The Impersonators came into being after the demise of Finnish pop/rock band Carmen Gray in 2013 when Tommi Tikka, the other half of Carmen Gray’s songwriting team, joined forces with lyricist Antti Autio to write some new songs.
While Carmen Gray had recorded for major labels, such as Sony and Warner, the Impersonators’ story was going to be different from the get-go. With this particular group, Tikka wanted to have complete artistic control over the songs he recorded to avoid generic and sterile production typical for modern pop/rock.
For quite a while, Tikka auditioned musicians for the new group. However, after three failed attempts to put together a lineup that did justice to the new songs, he decided to make The Impersonators a group of two songwriters rather than a group of four or five musicians. Hence began the search for a great producer rather than the right musicians.
Finally, in early 2017, Tikka teamed up with Janne Saksa, a seasoned professional in making records, who became Tikka’s collaborator in the studio and took over the head producer’s reins from him. Together, they’ve arranged and produced the group’s previous singles “You Are The One,” “Burning Blue” and “Broken Snow.”
The best way to describe the sound of The Impersonators is to call it Sixties-flavored “alternative pop/rock”. Their goal is to nurture and cultivate the creativity, spirit, and warmth that graced the pop records of yesteryears.
How did you come by your band name?
The group’s called The Impersonators because originally I played and sang everything on our records, there were no other musicians or producers involved. During that time, I told a friend that I feel like I’m impersonating all the members in my imaginary rock group.
I had some lame name in mind for the band that I don’t even remember anymore. She then said, “Why not call the group “The Impersonators.” I thought it was a great name and Antti (the other half of the band) liked it, too, so we did. The name stuck and now, of course, it’s impossible to even think about going by any other name.
When did you start making music and taking it seriously?
I started making music when I was about six. I still remember hearing Paul Anka’s “Lonely Boy” for the first time. My dad was listening to the track in our car. We had this old Chevrolet from the sixties at that point and the sound system wasn’t great but when the song blasted out of the loudspeakers I was sold. I still think it’s a killer track. I love the intensity of it, the rhythm, the constant harmony over the melody. It’s one of the few pop songs out there that does not feature the lead vocal without the harmony at all.
Paul Anka was a great writer and a great singer. Also, a bit later, in middle school, my mom introduced me to all these Elvis movies. I remember being impressed by all the female attention this guy was getting every time he sang and played the guitar. This made me practice harder. I must have dallied around with music about six or seven hours a day, playing the guitar and honing my craft as a songwriter.
When I was about sixteen, I realized I had learned to write songs that resonated with my family and friends, so I thought, “Great. Now, it’s time to practice some more and try to impress the rest of the world.” Little did I know that it would take years to get to the point where a major label would release my tracks. I was 34 when this happened, so it took almost two decades.
How do you feel about the present state of the music industry?
That’s a difficult question to answer. I think the music industry is ever evolving. In a way, nothing’s changed and yet, it’s completely different than it was in the eighties for instance. Streaming services like Spotify have changed the way music is consumed but they haven’t really changed the fact that artists still need labels, publicists, PR agencies and managers to build a career.
We have these aggregators, I believe that’s what they are called, that make it possible for unsigned artists to get their music to each and every streaming platform there is but the sad fact is that without anyone actively marketing and pitching your music, it will just sit there and you will get nowhere. Of course, not everyone who has the ability to write music has the ability to write music that resonates with the crowds, so this is a more complex issue than what we’re focusing on here.
In terms of modern music, my extremely biased and subjective opinion is that modern pop and rock are too synthesized and overproduced but then again, I know about a hundred people who would disagree with me. They would argue that it’s great to listen to music that is smooth and easy to listen. Different strokes for different folks, I guess. As a vocalist, the strangest thing to me is how people’s perception of what constitutes as a great vocal has changed. It’s all so processed and laden with autotune, harmonizer, pitch shifter and compressors these days.
That’s what people expect and if they don’t hear that, they start complaining about the singer not being able to sing. It always cracks me up. But don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy that sort of thing too. However, I connect that sound with pop aimed at a younger audience. When I listen to rock, I want to hear real vocals that have character and haven’t been smoothed out and processed to death.
Today’s music seems to be about collaborations with the “hottest” artist out. Who would you want to work with on a project? And why?
Well, I would love to work with Paul McCartney or Brian Wilson as I think they are the two most talented writers/producers in the history of pop music. That’s a pipe dream though. In real life, I’d like to record a duet with a female singer.
