Velvet Ocean – Interview

I spoke to Riitu and Jarkko Ronkainen of Velvet Ocean and am excited to be presenting their music here. This husband and wife team come from Finland and they embarked on this project because they have something important to say, and a flair with which to say it. It took a little over 4 years for them to do and they have had the help and support of some wonderful musicians including Jani Lehtinen (guitar), Tuomas Vesa (bass), Bastian Schallschmidt (drums), Jami Alaverronen (synths), and Arto Alikoski (cello) on the album. Riitu, finds some challenges as a woman but her strong, beautiful voice is enough to keep those naysayers away.

Their next single, “Truth or Illusion,” will be released on August 30, 2019 and you can catch them play on September 7, 2019 at Musa-Vintti, Haukipudas and September 14, 2019 at Nightclub Calle, Kokkola. Click here for their website and more information.

By Fredda Gordon

FG: I watched your video and loved it. When did you guys get together? How did it all start?

Jarkko Ronkainen: We actually met the first time 10 years ago and we both had different projects, different bands. I had a progressive metal band and Rittu had another

Riitu Ronkainen: I had another cover pop band.

JR: Yeah, and a little after she also had this…

RR: Yeah, a metal band also.

JR: We actually were in different projects and for both its been a dream for a long time to make an album and make our own music and we’ve been doing it by ourselves and also with other people but there has always been a sense that things are not going forward very fast. It takes a long time to make one song. We talked, just the two of us, and we started to discuss that we need to do something to actually make things happen faster and we decided to try to make music just the two of us. We didn’t have any other plans, we didn’t have any band or anything.

We made the decision that Rittu is the artistic director. She makes the decisions about the art and music, or has the final say. I’m taking care of the live technical stuff and also the recording.

RR: It’s difficult for me to do the technical things because I don’t understand them so much.

FG: How long ago did you start this album?

RR: I think 4 years

JR: It’s going to be this Autumn it’s going to be 5 years. It took a relatively long time because we started from total scratch. We didn’t have anything, not one song at that point. Also, in the beginning because I’m a guitar player, I’m also a singer, but Rittu is a singer, she doesn’t really play much.

RR: I play a little bit piano but it’s real difficult for me because I haven’t studied any playing.

JR: So, in the beginning when we started composing the songs one big problem was that we didn’t understand about the other instruments. We didn’t know ‘how do you make a bass line or how do you make a drum beat’ we didn’t know anything about that [laughter]. So we started to experiment and just tried different things and different programs and that sort of thing. But that took awhile just to figure out how you have to arrange the different instruments.

RR: At first it was a little bit difficult but now it’s ok.

JR: It’s been a very good process in that sense also that we have learned a lot because we tried to make everything ourselves, just the two of us, so we needed to learn certain things like ‘How do you use these software synthesizers?’ and ‘How do you make different sounds and also bass lines?’

RR: And, ‘How do you make drums?’ It’s really difficult.

JR: Yeah, nowadays it has a lot to do with the technology. You have to have the right software, for example. If you have drummer software it gets much easier, but you have to learn how to use it.

FG: How has the band contributed to that process?

RR: They came along a little later and they have been with us, maybe two years.

JR: The drummer, Bastian, he’s been there from almost the beginning. We had only maybe two or three songs when he came along. But then the other players have come a lot later. Most of the songs that are on the album were actually ready when the players came in. And, of course, when we actually started to record the album there was various changes in the instruments. Like if the bass player wanted to play in a different way of course we let her. Also, there were different musicians in the recording process. So not everybody that has played in the album they are not in the live band now. For example, there was this really nice keyboard player called Marcos Nik, he has played in many Finnish metal bands before, so he was helping us with arrangements and production and he also played synth in the album but he has so many projects going on that he couldn’t participate in the live band. From the beginning he’s said he’s not going to be able to be part of the band when we start playing live but he was helping us in the process.

FG: Are you touring now?

RR: We have two gigs coming up. In September we have one gig in Haukipudas near Oulu and another one in Kokkola.

JR: There’s a lot that we had to do with the album release, a lot of graphic material and everything so it’s taken a lot of time. But we’ve started to play together maybe a year ago?

RR: Yeah.

JR: The most important thing for us is the visibility for the music. If you don’t have the visibility it’s very hard to book any good gigs. But I think we are in good condition to play live. We have already played a couple of gigs and we have booked a couple of gigs.

FG: Did you tour with your previous bands?

RR: We played in Finland and northern Sweden.

JR: We had a band called 3some Acoustic. We played acoustic versions of many pop, rock and metal songs.

FG: What kind of music did you listen to growing up?

RR: I loved that kind of alternative metal like Evanescence, Within Temptation. A little bit also Nightwish. I also love pop singers like Christina Aguilera, women who have very strong voices. My favorite male singer is Freddy Mercury. He also had a really strong voice. I also love Finnish music. Before I sang, I don’t know how to say, iskelmä music.

JR: It’s like schlager music in German. Very melodic pop music.

RR: A little bit melancholic also, I love those kind of songs. My favorite singers from this genre are Anna Eriksson and Laura Voutilainen.

