About The Interview
Helsinki-based band The Milestones specialise in classic hard rock with a southern tinge that put many American bands to shame. We caught up with guitarist Tomi Julkunen of the band to discuss the bands history and their fantastic new album ‘Devil In Me’.
First of all welcome to Virtuosity One Tomi.
Cheers Andy, glad to be doing this interview. And big thanks for a great review on your site!
The Milestones are a rootsy good time rock band that hail from Finland yet sound as if you should be from the USA. What is a Scandinavian band doing producing rock that shames many an American band?
Wow, that’s a big statement Andy! Probably because American bands have forgotten how to make this type of music… (laughs). Nah, just kidding. Seriously, we’ve all listened to this kind of music since our teens. So, playing classic rock is pretty natural for us.
When we formed The Milestones there wasn’t that many new classic rock bands around at the time. Grunge and boy bands were a big thing and we just wanted to have a band that could bring back that rock and roll sound we all had been missing.
Can you give our readers who may not have heard of you a brief run down of the bands history as it seems you have been at it for quite some time.
The band was formed back in 1994 so we’ve been doing this for a while now. We had two goals in the beginning; to play our first show at the best rock venue in Helsinki and get a record deal within few months. Well, we played at that venue four months after forming the band and got the record deal after that show. The first album Vol 1 was released in 1996.
For the second album Souvenirs (released in 1999) we went to New York just to see if it’s any different making an album abroad. We ended up re-recording half of the songs when we came back to Finland. I’d say we got bit lost with all the experimenting. There were violins and drum loops and all kinds of stuff which totally represented something we are not. I love the album but I’d say it’s not The Milestones sound we’re known for. Oddly enough our biggest radio song is from Souvenirs and some people think it’s better than Vol 1 and Devil In Me. Go figure (laughs).
In 2001 I left the band for few years. Other guys kept on going with other guitarists but didn’t release any new material. I rejoined in 2006 and we started planning the third album pretty much straight away.
Your new album ‘Devil In Me’ has been out for a month or so now… yet its been 10 years since your last album ‘Souvenirs’. What led to the big gap between releases and are we going to have to wait until 2020 for the follow up?
Devil In Me was actually released in Finland in April 2009 but was released in rest of the Europe earlier this year. It’s kind of surprising that the album still seems valid to people considering that albums life span is really short these days. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that we’re not trendy music and our music is timeless.
The gap is my fault to be honest. As I said I quit the band in 2001 and moved to Ireland for few years. There was no arguing or bad blood between us, I just wanted to do something else for a while. We all kind of knew that getting the original line-up together was inevitable after I moved back to Finland.
Writing and recording Devil In Me took about two years all in all so if you take away those five years I spend abroad it took only five years to get this album released (laughs). It’s not that long comparing to Axl Rose!
I’m happy to say that the follow up is in pre-production already. We’re entering the studio this summer and new single should be out by September. Most of the songs have already been written. We just need to fine tune them a bit, work on lyrics and melodies and we’re good to go. I’m sure we have a new album out in early 2011. I’ve been listening to rehearsal tapes and have to say, it will be ass kicking full on rock and roll album.
‘Devil In Me’ is my first taste of the bands brand of rock n roll and very impressed I was too. Can you talk us through the making of the album – where the songs were born, recorded etc.
When we started writing new music we had no idea who would release it. Fortunately we knew these guys who had a small label and they were interested in putting out the album. They also have their own studio so we recorder the whole thing in their studio in Helsinki. They also produced. It was actually the first rock album they produced so I’d say they did an excellent job.
It took about two weeks worth of recording to put all the music on tape. We didn’t book studio time for two weeks, we just went in on couple of weekends. So there was no real pressure time wise.
We had all the material pretty well rehearsed beforehand so it didn’t take long in the studio. We always do that before recording, lock up ourselves in the rehearsal room and put together new stuff and rehearse it. We don’t make demos anymore, just rehearsal tapes to hear what should be changed and what needs more work.
How do The Milestones like to write and do you have any specific routines have proven beneficial?
