Interview with Mikko von Hertzen of the VON HERTZEN BROTHERS at Ramblin Man Fair
Interview by Mark Dean
Finnish band of brothers, the Von Hertzen Brothers, are a group whose unique style of music has really grown on me personally over the last six months. I was fortunate to catch up with singer/guitarist Mikko ahead of their set at the Prog Stage at the 2016 Ramblin Man Fair in Kent.
How do you explain the bands new found popularity? A great PR job by the record company, or just the general public opening their eyes and becoming more aware of who you are?
I think the latter. To bring something to a market, like the UK market, with so much cool music over here. There are so many good bands here and then a band from Finland. It might as well be Bulgaria. We have just come from somewhere else. To find a channel for people to actually find a way to our music that is the most demanding thing. Of course, you have to have a record deal here, you have to have someone to publish it. You have to have an agent. All of these things matter, but in the end if it is good music eventually people will find it.
I was just going to say that even with a record label, their role these days generally appears to be a very limiting one. Sometimes they don’t even provide financial tour support.
It is mainly put on the band’s shoulders, for the promoting of it. They are using their own website, Facebook ads – they are actually putting money into promoting themselves. The responsibility of doing things lies more with the artist.
That also would benefit the artist by them having more hands-on dealing with their own music/marketing, etc.
Exactly, up to a certain point you have to do many things as an artist now that in times before you didn’t. When you kind of reach a certain level, then the machine kicks in again. Then you become like a priority, and stuff starts to happen again like also from the record company.
What are the particular highs and lows of playing music for a living?
(laughing) Well, the highs, of course, are at first when you create something new. When you come up with an idea that you love. That is the first thing that you don’t even share with the rest of the world. You are just happy that I came up with this idea, and it sounds fucking awesome. Then to deliver that to the people and you can see in their faces that they are getting it. That is the reward. Now of course these days it’s very hard to make a living so there is always this stress.
Are you able to make a living?
We have been lucky in that sense, because we have been able to do this for the last ten years as our job so yes.
The bands musical influences are diverse but what was your first musical memory. A song on the radio? Your parents record collection?
The first thing that I remember when I was like a toddler, was every evening that our father or mother first used to read us a bedtime story and then sing us to sleep every single night. Our father and mother met in a choir rehearsal, they sang in the same choir. So when we were kids are father used to travel a lot for his work. From the States he used to bring the Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Elvis, Little Richard, Linda Rondstadt, Emmy Lou Harris, and stuff like that. From the UK he used to bring Pink Floyd, Queen, so we got all those LPs. Whenever he came home it was not that he brought candies, he brought music. We were always waiting thinking ‘what is he going to bring back?’
Have you got any particular stories from fans of how your music has affected/influenced them?
Well, you have just asked me what is rewarding about playing music and I have to say that if I wrote something that got someone through a difficult time I would have to say that you can’t put a price tag on that, you know? You can say that I made this much money with a particular song. There was a girl in her early twenties back in Finland and we had played a festival gig. I went to watch the band that followed us which was one of my favourite bands. This kid comes and pulls me and says, “can I talk to you a little?” I said, “Yes, of course.” And she tells me this story that her boyfriend killed himself a couple of months before. She went into a deep depression because she thought that it was her fault. One of our songs helped her through that and she recovered ok. I can’t explain it in words how it feels exactly in that situation. That is the one that I clearly remember because it was such a tangible moment.
How would you sell the Von Hertzen Brothers to someone that has never heard of you?
Like a pitch, what’s my pitch? (laughs) It would maybe like melodic, imagine the Foo Fighters playing the Beach Boys songs with a Pink Floyd attitude (laughs).
How do you cope with obstacles and difficulties in the industry? It’s certainly not easy to make a living.
Firstly, you have to understand that everything is temporary and you have to cope with new things all the time because the world is changing at such a rapid pace. Every single artist that I know has to go through highs and lows. It really just depends on the artist and if they can handle the lows and the very peaks of success. When you are peaking it also gives you lots of pressure. With the lows the natural thing comes to mind i.e. “is it all worth it?”
Just a couple of questions then to finish. Do you have any interests and hobbies outside music?
Music is ninety percent of my time. I do study, I study philosophy, I love scuba diving. Whenever there is any chance for me to get into nature, away from people. This is the business and you are always surrounded by people, talking, and…
The hustle and bustle of life?
Exactly, it is very important to get a break from that.
Finally, who would you personally like to sit down and interview face-to-face?
Well, if I had fifteen minutes with the Dali Lama for example… I would just love to have that experience to talk to somebody that I really respect.