California Thrashers DÉTENTE always used to be one helluva overlooked gem back in the 80s already, but ever since the tragic death of original vocalist Dawn Crosby (at the end of 1996) the band’s debut full length "Recognize No Authority" seems to gain more and more attention, and a lot of people even started to label it as a classic nowadays! So, to deliver a worthy follow-up, that on one hand wouldn’t damage that reputation and on the other even would live up to the uniqueness in their style, combined with Dawn’s charismatic and very impressive vocal delivery and lyrical approach, definitely must have been a quite difficult task for the remaining members. But with the addition of new vocalist Tiina Teal and their recently released new full length "Decline" DÉTENTE 2010 have not only made a very strong new musical statement, but also proven that the band is very much alive and still ready to kick some asses! In order to introduce the newest member of the band a bit more we hooked up with Tiina, who not only turned out to be a very friendly and intelligent person, but also a very dedicated one… So, read on to find out more about her and what’s going on in the DÉTENTE camp these days…
Hey Tiina, welcome to Voices From The Darkside… I hope you’re in a good mood to do some talking about yourself and DÉTENTE?!
"Of course, thank you so much for having us here, Frank, it is a great honor for us all!"
Since you’re the newest member of DÉTENTE it might be a good start if you’d tell us a little bit more about yourself, like where you’re from, what you’ve done previously, how you got into heavier music and stuff like that…
"That’s an honest start, I can understand. Well, I’ve lived a lot of places but right now I have been in Los Angeles, California for the past 9 years. As a kid, I started out playing clarinet, the fife, then drums. Later on, I picked up drums again and taught myself to play the whole kit and then switched to guitar. I kind of tried out everything before singing because I was very shy and didn’t like having a lot of attention on myself. But, I had always written lyrics and things like that since I was really young so needed some kind of outlet for them, and eventually got up the guts to try out singing. I’d always been attracted to heavy or aggressive music of all types, whether it was Metal or Industrial or even emotionally darker music like The Swans, Young Gods or Concrete Blonde. I grew up very much a loner with hardly any family and I wasn’t good at socially adapting so I found a lot of escape and connection in music. Before DETENTE I had a few bands out here in LA, the best of which was called Burn The Empire. It was a mostly female Metal group and we won Los Angeles’ Best Anti-War Band back then. I’ve done other stuff too, but DETENTE is certainly my musical benchmark and I’m incredibly grateful for this opportunity."
The spelling of your name is quite unusual and I’ve noticed that it got even misspelled in the booklet of the new DÉTENTE album "Decline", so would you mind telling us where that comes from?
"Oh yes, that misspelling in the booklet was very funny! The spelling is actually Finnish, my mother is from Finland and lives in Helsinki now. It’s the common way to spell my name there but the fact that it was even misspelled on the album was extremely funny to me. It’s been a problem all of my life. Even the U.S. Government thought I spelled my own name wrong and issued my passport under a different spelling, too. I guess everyone thinks I’m an idiot and that I can’t spell my own name right! Or, maybe they assume I drink too much and just see double all of the time… perhaps they are correct…"
How did you actually end up as DÉTENTE’s new vocalist? To me you pretty much came out of the blue as the last thing I’ve read was that the guys had joined forces with Ann Boleyn (of HELLION / New Renaissance Records), but somehow that didn’t seem to work out for one reason or another, so could you tell us the whole story here?
"Sheer luck I tell you! I randomly met Caleb (guitarist) at a good friend of mine’s birthday party. I had just discovered DÉTENTE’s music only a couple of years ago, and could not believe that I had never heard of them, or Dawn Crosby, before. So when I found out that Caleb was neighbors with my friends I was so excited! But, I did not get to actually meet him until another year later, and that was when they were already with Ann Boleyn. So, I initially met Caleb just as a fan and was really honored just to talk with him. A few months later, my friend had said that Caleb had asked for links to my music to check out and again, I was totally excited that he had even remembered me. A few days later, I got a call from Steve (Hochheiser) asking if I’d be interested in a project and well, the rest is history! The cool part too, was that when Steve called me, it was my birthday so it was another amazing coincidence and the best birthday gift ever."
