Brother Firetribe have just dropped one of the albums of 2020 in the shape of melodic rock masterpiece Feel The Burn. Rushonrock editor Simon Rushworth caught up with frontman Pekka Heino to talk changes in direction, AOR’s bad rap and the band’s Burning ambition.

Rushonrock: How is Finland coping with the coronavirus pandemic?

Pekka: All in all we’ve been doing pretty well compared to other countries. The second wave looks like it’s hitting us pretty hard but we’re still out and about and able to go for a drink with friends  – for now. Everybody is very cautious and keeping their distance.

Rushonrock: Have social distancing restrictions impacted on the band being together?

Pekka: Not yet. So far we’ve been able to do everything that we want to do together. The new album has focused our minds this year and now it’s out the next step is to start rehearsing the new songs in anticipation of some live shows. Just to be able to play those songs in a way that everyone’s happy with will be incredible after the year we’ve had. 

Brother Firetribe feel the need to play live

Rushonrock: Are you able to play any gigs right now?

Pekka: No, there are no shows at the moment. Everything is totally up in the air which is a real drag. We’ve got this lovely new product in Feel The Burn and not being able to play the new music in front of a live audience is really tough. It just sucks. But what can we do? Like everyone else we’re just dealing with this situation day to day and making surer we’re ready to roll when the restrictions are relaxed again.

Rushonrock: Are you concerned about the music business as a whole?

Pekka: I am but all we can do is put out the music that we believe in and stand behind 100% and remain positive. As far as Brother Firetribe is concerned our music has never been flavour of the month anyway so a pandemic isn’t going to affect our popularity one way or the other! That’s the way we have to look at it. We just have to maintain the quality of our songwriting and with the way the world is right now we can only hope for better times soon.

Rushonrock: Given the global pandemic do you feel it’s more important than ever to release new music?

Pekka: That’s exactly the attitude we have. We could have postponed the release of Feel The Burn for God knows how long and still been no better off. Who knows? But we had the album in our hands and there are probably some people out there dying to get their hands on something to cheer them up. Brother Firetribe’s music has always had this uplifting quality and we pride ourselves on putting a smile on people’s faces. We just thought ‘ok, we can’t tour but we can put the new album out’. We just hope it makes people feel good at a time when the whole world needs something to hold on to.

Feel The Burn has the feel good factor

Rushonrock: Feel The Burn is a typically euphoric Brother Firetribe record – is it the right album at the right time?

Pekka: I hope so. As far as rock and metal is concerned I think there’s a demand for two types of music right now: positive and uplifting melodic rock and aggressive, angst-ridden metal. If you’re trying to cope with the coronavirus pandemic right now then you probably fall into one of those two categories – you either need cheering up or you want to lash out. There are people looking for escapism and that’s what we deliver as a band. Pure escapism. We’re 100% positive in everything we do. But there are heavier bands out there releasing great albums and they’re connecting with the people who are really pissed off with the whole social and political situation. We need new music and there’s something for everyone.

Rushonrock: Were you under pressure to eclipse previous album Sunbound on Feel The Burn?

Pekka: You know we were so pleased with Sunbound and yes, I think we did wonder about how we could better that record. We thought long and hard about how we could raise the bar again. As soon as we finished the Sunbound tour we started talking about the next record and we all agreed it had to something very different. The first step was to get someone from outside of the band to produce Feel The Burn and we knew that would shake things up. In addition we had a new guitarist – Roope Riihijärvi – and he brings a totally different sound to the table. It was refreshing to work with someone from outside the band and Jimmy Westerlund (One Desire) did a fantastic job as producer. He’s a good friend, a great guitar player and a great songwriter. He knows Brother Firetribe inside out so it was the perfect compromise – a new direction but working with someone who gets what we’re all about. He got his hands on everything: the songs, the sound and the arrangements. His stamp is all over Feel The Burn and I think it’s a better record for it. 

New Brother has the Firetribe vibe

Rushonrock: Roope really comes the fore on Feel The Burn – you must be delighted with how he’s slotted straight in to the Brother Firetribe family?

Pekka: He’s been great. He’s about 126 years younger than the rest of us but I’ve got to know him really well on what we call the ‘freelancer’ circuit in Finland. I’ve played a lot of gigs with him in different line-ups and in different settings. Unfortunately Brother Firetribe doesn’t pay the bills so I’ve played with Roope on cruise ships and at corporate events and his technique and sound is just perfect for what we needed after Sunbound and the departure of Emppu [Vuorinen, former guitarist]. We’d sat down with Emppu at the end of the last tour and it became painfully obvious that we would have had to have put Brother Firetribe on hold for a long time to fit in with his Nightwish commitments. We wouldn’t have done anything for at least five years and we couldn’t do that. But we’re all grown-ups and we’re all good friends and we just decided that the only solution was for Emppu to step down. It allowed him to have some downtime between Nightwish albums and tours and meant we could press ahead with our plans for the future. It took about 30 seconds for me to persuade Roope to come on board.

Rushonrock: You mentioned that Brother Firetribe’s trademark AOR/melodic rock sound still gets a bad press – why is that?

Pekka: I just don’t know. There’s something about AOR if you want to call it that – as a genre it just sits in the middle and can fall through the cracks. It’s not pop and it’s not metal. What it is is rock that’s done very well within a band setting – everyone plays their part and everyone has to be on top of their game. It’s polished and professional but I don’t know why that means it’s unpopular. Who knows? Look at a band like Toto. They’ve sold millions of albums all over the world but it seems like everyone who didn’t buy those records doesn’t like AOR. It just doesn’t add up. I understand why Steve Lukather gets so pissed off and bitter about it. It just makes no sense at all.

Brother Firetribe UK bound?

Rushonrock: Now’s not the best time to be planning a fresh assault on British audiences but do you feel Brother Firetribe needs to commit to more shows in the UK in the future?

Pekka: Absolutely. It gets back to what I was saying before about Emppu. Once we’d decided to move forward without him we suddenly had the freedom and the opportunity to work all year round. We had that meeting and realised we had all the time in the world to explore new countries and take our music all over the world. So the irony of the global pandemic hasn’t been lost on anyone in this band. It’s heartbreaking really. We’ve waited all this time to get to a point where we can tour the world and we can’t play a live show anywhere. We’re all dressed up with nowhere to go! But as soon as we get the green light we’re ready to take off and the UK will be top of the list when we start booking shows again.

Rushonrock: If you could curate an AOR/melodic rock festival who would you invite to join Brother Firetribe on the bill?

Pekka: I’ve been a huge music fan since I was seven and I feel like I’m still catching up on the great bands from back in the 80s that I missed first time around. I’d love to hook up with FM – those guys are top notch and Steve Overland is an incredible singer. He’s as strong now as he was back in the late 80s. Then I’d want Journey and Foreigner to complete the bill. That would be the perfect Firetribe Festival.