Interviews

Published on November 19th, 2019 | by Al Geiner

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Progressive Pop Rock…The Impersonators QnA

Alt Pop Alt Rock band The  Impersonators! Hailing from Helsinki the duo and sometimes a trio harken back to the sounds of the early music we got from David Bowie, Pet Shop Boys with a dash of Blur and a splash of Blink 182~

Having previously been signed to Sony/BMG with Carmen Gray, one of Finland’s finest rock bands, Tom Tikka has formed The Impersonators, a two-man project born out their ashes designed to cut-out the politics and strife which come from the rock ‘n’ roll carnival of band life. Resolutely studio-based, The Impersonators attempt to channel the bejeweled power-pop of The Go-Betweens and the immediacy/worldliness of early R.E.M. to deliver timeless alt-pop melodies.

Comprising Tom Tikka and lyricist Antti Autio, The Impersonators are just that: a duo which masquerades as a full band and does everything it can to defy convention – whether that being their insistence on avoiding touring or their songs, which home in on the warts-and-all gnarliness of love and real life. In fact, if one were to find a common theme that runs through the group’s entire catal it would probably be how life very seldom resembles or turns out like Disney fantasies.

Despite their poignant lyrics, The Impersonators are still a joyous and sweet proposition, with their vocal harmonies and chiming chords harking back to such 60s pop majesties as The Beatles, The Byrds and The Beach Boys. Together with their secret weapon, producer Janne Saksa, The Impersonators craft their lyrics and melodies into retro-flavoured “alternative pop/rock”. While adding a modern twist to the final soundscape, their most important goal is to nurture and cultivate the creativity, spirit, and warmth that graced the pop records of yester years.

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What first got you into music?

I heard Paul Anka for the first time in my dad’s car when I was six. It was a song called “Lonely Boy”. There was something very strange about that experience. I had listened to music before –growing up at my house, you sort of had to. Every Friday when my dad came home from work, he’d pour himself a stiff drink and the records would come out. He introduced me to all the greats: CCR, The Stones, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, Ray Charles…the list is endless.

Anyway, that afternoon in my dad’s Chevy was the first time I realized that as a song “Lonely Boy” was fantastic, far more musically advanced than “What’d I Say” or “Satisfaction”. I remember thinking that it was more in the vein of The Beatles than The Stones. I was very impressed by the Latin rhythm under what was essentially a very Anglo pop tune. I also paid attention to the double-tracked lead vocal and the harmonies. I decided to become a songwriter there and then. Then a bit later this decision was solidified by Elvis movies. I remember being very impressed with all the female attention the King was getting. “Cool job,” I thought. 

Of course, it took years before I learned the trade and even longer before a major label (Sony/BMG) began releasing my music. I still remember the day when the artist copies of the first Carmen Gray album came in the mail. I was holding a CD with Sony Music’s logo on it and it was full of songs I had written with my brother…my hands were shaking. It was such a proud moment for me.

Who inspired you to make music?

In the beginning, my dad. He was always encouraging me to write. His goal was to teach me the basics and approach songwriting like any job. As a result, I never had a dry session. Not everything I wrote or have written has been stellar but I learned early on that writing is like photography. You have to take a hundred pictures to get a few fabulous ones. It’s the same with tunes, you write a hundred and a few great ones will find you.

I’m usually inspired by life, what happens to me or around me. My wife inspires me. The love songs like “You Are The One” are for her. However, she also works with me on the music quite often. The opening riff of “Circus” is written by her and she collaborated with me on the chorus of “Sad Café”. I’m fortunate that way. Not everybody has someone as bright and creative at home. That’s a great resource.

How would you describe the music that you typically create?