How much time did you have (after you had joined the band), to write lyrics and learn the songs until DÉTENTE went into the studio to record the album?
"Absolutely none! When I got the call from Steve on my birthday, he had just asked if I’d be interested in some kind of project. Which I took to mean, something outside of DÉTENTE, since I thought they were still with Ann. So he sent me a few tracks over email for me to check out and write to. That same week I wrote my ideas / lyrics, recorded them at home and sent them back. Steve asked to meet up with me, so I took that to mean just to finally talk and see each other in person for the first time and figure things out. Well, little did I know that we were meeting at Bill Metoyer’s studio, and then Steve points to the microphone and says, well let’s start recording! Holy shit, I was freaked out! I had no idea that was the plan and I was completely in shock! We actually recorded two of the songs on "Decline" that very first time I ever met Steve and Bill, in a few hours that day. What a first meeting, as well as audtion, all at the same time!! And after that day, it was all the same: I would have a couple of weeks to write to the next two songs, record the ideas, send them for review and then go to Bill’s to lay them down in a few hours. A very crazy way to do things, but it all worked out for the best. I think you can hear that raw intensity and energy on every track."
Was it already clear at the time that you would work with legendary producer Bill Metoyer? How was it for you to work with him? Did you get along great? I’m just asking this because from what I’ve read there used to be some tension in the studio between Dawn and Dana Strum (who produced "Recognize No Authority" back then)…
"Yes, I have heard that story about Dawn and Dana back in the day too. I was lucky, in a sense, as Bill was already set up and half of the music was already recorded, just waiting for vocals / lyrics. I like to call Bill ’the quiet genius’ because he is such an easy going guy for the most part and SO incredibly talented at what he does. He is very stoic, he doesn’t say much until you get to know him a bit better but once you do know him he is a totally wonderful soul. I think we all got along great though, because we all like to work hard and get the job done. I didn’t have very much time to do stuff, the deadline was already late so that meant me pushing myself beyond anything I’d done before. On top of working with someone as legendary as the band and Bill. So I was a bit nervous, but they made me feel really comfortable and were extremely professional to work with. And, I fell in love with Bill’s little one-eyed dog named Cow who was always at the studio. Cow doesn’t really like people too much and has bitten some, but I would bring him treats in my pocket so we got along really good too."
I was totally impressed by your vocal delivery when I heard "Decline" for the very first time as I didn’t really expect someone to come so close to the vocal style of Dawn Crosby… How long have you been singing like that already and have you changed your style to better fit into DÉTENTE maybe?
"Thank you very much for the kind words, I really appreciate that! Well, it is interesting because I had never heard of the band or Dawn Crosby until a few years ago, after I had already developed my own style. But it was odd, you know, looking back on things… because the first exposure I had to Dawn was a Fear Of God album that a friend of mine lent me back in 2008. He had told me that I reminded him of her a lot. After that, I would have the album playing in my car, and people would ask me if that was something new I was working on, thinking it was me singing. So after I heard Fear Of God, that led me to discovering DÉTENTE. It is almost cosmic and fateful that this all has ended up happening, as well as really unexpected. But, I haven’t changed my own style at all and although Dawn’s voice is a bit higher range than mine, I think we certainly have an extremely similar attitude. That is what matters the most."
In your thanks-list on the "Decline" album you mention Rodney McGlothlin from extremevocals.com, who seems to be your vocal coach… How long have you been working with him and is there anything in particular that you learned from him, that you weren’t capable of before you started the lessons?
"Thanks for asking about Rodney, as I give so much credit to his talent and dedication. I’ve been working with him now for about four years and he took me from hurting myself or being very damaged after every show I did, to being able to scream like the big boys at anytime I want. As well as improving my regular singing voice and range tremendously. He is friends with Melissa Cross, who does the Zen Of Screaming lessons and she has taught every major Metal or Hardrock singer (Angela Gossow, Corey Taylor, Randall Blythe, you name it). They have a very similar vocal teaching method. I wouldn’t be here without him and you can check out some of his free online vocal advice at www.youtube.com/extremevocalsstudio."
What kind of music are you into in general? How about telling us five of your alltime favorite albums here?