I actually have the song as well as the artist figured out but I don’t want to jinx it by saying too much about it. It’ll happen or it won’t. I’m not sure yet. It’s a song I wrote for someone else that didn’t get used. I think, although a bit different from what The Impersonators are usually releasing, it’d be a nice addition to our catalog.
It’s funny, I just started thinking about all the songwriters I admire. There are so many of them. It’d be awesome to write with Robert Forster of The Go-Betweens or Sam Corry and Dan O’Neil of The River Detectives. Then there are the dead ones, Merle Haggard was such an incredibly gifted guy and Gene Clark of The Byrds. Really, the list is endless and I haven’t even mentioned John Lennon yet.
Having said all this, I love working with my bandmate Antti and our producer Janne Saksa. We have a great synergy. Between the three of us, we can create songs and arrangements that sound like The Impersonators. What more could I possibly want? To me, that’s always been the ultimate goal.
What are you currently working on?
Our next single will come out on March 22. It’s called ”Magic Touch” and our producer Janne Saksa and I have already started to work on it. We’d love to plan in the form of EPs and albums but of course, the music industry doesn’t work like that anymore.
Nowadays, the emphasis is solely on the singles. A friend of mine compared the current situation to how the music business worked in the fifties. His point was that back then, just like now, only singles mattered. I told my friend’s epiphany to my father, who started laughing and said, ”The situation was better in the fifties. Back then, when we bought a single, we got two songs; now, people get one.” I hadn’t thought of it like that but you know, he is right.
How do you feel about pirating?
Well, I understand the attraction it has especially to young folks but obviously, it’s stealing and wrong. I don’t really approve of it but I understand that people have mixed feelings about it. The way it’s been approached by the industry is interesting. They are constantly reminding people not to steal from artists but of course, they fail to mention that they are really protecting their own interests.
They are the ones that make the most money from sales and pretty much everything, not the artists. My guess is that if artists really were the ones who were making money in the industry, the labels wouldn’t care. And I’m not saying they are evil or anything like that. That’s just business. If you don’t protect your interests, you’ll go bankrupt. It’s as simple as that. I’d obviously do the same thing if I was on that side of the fence.
Who do you feel are the best singers? Why?
My favorite ones are John Lennon and Bob Dylan. There’s something very intimate about their delivery. They are somehow able to reach you in a way no one else can. They are able to get very close to you without you even noticing. Listening to them is like having a conversation with them.
It’s like they are only singing to you. Take tracks like “In My Life” or “Just Like A Woman,” I always get this urge to pour myself a glass of wine and start a conversation with them when I have those songs on. I also love Mick Jagger, Tom Petty, Carl Wilson, Steven Tyler etc. The list is really endless. However, Lennon and Dylan are the ones that bring tears to my eyes and put a smile on my face.
Who was your inspiration?
My inspiration is life as I perceive it. I like to write autobiographical songs that reflect what’s happening either to me or around me in real life. I don’t usually like projecting myself into make-belief situations when I write. “Burning Blue” is probably the only song that I’ve ever written this way, based on a heartbreaking story a friend told me about losing his wife to cancer. When Antti and I finished off the lyrics, this is what we had in mind.
All the other ones you can read like a diary. “Universe of Steel” was inspired by the depressing morning news (have you noticed that if you watch the news, you are hit with one negative incident after another?), “Broken Snow” is basically about what I always say to people, “Life breaks your heart.” “Effigy” is more or less about killing your ego, so you can actually enjoy life, which is a thing I’ve always struggled with the most.
“You Are The One,” I wrote for my second wife when we first met – you know that phase when you are so in love that you see the other person as a god-like creature rather than a human being with flaws. “The Cannon Street Hotel” was inspired by T.S. Eliot’s poem “Wasteland” and obviously, this mystic place that once actually existed in London, which appears in the poem – and I’ve visited the site. “Perfect Day” is reminding folks that the happiest and the healthiest life is really the type of life where you don’t have constant drama and constant changes.
The constant search of elation, which is the way I too often live, is extremely consuming despite the amazing rewards it offers. By the way, it’d be interesting to find out how Antti feels about these things as he is the main lyricist of The Impersonators.
What is your favorite song?
My favorite song is “Nowhere Man” by The Beatles. It’s incredible in every possible way. It has a lead vocal to kill for, honest lyrics, beautiful melody, outstanding arrangement and simply put, one of my all-time favorite guitar solos. It’s a song, I will never get tired of and also, a song that I’ve come to understand well in recent years. When I heard it as a kid, I failed to grasp the true meaning of the lyric.
