Highway Queen is a Finnish melodic/hardrock/heavy rock act that released their debut album BITTER SOUL at the end of last year. The band is a trio that has released four singles on different labels. Now it's time for the band to unleash their debut statement, which should appeal to fans of hard rock music with female vocals. I sat down with guitarist/bandleader Teemu Kääriäinen to learn more about the band, their music, their history and the essence of the debut album. Since the bass player on the album is a session musician, I had some questions about that as well as how the newly formed band dealt with the covid pandemic that hit the world just as they were about to launch their career. I also had to ask what the band thinks about their new label Rockshots Records and since the singer and Kääriäinen have the same surname I had to find out what their connection is.
Hi, how are you doing today? Are you ready to kick off the interview? -I'm doing well, thanks!
When and where was the band founded and who's ideas was it to form a band? -Band was formed in 2019 and it was our common idea to form rock band called Highway Queen
Has the members been active in other bands prior to Highway Queen? -Yes we have been in cover bands and that kind of projects earlier.
How come you named the band Highway Queen, what's the story behind the name? -We tossed around ideas what band would be called and we founded that almost every good band name is taken that came in to our minds. Somehow Highway Queen name came out and it just sounded cool. We couldn't find anyone else using that name so we decided to call our band Highway Queen.
Was it given from the start that you were going to play this kind of music you do? -Yes this kind of music is what just comes out naturally.
Which bands/artists have inspired you to create music? -Many big classic ones like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Kiss, Queen, Metallica etc...
What did the press and media think of the four singles you released on your own back in 2020? -They didn't get much attention in the beginning. They are very good songs though.
Did the singles create any buzz for the band? -Some people found our band from the internet when we released our first singles and we did have some good feedback about them..
In 2020 bass player Petri Orava joined forces with you, is he a solid member or a session member? -No, he is no longer in our band. He concentrated to his other projects and had no time to be in the band. Excellent bassist though. He played in three of our released songs: Hellfire, You Better Run and Walls Are Burned.
In our album we had bassist Jykke Tikka as a session musician who played perfect bass tracks. We had played with him live earlier so we asked him to play on our album and so he did. There was a long time we didn't have a permanent bass player.. Until now we have Juha Skog on bass.
The same year the pandemic hit the world, did the situation make it hard for the band to continue writing material and tour? -Yes it was very hard to keep the band going because of the pandemic and top of that we didn't have permanent bassist at the time but we did write music and made demos music videos etc. but we couldn't play live.
In 2021 the band inked a deal with the Finish label Inverse Records, how did you end working with them? -We didn't have very much attention from audience for our first self released tracks so we asked couple of record labels that would they promote our upcoming singles and Inverse Records liked our stuff and wanted to promote us.
What did fans and media think of the three singles you released at Inverse Records? -We had really good and positive feedback from media and fans for those songs so it made us to write more music..
Do you have any numbers on how many copies the singles sold? -Those songs were released only in digital formats.
You also shot a video to "Walls Are Burned", how was it to shoot a video, tell us a little bit about the process? -Making music video is very fun to do. We have a friend Joonas Ylänne who has made music videos for other bands too and we wanted him to film and edit our video. We wrote a script about a woman losing her mind. We knew a great actress Annukka Waara who could come to act in our video and she did great job. There is this empty hall upstairs the studio where we recorded the music. We made a setup there and just filmed it by mostly intuition and it turned out quite well..
Highway Queen. PromoImage by Rockshots Records
The lyric videos to "You Better Run" and the video to "Walls Are Burned" has together got 5500 hits so far on Youtube, are happy with that number? -We are happy with any numbers as long as there is people listening to us. Of course, more is always better.
Debut album BITTER SOUL
When did you begin to work on material to the album? -We did start to work material right after previous releases.
Are all of the songs newly written or did you use any older songs as well? -Mostly are newly written but there are older too. Song called "In Vain" was made over ten years ago but we never had a chance to record it properly.
Who in the band writes the music and what are the lyrics about? -Mostly it is guitarist who does the composing. But we can all write music and we always arrange it all together. Vocal melody is usually born at the same time as guitar riffs and we give inspiration to each other while we play. Lyrics are stories about a person's life situations.
The info sheet states that "BITTER SOUL is all about scenarios in one's life. The lyrics tell stories about grieving the burden of shame, anger, and bitterness. The stories are also about overcoming these challenges". Do you agree with those words? -Yes, that's about how it is.
Will you say that this is a them/concept album? And it so way did you chose to do that to do that? -This is not really a concept album but you can hear all the songs as part of the story.
Does the songs stand on their own or does the listener have to listen to the entire album do get the message? -Yes each song stands on their own.
How would you like to describe what kind of music the band play? -Melodic Hard Rock is pretty old school.
I read a description that said there are parts on BITTER SOUL with bluesy vibes to parts that have strong doom or even thrash vibes. Is that a correct description of the album? -Yes. Within some songs you can find those elements.. In some riff or C part at least. We have inspiration from many kind of heavy music. Correct description would be simply Melodic Hard Rock. Obviously we are not a Doom or Thrash band.
Did you use all of the songs you wrote or had you cut off some of the material? -Yes we have leftover material.
What are the songs "In Vain" and "Own Will" about? -"In Vain" is a song about war. "Own Will" tells about someone bullying and tormenting you mentally for years.
What can you tell us about the video to "Bitter Soul" that was released in October last year? -It is a story about a woman who has lost her loved ones. She is imprisoned in the basement. Shackles also reflect that she is a prisoner of her own mind thoughts and actions. It was great fun to make we even put horror makeup on.