"Oh boy, that is a big musical box to open! Proabably like all of us, I am into all sorts of different types of music, and have always been influenced by many genres. From Jazz, Middle Eastern, R&B, Punk, Rockabilly even… I mean, I have a ton of Metal influences obviously – anyone from Pantera, Guns ‘N Roses, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Slayer, Metallica, The Melvins, Soundgarden (I grew up in Washington State…), a TON. But you know, when I think about the albums that I just want to hear over and over and over… I’ll break it down to these. Strapping Young Lad – "Alien". Shit, that album just BLEW me the hell away. It is an absolute mind-fuck of sound, and has everything from insane blast beats (courtesy of one of my all time favorite drummers Gene Hoglan) to beautiful, almost operatic vocal melodies and deep, dark emotion expressed by my musical god, my hero: Devin Townsend. I will never get enough of that album. I’m also a big Peter Gabriel fan, believe or not, and his album "Passion" which is the soundtrack to the Martin Scorcese film "Last Temptation Of Christ" is a corner stone for me. I used to constantly practice along with the Nusrat Fateh Ali-Khan vocals on that all of the time. It is just so deeply moving and atmospheric on so many levels. Jazz vocalist Nina Simone is also one of my huge influcences. She was such a rebellious, angry female that flew in the face of conformity and didn’t give a fuck if anyone liked her or not. "Saga Of The Good Life And Hard Times" totally showcases some of her more popular songs as well as her protest-era lyrics. The song ‘Mississippi Goddamn’ is a highlight, which is about the death of black activist Medgar Evars who was murdered by a KKK / white supremicist group. ANY Led Zeppelin was a huge influence when I was a kid too. I was a bit intimidated, turned on and a little frightened of their songs. In fact, I didn’t listen to them again until I was in my late teens and more ready for that heavy kind of sound and influence. And finally, again not very Metal but the late, great Jeff Buckley was huge for me vocally. Another talent that passed away from this world way too early, just like Dawn Crosby. His album "Grace" is nearly perfect in every way. OK, can I add a sixth please?! System Of A Down – "Toxicity". If there is any band that I wish DÉTENTE could play with, it would be these guys. They are completely original, so unique as well as blending such cool stylistic genres. On top of that, they also achieve what few bands do – combining very high musicianship with meaningful, worldly lyrics and feeling. I love everything about this band, and this album is the crown jewel in their very rich history."
When you auditioned for DÉTENTE, was it importent for them right from the start that you not only fit in musically, but also lyrically? I mean DÉTENTE is of course known for very critical lyrics as well, so did you ever write any lyrics in that direction before already?
"Absolutely, which is probably one of the reasons why we work so well together. Most of the lyrics in any of the projects I participated in previously have been very similar to what DÉTENTE is all about. For a band that has this kind of focus, I’m not sure if something different could even work. And something that I am very thankful for, because it seems that so many artists are hesitant to tackle polictical or social issues like that nowadays. Or, they water it down to make it more consumable or commerical. I have always loved, and still do love, the courage and balls that it takes to make a statement like DÉTENTE has always done. It is way more brutal, heavy and meaningful than a lot of other Metal bands would even dare to approach."
Would you mind giving us a little rundown on what the songs on the new album are lyrically all about?
"You know, most people might assume that the entire album or lyrics are only about politics of a certain sort, but I don’t necessarily think that is the case. You can certainly apply them polictially, but I feel them to be more of a commentary on how our modern societies and governments operate, how they have declined our humanity & very natures, if you will. Our hearts and basic human rights are constantly threatened by the coldness of industrialization, the confirmity it demands and the lack of personal freedoms that are taken away on a daily basis. All in order to serve this machine that is focused on product, consumption and accumulation of things no matter what the cost. I would like to think that "Decline" is a good continuation of what "Recognize No Authority" was all about."
What was the reason that you didn’t officially include the new version of ‘The Blood I Bleed’ and instead added it at the very end, five minutes after the album’s offically over already?
"I’m really not sure about that! It was a Steve decision, he allowed me pick one of the "Recognize No Authority" songs to re-record and sing, so I chose that one. We weren’t even sure what we were going to do with it and it happened pretty last minute."
