INTERVIEW WITH KURT LOWNEY AND MIKA NUUTINEN OF KAATO
Date: August 1, 2019
Interviewer: Metal Mike
KAATO CONSISTING OF THE BAND’S TWO MAINSTAYS, KURT LOWNEY (LEAD VOCALS) AND MIKA NUUTINEN (BASS), ALONG WITH HUNTER LOVAN (LEAD GUITAR), CHRISTOPHER WILLIAMS (DRUMS) AND MICHAEL WEBB (KEYBOARDS) HAVE RELEASED THEIR SOPHOMORE ALBUM ‘SLAM!’ BACK IN MARCH 2019. THE GROUP HAS RECENTLY RELEASED A VIDEO FOR THEIR SONG “COMMUNICATION” (SEE BELOW TOWARDS THE END OF THE INTERVIEW). SLEAZE ROXX CAUGHT UP WITH LOWNEY AND NUUTINEN TO FIND OUT ABOUT THE NEW ALBUM AND HOW KAATO HAVE PROGRESSED SINCE THE RELEASE OF THEIR DEBUT SELF-TITLED RECORD.
Sleaze Roxx: Hi guys. Thanks for sitting down with me, and great talking to you again. As you know, Sleaze Roxx has been following KAATO since the first album in 2016. Let’s start easy. The core of the band is the both of you. Your bio says you met at the Australian Institute of Music. How did that meeting come about, and why did you both choose to relocate from Australia to Nashville?
Mika Nuutinen: Well to be honest, we didn’t really like each other at first [laughs]. We were really different people at the time, but we ended up being best friends and through mutual friends at the school we eventually started playing shows together with KAATO. After a year or two of playing shows around Australia, Kurt met an Australian producer that lived in Nashville and he convinced Kurt to make the move over. I joined a few years later and we’ve never looked back!
Sleaze Roxx: How did the Australian Institute of Music help you develop a hard rock sound? What were you learning (or not learning) that led to the KAATO style?
Mika Nuutinen: While I was at theAustralian Institute of Music, I was actually playing in a few different bands but none of them were ‘hard rock’. It was a bit heavier, metal and hardcore, a completely different style to what we are doing now. Once I met Kurt, we started developing a love for classic rock and it grew and grew from there. The school definitely helped with the understanding of music but in the end hanging out together and listening to records was the only school we needed.
Sleaze Roxx: Your self-titled debut in 2016 included production and guitars from Mitch Malloy, a guy who’s been in the scene for decades and is now the singer for Great White. How did that partnership come about, and was there a reason Malloy was not involved with Slam!?
Kurt Lowney: I met Mitch through some mutual friends a few years ago in Nashville. At first, we really hit it off. Writing songs was like a knife through butter, and it was a very positive time in my musical life. I felt I had a mentor in him, and for some time I did. But it all went pear shaped very quickly on tour in the UK. It was meant to be a co-headlining tour, KAATO and him. He would play with us and then he would do his set. Little did we know he had ditched the original promoter / booking agent a few days before we left and changed the tour to him headlining with KAATO in a little box on the bottom corner of the poster. The cherry on top was when he announced that he wouldn’t be playing guitar for us in between bites of his red curry at our first tour dinner. Mind you… this was only a few hours after hearing the words “I’m Mitch Malloy, we don’t stop at Burger King!” come from his mouth on a piss stop on the way to that very city. Gotta take the signs as they come I guess! Mika and I’s first international tour sure was an interesting one! I took over the role of playing rhythm guitar on that tour, and we ended up having some fun and making some fond memories anyway! Lots of Weatherspoons pubs and long drives sharing music with my bandmates. Needless to say, we’re not still in contact. My story is just one of many….
Sleaze Roxx: I remember the band’s first single, “High Time” hooked me. It seemed like KAATO had an idea of a rock n’ roll sound, not just falling into predictable heavy sleaze or pop rock genres. Where did that sound originate?
Kurt Lowney: I can’t really pinpoint where that style originated from. I think the style is less of a few things, and more of a bastard child of lots of different genres and eras. I mean we all listen to music from the ’60s through to right now, and when I’m writing a song I’m really just taking microscopically tiny influences and inserting them into what I think sounds good and musically sensible. Well.. that’s not the case 100% time I guess [laughs]. All I know is what feels good. it’s sort of like synesthesia, what it feels like to hear something. If it gives me that feeling, then it stays. I try and capture the essence of these feelings when I feel them in a different song. On the influence side of things, I don’t want it to sound the same at all or necessarily be similar when I write my song. I just want a similar emotion to be conveyed though the music.
