewhere in between, I guess. Pauliina is a very experienced and good author, and we wanted to present Waltari at its most versatile. The focus is on the musical side, but in Waltari’s case, you can’t avoid the entertaining side…

What does the book mean to you personally?

I love reading. Even the band’s name is very much related to literature (the famous Finnish writer Mika Waltari -ed.). The book is a perfect milestone for us and a great way to celebrate our 25th birthday.

Will there be an English version available at any point?

I hope so. We have been talking about it, and there is a demand for it, so maybe at some point.

Your latest anniversary cover album has songs from artists like Madonna and Iron Maiden. Only Waltari can do an album like this and not fail. Why?

I believe ”Covers All” shows a very versatile side of us. Every member got to choose two songs for the album, and none of us had the veto right. We only made compromises when we did the arrangements. It is a full cover album without any of our own songs, but it is still a Waltari album. On some level, it sums up what Waltari really is. Why it won’t fail? It is so honest.

You have Sami Yli-Sirniö playing in Kreator, and you have done a lot of solo stuff (Max Payne soundtrack, composing for plays, for instance). Waltari still comes first?

Yeah, of course, and I believe all that has just made us stronger and more committed to Waltari. It keeps your creative juices flowing and batteries loaded, when you can solo every once in a while.

Are you especially proud of some particular Waltari album?

Of course I’m proud of our all albums, but I believe ”Yeah! Yeah! Die! Die!” (1996) was, in a way, a bigger achievement in our career. As a project, it was really challenging, yet, artistically, very meaningful. After that album we, finally, realised that we are, actually, real composers and musicians. The album still works like it was made yesterday. In fact, the album provided the springboard for today’s operatic heavy metal. I I also want to mention ”Evangelicum” (1999) which was a metal/ballet/opera performance. It was also really challenging, and I hope we can record it on album one day. From our latest albums I would point out ”Release Date” (2007). It works on every level and shows our true knowhow.

For some reason, artists don’t like their earlier albums that much, because the sounds are not that good. Fans don’t seem to mind it that much, however.

You are right. I would really like to re-record for example our albums ”Torcha!” and ”So Fine”, because we couldn’t quite get all the sounds we wanted to. As an artist you are so close and ”married” to your albums, and want them to be as good as possible. I do believe that even if we re-recorded those albums, our fans would prefer the original ones.

© Pete Alander

Where is Waltari after another 25 years?

Oh, it is too early to say. I believe we try to do this as long as possible. We are very grateful for everything this far. I can’t promise the 50th anniversary, but we will do this as long as we find it interesting.

Final greetings to our readers?

I know that there are true music lovers reading the Mill, and the world today needs people like you! Buy records and go see the bands live, be in the scene and ”Keep On Rockin’ In The Free World!”

Waltari on the web:

Where from: Finland
Active: 1986 ->
Style: Heavy-, Thrash-, and Speed Metal, Pop, Techno, Industrial, Punk
Current lineup :Janne Immonen – Bass / Keyboards
Jariot Lehtinen – Guitar
Kärtsy Hatakka – Bass / Vocals
Ville Vehviläinen – Drums
Sami Yli-Sirniö – Guitar
Discography: Mut Hei (EP, 1989) Monk Punk (1991), Torcha! (1992), Pala Leipää (comp. 1993), So Fine! (1994), Big Bang (1995), Yeah! Yeah! Die! Die! Death Metal Symphony in Deep C (1996), Space Avenue (1997), Decade (comp. 1998), Radium Round (1999), Channel Nordica (with Angelit, 2000), Back to Persepolis (EP, 2001), Rare Species (2004), Blood Sample (2005), Early Years (remastered 2006), Release Date (2007), The 2nd Decade – In the Cradle (comp. 2008), Below Zero (2009), Covers All (2011)
Trivia: Waltari was an opening act for Kiss in 1997 at Prague Stadium.Waltari frontman Kärtsy Hatakka composed music for the popular Max Payne videogame... Waltari’s long time guitarist Sami Yli-Sirniö has also been Kreator’s guitarist since 2001.
Essential releases (top3):
Big Bang (1995)This album was very important development from Waltari. They were one of the first metal acts to combine a variety of metal subgenres mixed with pop and techno. Essential tracks ‘Atmosfear’, ‘Follow Me Inside’, ‘On My Ice’ and chart hit ‘The Stage’. Some cool thrash songs ‘Color TV’ and ‘Lets Get Crucified’ fits in really well. Epic ‘Slow Thinking Street’ ends this legendary album.
Yeah! Yeah! Die! Die! Death Metal Symphony in Deep C (1996)This was probably the very first “metal meets classical music” concept album in the world. Combining many styles and characters, singers and composers this masterpiece should be mentioned in metals most amazing performances.
Radium Round (1999)After previous space-themed album ‘Space Avenue’ (1997) Waltari did another one with much better success. Radium Round was a perfect theme album when human nation was fronting the Millennium. Songs such as ‘Every Bad Day’, ‘Broken Bizarre’, ‘Power of Thoughts’ and hypnotic ballad ‘4000 Years’ are among the finest.
Essential playlist
One Day (Rare Species)
So Fine (So Fine!)
Jänkhä (Big Bang)
In the Cradle (Below Zero)
On My Ice (Big Bang)
Stay Positive (Channel Nordica)
The Stage (Big Bang)
Get Stamped (Release Date)
Stars (Rauli Badding cover, Space Avenue)
Deeper Into The Mud (Yeah! Yeah! Die! Die!)
Vogue (Madonna cover, Torcha!)
Move (Yeah! Yeah! Die! Die!)
Atmosfear (Big Bang)
Far Away (Space Avenue)
Broken Bizarre (Radium Round)
Follow Me Inside (Big Bang)
4000 Years (Radium Round)
System Odda Aigi (Channel Nordica)
How Low Can You Go? (Yeah! Yeah! Die! Die!)
Slow Thinking Street (Big Bang)
Dreamworld (Rare Species)
Helsinki (Blood Sample)
Misty Man (So Fine!)
Below Zero (Below Zero)