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Jens Johansson – Keyboard for Stratovarius

Date: 4/17/09
Interviewed By: Rich Catino


1. Were any of the songs on “Polaris” written when former Stratovarius guitarist/composer Timo Tolkki was still in the band?

JENS: No. I would say most of the songs were written within the past year. I had some ideas previously, Timo Kotipelto (vocals) did, Lauri (bass) had a few. Our drummer, Jorg, didn’t write anything. He claims to be a “non writer”, haha, that’s not his thing.

2. Was it hard for the band to carry on after Timo Tolkki left?

JENS: Yeah, it was. About a year ago I was on the fence, our drummer was completely against the band carrying on as Stratovarius, Kotipelto was half and half, our bass player was sort of for it, our guitar player…well we didn’t have one at the time, haha.

3. When Tolkki left the band what were the circumstances? Did he leave and say the remaining members had his blessing to continue performing Stratovarius songs but not as Stratovarius?

JENS: I think he didn’t know what he wanted. I think he left with the thought the band was over. He didn’t think we would continue on without him. He posted some statements about why he ended Stratovarius, then we posted a few statements we would at least leave open the possibility of continuing as Stratovarius because Jorg was against it.

At the time we didn’t have any songs, we had no guitar player. Then as a result, Tolkki got so pissed off because we left the possibility open to continue as Stratovarius that he made another statement saying like “fuck those guys, continuing without me as Stratovarius, they can do whatever they want without me”. I think he was very ambivalent and some days wanted to sue us to get the name back. It’s a long story really.

4. What is the relationship now between the remaining members of Stratovarius and Tolkki?

JENS: Actually its good. Unfortunately we had this internet war. I think sometime in September last year, we made an announcement we would continue under that name Stratovarius because we started recording these songs that sounded like Stratovarius. After we announced that he became upset again but then about five weeks ago Tolkki sent me a email that said “dude, I had this really weird dream that we were all friends, can we talk about this?”. So I said “sure why not”. So I guess he had a complete turn around on this issue which is good. He said it was because he had this dream or nightmare.

5. With that, is there a possibility of Tolkki returning to the band in the future?

JENS: I think first we have to give this a shot for a couple records. I think one of the reasons why he wanted to stop Stratovarius is because he got sick of playing this kind of music and he thought Stratovarius wasn’t doing anything interesting anymore. I also think he had some personal problems with our singer Timo Kotipelto and drummer Jorg Michael. But of course, he may come up with something that is like power metal as well. Did you hear his new band Revolution Renaissance? I think several songs on their first release “New Era” could have been Stratovarius songs, but I am not so sure about this new one “Age of Aquarius”. I know a lot of people were saying the Revolution Renaissance didn’t sound like Stratovarius, but that’s the whole point.

6. With Tolkki not in the band, how did the remaining members (Kotipelto, Michael, Lauri Porra, Matias Kupiainen, and yourself) collaborate to write the music for “Polaris”?

JENS: At the time when we started collecting the material we didn’t’ have a guitar player, didn’t have a name, for sure didn’t have a deal, only thing we had was this debt that this Tolkki announcement left in the fallout. So basically we said lets get together in June (of 2008) and rehearse and that’s how we started coming up with ideas. I think what I had to bring to the table was about 95% ready, the stuff Matias and Kotipelto had they sort of worked on. So we made some rough demos but didn’t know what to call the band, and it was without our drummer. So we took it slowly, exploring ideas.

7. I noticed in the music on “Polaris” the keyboard is a rather prominent instrument. Was that a decision on your part because you wrote much of the music?

JENS: Not really a conscious decision but it could be because in the past like on the two “Elements” records, Tolkki flip flopped between guitar and keyboard solos. I don’t think “Polaris” has any more keyboards parts on it than past albums. But on this album nothing was really by design. If it seems its one way or the other its by accident. We wrote like seventeen songs for “Polaris” and narrowed it down.

8. What past Stratovarius album do you find “Polaris” closest to? I find it has a lot in common with the progressiveness of “Fourth Dimension” and some of the “Elements” bombast.

JENS: That’s difficult to say. I think you are right with your observation tho. It is slightly progressive. Either way I just hope we got it right. When your in the middle of it it’s hard to tell where the music is going. Plus with all the drama surrounding the band it was not even definite if the album would get released.

9. What kind of setlist are you preparing?

JENS: Well were thinking a little differently because we are doing this small headlining tour in the UK and some places we never played before. So its somewhat of a warm up tour and somewhat of a groundbreaking tour, and headlining tour. So this tour we are mixing new and old stuff but when we hit the festivals over the summer it will be like a greatest hits set. Then when we do a headlining tour in the fall we will throw in some more new songs from “Polaris”.

10. Plans to include any different songs that have not been performed in a while?

JENS: Not sure but that is a good idea. We kind of delegate this to Kotipelto because with certain songs the range may not work for him on certain nights, like if he has a cold or something. He has a pretty good feel for it and plus if you talk too much about it no one can decide. See, previously when Tolkki was in the band we would defer to him to make the decision which is part of the problem because then nothing is ever discussed. Now its different and you have complete democracy. So what we are gonna do now is have this representative democracy in the band where everybody votes to have one guy decide so you don’t have to haggle over things. We kind of did this with the new songs on “Polaris”, we left it up to the person who wrote the song to decide how it was arranged, how it was played.

11. Will the setlist include anything from the first three Stratovarius albums?

JENS: In more recent years during the “Elements” tours, we would do this medley from those albums. But I leave it up to Kotipelto to decide, hahaha.

12. When will Stratovarius release a concert DVD?

JENS: That’s another thing. The old Stratovarius records from about 1995 to 2000, were on Noise Records and they got bought by Sanctuary, and they got bought by Universal. So Universal has rights and we would have to ask and pay them as well. But, we did get the rights to release two DVDs with the old lineup with Tolkki because we do have the footage shot. Its sad because the one shot in Milano, Italy, from 2003 was really good but the guy who was supposed to edit it had some kind of breakdown and didn’t finish the work. The mixes are also done and after this guy disappeared someone found the tapes in the garbage. Its crazy, the crazy world of Stratovarius, haha.

The other show is from San Paulo in 2005 shot with six cameras. It is pretty nice. We just have to somehow find the way to get the money to finish them.

13. Stratovarius will be doing a short US tour in September. Are their plans to have another well known band on the bill?

JENS: I am not sure. There was talk of opening acts but nothing has been confirmed. A few years ago over in Europe we did a tour with my brother’s band Hammerfall, we called it the StratoHammer Tour, hahaha. That was cool I would like to do something like that.

14. What are some of your favorite songs to perform live?

JENS: I like the fast ones like ‘Forever Free’, one slower song…I can’t think of it…’Eternity’ that’s it. ‘Phoenix’ is fun and I think we will be playing that for this “Polaris” tour. I actually remember recording that song in 1999 for the “Infinite” album.

15. Anything you want to add?

JENS: This new album “Polaris” was really an experiment and it has worked out really well with Matias playing guitar. He is also a character like the rest of the band so it is nice being around him. I hope the people really give the album a chance.

Official website: www.stratovarius.com

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