23rd May 2017
Bluegrass, heavy metal and 80s action heroes: step inside the crazy world of Steve N’ Seagulls
Banjo-twangin’ Finnish loons Steve N’ Seagulls are guaranteed to the maddest band you’ll see at Ramblin’ Man. Malcolm Dome gets the hoe-down…
On the surface, it’s very unusual to find a band from Finland playing bluegrass style music. But that’s the case with Steve ‘N’ Seagulls. The band really got going in 2011, since when the line-up of Irwin Remmell (vocals/acoustic guitar/balalaika/mandolin), Hermann de German (banjo/vocals/acoustic guitar), Wild Till Hiltunen (accordion/kantele/mandolin/keyboards/flute), Pukki Kaalinen (double bass/vocals) and Puikkonen (drums/vocals) really got into their stride.
They have made their reputation by adapting classic hard rock and metal songs to suit their hillbilly stance, and in the process the Finn five have also recorded two albums on the Spinefarm label. The first was ‘Farm Machine’, released in 2015, and this was followed last year by ‘Brothers In Farms’. Bonkers titles these might be, but the musical quality on what essentially were collections of cover versions is unmistakable.
Steve ‘N’ Seagulls, though, have really captured people’s imaginations through exposure on YouTube. Their rendition of AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’ has been viewed more than 35 million times! And other performances have also got way beyond a million views. That alone proves this band are far from being a novelty act who will quickly be forgotten.
Now, with a slot on the Outlaw Country Stage coming up this summer, Pukki reveals what inspires the band, and where they go from here.
A Finnish band playing bluegrass style music. Bit odd, isn’t it?
“Well, in a way it is, yes. People always ask us if there’s a big bluegrass scene in Finland. But, look, we are a small country, with only a population of 5.5 million, so there is no big music scene where we are. However, it’s true to say that there are very few others in Finland who play in the same style as we do. There’s one band who do HIM covers in a strictly bluegrass style, and there’s one other band I can think of who do similar stuff to us. But none of us can expect to make a living out of just touring in Finland. The live situation just isn’t big enough, which is why we have to come to tour place like the UK to make a living!”
How did you get involved with playing this type of music?
“Well, a few of us were in another covers band called Sputnik. We played at restaurants and night clubs. Our set was made up of whatever was most popular at the time. Then, seven years ago, four of us in that band decided to go in this direction as a fun side project. We got in Irwin, who is the only new member as compared to Sputnik, and off we went.”
Where did you get your band name from?
“That came from Hermann’s girlfriend, so it wasn’t really something directly from the band. When she suggested we should call ourselves after the actor Steven Seagal, we all thought it was hilarious and made for a good name. Yes, we all knew who he was, as we grew up watching his action movies, like ‘Marked For Death’, so we are fans.”
Seagal actually has his own band. Ever thought about doing covers of some of his songs?
“Let me put it this way: as a musician he should certainly stick to making films!”
How do you decide what songs to cover?
“Up until now, this has come from what we grew up listening to, and loving. We all have our own favourite bands. For, instance, I was always into Iron Maiden and AC/DC. But then, others in the band enjoy them as well. All five of us have a true passion for metal, and that’s reflected in the songs we choose. Hermann, for example, is a big Megadeth fan, which is why we’ve done their stuff. Personal taste dictates what we choose.”
Are there any songs you have tried to play, but found don’t work as you hoped?
“The one that immediately comes to mind is Sepultura’s ‘Refuse/Resist’. We have attempted to get it sorted, but so far we just cannot get it right. Some songs are like that. They take a lot of work to get into a state where all of us are satisfied. However, we are not giving up on it, and will eventually make this one work.
“We have done songs live in the past which haven’t gone down very well. When you are onstage at a Finnish night club at 1am on a Saturday, and the audience is full of drunk people in their 20s, then you do find that certain songs get a bad reaction. But we never throw these away. We accept the situation as it is, leave those tracks out of our set for a while, but we’ll always bring them back at a later date. But in general, when you are adapting other people’s songs you will find occasions when things don’t turn out the way you expect. It’s a fact of being in this type of band, and we never let it get us down.”
You got a big reputation fast through YouTube. Was that a deliberate strategy?
“Ha, not really. What happened was that a friend of ours had a video camera, and said he would make a video for our version of ‘The Trooper’. It was very primitive. Anyway, he said he would get the clip onto YouTube, so we thought it was worth a go. That video cost 125 Euros in total to make. Very cheap.
“When Maiden fans found out about it, they started to spread the word around, and before long it had a huge number of views. That took us by surprise. Two months later, the same guy said he would shoot a new video for ‘Thunderstruck’. It was the same set-up: one camera, one microphone. Nothing at all elaborate. But that was a lot more expensive. It cost us 125 Euros, plus petrol! And that’s been an even bigger success. It just proves you don’t need to spend a fortune to get a video noticed.”
You did one original song, ‘Fill Up The Tank’, on your second album. Why did you decide to include this?
“We just thought it was time to give this a go. We have all written and demoed our own songs when playing in other bands who did original material. So, it’s not as if none of us have ever written before. And so far the reaction to ‘Fill Up The Tank’ has been encouraging. We are doing it in our live set, and it gets a great response.”
Are you starting to move away from being a covers band?
“Well, we are certainly thinking about doing more original material in the future, that’s for sure. But we are essentially a covers band. So, there’s no way we will abandon that route. Whatever happens with writing, you can be guaranteed that the foundation of Steve ‘N’ Seagulls will always remain the covers we do.”
Hayseed Dixie are probably the most renowned band doing bluegrass covers of hard rock and metal songs. Are you fans of that band?
“Oh, I like them a lot. I was about 20 when I first heard what they were doing, and that was several years before we got going. I have seen them play live a few times, and really enjoyed it. We’ve also met up with them and got on well. Last year in Finland, we even played on the same bill at a festival, but on different days. So, as yet, we haven’t actually played live with them properly. But I hope that happens in the future. It would be geat to share the stage with them.”
Are you working on a new album right now?
“In a way, yes we are. We are constantly writing and demoing material, and working out ideas. That’s a non-stop process, whether there’s an album being planned or not. Bur right now, we are not actually in the studio. Nor can I tell you when we’re likely to begin recording, let alone when you can expect our new album to be released. A lot depends on the business side of things being agreed. But I feel sure all of that will be straightforward, and that later in the year we will get down to that side of things.
“As I said earlier, we might introduce one or two original tracks into the mix. But for the most part it will be the usual array of covers. That’s what the fans want, and that’s they can expect.”
You are on the Outlaw Country Stage at Ramblin’ Man. What can people expect from your performance?
“We’re playing the Outlaw Country Stage? Oh, why can’t we do the In Law Country Stage? Does that exist at Ramblin’ Man?! Well, this year we’ll accept doing the Outlaw Country Stage, as long as when there is an In Law Country Stage, we are invited to be on on the bill. Somehow I think we fit more into the In Law category than the Outlaw one, ha!
“Well, because it is a festival, you can be certain we’ll play the obvious songs, because that’s what is expected in the summer, right? People want to have a good time with the music they know at something like Ramblin’ Man.
“What you’ll see onstage is a lot of pale male skin – well, we are Finnish! Plus lots of bare nipples. And you can be certain we’ll be high on energy, and move around all over the place. I hope the stage is big enough.
“I have to say we love playing in the UK. Right now, we are doing a headline tour and the reaction has been great. I look forward to meeting old friends and making new ones in July!”
Steve N’ Seagulls play the Outlaw Country Stage on Saturday July 29. Buy your tickets to see them here