Since not many readers will know Mad Hatter's Den, can you start by telling us how and when the band was founded?
The story actually begins in the late eighties, beginning of nineties when Kari and I and Kari were playing together in the same band and were also creating our own material back then. We were studying at the same school and it was kind of a school band. The band's name back then wasn't Mad Hatter's Den, but the main idea behind the songs was basically the same. Then that band was put on hold, but I continued creating songs and the first riffs of 'The Dark Wheel', 'Drain the Fountain' and 'Shadow Lord' were made during the nineties. Kari came back in 2007 when we had just founded the cover band The Coverslaves Plays Iron Maiden. Kari did this sixteen year trip and then we continued like nothing had happened and he even had the same guitar still. Reason for The Coverslaves was obviously just to play Maiden (which was main reason to start playing for all of us I believe), but the song 'Trail of Fears' was composed after a few months of playing Maiden and that song was actually played at the very first gig of The Coverslaves in January of 2007. That song just happened and came together really fast. We tried to do Iron Maiden kind of songs as well as we could. After that we played Iron Maiden until 2010 and played a lot of gigs together. I had this slowly growing urge to play also our own music. It took some time to convince the other players that we should be composing more songs and that we need to form also second group since we couldn't play own songs under the name of The Coverslaves. At first we did, because we played 'The Dark Wheel' and 'Drain The Fountain' at some cover gigs to test the reaction of the audience and it also helped us to modify songs when we noticed that something still needs little bit of tweaking. The reaction was actually surprisingly good even though people were waiting for Iron Maiden songs of course. Some people said that they were really interested in our own songs and no one actually complained about them anyway. We decided to form this second group, which became Mad Hatter's Den and wrote and recorded more own material
Has the band experienced any line-up changes or did you already have the right people on board from the start?
Tapio Korkeila has been drumming since 2006 and also Kari started at late 2006. There was actually couple of bass players before Harri joined us 2008. He had been playing at different Iron Maiden cover bands some years ago. His playing sounded so much like Steve Harris and he knew all those little things already, so that was kind of perfect match for The Coverslaves. The Slaves (which is how we call the band) has usually two singers on stage. Pekka Snellman is the original singer who started also in 2006. He sings mostly Paul DiAnno and Blaze Bailey era songs (and does it really well) and some of the Dickinson stuff also, but we needed also someone to sing Dickinson songs like 'Aces High' and so on. At that point we found Erkki Seppänen (singer of Dreamtale, KYPCK and also third Iron Maiden cover band). He helped us out at some gigs, but he had so much other responsibilities that he couldn't be our regular singer. Then we had this gig offer to play at Iron Maiden party and Erkki was not able to do it (he was playing in Russia with his band KYPCK). The organizers of the party offered that we could ask Taage Laiho to sing at that gig. That worked also very well. After that we continued with this two singers setup. So at gigs there was usually Pekka Snellman and either Erkki or Taage singing when they have nothing else on their calendar. We also needed a singer to sing in Mad Hatter's Den and for that we found Olli-Pekka Kärki. At first he was singing at some Iron Maiden cover gigs too. Mad Hatter's Den continued with that line-up until 2011 when Olli-Pekka decided to leave. Taage came in this pace to Mad Hatter's Den and since then we have been playing with Taage as our singer. Petja Puumalainen is the second keyboard player in this group and he has been around from beginning of 2012. Akseli Kaasalainen (Dreamtale and Loudguns) didn't have enough time for us and we needed to have keyboards also at rehearsals.
Can you give us a short introduction of all the current band members and their musical background?
Biggest influence for most of the members is Iron Maiden and also starting point to start playing anyway. That was in the middle of the eighties. Our drummer listened also to the Scorpions quite a lot, but 'Aces High' was the final turning point for him also (by the way: The Coverslaves has played the whole 'Powerslave' album at a couple of gigs. Harri Hautsalo has played bass at another Iron Maiden cover band before moving to Tampere and he also played in various blues and rock bands during the nineties.Tapio Korkeila has played Finnish rock and has been in some heavy bands too. Helloween and Gamma Ray also have to be mentioned when talking about biggest influences for our drummer besides Nicko McBrain, Daniel Zimmerman and Ingo Switchenberg as players. Petja Puumalainen is a bit younger and has quite a different background. His idols are Jens Johansson, Janne Wirman and quite probably Bach and his favorite bands include groups like Stratovarius, Children of Bodom and Yngwie Malsteen. At around age ten he started playing classical piano and he has played at one quite technical heavy metal band and even southern rock and also jazz/blues. Another idol for Petja is Dave Mustaine from Megadeth, because he's is a great composer and multi-talented guy. Kari Korhonen and me both started by playing Iron Maiden songs, but in addition to that we were big fans of Accept, Anthrax, King Diamond and Yngwie Malsteen. The Finnish bands Stone and Tarot are also very important to us since the very beginning. After a few years Kari went onto his trips and returned to more serious band playing when he joined The Coverslaves. I had also discovered progressive rock at that point and started listening/playing Jethro Tull, Genesis, King Crimson and Rush. My musical history includes playing heavy metal, punk, progressive rock and some rock music. Lately there has been the cover band Purplestone that plays Rainbow, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Ronnie James Dio and Black Sabbath. Taage Laiho has a long musical career and there is probably an endless list of bands that he has been listening to. He has also been singing in various cover bands and making own music at bands called Kilpi, Ghost Machinery, Altaria and so on. You can find Taage's vocals on various official albums and productions. He's a full-time musician.
