Music Finland's 10-year-anniversary article series honours and celebrates the PIONEERS of Finnish music export. These are the bands, artists and musicians who went out to the world with little help and knowledge of how the international music business works – and still managed to find audiences for their magnificent art. In the 7th chapter of the series, we let hard rockers The Rasmus shed light on their story.
A book on The Rasmus has been in the talks for years but singer Lauri Ylönen didn't want to commemorate the band's tale before there would be a final period to end the last sentence of it. When the pandemic slowed down the globe and forced performing artists and touring musicians to stay home, Ylönen challenged his thoughts and retracted his opinion about it.
"We had decided that there wouldn't be a book about The Rasmus before we quit. And ironically the band almost broke up because of the book project!", Ylönen says laughing.
"The working title of it was "The Rise and Fall of The Rasmus", of course."
Guitarist Pauli Rantasalmi, one of the band's founding members, left the group in the middle of the project. "There had been signs of it, " says Ylönen. Even though the breakup was not a surprise, it left the band baffled, sad and even a bit frustrated at first.
"We had tried different approaches in reviving the band's chemistry. We did everything we could think of to find the joy of being in the band again. Then the pandemic made it easier to keep your distance: you could participate in a video call but leave the camera turned off, so no-one knew if you're actually there."
We had tried different approaches in reviving the band's chemistry. We did everything we could think of to find the joy of being in the band again. – Lauri Ylönen
Leaving a band you've been part of for over 25 years is not an easy decision for anyone. Ylönen and the rest of the group knew that in their hearts, and soon accepted and respected Rantasalmi's decision.
The Rasmus' memoir will be published by Like Kustannus in the fall – only in Finnish at first. It was written by Finnish journalist Ari Väntänen, who interviewed the members throughout the pandemic 2020–2022. For Ylönen it was a therapeutical process.
"I had issues in my personal life and covid obviously affected my professional life. I was mentally unbalanced", he says.
"Then I could lie on a beach in Hawaii and talk for hours on the phone with Ari, rehashing and reflecting issues and events dating back to my childhood. Or sit with him in a sauna by the ocean in Helsinki and walk through the career of The Rasmus. It helped me to realize how many great experiences and fond memories I had with the band. I didn't want to throw that in the bin, this needed to continue."
"Is this our new guitarist?"
Not very long ago, bassist Eero Heinonen and drummer Aki Hakala received a Whatsapp message.
"Is this our new guitarist?", asked the message sent by Lauri Ylönen. Attached was a picture of a peroxide blonde covered in tattoos.
The Rasmus members didn't know Emppu Suhonen in person, which can be seen a bit odd as the Finnish musical circles are quite small. Suhonen played guitar in Tiktak (internationally known as Tik N’ Tak), a Helsinki-based pop rock band formed only a couple of years after The Rasmus. Tiktak was one of the most popular bands in Finland in the beginning of the new millennium: Their second album "Jotain muuta" (2001) sold triple platinum and the rest of their discography is certified platinum as well. In Finland, Tiktak has sold more albums than The Rasmus.
After Tiktak broke up in 2007 Suhonen has had several projects and bands, from playing punk rock covers to backing a pop star. Before receiving a call from The Rasmus she had quit all her other musical ventures and focused on her solo debut.
"They asked me to participate in an audition and I replied them that I have to ponder it a bit", Suhonen says with a smirk.
Emppu was the only person we asked for the position. I had a strong intuition about it – Lauri Ylönen
"And right away after I hung up I told my partner that this of course is a question I have to answer yes to."
The guys asked Suhonen to rehearse the band's biggest hit In the Shadows and come to their practice room. Suhonen didn't dare to ask if the audition was only for her or would there be more participants: if there would be a queue, she'd storm back home. There wasn't.
"Emppu was the only person we asked for the position. I had a strong intuition about it, and the older I get the more courage I have about my gut feeling", Ylönen says.
Emppu Suhonen dragged her Marshall stack to The Rasmus' headquarters, blasted her way through In the Shadows and other songs with the band. She landed the job and has been rehearsing the band's vast back catalogue ever since.
"I could sense that there had been a rougher patch. It feels really nice for me to be able to participate in this phase where the band is evolving in a nice direction", Suhonen says.
"I feel this is a new beginning for us. We have the desire to renew ourselves. We have the drive to get even the old songs sound better than in the past 20 years", Ylönen says.
Part new beginning, part gut feeling, Ylönen got the idea to participate in the Finnish Eurovision qualifiers, Uuden musiikin kilpailu (translated: "The competition for new music"). The Rasmus teamed up once again with the legendary hit maker Desmond Child and submitted their song Jezebel to the contest. To maximize the attention, they kept the news about their new guitarist in the dark until the Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle announced the participants.
Suhonen was anxious about the fans' reactions but Ylönen says her image was so confident and credible that The Rasmus' followers understood that she'll fit right into the puzzle. Ylönen, on the other hand, was anxious about the competition.
"It was a tough competition. There were so many great artists. Some of the songs were multiple times bigger hits than Jezebel. I was stressed and felt that we have to win or we're done", Ylönen says.
Some of the songs were multiple times bigger hits than "Jezebel". I was stressed and felt that we have to win or we're done – Lauri Ylönen
The Rasmus performed Jezebel dressed in black and yellow. It was clear that their new guitarist was not a wallflower. Suhonen's energetic performance was an adrenaline spike that could be felt even through television, while 43-year-old Ylönen's shirtless appearance caused severe depression among a generation on middle-aged men.
