Mikko von Hertzen (Von Hertzen Brothers)

Von Hertzen Brothers live at The Fleece, Bristol

I’ve been much taken with the music of the Von Hertzen Brothers, ever since seeing them at the first High Voltage Festival at Victoria Park in London back in 2010. Three brothers (Kie, Mikko and Jonne von Hertzen), two others (Mikko Kaakkuriniemi – drums, and Juha Kuoppala – keyboards), as they say.

Back in Finland they play huge festivals and their albums routinely shoot to the top of the charts, but here in the UK, they remain something of a well kept secret. It’s a fate, perhaps, to which original, genre-spanning bands are more prone, with no one quite sure what to do with them or how best to introduce them to a new market. They rock too hard for some proggers, while their albums contain too many progressive rock diversions and left-field influences for a mainstream rock audience. But talent, and good songs, will always out, and it’s great to see their UK audience building.  If you don’t know this band, what on earth are you waiting for? You’ve got some catching up to do!

I recently saw the band at both the HRH Prog Festival in Pwllheli, and in Bristol on their March 2016 UK headline tour and caught up with middle brother, vocalist and guitarist Mikko. I was delighted when he kindly agreed not only to a long awaited Über Röck interview but to the following Words and Music Q&A session. So, with only minimal duplication, here goes …

Hi Mikko! Is it possible to say what rock music means to you?
It means everything; it’s the love of my life.

Who was the first artist to make an impression on you?
Elvis.

Tell us about an album, song or lyric that means a lot to you?
I would say the Beatles albums: ‘Abbey Road’, ‘The White Album’, and ‘Sgt. Peppers’.

Mikko von Hertzen live at The Fleece, BristolWe were talking earlier (pre-interview) about the 1970s influences on the Von Hertzen Brothers’ music, but you’re going back beyond that in the answers you’re giving.
When I think about the pivotal moments that sealed our destiny, it must have been our father bringing home, when we were small kids, all these LPs. He was a businessman, and he was bringing home Lynyrd Skynyrd from the States, the Eagles from the States, and then from England the Beatles albums and a Queen box set with 16 LPs in it. It was like heaven for us.

So the three of you shared tastes right from the start?
Oh yeah, though of course we had our own favourites. My big brother Kie was a guitar player so he was into Ritchie Blackmore and Brian May and all that. I was more into drumming, so I was more, like, ‘Bonzo is my god’ [laughs], and my little brother, Jonne, was into pop.

Is there an artist who has stayed with you over time?
I would say Pink Floyd. Pink Floyd has had, for me, personally, the longest influence. Since hearing the first Pink Floyd album that my father brought – I think it was ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ – up to the later ones like the live album ‘Pulse’, it has had a huge effect on me.

There was a famous book written by a psychiatrist called Eric Berne called ‘What Do You Say After You Say Hello?’ I like to ask people what do you say to a ‘rock star’ after you say hello?
If I met a rock star? [laughs] I would say “Hello, I’m a really huge fan and I just want to express my appreciation for what you are doing.”

Von Hertzen Brothers live at The Fleece, Bristol

Your best encounter with an artist as a fan? There are so many. Like when I met Jónsi from Sigur Rós. It was one of those moments. I remember being in North India and sitting on a hill – not on top of a mountain, but just there meditating – and I put on a Sigur Rós album, the second one, and you know … how it felt. And when I met Jónsi, I tried to describe to him what it actually meant to me, and that was a beautiful moment because, you know, there was no bullshit. There was no ‘you’ and ‘me’.  It was just, like, the music has its role. So that’s one thing that I really remember. That’s one of the most precious interactions with somebody else who writes. And then meeting Steven Wilson for the first time, telling him how much I appreciate what he is doing. And also, I am a huge fan of the Cardigans, the Swedish pop band, a huge fan. So Nina [Nina Persson, lead singer] was one of the girls I was always in love with, always. And when I met her, and I could say this aloud to her, that was beautiful. [Laughs]

How did she react?
Well, she was like her usual self: “Oh thank you, that’s so sweet of you.” Can I have a photo? “Well, ok.” [Laughs]

Your strangest encounter with a fan as an artist?
Wow! My strangest? Well, I have to say, we were playing in the States at a prog festival of sorts, called RoSfest. We played a 90 minute set. The next morning I was just walking in the hotel area, outdoors, to the restaurant to have my breakfast, and I was all drowsy, I’d just woken up, and we’d had a bit of a party, and there was this huge pick-up truck coming behind me, like really roaring, and this massive guy, who must have weighed 300lbs, shouted out right into my ear “You guys fucking rock!” [Laughs] And it scared the shit out of me. I was in a panic. I thought someone was attacking me. But he just wanted to show his appreciation. That’s the one that just came to my mind now, but there are so many weird happenings with the fans, you know, some telling you their life stories, and thinking that I’m next to God and all that stuff, you know. But that one was funny.

What would you say makes a rock gig special?
The audience. It’s the audience that always makes a gig special. If there’s a good audience that’s what makes a rock show for me.

Mikko and fan

Do you have a particularly memorable gig, or gig moment, either as a fan or as a musician?
Well, as a fan, I remember when AC/DC were touring ‘For Those About To Rock’, and they had the big canons. I was about 12. I went to the Ice Hall, and I thought that was the coolest thing ever! “For those about to rock …” and then the loud bang!

And as an artist?
As an artist, we were playing this famous Finnish festival, Pori Jazz, maybe five or six years ago. And it’s a festival where people are out on an island, with an outdoor stage, and there’s all this cool jazz going on the whole day. And then, on the way back to the city, we were playing in a tent that took maybe 3,000 people. So everybody had been outdoors for the whole day, picnicking and listening to jazz, and all these people then jammed into the tent, and the sun is setting and coming from beneath the roof of the tent and lighting everybody with a golden colour. We were playing ‘Kiss a Wish’ or something, you know, one of the instrumental things, and I just remember that moment. That was beautiful because everybody was sick of hearing something very sweet, and they wanted to rock out, and they all wanted to come to the gig, and it was the best gig ever. It was such an amazingly, beautiful, Finnish sunset. You know, Finland can be beautiful too. There are a few months of the year when it’s exceptionally beautiful.

Yes, I am wary of telling a Fin how beautiful parts of Wales are.
Oh yeah, yeah. We drove to the HRH Prog festival last weekend, and it was absolutely stunning. Really, really stunning. But the thing that we have which is very special is the archipelago. There are tons of islands, beautiful, beautiful islands. So in the summertime people go sailing there. It’s so beautiful. But yeah, nothing compared to Wales [laughs].

Last question: sex, drugs and rock ʾn’ roll – jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
Well, you know, maybe when you’re a kid, all those things mean a lot. But when you get older and you do this more, for me, like I said, the love of my life is not cocaine or sex. I tend to be more towards the rock ʾn’ roll side of things. [Laughs] So, in moderation, everything. I don’t do drugs. I never did. But I did have … um … I got laid a few times, let’s put it that way! [Laughs]

Is there anything else you’d like to say?
No, I’m just grateful to those reading this and I think people should give us a chance. We’re a good band and we do it with a big heart. Von Hertzen is German and it means ‘from the heart’. And we always try to remind ourselves that as long as we do this from the heart, without any pretence, just being true to ourselves, it’s the most beautiful thing that we do and offer to the world.

Mikko von Hertzen

 

Cheers Mikko!

Live photography courtesy of Mike Evans. See more at Mike’s blog.

More on the Von Hertzen Brothers on their official website and Facebook page.

Check out the band’s ‘New Day Rising’ video on You Tube

Back to the Words and Music Q&A index page

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