KAATO‘s “High Time” video (from KAATO album):
‘HIGH TIME’ from the Self Titled Album KAATOMusic and Lyrics Lowney/MalloyRecorded Mixed,Mastered @ Malloy Master Tracks Nashville KAATO is Social :https://w…
Sleaze Roxx: Following the 2016 album release, are there any memorable highlights or lowlights experienced by the band before you started thinking about ‘Slam!’?
Mika Nuutinen: We’ve had a crazy few years since the release of our debut album. Multiple international tours and getting our visas to stay in Nashville for more time. The tours are always the highlight. We get to play all around the world and meet some amazing people while doing it. One of my favorite shows ever was playing HRH Sleaze in 2017 on my birthday. I had thousands of people singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me on the first show of our tour! It’s something I’m never going to forget! Apart from that, just living in Nashville has been awesome. We’ve made some great friends over here and it really inspired us to get working on ‘Slam!’. I definitely think our experiences in Nashville helped shape the sound of our new album.
Sleaze Roxx: Why did it take three years to release the new record ‘Slam!’? How did the writing and recording experience affect the final product, different from the first album?
Kurt Lowney: I wrote all the songs on this album, except the Japanese bonus track “Boo Hoo’ which Hunter [Lovan] and I wrote together. It’s really cool! There wasn’t really a theme at all with my lyrics. I just want people to be able to put their own meaning to a song and not have that intention set in stone. I write songs differently to some artists. I would ask myself questions like: “Does that word or sentence make you see a beautiful picture in your head?” “Yes!” “Then why does it have to make sense?” I guess I might be strange like that… And I usually write music before lyrics which to some songwriters is a big no-no. But fuck them [laughs]. In reality, there was no real theme or approach, just what sounds good and what was good enough to make it on the album. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t rush some of the songs, but in the world of songwriting, you could spend years forever making changes to a song. But there’s always that point where you’re doing it to the detriment of the song and you don’t even realize [it]. I think my time constraints allowed me to naturally focus and prioritize what was important and what I needed to let go of.
Sleaze Roxx: The band recently added two new members, Hunter Lovan on lead guitar and Christopher Williams on drums. How did that come about, and did it have an impact on how the band recorded or performed live shows?
Mika Nuutinen: Well Hunter has been someone we’ve heard about for nearly as long as we’ve been coming to Nashville. When we first met him, he was only 16 years old and playing every week with Thee Rock n Roll Residency. As soon as we met, I knew he would eventually be playing with us, but for the first few tours, he was too young to bring along so we would tour with the fantastic Jeremy Asbrock and Phillip Shouse [Gene Simmons Band, Ace Frehley, John Corabi]. On our first tour with those guys, we had Christopher Williams [Accept, Andrew WK, Pat Travers] come along too. He’s been a part of KAATO ever since. For our live performance, Christopher has always been a part of it and he’s constantly making us better on and off stage. His experience in the music scene is large. On the other side of things, Hunter has contributed with the recording a lot. His lead guitar playing on the album was amazing and it translates live into a really energetic performance. That’s what being in a band is all about. You’ve really gotta have different types of people doing different things to push that work ethic.
Sleaze Roxx: Mika mentioned to me that the band played around with new tuning, effects, sounds, mixing, etc. for ‘Slam!’. What did you change with your sound? Was it something you didn’t like from the first album, or was it more about developing something new?
Kurt Lowney: Great question! I felt the last album reflected a portion of what KAATO’s sound is all about, and with ‘Slam!’, I wanted to produce the record myself so we didn’t have anyone saying no. I just sort of wanted a ‘record’ or ‘statement’ that sets the pace and let’s people know who we are at stage one of our careers. The last record, after being mixed, turned out much cleaner than I thought it would, and that was our main focus in our approach for ‘Slam!’. We used Eb tuning for some of the songs and E standard for select others in order to make sure the next song really pop out at you. I’m very happy about the vocal sound we pulled. I was insistent that there be no pitch correction whatsoever on this record. A well recorded vocal doesn’t need that kind of processing. Just chuck a pre-amp on it, some hard compression, and let the tube mic do the talking!
Sleaze Roxx: In reviews, Sleaze Roxx has compared KAATO to bands from old school Cinderella and Black Crowes to more recent bands like The Answer, Quireboys, Devil City Angels, and even a bit of Crashdïet. Who does KAATO listen to, and who influences your sound?
