They’re the power metal supergroup everybody is talking about. Famed for their membership of some of the genre’s finest and off the back of impressive debut In Paradisum, frontman Andre Matos talked all things Symfonia in my interview for Rushonrock.
rushonrock: How did you end up in Symfonia?
Andre Matos: We’ll have to go back in time to the first moment when Timo (Tolkki) and I met. There was a tour we did together in ’99, all over Europe, we’d done about 40 days. It seemed to me that there was a big friendship growing after that. We got along very well, Timo and everybody in Stratovarius were nice guys. Sometimes we played in Europe or they played in Brazil. But I think the real decisive effect to set up what was in principal meant to be a ‘project’ but actually turned out to be a full band, was the fact that I’d moved to Sweden. It was pretty weird because I knew him before I had moved here and I had played in Finland with my solo band (Andre Matos band) at the Finnish Metal Expo Festival. I remember when I was in Helsinki for the first time and I thought ‘let’s give Timo a call’, and have a catch-up and talk again. I gave him a call and I said ‘hey Timo how are you doing?’ and he said ‘oh, it’s very nice to have you in town, but unfortunately I cannot make it to the concert with you’. ’We might catch up. If you have any time off, I might invite you to the sauna!’ The sauna to me was very funny, what the heck?! But then I realised the sauna is the same as the beach for the Brazilians, so there was nothing wrong with the invitation! Now, I have been to Finland more times and I really see that they take the sauna thing really serious. There are two things they take serious, and that’s sauna and vodka. It’s got to be a killer combination!
rushonrock: But you didn’t nail the partnership straight away?
Andre Matos: It was not possible to catch up that time and we didn’t meet, but almost a year later I received a phone call and it was Timo Tolkki and he said; ‘hey Andre, someone told me that you’re living Sweden now, you’re just around the corner from me. Maybe we can finally meet and chat for a while and even write some stuff together’. And that was pretty much the idea at the beginning. We’d write some stuff together and that’s how it started. I went to spend a week over there and a lot of workings came off this meeting.
rushonrock: Did Timo always have it in mind to create a ‘supergroup’ as such?
Andre Matos: There was no real plan in the beginning. It was just – ‘let’s try to write something together and see what comes out, then we can think about whether we can do something with it or not’. At the beginning I told him I have my solo band, I have to dedicate to this as well, there’s other things going on and right now, and I can take it like another project. But after we wrote our first songs, recorded the first demo and after the new members had joined the team, I think it’s a little bit unfair to call it a project. It turned out to be something much bigger. I would say it is a real band, with real songs and real musicians. It’s a big honour and pleasure to be sharing the experience, that’s what really moved me to do it.
rushonrock: Do you see a long term future for Symfonia?
Andre Matos: Absolutely. After the results of this first album and the whole expectation around the band, I think there is a long way to go. Of course, we wouldn’t have been satisfied to use this one experience and stop, we’re going to continue and build a career on that. It’s really amazing what people can contribute, somehow it is strange because nothing was a coincidence in all this story. I think we all share some kind of similar experiences from the past. We’ve all been through the same kind of things so it was quite amazing to just let it roll.
rushonrock: It does seem almost like fate in the sense that every member has worked with a number of very successful power metal bands, finally culminating in Symfonia…
Andre Matos: Yeah, it was just that precise moment that all these people were somehow available, just by accident so to say. But we cannot deny that this is very interesting. Obviously what the audience can expect is a little bit of what we have already done. When we gathered, that’s one thing we said to each other was that we’re not going to try and reinvent the mule, we’re not trying to reinvent the style or to bring in some experimental elements. We’ve done that a lot in the past. We just want to get the best out of us, because we know how to do best, and see how it sounds.
rushonrock: In the studio how did the musical process work?
Andre Matos: All of the songs were produced by both Timo and I. We would present it to the guys in the band so they could develop their own arrangements to the songs. The studio job was splintered into different sessions. The drum recording was surprisingly fast. Uli Kusch only needed two-days to do the whole album. It’s like a machine, and I’m so much pleased by his way of playing the drums. It’s not only about technique, but this guy has some real taste. The way he creates his lines and hits the drums is really amazing. Jari (Kainulainen) is a totally great bass player, he’s one of the best I have ever worked with. A very safe and good-sounding bass playing. Timo gave himself the time with the guitars and he did it brilliantly as usual. At last it was the keyboards with Mikko (Härkin) which also surprised me. I knew him for being Sonata Arctica keyboard player and being very virtuoso and so on, but he showed to be a very special kind of keyboard player, he thinks in a different way to the arrangement and that’s really pleasing. We took about three weeks here in Sweden to record the vocals. It wasn’t done in a studio, we actually did some winter camping in the woods, a very intense experience [laughs]. It was at the peak of the high winter and in the middle of the woods where there was nobody around. We were basically kept there for a few weeks. That was very pleasant but it started to be a little scary and we started to see things!
rushonrock: There must have been quite an atmosphere in those conditions?
Andre Matos: There was but it was such a severe winter that sometimes it snows so much that you couldn’t really move or go anywhere!
rushonrock: With recording was there anyone conducting things or was it simply a case of allowing each individual to their own devices?
Andre Matos: Timo was the producer of the album. He does the whole production, and is a very good producer. He’s produced many albums for for his whole career and he took good care of what the picture should be like. It was also very good to be in his hands because while singing I like to be directed by somebody to test different possibilities and debate what is sounding better or what’s not. Sometimes when you’re doing it all by yourself you can get a little bit lost. Timo has the full control of the whole picture and he mixed it down in Italy at a proper mixing studio. I’m very happy with it. I’ve had a listen to the album over 50 times!
rushonrock: So how would you describe new record In Paradisum?