Who came up with the idea to turn the instrumental song ‘Catalepsy’ into a song with lyrics and re-name it ‘Genocide’?
"Originally, that song was supposed to have lyrics on "Recognize No Authority" but for whatever reason it didn’t work out. Steve emailed me one night and told me that if I felt like it, I could play around with that song and write something to it. Being as how nervous I was to impress them, I got on it right away! He said that a few of the original lyrics had something to do with the concept of genocide but they were never completed and that was all he remembered. So I just went with that idea and wrote around it. I actually like the lyrics for that one a lot. I wrote them to reference the recent war in Iraq as well as the Native American (Indian) genocide we historically waged on the indigenous people here in America. There is a lyric that states, ’You’re afraid of me, you despise what you don’t know’. I think this attitude has really contributed to so much war and bloodshed on this planet overall, sadly."
By the way, has there ever been an official CD version of "Recognize No Authority"? The version that I got my hands on a while ago pretty much looks like a bootleg with no label info or anything mentioned on it…
"How strange, and I’m sorry that you received that kind of inferior copy. I actually purchased my own copy from Amazon.com, but you can also buy the CD from our website. If anyone is also interested in buying "Decline", we’re offering a ’choose your own price’ download of that album too on our website. Unfortunately, we just severed ties with our European distributor for various reasons, but are resuming distribution soon with a new partner. Both "Recognize No Authority" and "Decline" should still be available in German stores, I know that Remedy Records in Hamburg definitely has it in stock (thanks to Pam and Matt Anderson for that information!)."
When you sent me the album for review it was wrapped in an American flag that had written the word decline in big, capital letters on it… did you always sent it that way?
"No, I randomly decided to do that just for you. I thought it was a great personal message for the band and for our viewpoints – that America seems to be in ’decline’ from its original ideals, represented by the flag."
I suppose you don’t really have a very positive opinion about what’s going on in America these days, so would you mind telling us what pisses you off the most at the moment?
"I’d venture to guess that it might be the same or similar as to what other people are feeling in their own countries or societies right now. Big corporations and big money buying up everything and forcing little people out of their livelihoods, or leaving them jobless. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. It is an old story that is just growing exponentially more so, day by day, all over the world. For as wealthy as the industrialized world is, we still have dismal examples of people living without medical care, living without basic necessities here in America. In addition, our luxuries and goods come at the cost of exploitative labor from China or Asia. People working for pennies a day so that others can have cheap trinkets and so that the big corporations can make more money for their CEOs. These concepts, that so much of our societies and social systems are based upon in any country, are what I find such an abomination and an insult to humanity. That is what pisses me right the fuck off. There should be basic necesseties of all types available to everyone but we should also be rightfully compensated for the amount or quality of work we do. It doesn’t seem that we have discovered a system yet that can encompass all of that, and I’m not sure why. It is quite disappointing and fairly depressing."
Do you think that Obama is a better president than Bush?
"I think he is smarter and I am beyond happy that we finally have a black president in this country that has had such a recent & horrible history of racism. But I still think that Obama is a part of the establishment, he will most likely not bring much REAL change, none of them will because they are all already bought and paid for by the lobbyists supporting big corporate money for their own profits. That is the way the system works: money buys power, all the way to the top, and that has not changed in hundreds if not thousands of years in any country. However, I will say that I am finally pleased to hear our president give speeches or speak in public. He is an intelligent and thoughtful person and at the very least projects a professional persona. Unlike the previous Bush who could barely spell and only achieved presidency because Daddy Bush paid and paved his way to the top. He didn’t have to lift a finger in his life to get to where he was, and that is a sad day indeed when someone like that runs an entire country based upon laziness and nepotism. Unfortunately, that happens everywhere, not just in America."
What’s your opinion on the idea to increase taxes in order to establish a similar health care system that we have in Germany for many many years already?
