SUNRISE AVENUE BIOGRAPHY, APRIL 2011
It’s like a reflex these days. You see a band name, you notice how they’re charting in their own country and across Europe, and check their resumé to see which talent contest or reality show they graduated from. Not this time. Welcome back to the old-fashioned type of reality, via the music of Sunrise Avenue.
With half a million album sales already to their name, the Finnish pop-rock band are back with their third album ‘Out Of Style,’ and the only thing you can pick them up on is that the title couldn’t be further from the truth. Even before the album was out, its lead single ‘Hollywood Hills’ was doing the thing Sunrise Avenue are always so good at: breaking down the country barriers with their ultra-melodic music, as the track soared into the top three in Germany.
That’s just one of the many countries to fall under the spell of the band from Helsinki led by songwriter, vocalist and frontman Samu Haber. After the multi-platinum sales of their 2006 album ‘On The Way To Wonderland’ and the success of its 2009 sequel ‘Popgasm,’ the quartet are ready to share the results of an intense year of creativity. ‘Out Of Style,’ made with regular collaborator Jukka Backlund and new producer Jukka Immonen, is the sound of a band totally confident about the strength of their sound and their songs. Just try getting one of them out of your mind when you’ve heard it a few times.
Haber laughs at how surprisingly calm he’s stayed in what could have been the nerve-wracking lead-up to the new album release. “I’ve done this twice before and I still sleep well,” he says. “I’m really happy with the results. You write the songs, some of them get selected, you produce and rearrange, and by the time you approve the final mix at the very end, the number of times you’ve heard the tracks is going to be four digits. But the moment when you actually put the disc into your car CD player, it’s pretty exciting.”
The Sunrise Avenue founder’s feelgood factor comes from knowing that the band are back doing what they do best: making a record based on gut feeling and passion, not on over-analysis. “This time,” he says, “we decided to forget about expectations. When we make decisions, like sounds and arrangements, whatever we picked was always the choice of what would work on stage, which is pretty much where we’ve been for the last five years. It sounds like Sunrise Avenue to me, but I think it’s the most pure album we’ve made.”
The past five years are crammed with national and international achievements by the band, from gold and platinum certifications and NRJ Music Awards to Finnish Grammys, as well as sellout tours and appearances at Rock Am Ring, Rock Im Park and other huge events. But beneath the surface of that success lies a story of fierce determination, an epic tale of survival that would put those graduates of music TV to shame.
“I’m not saying I’m any more ‘real’ than those artists,” says Haber, “but I still believe in that traditional road, that you play shows for your friends at the beginning, and then if it works you go onto the next level, and then at least you’ve studied the whole way it works.”
Haber started that process the best part of 20 years ago. He formed the original, acoustic version of the group, then called just Sunrise, in 1992. “The most important thing we did was that we played a lot of shows, because that’s what it all comes down to. That helped us understand what we wanted to do with the band. Our strengths are the melodies.”
Along the way, 17 members have been among the group personnel, and Haber spent some four years gathering more musical evidence and experience living in Spain. Back in Helsinki, he remembers, “in 2004, ’05, ’06, nobody wanted to sign us. We went to record companies more than 100 times. It was actually visit No.102 that we got a deal from a small Scandinavian label called Bonnier. We had to start studio work on our own and we were almost done when the deal was done, and I think that worked for us.”
After local hits with the opening singles ‘All Because Of You’ and ‘Romeo,’ Sunrise Avenue unveiled the album ‘On The Way To Wonderland’ and watched it exceed all their expectations. It reached No. 2 in Finland, No. 1 in Greece, made the top ten in Austria and Sweden and top 20 in Germany and Switzerland, producing several more chart singles.
‘Popgasm’ continued the momentum in 2009 with top ten chart placings as well as singles like ‘The Whole Story’ and ‘Welcome To My Life,’ as the band’s gigging capacity continued to grow, by now to audiences that had climbed to the 2,000 mark. Sunrise Avenue then took things back to their roots with an acoustic tour in 2010 and an album to commemorate it.
Samu, a self-confessed Beatles nut, always had the tenacity that this life would require. “They kicked me out of high school after two years, with all the playing and dreaming and partying the night away,” he remembers. “It didn’t become a full-time job until after we released the first album.
“Those are sweet days when you have no pressure whatsoever, you just enjoy the show and you get like 100 Euros, it’s kind of a hobby. But now, if I’m a guy from Helsinki and I get to tour in ten countries already, I should be happy.”
So to a new album that does the thing Sunrise Avenue do best: the simple but often neglected art of unpretentious song craftsmanship. A busy year of delivering those songs on stages across Europe is already under way. “We still have our story,” says Haber. “Even when you have a hangover, you’re tired or you’re low, we can still say to the mirror, ‘Hey, I made this happen.’”