Andre Matos: I would say it is very complete. It’s kind of what we call a style sub-division. What we can put into this particular musical style, is a little bit of everything but it is still powerful and deep. We mix our ideas. Timo and I especially, in our vision about music, how to do music and how to communicate through music. We wanted to do something really deep, for example, telling stories about ourselves, about the way we see the world and about our hopes. It’s a positive message in the end, even though sometimes we are talking about some rather heavier subjects, we never forget the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s moving forward for the future, and in my opinion that is what music is about. Music is something that helps people to get through, to carry on. This is also what we feel about this album without losing the simplicity somehow. This was very important, to not do something way too abstract that people wouldn’t be able to get through to. In the end I think it’s quite a well balanced piece of work.
rushonrock: You can definitely sense that balance. Having the more intense Forevermore yet finishing the album with the beautiful Don’t Let Me Go seems to work…
Andre Matos: That’s probably my favourite song on the record. That was not an easy one to perform, you need a very particular moment to do that.
rushonrock: Then there’s the most epic song on the record, the title track In Paradisum. Was that more Timo-influenced or was it you?
Andre Matos: It was both, but the original idea came from Timo. The pattern of the song and the idea of the choirs were all very settled somehow when we started to do it. We had a very interesting way of composing the songs. He brought up song ideas almost finished and I helped him a little bit with the melodies and vocal lines, then we wrote the lyrics together. Sometimes it would be the other way round. In the end we said we’ll basically sign every track together because there’s a little bit of everyone in each track.
rushonrock: Away from the studio, you made your first appearance as a live band at the Finnish Metal Expo. How did it go?
Andre Matos: It was in February. It was really, really challenging I would say. We had just finished the recordings and there was already a concert booked. We were pretty surprised when we heard the news about Uli Kusch (drummer) when he got a bad injury to his hand and was basically not allowed to play drums for quite a while. We had this already booked and it was important for us to do this first concert together. It was going to be some kind of release to accomplish that. We talked to Uli and he said that we should go on, and we found a German drummer, Alex Landenburg. This guy was also substituting for Jörg Michael of Stratovarius, when Jörg wasn’t able to play. He’s got this same kind of musical style that we’re familiar to. So we got everyone in Finland, a week before the concert and started rehearsal which worked out just fine.
rushonrock: Were you nervous doing the Expo?
Andre Matos: To debut at the Finnish Metal Expo’s is almost like to dive into the lion’s cave, because it isn’t easy. There are so many good bands coming out of Finland, it’s a hard audience to move. But we were very surprised with the reaction. In the end they were shouting for more and we couldn’t play more because we had no extra songs rehearsed! But we’ve seen that they were really moved. We’ve started at the difficult point which means, the rest could be easier.
rushonrock: So it was a really good reaction?
Andre Matos: It was an unexpected reaction. I told the guys on the day before – ‘guys let’s go in, send our message and don’t fucking worry about how people are going to react’! I didn’t expect anything, but incredibly they started to move from the middle of the concert till the end, and started to get really excited about it. It was really good or our self-confidence.
rushonrock: There must have been some great chemistry happening on stage after a live reaction like that?
Andre Matos: That was also very interesting because, although I have known these guys for ages, it’s actually the very first time we’ve stepped on stage together. It was quite cool. Of course still we have to find our positions onstage, how we behave and how we should perform together. But for a first one it worked out really fine.
rushonrock: There’s a clip of Timo destroying his guitar on stage – what happened there?!
Andre Matos: As far as I know he told me that was his ‘last’ guitar. That was the last guitar from the Stratovarius times, it was a very good and highly expensive guitar. Now he’s got these new guitars for Symfonia, which are hand-made, hand-crafted guitars. So this old Ibanez that he’s been carrying along for about 15-years, worth about £3000, he just smashed right there and said ‘it’s the end of an era’! I could have give him a replica and tried to sell his original one! But he wanted to smash that very one. And he was very furious too!
rushonrock: With everyone having various loyalties to other bands and projects, will there be enough time for Symfonia?
Andre Matos: Absolutely, it’s just a matter of organisation. It’s a matter of schedule. When I moved to Sweden, the guys in my solo band knew that when I am back in Brazil or South America we will do as many concerts as we can. The thing about Symfonia right now is that since last November I’ve been fully involved with Symfonia and that should go on until the end of April when we have promo stuff booked. We were supposed to fly to Japan next week but it’s really impossible now. I know so many people in Japan and I’ve been there so may times. It’s a total catastrophe what has happened there.
rushonrock: Are there any confirmed gigs?
Andre Matos: What I know is that we are actually going to start our tour with Symfonia throughout Asia first, then to South America and continue over Europe. Summer time is not the best time to tour because of all of the festivals. It’s possible that we will be doing a European headliner tour after the summer.
rushonrock: Any chance of a festival appearance?
Andre Matos: Absolutely, but I don’t think there will be time to be performing continuing festivals this year because they have all been booked. We have a spot at the Sonisphere Festival in France.
rushonrock: Power Metal has never gained as much success in England than it has for other European countries, why do you think this is the case?
Andre Matos: It’s very funny about England because I have to ask myself why is that? Maybe it’s because most of the bands that do this kind of music are not from England or non-native English speakers. It might lead to some kind of rejection somehow. It was very interesting in 2009 when Andre Matos band was on tour supporting Edguy and we played in the winter in January. I played about 25 concerts in Europe and two were in England. I went once to record an album, but it was my first time to play England. It’s like I said about Finland, it is not a very easy audience I must say which is quite challenging in a way. If you can convince the Finns then you are in a good way. I’m looking forward to coming back.