Tom Tikka: “You cannot please everyone no matter what you do”

Keep it real and make music that you like and enjoy. You cannot please everyone no matter what you do, so you might as well just focus on producing stuff that’s close to your heart. If other people like your stuff, that’s great. My goal has always been to find an audience that nods their […]

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Keep it real and make music that you like and enjoy. You cannot please everyone no matter what you do, so you might as well just focus on producing stuff that’s close to your heart. If other people like your stuff, that’s great. My goal has always been to find an audience that nods their heads to what I’m doing. I don’t really care if it’s a small audience or a huge audience. As long as I’m able to provide folks with an occasional escape from reality or a cool moment where they can pour themselves a drink, close their eyes and enjoy a few tracks by me, I’m on cloud nine.

As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Tom Tikka.

Tom Tikka picked up the guitar at the tender age of six after hearing Paul Anka’s “Lonely Boy” in his father’s old Chevrolet. Soon afterward, he began writing songs. Tom’s infatuation with music only deepened after his aunt’s husband introduced him to the concept of lead guitar and even more important to the music of such legendary groups as The Beatles and The Doors.

Tikka formed almost as many groups as he disbanded in his late teens and early twenties. Yet, when he finally signed his first recording contract on his 21st birthday, it was a solo deal and not a band effort. He recorded a three-song EP for Olarin Musiikki, a small indie label in Espoo (Finland), under the alias of Tom Spark. Unfortunately, the EP disappeared as quickly as it was released. Consequently, Tikka found himself in square one, without a band or a record deal.

Disappointed, Tikka withdrew from music for a few years but began writing songs again once his brother Lappe Holopainen suggested that they form a songwriting team. Lappe had founded a group he was convinced would go far and he needed tunes for his new outfit. This group was Carmen Gray.

Carmen Gray was signed to Sony/BMG in 2005 and during the next nine years, they went on to record three albums and one EP. The group’s entire catalog (including such radio hits as “Lost In My Mind Again”, “Gates Of Loneliness” and “Life Can Be Beautiful”) was penned by Tom Tikka & Lappe Holopainen.

After Carmen Gray disbanded in 2013, Tikka formed his current group The Impersonators with poet Antti Autio. In 2017, The Impersonators signed with FBP Music Group, a German label based out of Frankfurt. Together with their producer Janne Saksa, The Impersonators have released tunes to rave reviews and a considerable amount of radio attention.

In 2020, Tikka began working with MTS Records and will release a solo EP titled “Working Class Voodoo” on May 25th.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Tom! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I’ve told the story of living both in the US and Finland extensively so many times that I’ll go slightly deeper now and tell you a bit about what my family was like.

My mom and dad were wonderful parents. They were crazy about each other and us kids — I have one brother. This didn’t mean that my parents let us do whatever we wanted, quite the opposite actually. They were both very strict, especially my dad who had been a merchant marine as a younger guy. He made sure we behaved. He had very high expectations of us. It was important to him that his boys did well on whatever they set their minds to. My mom was the same way but she was a bit more forgiving. They both were very loving with us though. They also had a great sense of humor. Many a joke was told on Fridays and Saturdays after they’d had a few glasses of wine. And you can just imagine what exciting sailor stories my dad told us kids. He had been everywhere and seen everything. Sadly, he passed away a year ago. We all miss him a great deal.

Adding to the family dynamic was my grandmother who lived with us. She was a huge influence on me because she took care of me when my parents worked. I probably spent a lot more time with her than with my parents growing up. She had seen the horrors of both world wars. In fact, my grandmother almost died in Vyborg when the Russian revolution began in 1917. In those days, Finland was part of the Russian Empire. This is why the March Revolution affected all Finns. Anyway, my grandmother was fifteen then. The schools closed down on, and when she was on her way home, Cossacks stormed the streets. The way my grandmother told the story was that they were killing people left and right, riding their horses into the crowd, beheading as many as they could with their sabers. My grandmother was wearing a wooly hat with a long tassel. She got to keep her head but lost the tassel that day and a few tangles of hair. She was lucky. That was the story she always told when I complained about my life. Actually, she kept the broken wooly hat. Now, I have it. It still has her blood. She never washed it. It’s one of my prized possessions.