JR: The first bands that I really got interested in were, I had this little bit older cousin and I went to visit him in the summer, my mother was working and I was on holiday, so I went to Kuusamo – it’s a really small place in Finland – they have three brothers and his older brother was a little bit older than me and they had these LP albums and I thought ‘this sounds really interesting”. They were the first bands that I got to listen to. They were bands like, do you know the German band, Helloween? It’s fundamentals of melodic metal music. The album Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part 1. That was one of the first albums I was repeating for thousands of times. Later on a project called Coverdale Paige. One album I remember is called Crossroads. There’s Dream Theater album called Awake. Later on I also found bands myself like Rage Against the Machine was one of the bands I listened to. Then, of course, the regular guitar heroes like Steve Vie, Joe Satriani and Gary Moore and that sort of musician. Helloween and Dream Theater were the bands that got me interesting in singing because I liked the singer a lot.

FG: You mentioned “melodic heavy metal.” How does that differ from heavy metal?

JR: There’s so many genres it’s very difficult to understand the different genres. All the metal music you could say it’s heavy metal. There’s a big difference between the singing. If you only have the screaming singing without melody vs if you have this melodic singing. If you say that you’re making metal music the first thing that people ask is “Is it melodic or does it have this screaming?”

We are not very restricted in the metal genre. We listen to all sorts of kinds of music, I listen to jazz and classical but maybe some people in metal, they are very restricted. They only listen to this particular kind of metal music. And they are very accurate about it. They need to know that the band they are listening to belongs to some particular genre but I find that a little bit boring. I don’t mind listening to different kinds of music.

FG: You mentioned jazz and classical. Do you play that as well?

JR: Not so much. I have played classical guitar a little bit. I’m not very good in it. Maybe that’s more for listening.

FG: Rittu, how do you experience being a woman in the field?

RR: I find it’s really interesting. It’s sometimes difficult, a little bit. I like that I have to challenge myself.

FG: What challenges do you face?

RR: Sometimes some people are thinking that it’s not good if you are a female singer. Sometimes they don’t like female metal singers, they want a man singing.

I know what you’re asking but I don’t speak English so much.

JR: Can I explain a little bit because I know what she means. I think the challenge for the female singer in metal music is that you have to be able to sing like a man. Because many people think that the metal singer, you have to be tough, y’know, have to have a strong voice. If they think the female voice is too feminine or soft or something then you have to prove that

RR: Yes, I have to prove myself all the time. But it’s no problem for me.

JR: It’s annoying, as a man I can say it’s annoying to see this. I think in metal music because it hasn’t been so common for there to be female players and female singers I think there will be a lot that these women, y’know the new bands with women players and singers, they will be able to give a lot of the kind of aspect that there hasn’t been in the former metal bands and I think this is a strength.

FG: I think it makes your band special. When are you coming to the US?

RR: I would love to!

JR: Neither one of us has been to US and it would be nice to go there.

FG: Are you working with anyone to market your music?

JR: Yes, we are working with Maki Kolehmainen. He’s the head guy of Helsinki Records, a small record company, and they haven’t been publishing metal music before. This Maki Kolehmainen is a very famous songwriter in Finland. He’s been making a lot of music in Finnish. Very popular music. At some level he got interested in our music, he liked something about it. He wanted to take our album and release it.

FG: Can you tell me about your early musical experiences?

RR: I was born in Liminka a little village near Oulu. There was a singing competition where children were singing. I had this piano player with me. He was later my music teacher also at the school. I was singing there and I won this competition. It was the first time I sang with a live piano and live audience and it was really great. I was ten years old and I was so excited and really happy. After that I wanted to go everyplace and sing because I loved it.

JR: At home, I was like 4, 5 years old, we had this old radio and an LP player with a small microphone. I was singing on cassette. I think my mother still has the cassettes. Then, also, I was taking a part in this school play. I was maybe 10 years old. I remember there was a play and I was singing. But, I think the most important thing that happened then is that I was in fifth grade and I went to these guitar lessons with a guitar player called Timo Käsmä. He played in a band called Zero Nine. That was a big hard rock band in Finland at that time. For many years I went to his lessons and played guitar.

The guitar teaching wasn’t the most important thing in those lessons. He had all the time these stories about the tour and what happened there. That got me very enthusiastic about the playing. The most important thing from those lessons is the enthusiasm that got me wanting to have this band and making music and playing live. He was a very big influence and I just remember after a couple of lessons that I went to him he was a very supportive and positive kind of guy. Of course when you start playing guitar it’s very difficult. If you take three lessons you don’t really know anything. He was like “I will promise you when you come here for a year you will be able to play this and this and this.” I believed what he said. If he says so then maybe it’s so. So I had to practice really hard and it did happen of course.

RR: It was my father who all the times support me. My parents, my mother too. I have a wonderful family. Everybody has a good sense of humor and is fooling around and laughing all the time. We are four siblings and everyone sings and every Christmas we had our own plays and choir performances that were pretty much improvised. My parents have always been very supportive towards music although I never had any formal education in music.

FG: They were into music?

RR: Yeah, they loved this Finnish iskelmä music, they told me to sing it.

FG: Is there anything you would like to add?

JR: We don’t really see ourselves like any rock stars but we have something that we want to say, we want people to hear. There’s a lot of emotion and feeling that we have put into the songs. It would be very important for us for people to listen to them. Of course they can decide themselves whether they like the music or not but we have put a lot of emotional effort into this thing and it would be so important for us that people would actually hear what we have to say. That’s the main reason we are doing this.