Mikko Von Herzten is proud that his band don’t fit in. “We are not rock, we are not prog, we are not metal, we are not pop – we’re all of those at the same time,” says the Von Hertzen Brothers frontman. “We are weird and that’s how it is.”
It’s this inadvertently all-encompassing approach that sets the Finnish band apart. Across their seven albums to date, the Von Hertzens – Mikko plus elder brother Kie (guitar) and younger sibling Jonne (bass) – have forged a sound that’s simultaneously epic and intimate, progressive and classic.
Ahead of their appearance on Rambin’ Man’s Prog In The Park stage, Mikko looks back over 20 years of Von Hertzen music…
IMMORTAL LIFE (2001)
Mikko: “That’s from our first album, Experience. My brother Kie and I had been in different bands to each other in the 90s, but in 1998 I went to live in India. I sent them a bunch of songs that I’d written out there: ‘Do you think these are good enough for us to start making music together?’
“Immortal Life was one of the poppiest songs on the album. Since I was 21 or 22, I started getting interested in Eastern philosophies, which is what this relates to: the thought of looking for an immortal life rather than being happy with what we have.”
LET THY WILL BE DONE (2006)
Mikko: “In my mind, I feel like the band really started with our second album, Approach. Before that, it was just a project – I was still living in India. But we had a family holiday in Egypt in 2004, and we said, ‘Maybe we should do another record and take it more seriously.
“Let Thy Will Be Done feels like the first real Von Hertzen Brother single. It came out when bands like HIM and The Rasmus were on the radio – very dark stuff. And we came out with this weird, offbeat song, and people were, like ‘What the fuck is this?’ But it was a turning point in our career – we won a Finnish Grammy for that album.”
IN THE END (2008)
Mikko: “With our third album, Love Remains The Same, I think we were getting big in Finland in terms of radio play – it was a huge album for us. But I was amazed that song was chosen as the first single of the album – I created this writing style that was very unique to us. My brother Kie directed the video. We look like old guys. I think the Foo Fighters stole the ideas for Run.”
Mikko: “Our fourth album, Stars Aligned, was a huge step for us. We got a new record deal, new manager, and it was the first one that we released abroad. We hired a guy named James Spectrum from a Finnish band called Pepe Deluxe to produce it and he was really into tweaking sounds, making them weird. Miracle has this Russian keyboard that James brought into the picture: ‘This is so fucking weird, let’s use it.’”
ALWAYS BEEN RIGHT (2011)
Mikko: “There’s a story I’m telling in there. We live in a world of us and them, there’s a conflict there – everybody always thinks they’re right and everybody else is wrong. It started when I went to see a swami in India talking about different things – that’s the essence of the song.
“The video, that’s the essence of the Finnish summer for you. It’s just us being in a summer cottage doing stuff that we usually do there – eating, going to the sauna, playing in the sea – all the stuff we used to do when we were kids. It was shot at out summer cottage – it turned out really fun to do.”
FLOWERS AND RUST (2013)
Mikko: “Nine Lives was the first album after Approach that we produced mostly ourselves. I think it’s a key album in that it had the songs we needed for making an impact outside of Finland, and Flowers And Rust is one of them.
“We had it in our drawer for four or five years – it was too poppy in our minds for Stars Aligned. But we really digested it and then someone said, ‘What about that one song we skipped last time?’ It’s a story about somebody who doesn’t know that he or she has the world in their hands but somehow ruins it.”
Mikko: “That’s another song that people really responded to, especially in the UK. I have the Pink Floyd in me and I have the Led Zeppelin me and then I have the Abba in me and the pop things, but then I have the Seattle thing in me – the grunge thing pops up every now and again and that song was very much influenced by Soundgarden. I was always into Seattle. That song is my love for Seattle crystallised.”
NEW DAY RISING (2015)
Mikko; “That’s the biggest song we’ve done commercially – it was a huge song here in Finland. It is an optimistic song, but it’s also about courage – taking the step and leaving the things behind that drag you down. That was the theme of that album.
“It was initially Kie’s song, with the riff and the tempo, but Garth Richardson who was producing that album flew to Finland to our rehearsal studio, and he was like, ‘It’s great but it’s not quite good enough – the chorus doesn’t kick in in the right way.’ So I had this idea: OK, let me drag my inner Dave Grohl into the picture, let’s go straight to the top – start from there and just shout it out.’”
THE ARSONIST (2017)
Mikko: We announced a break after New Day Rising, before we made the War Is Over album. We needed to be creative again – we were at the end of our deal, it was time to take a breather, rethink whether we wanted to put all this energy into the band and whether we still had something to offer.
“Who is this song about? I can’t tell you! I had a person in mind when I wrote it. They probably know it’s them, but I’m not saying. Maybe in my autobiography.”
WAR IS OVER
Mikko: “That song was liberating – it was, like, ‘Fuck it all, this is what we are, nobody is coming to tell us what we should and should not do.’ Lyrically, it’s a bit of statement – I’m not keen on taking politics into the lyrics, but with everything that is going on it was hard to avoid. It’s the idea that we have to see the peace in all of this, otherwise we are never going to be happy. If you can see the war is over, it might actually come true in the future.
“The ending part is like a fanfare – it’s something that Kie wrote for the 100thanniversary of Finland’s independence from Russia. It wasn’t an official thing – he just thought, ‘Let’s just do it, when it’s out we’ll just tell people that’s what it is.’”
The Von Hertzen Brothers play Ramblin’ Man Fair’s Prog In The Park stage on Sunday July 1