STEVE‘N’SEAGULLS – Keeping The Screws Loose!
September 19, 2016, a year ago
On its sophomore album, Brothers In Farms (released September 9th through Spinefarm Records), Finnish redneck rockers Steve ‘N’ Seagulls (an obvious pun on actor Steven Seagal’s name) took some of their favorite rock and metal songs and “hillbillified” them with a bluegrass/country flavor. The band first gained prominence in 2014 when its YouTube video of AC/DC's “Thunderstruck” went viral, which gained millions of views in just a few weeks. Consisting of Pukki (double bass/vocals), Hiltunen (accordion/mandolin/Casio), Herman (banjo/guitar/vocals), Remmel (vocals/acoustic guitar/mandolin) and Puikkonen (drums/percussions/vocals), the group will be bringing its energetic live show to North America this fall. Banjo player Herman spoke with BraveWords writer Kelley Simms about the band’s odd name and more.
BraveWords: Obviously, the band name is a pun of actor Steven Seagal’s name, but what’s the connection? How did you come up with it?
Herman: “It is a pun. Many people keep on about Steve; ‘Where is he?’ There's no Steve. There's only a name that came to be the chosen one after mangling a bunch of good proposals. Steven Seagal is a fine man, though. Maybe our music contains the same type of sequences as his movies; there are loads of unexpected action scenes!”
BraveWords: How did the band form?
Herman: “It sort of started by accident in 2010. We were supposed to do a short tour with a Spaghetti western/country theme. It all was just fun and new to us, so we kept going and doing gigs. We did versions of pop songs like Lady Gaga's “Poker Face.” Our way of doing things has changed a lot since those days. Making versions of metal and hard rock songs started a couple years later as we changed our singer to Remmel.”
BraveWords: The term “redneck” is mostly a Southern U.S. slang word. How does a band from Finland get associated with it?
Herman: “We do have an expression in Finnish for redneck, “Punaniska.” But I can´t recall us using that word, so I guess that's just the term people in the U.S. like to use? But apparently, it suits us. Most of us are from the countryside and have been working on family farms. To me, herding and farming was a day-to-day life until I was 21. I remember me and my cousin watching Bonanza, Terence Hill & Bud Spencer and reading Tex Willer.”
BraveWords: How did you develop a country/bluegrass/folk sound and who are some of your influences?
Herman: “Most of us have more or less been digging into the world of country music. I have been listening to some traditional Bluegrass players and some newer American country/Bluegrass bands and artists: Greensky Bluegrass, Robert Ellis, Johnny Cash, Mike Mumford and so forth. I´m not a traditional banjo player. I try to find my own sound by listening to various music and learning things myself. I guess that´s what we all do to make our sound. We do respect the tradition but, try to walk our own road.”
BraveWords: By learning nontraditional rock/metal instruments, it must have made you strive to be even better musicians to play this type of material?
Herman: We wouldn´t call ourselves multi instrumentalists, but we don’t fear taking new instruments and finding new sounds. We have at least five new instruments on our upcoming album, Brothers in Farms. A musical saw and the traditional Finnish folk instrument Kantele are the ones to mention. One of the most important things about our live show is the energy. That good rage comes from sliding near the edge of losing control as you push the limits of your skills. And that´s just fun.”
BraveWords: How did you go about “hillbillifying” the cover tunes that appear on the new album? What’s the criteria to give it the S'N'S makeover?
Herman: “I think the way we approach music is developing all the time. It´s an unconscious thing that feeds our hunger for creativity. I don’t say we get easily bored. We just like to keep things open and not hamper ourselves too much by putting our music in some particular genre. The versions we make are mostly the result of imagination. We are touring all the time so we don´t really have time for long rehearsal sessions. Having the idea of the sound and arrangement beforehand makes it easier to start playing and trying ideas around the song. Usually good songs with good riffs and melodies carry out easily.”
BraveWords: Do you see yourself doing the same type of covers five years from now or any chance of slipping in more originals like “Fill Up The Tank?”
Herman: “We are constantly writing some of our own stuff, but you never know what´s going to happen with them. Music wise, this band is so unleashed that it is hard to predict much. At least I´d say we´ll give it a go at some point and I suspect it’s going to be something new and screwy.”
BraveWords: Your YouTube video of AC/DC's “Thunderstruck” went massively viral. Did you realize or sense that it would be accepted so much and so quickly?
Herman: “Well not that much! We had a hunch that it would go viral, but the outcome totally surprised us. As I recall, it had 5 million YouTube views in one week. I remember I was sitting on my laptop all day long just answering fan mail. It was thrilling.”
BraveWords: Are you concerned that some people will just disregard the band as a parody?
Herman: “Some people consider us as a joke, and some take us pretty seriously, too. It´s always great to see metalheads and Bluegrass people in the same audience. So I don´t mind if someone sees us as a joke. We´ll need to keep doing what we love the most with no doubts. Pushing things too much seems to kill the creativity and fun, so we´ll keep the screws loose.”
BraveWords: For your cover of “Wishmaster” from fellow countrymen Nightwish, did you mention it to keyboardist Thomas Holopainen that you were covering it, and how much of an influence was the band on you?
Herman: “Our producer for the album knows Tuomas well and he gave him a call from the studio about the lyrics and such. Tuomas was well aware of us covering his song and gave us his blessing and encouragement. I like Nightwish especially now with Floor Jansen in the lineup. I’ve been listening their latest album a lot and It´s the best Finnish metal album at the moment.”
BraveWords: What’s next, including tour dates, and what do you hope to achieve or accomplish in the future?
Herman: “We just released the new video, ‘Aces High,’ that is the first single from the new album. Brothers in Farms is coming out on September 9th and the album release gig is at Tavastia Club in Helsinki on September 17th. We´ll do our first South American gigs in Brazil and Argentina at Maximus Festival and our third U.S. tour later in September. There´ll be a club tour in Europe as well, during the autumn. We´ll get to rest our weary heads in January. We always try to reach as many people as we can. The most rewarding things in this “job” is playing live to people who have come to see us. Meeting fans and playing for the happy audience is something that makes us driving across the countries and states worth it.”