When looking at Tuomas Saukkonen, the front man of Before the Dawn and several other bands, one could find it hard to believe that behind the tattoos and piercings gleams a smile that is the brightest and most charming ever seen. The tour of Before the Dawn and RoutaSielu, another one of Saukkonen’s bands, has started from Lutakko, Jyväskylä a week earlier. Saukkonen sits down with a coffee in the backstage of Finlandia-klubi in Lahti, facing the stage where the crew is already setting up the equipment for this night’s gig.
Before the Dawn has just released their sixth full-length album, Deathstar Rising, which went to the 8th position in the official Finnish chart. But let’s go back to the moment their first album My Darkness was released in 2003. Unlike many young musicians who dream of becoming world famous rock stars, Saukkonen says he didn’t have any specific aims for the band’s future: “That’s why those were such nice times, you didn’t really think about things since everything was so new and exiting, unlike now.” Luckily, there are still things that make him excited, like the upcoming tour in Turkey, but touring in general is no more something fun. That happens when you do 50-70 gigs in a year.
After six albums he still doesn’t have specific aims for the band’s future: “The music business changes so fast, and no matter what you plan there’s always some dude in a suit who has an aim that has nothing to do with music. After some extent you have no more power to influence things.” It seems rational that he has one aim after the release of every record: to go forward, especially abroad. And you have to be happy with that. Sounds like every musician’s dream, doesn’t it?
When you’ve chosen music as your profession, money is always an issue, unless you’re the evil dude in a suit or a four-chord hit composer. Saukkonen has also worked as a producer, but he doesn’t see it as a potential job: “I have to like the band that I’m producing, and if the band is not good you just waste your own time, and theirs. I want to be in the production process from the very beginning so it takes a lot of time, I could get more money from any other job than that.” He also says no to just composing songs for other artists: “I have such a detailed image on what the song should sound like, if I could be there through the whole process and tell the artist how to sing the song then yes, but that’s not how it goes.” The idea of him giving a good song to the hands of a producer who then with his ideas makes it bad gives him shivers. It seems obvious that for him it really is all about the music and never about the fame and money.
Saukkonen admits that just with making music, he cannot earn his living. He does also other jobs related to music such as working as a stage manager. Through his own company he has concretely seen the effect that declining record sales have, not necessarily on royalties the musicians get but on studio budgets. When bands have to record parts of their album at their home studios, it affects the quality of the recordings. “In a negative way it’s interesting to see what will happen with making and distributing music in the future,” Saukkonen ponders.
Considering how harsh the music industry can be, the road of Saukkonen and his bands has been rather easy. Despite some problems with the first record label, he is grateful for the proper budget they had for recording the first album, as well as for the European tours they arranged. “I don’t think any bigger label would have been able to offer us such a nice start,” he continues. However, things didn’t go that well with his other band, Dawn of Solace, which was forced to quit because of contract issues. Saukkonen is happy that every record label has been better and every album has sold more than the previous one.
Since 2003 Saukkonen has released eleven studio albums with five different bands. He is a multi-talent who writes all the songs and plays most of the instruments in the studio. On stage, he can be seen behind the microphone with a guitar or bass, or behind the drums. How is he able to compose so many songs that he needs to have several bands to be able to do something with the music? “I just take a guitar and start playing”, he says. Saukkonen tries to practice with every instrument as much as possible, but the problem is that as he takes the guitar or bass or sits behind the drums or keyboards, when he hits the first note he immediately gets an idea of how to continue from it, and again a new song is born. Whereas some bands work on the same songs for a year, the biggest Before the Dawn hit “Deadsong” was born in one minute.
All Saukkonen wants to do is music, but since he is not that into producing and also touring seems like an everyday job, where does he see himself in twenty years? “I don’t know. It’s so much about the feeling for me, is it fun to be on stage or not. It’s really so much work and it’s not as exiting as it used to be,” Saukkonen says. He could give up touring but not making music. That’s something he will definitely still be doing in twenty years. “I could see myself playing drums still in my fifties but to be honest, it’s not really my thing to be in the front on stage”, he continues. Funnily enough, a few hours later when he stands in the front behind the microphone, his band mate who is standing with me in the audience wonders how anyone can look so cool on stage.
For Saukkonen, there is no life outside music. All friends play in a band or work in a music club or events: “And if I’m not working with my own band, I’m probably working with someone else’s band,” Saukkonen says and continues: “Except for movies, I watch all movies, also the crappy ones.” Although his life is all about music, he doesn’t really listen to music. He doesn’t have a CD player and he doesn’t have any music on his computer, except for his own.
Although Saukkonen seems like an amazingly nice and kind person, there surely are things in life that piss him off. That’s probably the reason why there is so much to say in music. “All the everyday things that piss off everyone, I just don’t complain about them to others, doesn’t make me feel any better,” he says, lists a few things from broken exhaust pipes to insurances and continues: “Basically everything that comes in the way of being a free artist.” We are once again talking about money. In spite of constantly having to think about budgets and doing some temporary jobs he implements even the craziest ideas he has, like the double album of his band Black Sun Aeon. And to be honest, doing exactly what one wants despite all worries, like Tuomas Saukkonen does, is unbelievably admirable.