The story of how the over-energetic teen band found a completely new direction through the Dead Letters album.
The Rasmus is celebrating its 25th year this autumn by touring sold-out European venues and playing their hit album Dead Letters. Timo Isoaho asked the band to reminisce the past and talk about their plans.
It’s an uncommonly warm mid-October Friday in Budapest, and the Barba Negra concert hall has been sold out well in advance. It’s not a big surprise as the Finnish band, who is about to get on stage soon, is still very popular in Hungary. Tonight’s concert will be special because The Rasmus intends to play the entire Dead Letters album (2003), and as an extra treat, ten old songs chosen by the fans.
The Dead Letters album that was re-released this autumn, has sold around half a million copies worldwide, and its first single In the Shadows stayed as the most played video on MTV Europe for a long time – that is, in an era when MTV was the most influential marketing channel for popular music.
There is still plenty of time until the concert’s starting time, and the four Finns – singer Lauri Ylönen, guitarist Pauli Rantasalmi, bassist Eero Heinonen and drummer Aki Hakala – are sitting on the backstage of the old Barba Negra and are visibly on a great mood.
Aki: We thought it’d be nice to do something cool for the band’s 25th anniversary. So, we decided to go on tour with our most popular album.
Lauri: It has felt strangely great to reminisce Dead Letters. When the album was released back then, we didn’t really understand the extent of its popularity. We hurried from place to place and didn’t have time to stop.
Aki: At best – or at worst – we were on the road for 270 days a year.
Lauri: It feels like we’re also only now understanding the actual meaning of the album, fifteen years later. During this tour, we’ve often heard sentences such as “Dead Letters was the first album I bought” or “I started playing guitar because of Dead Letters”. When I think about myself around the age of thirteen, my own favorite bands – Metallica, Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers and so on – and their albums, were larger than life to me. While listening to their albums, we made blood pacts for life. When you realize after years that Dead Letters has been just as important to some people… That’s absurd!
Pauli: We played at The Forum in London a week ago. Some bearded metalhead-looking men in their thirties told us excitedly that Dead Letters used to be their favorite album, but they didn’t get a chance to see us live back then. And now they could, and they thought it was the best thing ever.
Eero: After London, we played in Milan. A fan told us there that they fell so in love with Dead Letters back then that they decided to learn the English language to be able to get deeper into the world of their favorite band. Often, we also hear that people have found life-long friends or spouses through The Rasmus. It feels great.
At the end of October 2001, The Rasmus became known by everybody in Finland when the album Into was released, and it paved the way for their international hit album.
Into sold over 70,000 copies and its biggest hit F-F-F-Falling was a cheerful and happy rock song, with a blonde-haired Lauri Ylönen in a blonde shirt jumping here and there in the video with high energy.
Only one and a half years later, The Rasmus conveyed completely different emotions.
Pauli: We certainly didn’t plan on a flip chart that we’d start making darker material. It happened on its own.
Lauri: We had had quite a jolly atmosphere for many years, but then the sunny afternoon began to turn into evening and darker clouds appeared on the horizon.
Eero: We found new favorite bands, such as System of a Down, Muse and Apocalyptica. We also played a lot of gigs with, for example, HIM and Negative.
Lauri: We also weren’t teenagers anymore, we were around 23-24 years old, so we started having a bit more serious and thoughtful attitude towards things. We also poisoned our bodies with alcohol in the bars of Kallio in Helsinki and read about witch-hunts, occultism and other topics like that. Concurrently, the band and the look started to change.
Eero: A good friend of ours died of heroin around that time and another friend’s father committed suicide. When the song lyrics started talking about that kind of things, the music became more melancholic, too.
In hindsight, The Rasmus had arrived at an interesting “make it or break it” determiner in 2003: thanks to the huge success of the Into album, the musicians were able to put their all into the band – and at the same time, the new material and the image were far from being a linear follow-up to the bubbly energy of the Into album.
Pauli: Certainly, we heard comments like “are you completely crazy?”. That we already had a big hit, F-F-F-Falling, and now we were about to do something totally different.
Aki: On the other hand, whatever you do, there is always someone dissing you.
Lauri: We’ve received all kind of advice throughout the years, and people have wondered about our single choices many times. Usually, it has been a sign for us, like” hmm, there must be something there in this song”.
One of the most fitting examples is In the Shadows. The number one single from Dead Letters rose to become the biggest European rock hit in its release year, but despite that, it probably cannot be found on the first page of many “This is how you write a hit song” guide books.
Pauli: We also wondered whether In the Shadows would work as the first single. The riff and the melody formulate a little bit of a strange combination, and neither is the structure of the composition very clear.
Aki: The “Bad Boys” (Pahat Pojat) movie was released around that time and it needed some music, so we gave Guilty and In the Shadows to the producer Markus Selin. We thought they were cool songs and let them decide which song they preferred. Selin chose In the Shadows, and that’s why it became the first single, too.
Dead Letters arrived on the market at the end of March 2003, a few weeks after the release of In the Shadows. The single had already been successful on the charts in several countries, and soon the phones of The Rasmus’s guys started filling with messages.