The song writing almost always starts with a guitar riff or bass line. It’s very rare that we build a song around a melody or a specific drum pattern. We all have ideas and we all come up with our own parts so it’s not like there’s only one or two guys who contribute to song writing. Sometimes it might take a while longer to arrange a song as there’s five guys with ideas but on the other hand is a blessing. It makes songs sound like The Milestones and doesn’t put too much pressure on one or two guys.
Are these tracks taken from over the last 10 years or are they recent compositions?
Most of the tracks were written within a year or so before recording. There’s few old songs like Street Soul and Green Valley. Green Valley was an acoustic B-side on our single Deep In Despair from Souvenirs album. We just arranged the older song to make them sound more like the recently written songs. There might be some old riffs but mostly its new stuff.
The album has a great live vibe with a superb production. What were you looking for sonically with the album?
Thanks, that live sound and rawness was just what we were looking for. We wanted it to sound like good old fashioned rock records. Not too many effects and layers of guitars. We wanted it to have dynamics which seem to be lacking from most records these days. It’s not perfectly played but who cares as long as it sounds good and has a great feel to it, a bit like a live album.
The guitar tones received special praise from us, what gear do you guys use to get those awesome tones on the record?
As you can hear our sound is pretty organic, nothing too flashy. We use lots of vintage gear to get that cool sound. We use same gear for live and studio work. I mainly use Gibson guitars and Marshall amps for live shows. My main guitar is Gibson Les Paul Deluxe which is not that common guitar these days. I also have this new Gibson LP Standard which is really good to play and sounds great. I’m not big into using effects, some distortion pedals for solos and that’s about it.
Marko has some really cool guitars. He has Gibson Firebird which I also used in the studio, Fender Telecasters and Guild Nightingale. Marko also has cool amps such as Ampeg V-2 head and old Fender Bassman. His Ampeg is probably the best sounding amp I’ve ever heard.
I suspect the band are built for the road (you sound like it) so have you managed to do much touring outside your homeland?
Unfortunately we haven’t played much outside Finland. We played few shows in New York and in Iceland of all the places. We will play our first gigs in Germany this coming October. I’m sure it will be loads of fun. We’re really looking forward to it.
Influence wise where are the band coming from and what do you feel are the unique qualities the band have absorbed from those influences into your own sound?
We’re influenced by 70’s and 80’s American and English bands such as Bad Company, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Rolling Stones, Black Crowes and Thin Lizzy to name a few. Of course we listen to newer bands too but I don’t think we’ve been influenced by them much.
I think we have the same cool two guitar interaction as the bands we listen to. We don’t double each other’s parts and I think that’s one thing we have absorbed.
The Southern Rock scene seems to be making something of a comeback of late with a younger fanbase getting into the genre, along with high profile releases from Lynyrd Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet. Have The Milestones seen evidence of this resurgence in your own fanbase?
Actually, yes we have and it’s great. It seems that youngsters are checking out their parents record collections and having a blast doing it. They’re discovering all the great band who have influenced all these new bands. When we were supporting old legends like Whitesnake and Deep Purple I was totally surprised about the number of young people in the audience. Front row was just people from 15 to 25 years old. It really was something that I didn’t expect. We went down like a storm and got a great response. Those same people come to our shows as well so it’s heart warming to see that. There’s no age racism in classic rock genre at all. It doesn’t matter if the band is old it still gets audience from babies to grannies. It’s all about the music not the image.
What plans are there to promote the new album? It seems like none name bands don’t get much of a look in from live promoters and venues so how are The Milestones coping with this side of being a band?
I agree, it’s really hard to book shows these days. Sometimes it can be really frustrating as we would love to do proper tours. We’ve been lucky enough to get good support slots and I’d say that’s the best way to get good gigs and bigger audiences.
We’re not concentrating on promoting Devil In Me that much as we’re already looking forward to promoting the next album. Hopefully it gets good amount of radio play. It always help to get promoters interested.
What else is in store for 2010 and beyond?
As I told earlier we’re doing pre-production for next record as we speak. Main plan is to get the album done. We will play few shows but mostly concentrate on recording. After the album is in the shops we will definitely play as many shows as possible.