I suppose the best way to describe our music is to call it vintage pop/rock with a modern twist. It’s a bit hard to categorize to be honest with you. We’ve had problems defining what we do from the start. Nowadays, there are so many genres to choose from and it seems that once people choose a genre, they follow it rather closely. I’ve always had a difficulty sticking with just one. So many of the groups I love the most were rather eclectic. Take classic Uriah Heep for instace. Are they defined by “Lady In Black” or “Look At Yourself”? Does one style or song overrule the other or can they coexist and create a more versatile whole? I seem to always opt for the latter. There are a lot of good tunes that I have in my bottom drawer just because they don’t sound like The Impersonators and that’s really too bad.

When it comes to the lyrics, we don’t usually have the same problem. Antti is a brilliant lyricist and has developed a very unique style. Whatever he produces is always going to have that Impersonators stamp on it.

What is your creative process like?

Usually it starts with Antti sending me a set of lyrics. I then write a melody to them. I usually edit the lyrics a bit to better fit the tune and also write the words of the chorus quite often. After this, I record the instruments and vocals and send the multitrack to our producer Janne Saksa, who then adds to the arrangement and improves the package, so to speak. Even though The Impersonators are a duo, in all honesty, we are a trio. Janne’s contribution to our music is invaluable.

As I said, I also collaborate with my wife quite a bit. She hears all the melodies before anyone else and helps out with the bits that I have difficulties with. The first time she ever suggested a slight alteration to the melody was with “Broken Snow”. She rewrote the end of the chorus, which improves the overall effect of it drastically.

Who would you most like to collaborate with?

Brian Wilson or Paul McCartney. Simply because they are geniuses at making music, writing it, arranging it, producing it. I can’t think of anyone better. Well, Ray Davies of the Kinks comes to mind now as well. Of course, sadly, this is a dream that’ll never come true. But yeah, working with those lads would be utterly and thoroughly amazing. I’ve never made music to become famous, not sure I ever wanted that. But in this context, being famous would come in handy. I could have my guy call their guy and well…one can dream. 

If you could go open a show for any artist who would it be?

Well, being a group of two songwriters, we don’t tour but opening for The Stones would be huge…another dream that will never come true. 

What is one message you would give to your fans?

Life and people are way too complex to categorize and most stories do not have a fairy-tale ending. 

The scariest thing about young people these days is that quite a few of them think that their life should be like Disney fantasies. It’s sort of funny when you think about it, we’ve all seen the classic Disney films and read the stories. It’s just that while my generation realized they were just stories, I sometimes feel the new generation has taken them literally, believing a perfect life exists. Of course, social media contributes to this quest of perfection. For me it’s hard to understand. I mean who wants perfection? Perfection’s boring.

What is the most useless talent you have?

I seem to have a weird ability to close my left eye without wincing at all while keeping my right eye wide open. Very few can do this. This is a useless talent/skill. My kids love to watch me do this, so maybe it’s good for a few laughs.

Do you sing in the shower? What songs?

I do. This is the way I test out new melodies I have in my head. I don’t know why. I also love the acoustics of bathrooms. They are pretty cool echo chambers. If I sing somebody else’s tunes in the shower, they are usually Brian Wilson’s tunes. The echo creates a nice delay that resembles double-tracking. I love that effect. Just last week I sang “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)” from the Pet Sounds LP. It’s a great tune to sing like this, and obviously one of the most gorgeous melodies on the planet.

What would you be doing right now, if it wasn’t for your music career?

It’s hard to imagine my life without music. It doesn’t matter where I am or what I am doing, music will always be there. In terms of my career, if I wasn’t busy releasing something every four months and promoting it, I’d probably spend even more time with my wife and kids. They’re most likely happy about the way things are. I love them to death and would probably suffocate them with my love – too much of a good thing you know. When I am less busy I usually start hearing, “Do you want some time in the studio?” The family knows I’m hungry for their attention. Sending dad upstairs to record is their survival strategy.

Where have you performed? What are your favorite and least favorite venues? Do you have any upcoming shows?

I’ve played to big audiences and small audiences. My preference is to play to a small crowd. I did this in the spring, got up on stage in front of about fifty people or so. It was bloody brilliant. I came off of that thinking I should do it regularly but I love crafting songs in the studio. That’s really where my heart is. Whenever I play live, I feel I should be working on new tunes instead. I know it sounds silly but that’s how I feel.