Jezebel won the competition with 310 points from televote and international jury. Cyan Kicks' song Hurricane came second with 221 points and the biggest local hit Ram pam pam by Bess finished third with 204 points.
The Rasmus hits the stage in the Eurovision semifinals on the 12th of May and hopefully clears their way to the final on Saturday 14th of May.
"At the moment I feel so humbled and grateful. We've been around for almost 30 years but this feels like a comeback to several countries", Ylönen says.
The beginning of The Rasmus, or just Rasmus back then, dates all the way to 1994. Lauri Ylönen, Pauli Rantasalmi, Eero Heinonen and Jarno Lahti formed the band when they were in upper comprehensive school. Before Rantasalmi left the band, the drum stool was the only position that had changed throughout the band's history, and "the new drummer" Aki Hakala joined the band in 1999.
"Back then the world and Finland were so different. We had only one radio channel that played music for young audiences. We had the afternoon television program Jyrki, which revolved around youth music. But that was it", Ylönen recalls.
There's a Youtube clip from Jyrki, that may shock the audiences only familiar with the band's darker and more mature material made in the 2000's. In that clip, Rasmus plays their peppy, bouncy and hectic track Funky Jam from their debut album "Peep", Ylönen sporting spiky hair dyed purple and singing to a sunflower.
"Our music was so different from what people used to listen in Finland back then", Ylönen says.
Rasmus were driven by the energy of their teenage years. Playing at Helsinki's community centres, the reputation of their funky jams (pun intended) travelled word to mouth. Their first minor hit was their lively rendition of Ghostbusters, a cover they rehearsed when they needed more material for their first festival gig. It made an impact on audience and got some radio play. Ylönen remembers that Rasmus was requested almost weekly to perform or otherwise appear on Jyrki.
Testing international waters
Rasmus' teenage energy was also creative energy: the quartet released their first three albums in the course of three years. Liquid was the first single from Rasmus' third album, "Hell of a Tester" (1998), and it got air major time on a new music channel, MTV Nordic. It also took the band for their first trip outside Finland.
"We were so excited to play in London and stayed there, partying for a whole week after the gig. But the reality wasn't that rosy: we opened for an Oasis cover band and had to pay all the expenses ourselves", Ylönen laughs.
Their international success was yet to come but in Finland Rasmus had already climbed to the top billing of festivals and for example warmed-up the audience for the Red Hot Chili Peppers – the real deal, not a cover band this time. Rasmus' three album deal with Warner had come to an end and the label would've wanted the band to change their singing language to Finnish. They started looking for a new label and got Playground Music's Lars Tengroth's attention.
"We got a message: Lars is coming from Sweden to Helsinki and would like to see us play, can you book a gig for the day after tomorrow?", Ylönen says and continues laughing:
"So we opened for Michael Monroe (of Hanoi Rocks fame) and his fans were protesting throughout our show."
Tengroth on the other hand was satisfied. He offered a deal the following day. And now, over 20 years later, Tengroth is still the band's A&R and Playground their home. Suhonen says that among the first things she learned when joining the band was The Rasmus' and Tengroth's mutual respect and appreciation.
Going, going, goth
Soon, Rasmus "changed their name" by adding the definite article after signing to Playground. The Rasmus released "Into" in 2001. "Into" sold double platinum in Finland and it's lead single F-F-F-Falling was one the year's biggest hits in Finland. The Rasmus started finally getting decent exposure outside Finland as well. The album took the band on European tour with Finnish goth superstars HIM and the European music media started noticing the band as well.
Ylönen says that spending time with HIM and Apocalyptica most likely affected The Rasmus' musical style; the band had turned into more serious direction but new material started having even darker shades.
"And the next album just happened at right time", Ylönen says modestly, referring to the rise of the goth-influenced rock in Europe.
"Dead Letters" (2003) has sold over 1,5 million units worldwide and its single In the Shadows is still the band's biggest hit. Dead Letters was #1 in the German album chart and the rest of the Europe followed. Then the UK. Then the USA. Then Asia. Their tours turned into world tours with 200 dates.
"We were younger and had no-one else to take care of but ourselves. There was a lot of partying and a lot of drinking involved. It was fun but it also takes its toll in the end", Ylönen recalls.
Childhood hero to the rescue
After an exhausting tour Lauri Ylönen got a mail from Desmond Child, the writer of hits such as Alice Cooper's Poison, Bon Jovi's Living on a Prayer and Kiss' I Was Made for Lovin' You. He was interested in producing an album with the band.
"To this very day I still don't know how Desmond had found my e-mail address", Ylönen laughs.
"But when a childhood hero like him contacts and wants to work with us the answer is yes of course!"
"Black Roses" (2008) took months to craft. Lauri Ylönen spent five months in Nashville with Desmond Child. There were sessions at least in Helsinki, Stockholm, Berlin, Singapore and a small island in Greece. It's said to be the most expensive album of Playground Music's history.
"Yes, I realize that it sounds quite old-fashioned to spend countless of days in studios", Ylönen grins.
"But the label was ready to invest in us, after all our band had made a lot of money for the company with our previous albums."
And now, after ups and downs, The Rasmus and Desmond Child have found each other again. Their collaboration didn't end in Jezebel: there's not one but two The Rasmus albums in the works. Recently, the band flew to Nashville before traveling to Turin for the Eurovision song contest.
"The book project taught me that I just can't stop, and I don't want to", Ylönen says.
"The Rasmus will go on."