Lauri: “You’re number two on this chart in Sweden!”. “You’re number one on this radio channel in England”. We were receiving text messages at a senseless speed.
Aki: We were doing a showcase in Norway when we heard we were at the top of Germany’s album chart. At the same time, we were told that we’d have to play the gig as playback. We told the Norwegians that The Rasmus did not come here to act. We’d either play for real or not at all. Later, we also said no to the British music chart program Top of the Pops. We had already arrived in England when we found out that their big stage production had been set up in a strange place…
Eero: I believe it was a kindergarten.
Aki: We decided right away that no way, this isn’t what we do. I don’t know how many artists have turned down Top of the Pops over the years, but we did that!
Even though a couple of showcases were cancelled, there were still plenty of performances.
Lauri: When we were at the point of our biggest success, the coolest thing indeed was that we were able to play a crazy number of gigs in a crazy amount of countries.
Aki: The first big concert on the Dead Letters tour was in the sold-out Columbiahalle in Berlin with Apocalyptica. The big local music channel Viva was filming, and we were extremely nervous. But everything went perfectly, and the gig was pure gold. That night, the atmosphere was magical, and we sensed that things were starting to take off.
And, so they did. The Rasmus spent the next two years on the road.
Pauli: We were completely devoted to the band back then. Nothing was more important.
Lauri: To counterbalance all the work, we partied like mad. We might have had an early interview on morning television, and at some point, we looked at the time and realized we only had time to sleep for an hour. But it was kind of cool. We felt like we were ready for battle, when we had slept just an hour and went on TV tired and hangover.
Aki: If we had just drunk green tea and gone to bed early, would it have been better? I doubt it. Besides, you can’t imagine going to a hotel room to sleep after an energetic gig. You’d have lost your mind lying sleepless in your bed.
Pauli: However, before a gig, we never drank more than one or two beers. We abode by never going on stage drunk.
Aki: Especially after trying it once at Tammerfest. I remember I started playing a song and Lauri interrupted me right away. Then Lauri spoke into the microphone something like: “Hey, it’s He-Man’s name day.” And then the mister started singing “By the Power of Grayskull” and throwing tangerines at the audience.
Lauri: It was shameful. I guess we had let the fame go to our heads… Well, at least I had. I recollect travelling to Tampere from somewhere abroad, and we were arrogantly thinking that it was just a small, unimportant gig. Like, let’s just drink booze. Fortunately, we’ve only done that this once.
The follow-up to Dead Letters, Hide From the Sun, was released in the autumn of 2005.
Eero: When you’re at the top of your success, it’s a delicate moment for an artist. We were certainly terribly annoyed if a magazine wrote that The Rasmus was an alright pop band. We didn’t think we were a pop band. Before Hide From The Sun, we felt that we wanted to write a showy rock album.
Aki: It came from the heart, and that’s why we did it. Like with all our albums: we’ve regretted none of them.
The next albums, Black Roses, The Rasmus and Dark Matters, which were released in 2008, 2012 and 2017, had a brighter, more pop and partly also more electronic sound.
Pauli: The electronic sound felt like the correct decision for the past couple of albums. Next, however, we’re planning to do something different.
Lauri: It’s obvious when you’re writing songs on a keyboard in the studio, it sounds quite different compared to picking up a bass, guitar and drums, and playing in the rehearsal room.
The tenth studio album of The Rasmus will most likely be released next autumn. The album is in good progress.
Aki: We already had one training session in Spain, and we’ll have another one in January. Now we want to make songs in the old style, because the interaction between us has previously created good things. We play together and experiment and arrange new things on the fly.
Pauli: I was admittedly a bit worried beforehand whether we’d manage to make this kind of old school band stuff work again. Whether we’d still be able to rock and find our common chemistry with 100%? I didn’t need to worry, because it feels like something completely new is happening. Surely, this sold-out Dead Letters tour lifted our spirits as well.
Lauri: Our vision for the future is clear: next we’ll make music that sounds like a band. In fact, now that the guitar is not very popular in today’s music, this approach feels damn fresh and inspiring!
A little later, The Rasmus’s one-and-a-half-hour-long concert is in full speed. Naturally, the Dead Letters material is received with exhilaration, but so are songs like Sail Away, No Fear, Dead Promises and Bullet from the other albums.
There’s much to wonder on top of that. There’s a large screen behind the band that shows official video material, and for example, house party stuff recorded by Ylönen.
– A while ago, I ran into old video cassettes and found some wacky stuff: all kinds of crazy experiments and obscene punk stuff. We decided to put that material on the screen for the people to see. Because why not! comments Ylönen while drying his gig sweats.
– During this tour, we’ve had to think about The Rasmus’s career. We’ve been doing this for a quarter of a century now, and our mutual vibe is possibly better than ever before. If we’ve learned something over the years, it’s the fact that you must have courage to fix anything that’s wrong. It can only lead to good things!
Original article published on Soundi 10/19, translation by Ina R.