Ewo Pohjola manages Nightwish from Sotkamo hideaway
By Jarkko Jokelainen
When the Finnish rock group Nightwish announced the first days of its upcoming international tour, one venue stuck out among all of the big cities: the Vuokatti resort in Sotkamo.
Finland’s most popular band performs in Finland quite rarely, and it has not been seen in Finnish communities of just 10,000 people since it was first set up. During its tour Nightwish will be performing at places such as the Bercy arena in Paris with a capacity for 16,000 people.
The person behind the Vuokatti gig welcomes his guests on the shores of Lake Sotkamo. He pokes the hot coals in the outdoor fireplace in the shape of the head of a bull. When observed from the correct angle, Sotkamo’s church can be seen between the horns.
He is Ewo Pohjola who returned last year to the Kainuu region of his youth after spending about 20 years in Helsinki. The Sotkamo concert is no coincidence, as Pohjola is one of the group’s two managers.
It is from the kitchen table in his house that Pohjola handles Nightwish’s worldwide contacts. The log house is also a place of refuge between the group’s tours.
It used to be that Finland had only a handful of rock music managers. The only one with significant international experience was Seppo Vesterinen, who has launched the Finnish bands Hanoi Rocks, Him, and The Rasmus onto the world stage.
In the mid-1990s the Sibelius Academy started to organise manager training. The most recent crop of trained managers graduated last spring.
Ewo Pohjola is one of the most successful of the new generation of managers, but his story is somewhat exceptional.
His career took off so quickly that he didn’t even have time to train for it properly. A course in communications was dropped halfway when Pohjola was hired by the Spinefarm record company to pack records for the Christmas season.
“It happened that in the following spring I didn’t have time to attend school at all”, Pohjola laughs.
“There was no harm in the training. Nor would there have been any harm in studying German for a third year. I have had to learn many things the hard way, such as how to deal with publishing contracts.”
Pohjola emphasises that he learned how to be a rock manager simply by doing it. He feels that international music fairs have been his most important schools.
“There you can meet an amazing array of people, and knowing the right people the crucial for a manager. Many probably would be better educated for this work, but if you don’t know anybody, there’s no point.”
More important than education has been the experience.
“I would say that those who want to become managers should play in a band, and work for a year or two in a record company or agency. All of this is useful, because everyone is in it for personal gain. It is easier to see things in perspective after seeing all of this from the inside.”
When he was younger Pohjola played in a number of bands until the record company took most of his time. While working for Spinefarm, Pohjola became one of the key factors in the success of Finnish heavy rock, when he signed about 20 metal bands for the company.
These included the label’s most important export products – Children of Bodom and Nightwish.
“I went on a tour with my own band Babylon Whores, and I took 600 demos with me. I would put cassettes into the player, and if it sounded interesting, I would play the next piece as well. If it wasn’t, I would throw the cassette out the window. Gradually everyone on the bus started to ask to play more Nightwish. There was something in it.”
Nightwish determined Pohjola’s next move.
When the group seemed to be in demand in both Finland and abroad, Pohjola and Toni Peiju offered to serve as the band’s managers. At the same time they set up their own company King Foo, which currently manages about 20 bands.
Peiju currently handles Nightwish’s tours and Pohjola manages relations with its record label, as well as promotion. At least one of them always travels with the group.
On Wednesday Nightwish is releasing its new album Imaginaerum, which is expected to boost the group’s popularity again. Next spring there will be a film by the same name with a budget of EUR 3-4 million.
“The group could just play it safe, and the new record would probably sell as well as the previous one”, Pohjola says. “I know it’s crazy, but we believe in it.”
So far, Nightwish’s willingness to take risks has paid off. Its previous album, Dark Passion Play, was the most expensive and cumbersome to produce, but it has sold more than a million copies.
“We have been lucky with record companies and tour agencies, and they have also been willing to take risks”, Pohjola says. “However, the most important thing is that the pieces have continued to be challenging and of high quality.”
For the management level most of the work linked with the release of the new album has been done. Plans for a tour extend to the summer of 2013. The record company arrangements have been made and promotion is in full swing. Pohjola calculates that the band’s key figure Tuomas Holopainen is giving about 500 interviews connected with the release of the new album.
“The past year has been spent making schedules”, Pohjola says. “Now there are plenty of little things. Each week the record company asks for video clips, interviews, or online chats.”
The upcoming European tour is an operation in its self, involving four buses and three lorries. The entourage numbers about 60. During gigs practical matters are handled by other staff, but big decisions are up to the manager, as well as dealing with the aftermaths of unpleasant incidents.
“Things like that do not happen often. In the middle of the previous decade during a gig in Paris everyone was so tired of touring that the band trashed the backstage area completely”, Pohjola recalls. “Then I simply had to admit to the local promoter that this is what happened, and ask what it would cost.”
But back to Sotkamo. What made Pohjola move his office from Helsinki to Kainuu.
“For a while I would joke that I could move if I found a lakefront property”, Pohjola says. “Then the telephone rang, and I was told that a good parcel of land was available. I was horrified that I would have to start building a house.”
From the point of view of the work there is not much difference, because “the internet works smoothly and there is coverage for the phone”. The only difference is in the bank. Whereas in Helsinki there can be a queue of 60 people, in Sotkamo it is possible to walk right up to a teller.
“When work is so complicated, I’ve wanted to make my own life as simple as possible. I can jump straight into the lake from here if I feel like it.”
As he likes to do things, Pohjola quickly became involved in the affairs of his new home town. In the summer he was arranging the first Sotkamon syke festival, and in March there will be a Nightwish concert.
“My friends said that this guy couldn’t keep his hands off anything. Now he went and established a festival”, Pohjola laughs. “There are plenty of people who can do things, but apparently they need someone to make the first move. It really is possible to do big things even in a small community.”
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 27.11.2011
Previously in HS International Edition:
Promising start to Nightwish world tour in Tel Aviv (9.10.2007)
Nightwish album makes it into UK chart on release (9.10.2007)
Nightwish release Finland´s costliest-ever album (25.9.2007)
Nightwish signs Swede Anette Olzon as new vocalist (25.5.2007)
Nightwish sack female vocalist after lengthy world tour (24.10.2005)
Nightwish official site
JARKKO JOKELAINEN / Helsingin Sanomat