Since the band was more or less formed out of the Iron Maiden cover band The Coverslaves Plays Iron Maiden, this British band must have been a big influence for you, but which other bands have been an example for the music of Mad Hatter's Den?
There is quite a big list of influences as already mentioned. Our goal is not to copy the style of Iron Maiden or anything like that. Iron Maiden is an important part of this, but we have to mention also Accept, Judas Priest, Ozzy Osbourne, Anthrax, Rainbow, King Diamond and Helloween. We might be adding some time signatures and key changes that can be connected to Rush or Jethro Tull as well. Keyboards might add also some Stratovarius, Yngwie Malmsteen or even Nightwish influences to the mixture. So this makes kind of traditional eighties heavy metal combined with a touch of thrash metal and also small bits of progressive rock, but there might be even some styles from neoclassical/power metal/symphonic metal to some extent: double guitar parts, Hammond organs, choir and string sounds and so on. The Iron Maiden, Rainbow and Accept influences probably shine through most, but let's see what happens in the future. Even though there are quite a lot influences the goal is that music is not too difficult to listen to and songs fits together, but we just don't want to take the easiest and most obvious route.
Have you recorded any demos before the 'Dark Wheel' EP and if so, which ones and what songs are to be found on them?
We record pretty much every rehearsal and most of the gigs, but we don't have any public releases before the 'Dark Wheel' EP.
The music of Mad Hatter's Den sounds very mature, so I'm quite surprised that you released 'Dark Wheel' as an independent release. Didn't any of the record companies that you approached show any interest to sign you?
Actually we haven't contacted any record companies yet. The reason for this is that we thought that we were still trying to find our style and it took some time to change from a cover band to a band that's making his own music, because the challenges are at a totally different level. But all this is so great that it's certainly worth it. And it's also great that the rest of the band has started to offer more ideas and even complete songs. Next time in the studio it will surely be quite a different experience. The first time was also nice, but now we know better how to prepare things and do some more planning before we even start recording anything. Well, this is a learning process and hopefully there is always something new to learn. This studio experience was very much needed also, so the band is now much more ready than what it was when we started. Now it's a better time to make a full album.
Why did you decide to go for a 5-track independent EP release and not for a complete album?
Mostly because there was not enough money to do it and we still have to fine-tune rest of the songs. We've already got more than enough good songs for a complete album, but we would like to test most of the songs live before going into the studio.
How does the songwriting process in Mad Hatter's Den look like and what are in your opinion the characteristics of a good song?
So far I have written all the songs, but that can change. There is one song under development that is not done by me and more are coming. Sometimes I compose the song at home and it might be completely ready before I play it to the others or sometimes it just happens when we are jamming at our rehearsal room or even at sound check before the gig. There have been some songs that came together in one day and ones that have existed at some form for maybe twenty years. It's a bit different every time and that's a good thing because a different kind of process yields different kind of results. We would like to get songs first into the live set and publish them on CD later. That was the case with all of the 'Dark Wheel' EP songs anyway. There can be many kinds of good songs. We think that an album should be considered as whole. Of course there has to be shorter hard rocking songs so that people will like those when they hear them first couple of times. Too many bands have songs that are quite alike in a way. A good album needs some faster songs, slower ones and so on. We are planning to put also a couple of strange songs to the album, one maybe slightly progressive, one ballad etcetera. Some songs will contain choirs and strings instead of just Hammond organs and maybe even some kind of classical elements if possible. Anyway all songs should be that good that you can listen to them over and over again and they should sound good also after ten or twenty years. It's also a requirement that both the band as well as the audience like the material, since we are doing music for both.