Mika Nuutinen: All of those bands have helped shape our sound in some way. Whenever we get asked this question a few of the bands that we always have to mention are Aerosmith, Cheap Trick, Boston, Styx, but really, there are just so many bands that have influenced us in some way, it’s impossible to name them all. We’ve constantly been developing our sound and although it’s always been influenced by the same bands, it’s only recently that we’ve been able to tap into what makes them so great and shape it to sound like KAATO in 2019.
Sleaze Roxx: What does the near future hold for KAATO? There was a tour of Japan back in the spring. How did that go? Any behind the scenes stories?
Mika Nuutinen: Right now, we are focusing on playing as much as we can over here in the States. We’ve spent the last few years growing our fanbase in Europe and Japan, and it’s about time we focused on the beautiful land of the free — America! Japan earlier this year was a blast, like always! This time around though, there weren’t too many crazy stories. It was actually a really breezy tour with some great shows. I think the highlight for me would’ve been the last show of the tour in Tokyo. There was so much energy! We actually have a live video up on our YouTube channel that really captures the vibe from that night!
KAATO‘s “Addicted” (Live in Tokyo) video:
14/4/19 Zirco Tokyo Final show of the “Slam!” tour. Vocals – Kurt Lowney Bass – Mika Nuutinen Lead Guitar – Hunter Lovan Drums – Christopher Williams Guitar …
Sleaze Roxx” Australia has been pretty hot in recent years for hard rock with Airbourne, Roadkill, The Lazys, etc. and even one of my favourites, a bit of a resurgence for Kings of The Sun / Rich And Famous. What are your thoughts on the Australian hard rock music scene as it stands right now?
Kurt Lowney: I think that, at least where I come from [Sydney], [the hard rock music scene] is surviving. Even despite the government slowly choking the life from our city. I see Facebook posts with some great crowds that make me crack a smile and fill me with hope for the future, but mostly its grim reminders on news sites of new laws or limitations imposed on the arts or nightlife. And I know it’s happening in other cities in Australia too. I’ve heard rumours of a ludicrous 75DB sound law being imposed on clubs in Queensland, amongst countless other things that are just infuriating to hear about. But music will always survive and from the photos I’ve seen, there’s evidently always a place in people’s hearts for it, even when they’ve got vampires breathing down their necks.
Sleaze Roxx: How does that scene compare to North America, Europe, or even Japan, where you’ve been touring?
Kurt Lowney: Without sounding insulting, it’s incomparable. Mind you, when we were still mainly staying in Australia, we weren’t playing shows on a very high level, so maybe we were just inexperienced. I just think that in places like Japan, there’s just such a high level of passion and enjoyment for the music. That’s hard to witness in other places. Even in the USA, people have the freedom and passion to get out, have a few drinks, and watch some live music with their friends. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of. Especially when you have those crazy little ‘Is this even real?’ moments in a bar or venue. It almost feels like a movie. It makes you so happy to see it in that moment. It’s impossible to take for granted.
Sleaze Roxx: When Sleaze Roxx published the review of KAATO’s ‘Slam!’, there were no public videos or music links to anything on the new album that we had access to. I think we now have “Communication” as a YouTube single posted on the site. Is there anything to update in terms of where our readers can hear more stuff from the new record?
Mika Nuutinen: That’s right! We just released a music video for our single “Communication.” It was a super fun and [an] easy shoot! Actually, we’re already planning out the next one. Since the last article, we have released the album everywhere possible. It’s on Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube… wherever you can listen to music, its there!
KAATO‘s “Communication” video (from Slam! album):
KAATO’s new album ‘Slam’ out everywhere now: http://bit.ly/SlamKAATODirector: Grant Claire – https://www.goodnicethanks.com/Production Team: Gear Seven – htt…
Sleaze Roxx: Finally, here’s your chance. Did I miss anything that you wanted to share, that the readers should know about KAATO?
Kurt Lowney: Our new music video is out on YouTube [see above]! We’re super excited to finally share it with everyone. And right now we’re booking shows in the USA so we can get our show in front of more people. So in short, we’re not fucking off any time soon. So get used to it!
Sleaze Roxx: Thanks so much guys for your time and thoughts. Best of luck and Sleaze Roxx will be following!
Mika Nuutinen: Really appreciate you talking with us again! Your support rocks! Looking forward to the opportunity of chatting again in the future. Many thanks!