Hot Flashes

Posted on Monday, December 03, 2012 at 12:54:43 EST

By Carl Begai

Ever since GUNS N’ ROSES and TESLA made it cool for hard rockers and metalheads to mess around with acoustic guitars – with G’N’R Lies and Five Man Acoustical Jam respectively some 20+ years ago – it seems every band has flirted with the unplugged concept. Hell, at press time MPIRE OF EVIL had kicked off their first ever Japan tour with an in-store featuring a set of acoustic VENOM classics (!). So, when word got out a few years ago that STRATOVARIUS frontman Timo Kotipelto and ex-SONATA ARCTICA guitarist Jani Liimatainen had teamed up for a dynamic duo acoustic tour through their native Finland it wasn’t an earthshattering surprise. Their respective fanbases went suitably mad searching for footage on YouTube, of course, and the resulting requests, demands and yammering over the years for an album’s of acoustic material from the pair have finally been answered. Working under the KOTIPELTO & LIIMATAINEN moniker, they’ve put together a collection of bare bones covers on Blackoustic, an album made for the fans rather than trying to cash in on a still-popular musical format.

“I’ve been doing these acoustic gigs with Jani for about two-and-a-half years now, and it did start like that,” says Kotipelto. “We basically got fed up with people complaining and decided to go to the studio and do it (laughs). We were laughing about it at first because nobody puts out acoustic albums like this, and as a duo it really doesn’t make any sense especially since we do mostly cover songs at the gigs. Why would we do it, really? And the problem is that when we do the live gigs, a third of the songs are ballads and the rest are rock songs. We did an acoustic version of ‘Speed Of Light’ (Stratovarius), for example, and we could play it at the proper tempo but that wouldn’t make any sense. We actually had to consider what was important in the song, try to find that red line, and make a good arrangement of it. The album is a little different from what we play live because there’s more energy at the live show because of the audience.”

The Blackoustic set-up is as stripped down as you can get, featuring just one guitar and two vocals. That said, to have a shredder like ‘Speed Of Light’ - one of the fastest songs in the Stratovarius catalogue - turned into a ballad is considered blasphemy by some fans. Strangely enough, the acoustic remake actually works… provided you’re not expecting something as bombastic as the original.

“I don’t know about you but I actually like this version of it. It’s very different from the original, and it’s interesting to see the people in the audience when we play it. I tell them before we start that some people might know it, and it usually takes until the actual chorus for them to figure out what song it is. But that’s the way we wanted it to be from the beginning.”

“We’ve been playing close to 30 songs for our acoustic sets, so there was a bit of a dilemma trying to decide what to record,” he continues, “but some of the songs just don’t sound good as a recorded studio version compared to the live version. Quite often we play a cover of ‘The Trooper’ (IRON MAIDEN) but if we try to record it, it sounds like shit. Live it’s much different because the people are there. That’s why there are so many ballad-type arrangements on the album; we can make them sound more reasonable that way.”

Not everyone is supportive of the album. When the news got out that Blackoustic was in the making, some folks dismissed it as an unnecessary project, saying that the world doesn't need remagined Stratovarius and Sonata Arctica songs slapped together with acoustic covers.

“Exactly. Of course, some people are still saying that (laughs), but like I said before, we didn’t really want to release the album to begin with. This is for the fans. We’re not expecting any big sales, to be honest. It was just something fun to do. I would have just released Blackoustic on my own label and sold them at the shows, but I happened to mention the idea to Stratovarius’ record label (Ear Music) and they asked me to send them some songs. I sent them demos and they said ‘We want to sign you.’ Jani and I were surprised, but we thought that maybe there are fans outside of Finland that might like it, so we went with the label’s idea to put it out there.”

Kotipelto laughingly admits that he figured the album would be done relatively quickly given that it was “only” an acoustic record. Not so...

“It took a lot longer to record this than we expected. We thought maybe two weeks, and it took two months. Some of the songs took more time to record the vocals than expected, especially the Sonata Arctica song ‘My Selene’ and Jani’s new song ‘Where My Rainbow Ends’ because I never sang them before. I had to learn the melodies and the way to sing them best. The stuff we usually do at the shows was easier, definitely.”

“It would have been boring to make the songs technically perfect, so we tried instead to get some real emotion out of them." he adds. “‘Out In The Fields’ (GARY MOORE) is probably one of my favourite songs to play live. And in the case of ‘Sleep Well’ (a Kotipelto solo tune), I think the acoustic version is actually better than the original. I don’t know why, but it just works so well in an acoustic form. It’s a great opener for the shows.”

Kotipelto & Liimatainen will continue to put on live gigs in Finland, but whether the duo bring the material to the fans outside the country remains to be seen. And there's absolutely no guarantee of a follow-up album; certainly not any time soon.

“We’re not really thinking about that, and the record deal is only for the one album," says Kotipelto. "I’m satisfied with what we did, so I’m not going to worry about whether there will be another one. I don’t want to say this started out as a joke, but it did start in a way that people generally don’t make music anymore. The more time that went by, the more people requested an album of the songs we perform live, so we really did start by thinking ‘Well, maybe we’ll do this for you…’ It’s amazing that the album is out, and we have several gigs still to come next year in Finland. The next step would be to tour outside of Finland but I don’t know if that will happen. We’ve been laughing about it because we’d be the first acoustic duo from Finland to do a gig outside the country, and we’re from the metal world. We’re not expecting anything, but whatever happens it’s really nice to have this album out.”

“I recently finished the vocals for the new Stratovarius album and Matias (Kupiainen/ guitars) is mixing it, so it will be out next spring. And then the tour starts, so everything is coming together. I think we have some great songs for the album, especially Matias’ songs, which are quite interesting. Stratovarius is my priority, so the acoustic thing will only be done when I’m not out touring with them.”