Can you elaborate a bit on all of the five tracks that are to be found on your debut EP?
Shadow Lord - I wrote the main riff in the nineties. I was listening to Accept quite much and one of the most important guitarists for me was (and still is) Wolf Hoffman. You can hear it most obvious on this song. Here we use choirs and strings and no Hammond organ at all.
Drain the Fountain – This song has changed so many times and this is also a quite old one. I think this is kind of old school song that would not exist without Rainbow, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath.
Trail Of Fears – This is the newest song on the EP. The creation of this song was done quite fast, as it took only two days. We just tried to create a song that would sound as much Iron Maiden as possible. Afterwards we added again the Hammond organs.
The Dark Wheel – This one is usually the one we play last in our live gigs. Also this is a pretty old one and it has changed several times. This is some kind of mix of Iron Maiden and Rainbow, but with a little bit heavier sound. twin guitars and Hammond organs.
'The Dark Wheel' is featured in a so-called radio edit. Why's that and how does this radio edit differ from the original song?
We thought that it would be needed to get that on radio, because the long version is almost sox minutes. Well, that went a little bit wrong because we heard 'Drain the Fountain' on the radio and it's almost as long as the long version of 'The Dark Wheel'. Also it was a test for us to see if this kind of editing is possible. No one has complained about th length of our songs, but if someone thinks that we should get faster to the point then this is the right version. There will be some shorter songs also in the future even without editing.
'Trail Of Tears' is included in a live version, why did you decide to do this?
Partly this was a money and time issue. We didn't have either to record more songs in the studio. Another reason was to show how we sound live without editing tricks. Actually there was one more song recorded in the studio, but we didn't get that 100% ready on time and we decided to release it later. The style of that song is little bit different also.
Who was responsible for the beautiful artwork and is this in any way related to the lyrical content of one of the songs?
George Grie at Neo-surrealism Art has done the graphics. I found those images from Internet one day a couple of years ago and I knew immediately that now we have artwork that really fits to our band music and future goals. Niina Ylönen did the overall layout of the cover.
What are typical subjects that you write about in your songs?
Song subjects are not really about real life, love or so on. There's no absolute limitation, but more generally the lyrics are stories about some strange or dark things, maybe mythologies or something like that. Or if the song subject is about some quite normal everyday thing then we would like to have a bit different angle to it perhaps.
What does the band think about the actual end result of 'Dark Wheel' themselves and what do you hope to accomplish with this release?
We are quite happy with the end result. It was a bit different than what we thought at first place, but it turned out pretty good. If we would have had more money then there would have been a couple of things to improve, but maybe it's better to concentrate on next release anyway. Then we can use those lessons learned in the studio last time and do some more practicing before recording a full album.
Do you have more material written already and if so, does that differ in any way from the song that are featured on 'Dark Wheel'?
There are lots of songs ready and more seem to be coming. There are some similar compositions to what's found on the 'Dark Wheel' EP, but there will be some quite different kind of songs also. Let's see what songs we will get ready and which ones end up on that album.
The EP is available from September 3rd onwards, how were the reactions from both the press as well as the public?
Feedback has been quite positive and I've been surprised about the amount of reviews. I think we have had a bit more reactions from foreign countries, but I've heard that there will be some Finnish reviews coming later this year. Some fans have been quite active also and that gives us power to continue. So, thank you everybody!
What are the next steps for the band? What are the plans for the next coming months?
We'll do couple of Mad Hatter's Den gigs this year and one Iron Maiden show at Helsinki before Christmas. We'll try to get more own material into our live set and there surely will be quite interesting cover songs. And of course we will compose more songs and arrange further already existing songs and song ideas.
The band is still fairly new, but to what level do you think you can bring the band given the enormous competition in the music scene?
We just try to do the best we can in all situations and make music that is recognizable. Basis is quite traditional, but our goal is to use different kind of flavors on top of that. Anyway we will be doing our own thing no matter what. One band that has been doing that is Armored Saint, which is one of my favorites and of course Iron Maiden too to mention a few.
Okay Jaakko, thanks for your willingness to answer my questions. Is there anything that we didn't cover that you would still like to mention to our readers?
If you are interested in our music and would like to help us with that next release then please order our EP from Record Shop X, [http://www.swampmusic.com]Swamp Music/url] or Backstage Rock Shop Backstage Rock Shop. Songs are also on Spotify, Rdio, Amazon and so on. There are also T-shirts available at our own web page athttp://www.madhattersden.com.And please join also us on our Facebook page:http://www.facebook.com/MadHattersDen.