For those of you in America who think that rock ‘n’ roll is on life support, it may be time to venture outside of your cozy little comfort zones.
Finnish rockers Santa Cruz are scheduled to return to the States on February 28 as they kick off an opening stint with Fozzy in New Orleans. Their latest album, “Bad Blood Rising,” is filled with big guitars and an even bigger attitude, a winning combination for a young and ambitious band set on a path to becoming amphitheater icons.
We recently sat down with Santa Cruz bass player and backing vocalist Middy to discuss America’s relevance to international artists, why he recorded all of his stuff for “Bad Blood Rising” from a couch, and the most magical experience in his Santa Cruz journey thus far.
TrunkSpace: We read that the band was first inspired by Los Angeles-based acts like Motley Crue and Guns N’ Roses. Both of those bands were part of an era of rock where a look and an attitude were just as important than the songs themselves. When you guys started out, was that important to you as you looked towards the future – finding who the band was and not just the sound itself?
Middy: I think at first those things came kinda hand in hand, but at some point we must have watched Pantera’s home videos on repeat too much or something and started going easy with the hairspray thing or then we just got more environmentally conscious.
Nah! But I think these days it’s more about the music than about the looks.
TrunkSpace: Here in the States, rock music doesn’t have the same mainstream appeal as it once did in the heyday of Motley Crue and Guns N’ Roses. You’re set to return to the States on February 28 as you kick of a tour with Fozzy. From your perspective, what are your thoughts on American rock fans? When you first came here and performed live for U.S. audiences, did the crowds live up to expectations in terms of how you perceived them?
Middy: Well, I think these days the whole musical landscape is more diverse, people have easier access to all kinds of music and the only place to find new bands is not your big sister’s record collection anymore. I don’t see the “rock is dead” in any sense of the brutal word. And as far as we’re concerned, the crowds in U.S. were still living and breathing rock music.
TrunkSpace: For all of our readers here in the States who are unfamiliar with the musical tastes of Finland, can you give us a little insight on how rock music is consumed there? Is it just as popular there today as it was say, 20 or 30 years ago?
Middy: Well rock/metal music has been pretty relevant in Finland since the early 70s, even though back in those days all the mainstream things came to Finland a year or two late. In early 2000, late 90s, this huge metal movement started in Finland cause of bands like Nightwish, Him, and Children of Bodom. I think at some point everyone from a kid to a grandmother was showing the evil horns and maybe that was why a counter movement called Finnish rap music came up. These days when it comes to the younger generations, rap is the big thing out there, but the metal music still has a solid fan base in Finland.
TrunkSpace: There was a time when bands looked towards the States as the promise land in terms of where they hoped to one day make it and break it. Is that still the case or have the changes in the music industry altered the way people view America’s musical viability?
Middy: I think that the American market is still a big deal, one reason being the size of it. And I still feel that many countries are looking for what is big in the States at the moment and it really reflects the markets outside of the States. I don’t see why the changes in music industry would take any credibility away from it.
TrunkSpace: Your new album “Bad Blood Rising” debuted at #5 in your native Finland. What was the journey like to bring that album into fruition? As you look back now at the process, did it go as planned or were you forced to make changes on the fly?
Middy: I think it went down pretty much as planned and for the reason that we made it ourselves. We were not forced to make compromises with anyone else. Even though in the beginning we didn’t have this kind of concept for the album, we just started putting songs together and seeing where it took us. Of course, some of the ideas for songs were more than two years old, but from that point, when we got into our rehearsal place all together with the early demos it took us about a month to put the songs in such a form that we were able to walk into a studio with them. So in some sense the process was pretty swift.
TrunkSpace: For the listener, it’s the album that becomes memorable, but for the people putting it together, the experience becomes just as memorable. What’s one of your favorite memories in recording that album that you’ll carry with you through the rest of your life?
Middy: To me personally there aren’t many stories about recording the album since it took me two and a half days to lay down the bass tracks. But I recorded all my stuff sitting on Johnny’s couch and we had loads of fun during that time. So nothing to put in the great history book of rock ‘n’ roll.
TrunkSpace: If we had a group of people lined up who had never heard Santa Cruz before, what’s the one track off of the album that you’d confidently throw out there to win them all over? What song off of “Bad Blood Rising” sort of says, “This is who we are!”?
Middy: I’d go with “Young Blood Rising” since to me it’s probably the most “Santa Cruz sounding” song there is, and I think the reason is that it sounds more like the stuff that we’ve done before. On “Bad Blood Rising” there are lots of stuff that is at least, in some way, experimental to us and might give people the wrong picture of what the band has done in the past. Not saying that the songs are any less us.
TrunkSpace: Can you tell us a bit about your songwriting process? Does everything come together in a room together, or are parts and pieces worked on separately and then brought together to be fine-tuned?
Middy: On this latest album we had raw demos for about 15 songs made by Archie and Johnny and then we got into our rehearsal place together and we worked daily for a month and walked out with 11 finished songs. Of course during that month we focused on structures and tempos and what not. We kinda baked the cake in that month and in the studio we added the jam between the layers and decorated the whole thing.
TrunkSpace: What about from a lyrical standpoint? What is the point of view of the songs… are they told from a first person perspective or as a storyteller’s perspective?
Middy: Well, actually to that question Archie would be a better one to answer. But my point when it comes to lyrics has always been the “don’t explain them too much, rather let the listeners make their own conclusions and interpretations.”
TrunkSpace: One of the best things about music is that it can bring people together who otherwise see eye to eye on nothing. In a club, you could be standing next to two different people who you may having nothing else in common with other than a love for Santa Cruz. In this day and age where everything everywhere seems so divided, is there anything like a live rock concert experience… because in a lot of ways, it feels like one of the last true communities?
Middy: Since my teens the rock concerts and festivals have probably been the only mass events that I’ve taken part in cause I’m not into Black Fridays or Christmas shopping. But to be serious, I don’t see why the so called “rock community” should be so privileged compared to other music genres for example, cause I bet that people at techno raves feel that they are part of a big community rather than just a large number of people who happened to walk into the same field at the same time. But that is true that rock music brings people together and when you walk into a metal festival you don’t see people fighting each other or anything like that. I think that metal heads have always been proud of belonging to one big family.
TrunkSpace: As you look at your time in the band thus far, what has been the best part about the journey for you? What wouldn’t you give up for any amount of money or fame?
Middy: The past 10 years have been an ongoing chain of great memories and sometimes I even start to feel nostalgic about it, which is kinda scary being a 24-year-old and all. But one day that sticks out was when we got the opportunity to open up for AC/DC in Finland in front of 55,000 people. That feeling when I walked on stage was magical.
To find out if Santa Cruz is coming to a city near you, check out their tour dates here.