Sometimes we wake up to the realization that the person we are with isn’t the right person for us. It can be anything about them: their personality, looks, attitude, sex drive, work or indifference to us. If the match is wrong, it will never feel right and you will end up making “nowhere plans for nobody” and hating every second of your every day. I wish relationships were less complex than they are. Especially men should focus less on looks and more on personality when they choose a mate for themselves. However, this is easier said than done. Maybe the next generation will be smarter.
What was your biggest risk taken in your career?
Investing money in The Impersonators – LMAO. We’ve only now started making money as opposed to spending it. It’s taken about five years to break even. It’s hard to make these decisions. If you never take risks, you never achieve anything. Yet, at the same time, nobody likes to make a huge dent in their savings without any guarantees. In our case, the risk paid off.
I do want to clarify though that we were never really doing any of this for money. Our goal with The Impersonators has always been to make music we like and music that might resonate with the crowds enough to attract a small following. If we can make somebody nod their head to what we are doing, we are over the moon. It’s been great getting emails from people telling me how a track by us has helped them through tough times. That’s the best reward.
What is your ultimate goal at the end of your career?
Like I said, to make music that resonates with people. In general, my approach to life, music and everything has for a long while being in accordance with one of Abe Lincoln’s most famous quotes: “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count; it’s the life in your years.”
I don’t think we always make the right choices in life just based on our attitude or philosophy. However, I do think that realizing it’ll all end one day will help steer us in the right direction. My number one goal in life is to die happy, at least a lot happier than I am now. Maybe I will. The bottom line is: Live the way you want to; not the way you are expected to.
Would you prefer to be independent or signed to a major?
I’ve experienced both, so I find this an interesting question to answer. You keep reading how independent artists have it hard and how much easier it is for those who have record deals etc. While that has a grain of truth to it, the reality is still a little bit more complex than that.
As I already mentioned, I have experience working with major labels. I did that actually for almost a decade. And it’s no picnic either. It’s different, you are well taken care of but it’s not a guaranteed success story. You have to work relentlessly and hard, day in and day out, even then.
The fact is the world is filled with great bands and great writers, so to become successful, you need to have a lot more than great songs. This is what people tend to forget. I don’t like this any more than the next guy but that doesn’t make it any less true. The Impersonators were unsigned for a few years, not that we were really out there busting our balls to get signed. Having said that, I really do appreciate what our label FBP, publicist Al Geiner and PR agency Quite Great are doing for us.
It is an incredibly good feeling to know that somebody is out there marketing your music and handling your business. I’m very thankful for that. You see that’s really the only difference between being unsigned and signed. If you are an independent artist, then it is up to you to take care of the business end of it as well. And let’s be honest here if you haven’t been even a tad successful in the past or have no one who believes in you enough to represent you, will anyone care?
Every band that wants to make it in the music business needs an audience but the problem herein is that audiences consist of people and ultimately, people follow artists they look up to and admire. If you are just some regular guy or gal without really anything overly exciting on your resume, why would they become a fan of yours and buy a t-shirt that has your name on it, when they could just as easily wear one that says “U2” – a great band, by the way – and yes, I have a baseball cap with their name on it.
You see, nobody really wants to approach this topic usually this candidly because this line of thinking doesn’t really fit neatly into the whole “think-pink-and-be-happy” attitude that’s popular these days, nor does it fit into the instant gratification state of mind that all these talent shows on TV teach young kids these days.
However, getting exposure is the greatest challenge and will continue to be the greatest challenge for any independent artist. Ask anyone who’s out there and has been doing their thing for more than a decade, even the ones that are with smaller labels, and they’ll tell you that turning people onto your stuff is incredibly hard work. If you don’t get help and you don’t have the necessary contacts, you will hit a glass ceiling relatively fast in terms of the popularity you can achieve. There are always exceptions to the rule but they are one in a million or perhaps, a trillion…maybe a zillion.
How can potential fans find you?
The best place to find out about us is to go to our webpage. In addition, we’re in Spotify, iMusic, Soundcloud and YouTube. Those are the best places to go to check it all out. Of course, since it is the 21st century, we are also on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And naturally, FBP Music’s web pages will have our pictures and more detailed info on our comings and goings. There are quite a few song reviews, interviews and blog posts on the group as well. Just do a search in google and these will pop up.