What's the story behind the title BITTER SOUL? -We chose the song "Bitter Soul" to be the title for whole album. It sounded best.
Band member Backman did the cover artwork to the album, are you happy with his work? How did he come up with the idea to the cover? -He is also a photographer and that album cover is a photo taken during our video shoot for music video "Bitter Soul". It turned out so well we wanted to use it as cover.
Highway Queen - Bitter Soul coverart
How come you chose to put two really heavy songs in "In Vain" and "Own Will" as the two ending songs? -Because they are quite long songs so it seemed good idea to put them towards the end.
Have you read any reviews of the album so far, do you and the band care about what media have to say about your work? -Yes we have read some reviews and they have been quite positive. Yes, we do care what media says about our work but we don't take anything too seriously.
How has the fans responded on BITTER SOUL? -Very good and it has been great to see that after album release we have got more fans following us.
I'd say the album is a brilliant debut album with some really strong material and well executed music. Are you happy with the outcome? -Thank you! Yes we are happy with it!
What are your favorite songs on the album? -All of them.. but if we must pick only one "Get On Your Knees" is one we like very much..
Studio and production
Where was the album recorded and how long did it take to record it? -Album was recorded in Inka Studio in Orimattila which is a small town in southern finland near Lahti. It took a long time to record because we recorded one day here and couple there with sometimes month in between..
Aleksanteri Kuosa produced the album and I understand it's not the first time you and him work together, tell us about your history together? -First time we did find his advert on the wall of this building where are many rehearsal spaces where he had this small "home studio" and we asked if he would record couple of our songs. And so we did..
How come you chose to work with him again? -We worked together well so it was natural choice.
Is it correct he also did the engineering and mixing? -Yes, that's correct we did that.
Were any members in the band part of those processes? -I'm (Teemu Kääriäinen) always part of all parts of the recording process. I don't do any mixing or engineering myself but I always have opinion on everything..
Who did the mastering? -Album was mastered by Jukka Yliaho. First four songs we made before the album were mastered by Juho Räihä.
Label and bandcamp
Why did you chose to end your deal with Inverse Records? -We had a deal with Inverse Records only to promote three songs that we had unreleased so we didn't actually end the deal. They did their job great. We didn't have album coming at the time.
Was the band without a record deal for a long time after that? -No, but it took a while to think what to do next.
How did you land a deal with Rockshots Records? -We just asked from labels here and there who would release our album. They showed interest in us and seemed a great option with many other great bands.
RR has a lot of Finnish bands signed, was that one of the reasons why you chose to ink a deal with them? -Maybe a little to do with it but it was not the reason we chose to make a deal. Rockshots is a cool label with quality bands, that was more the reason..
Were there other labels besides RR that showed interest in signing Highway Queen? -Yes there were a few..
Rockshots Records Labelimage
Are you happy with the work the label have put into the band and the album so far? -Yes, things has gone well.
Currently the band has got about 120 hits on Spotify, do you think that number is going to increase with the release of BITTER SOUL? -Hopefully.
The most listened song from the band on Spotify is "Hey", why do you think that song became popular? -That's probably because the song is opening track and had the most hype for while when the album was released.
Are there many fans that buys stuff from your Bandcamp site? -We are happy to see that there are some fans who had bought digital downloads.
The debut album is only available as download on the Bandcamp site, why? -To tell the truth, we have forgot to put physical album for sale in our Bandcamp site. That is taken care of right after this interview..
Past present and future
How come the bands website lacks a lot of info like pictures and tourdates? -In the moment our website is the place you can find links to our music, videos, email and social media.. It should be upgraded with
more info, and photos though.
The bands FB page got about 600 followers at the moment, do you think that number is going to increase with the new album? And how come you also got so little info on the page? -Number of followers in social media is increasing all the time. We haven't have a reason to put more than basic info about the band on our site so far..
Which other social forums is the band active on? -We are also on Instagram
Have many bought the debut album through your FB page? -Yes, we are happy about how many people had bought it straight from us.
Finland is maybe most known for raising extreme metal and folk metal bands, how has it been to be a melodic hardrock band in Finland? -Yes more extreme and heavier metal is more popular here in Finland but there are also fans for more classic and melodic hardrock. We are happy to play our own rock music..
Has the band performed live or toured anything yet? It's hard to find any info about previous gigs... -We haven't toured yet but yes we have played live. It is the best thing and we are looking for more. We have had our live set together just now as we finally have a permanent bass player who fits in our group. Juha Skog, excellent showman.
What's the plan for Highway Queen for the rest of 2023? -Play live much as we can..
If you're heading out on tour are you focusing on touring in Finland or are you coming to visit the rest of Scandinavia and Europe as well? -Finland first but we look opportunities to visit other countries too.
Just as the pandemic was under control Russia invaded Ukraine, what are your thoughts on the ongoing war? -It is tough times.. That is just pure evil what our neighbor country is doing in Ukraine.
Is the main focus for Highway Queen to conquer the Finnish market or are you set on Europe and the rest of the world? -People have already bought the album outside Finland as much as in here so our market is outside Finland too..
Have you begin to work on material to a second album? -There are some ideas to work on already..
What would you like to say to the ones who haven't heard the music of Highway Queen yet? -Buy or stream our album and find out how it is like!
Could you give the readers three reasons why they should buy BITTER SOUL? -It has great melodies and rhythms. It has feel in it. It is a good album.
I noticed you guys have the same last name...are you married or siblings? -Yes we have.. We are a married couple.......
Well, that was all for me and metal-rules.com for now. Thanks for taking the time making the interview, I wish you and the band all the best and congratulate you to a brilliant debut album. Do you have any words of wisdom to share with fans and readers?