"I liked the idea initially, but truly feel that we could get that same amount of money by giving less tax breaks and free money to huge corporations that are already pollluting the planet, expoiting cheap labor overseas and killing small business. If we just took away a tiny percentage of the corporate welfare the governments hand over, we could have free health care. But the selfish interests of big business seem to dominate and control all of the other issues and problems of the general public, who actually make up the masses of the workforce for these corporations. It is also interesting, in comparison, because I had to move my mother back to Finland about 5 years ago and she actually worked for the US government for 25+ years, obviously as a US citizen. Well, when I moved her back to Finland, she had BETTER health care than she had over here, on her government pension, after she had given so many back-breaking years of hard labor to the U.S. government. How terrible is that?"
Who came up with the very cool idea for the album cover and what does it mean to you personally?
"That was all Steve’s idea and I agree: it is a bad ass design. I think the imagery says it all. The Statue of Liberty is supposed to symbolize freedom, opportunity: “give me your tired, your poor“. Now we just throw our poor or the immigrants away and despise them for not working hard enough, which seems to never be enough. We make them live in ghettos and projects and slums, fighting to just even be able to have the basic human necesseties in life. There is no true freedom anymore unless you have a lot of money. Lady Liberty is crying over the beautiful ideals that are gone, lost… that America was supposed to represent in the very beginning."
Even though you went for a very oldschool style and production (which is of course very much appreciated by yours truly and most certainly also by a lot of other old DÉTENTE fans as well), you still seem to be very open minded when it comes to promoting the band through a more modern medium like the internet as I’ve counted no less than 8 website URLs on your business card… isn’t it difficult to keep so many of them up to date sometimes?
"Thanks for appreciating that, and we’re so glad that you feel that way! Well yes… it seems that the days of just being a musician or an artist are pretty much over. There is no way you will survive unless you have a decent business sense and are up to speed technologically. Steve and I are good at that stuff so we try to keep things fresh and current."
In the meantime you must have played several live shows with DÉTENTE already and probably got a bunch of reviews on the new album also, so please tell us how people reacted on your vocals and overall performance in general (maybe also in comparison to Ann’s)? It must be pretty difficult being "the replacement" for a singer who’s still got such a loyal following these days, even after so many years after her tragic death…
"Almost all of the response has been so overwhelmingly and thankfully positive. I feel incredibly grateful for how open minded the fans have been, because they justifiably have every reason to doubt yet another singer trying to pick up where Dawn left off. It is a huge hole that is a pretty difficult legacy to live up to for anyone. I mean, Dawn was and still is such a legend and such an artist. Dennis was even telling me just the other night how amazing Dawn was. The guys in the band would come up with just a riff, or musical idea, and she could literally have all of the lyrics and vocal ideas right then and there after hearing the music, a few minutes later. Pretty incredible stuff. And Ann, too – she is a real frontrunner of women in Metal, and especially business women in music. Quite an intimidating history to step into, for sure! At one of our shows in the Netherlands I had a really huge, drunken tattooed guy grab me before our show and say ’don’t disappoint me!’ in a really gruff tone. That sort of thing happened a few times and I really am glad to the Beer Gods for helping me relax a bit before our shows!! Haha. But you know, after we would play, these same fans would be so incredibly nice and supportive and would tell me how impressed they were. I think the absolute best compliment ever was hearing from so many original DÉTENTE fans that it was just like seeing or hearing Dawn Crosby and the band back in the day. But in addition, so many people had never even had the opportunity to see the band live back in the 80s with Dawn, so to hear that we performed the ’old’ songs up to their standards was immensely wonderful too. I know that as a fan myself, I would have been disappointed if the band didn’t sound very good or did not do justice to the songs that we all know and love. On a personal level, too, I have felt such a deep connection to the type of person Dawn was from the very beginning, even as a fan.That means so much to me and is something I take very seriously."
Ok Tiina, I guess this should be enough for now. Hope you enjoyed this little interview a bit… Thanks a lot for the opportunity and all the best for you and the rest of the guys! If there’s anything else you’d like to mention, feel free to do so now.
"Thanks so much again to you Frank, and to everyone out there supporting us and the Metal scene. I’ve always felt that Metal fans are some of the best and most loyal, generous people on the planet. I have never been proved wrong about that yet and have also made so many new friends because of DÉTENTE. I’m really lucky to be here and also lucky to meet such great people all around the world."