However, none of this is really an issue since The Impersonators does not really exist. Everything you hear on the records is played by Janne and me. This makes live performing a tad difficult.

How do you feel the Internet has impacted the music business?

It’s changed it completely and I am not sure I like the change. I’ll give you three examples. First off, now that everyone can upload their music on Spotify and other streaming platforms, we don’t have quality control anymore. Sorry, some of the music released just really doesn’t cut the mustard. I find this frustrating. Secondly, I miss the days of CD booklets and LP covers. To me they were part of the package. They don’t usually exist with digital downloads. Thirdly, some of the best music disappeared when we moved from CDs to streaming platforms. Thank God I have The River Detectives’ CDs because you cannot find their stuff on Spotify or Apple Music. There are other bands who’ve suffered the same fate and I think this bites.

What is your favorite song to perform?

Based on the few acoustic gigs I’ve done this year, I’d say ”Burning Blue.” Yeah, that’s the one – most definitely. It works great acoustically. My eldest son, who dabbles a bit with the guitar, had learned to play ”Burning Blue” in secrecy. He wanted to surprise me. It sounded great. I was moved to tears. 

Which famous musicians do you admire?

John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Ray Davies, Grant McCLennan, Gene Clark, Axl Rose, Andy McCoy…the list is endless. 

What is the most trouble you’ve ever gotten into?

Serious enough that I don’t want to discuss it here but perhaps the second worst case was when I picked up a woman I didn’t know was a prostitute. Nothing happened but the thirty minutes we spent chatting cost an arm and a leg. The pimp was very convincing and huge enough to rip me in two, so I paid. LOL.

What is the best advice you’ve been given?

My dad taught me not to underestimate anyone, in good or bad. Experience has shown he was right. We should be on our guard with folks we come in contact with but at the same time, remember to give them the benefit of the doubt. I try to think good of people until they give me a reason not to but I am cautious. 

In terms of romantic relationships, my grandma had a phrase she kept repeating when she thought a couple was not a good match. She looked up, shook her head and said, ”Never underestimate the power of incompatibility and denial.” What she meant by that is that relationships cannot be forced. The wrong person will always be wrong for you and disappoint you no matter how hard you try. She tried to explain to me how it’s all in the response we get. Of course, being a teenager at the time I didn’t get at all what she meant. I do now however. 

Another thing I’ve learned over the years is to never assume that only highly educated people are smart. I’ve met cleaning staff who’ve impressed me with their interpretation of Othello and university professors who have probably never come up with an original thought in their lives. That’s life and people for you. It’s all very complicated indeed.

If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?

The shallowness of it. I think the music industry should be about music. Nowadays especially, it seems to be about sexy music videos and beautiful people. That element has always been there but it’s gone a bit crazy in recent years with songs like “Anaconda” by Nicki Minaj for instance. If you haven’t seen the official music video of “Anaconda”, go check it out and you’ll understand why it has 896 million views. And it’s not because the song is brilliant. 

Another thing I’d change is the generic production values. Everything in Top Twenty sounds the same. It’s unbelievable. Sometimes it’s hard for me to tell songs apart.

What’s next for you?

New single in February or March. Looking forward to it. 

How important is the current climate crisis to you and how do you think you could help? 

It’s very important to me. Just watched a documentary on how western nations ship their garbage off to the third world countries, who then either store it or get rid of it for us at a price. I was shocked.

Also, the fact that there are people who claim that the climate crisis doesn’t exist scares me. They are usually the ones who benefit from destroying the planet. You know the old wisdom: convincing an oil billionaire that fossil fuels are dangerous to the environment is an impossible job. I get that. When things are going well, nobody wants to rock the apple cart. However, we should be concerned about future generations and the mess we are leaving behind. 

I put my five cents in by recycling and educating my children on the environmental issues. Hope that has an effect and they grow up to be sensible ”green-minded” individuals.



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