This is what I loved about my childhood home. There were so many stories and all this incredible warmth. Don’t get me wrong, we bickered too. Even my dad could be really dramatic when he chose to, but nobody stayed mad at each other for a very long time, half an hour tops. We always laughed the negativity away. This was the great thing about my parents by the way. They could really go at it, have an intense row for ten minutes and then an hour later they were making dinner, telling jokes and hugging. Great memories.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

Elvis and Beatles movies, the prospect of success. I was eight or nine when I watched A Hard Day’s Night. There was a rerun of it on TV. I still remember the beginning. The Beatles were running away from a group of teen girls, trying to shake them off their trail, hiding in photo and phone booths. Lennon had a fake beard and mustache. It was very exciting to watch that and so I remember making a conscious attempt to learn how to write songs. I already knew the very basics of guitar by then, enough to start putting songs together in any case. I learned to adore music as time went by and I learned more and more about writing and recording but in the beginning, it was just about being idolized by pretty girls. That was the draw. Sounds silly, I know.

Of course, I was very fortunate to get to work with a large record company at an age when I could dedicate myself to music and work my buns off. They were the ones who put me in contact with record producers and professional songwriters. In the beginning, I didn’t really know the game at all. These were the people that ultimately taught me everything I know about music and more importantly, about the music industry. From them, I also learned discipline. They sort of forced me into this habit of writing a song a day. And I still think it’s a great piece of advice. By doing that, you come up with a really strong tune once a month or something like that because most melodies you produce don’t really sound that special after a few weeks. That’s still my approach: I write something every day. This was something my dad always encouraged as well. He advised me not to wait for inspiration but rather work hard at my craft.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I suppose this depends on how you define interesting, so to be safe, I’ll tell you two stories that spring to mind.

A long time ago, as a young dude, I went to Morocco to write some songs, I was looking for inspiration. And as it happened, there were these extremely pretty Swedish chicks staying at the same hotel as me. Trying to impress the girls, I drank camel milk, not realizing it’s one of the most powerful laxatives in the universe. In my defense, they lied to me. The way they were describing the effects of this rather exotic drink, it sounded like it was the eighth wonder of the world. If memory serves, they said it would give me a buzz. Of course, what they failed to mention was what kind of a buzz I would be getting out of it. I’ll tell you something, camel milk works quickly and without a warning and I will never, ever drink it again. Enough said.

Another story that I just remembered happened in 2005, when a Carmen Gray tune “Lost In My Mind Again”, written by me and my brother Lappe, was all over the radio in Finland. It was a big hit. You could hear it many times daily on quite a few radio channels. Well, I went to try out some acoustic guitars at one of the local music stores in Helsinki and among other tunes, I was playing the chords of “Lost In My Mind Again” and hummed the song under my breath. Suddenly, one of the girls who worked there came to where I was and said, “that’s a great tune but you got the wrong chord sequence.” I started laughing and told her I’m pretty sure I have the right one. She wanted to know how I knew, so I told her, “Well, I wrote the song.” She looked at me for a moment and said, “Yeah, right.” Then she walked away laughing. When I got to the register and gave her my credit card to pay for a set of guitar strings, she saw my name on the card and said, “Oh my God! You did write it.” I smiled, gave her a wink and walked away. Whenever I listen to “Lost In My Mind Again”, I think of that moment.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I was sixteen when I played live for the very first time, and I really made a mess of it. At that point, we didn’t have our own gear and the microphone that was waiting for me on stage had an on-off switch. Nervous as I was, I accidentally turned the microphone off when I grabbed it to sing. As a result, nobody heard my performance that day as my band was only doing one number. The singer of the group that came on after us made a joke about the incident by switching the microphone back on with grandiose gestures and by saying, “and now after that instrumental, let’s get back to some pop tunes.” I just wanted to be invisible at that point. But hey, who knows, perhaps that was for the better. I’m not sure how great my singing would have sounded anyway. It took a lot of courage to climb back on stage a few weeks later. You can bet your ass, I didn’t put my hands or fingers even near a microphone after that for a long time. That was the lesson! Only kidding. The lesson was: learn your shit!

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Well, my solo EP titled Working Class Voodoo will be released on May 25th. It was an exciting project because I haven’t put out a solo release since 1992. I just hope it’ll go down well with folks. I certainly am very proud of it. My wife and I had a great time putting it all together. She helped out with the songs, took the promo shots and more or less made the music video.

While we were doing all this, my in-laws looked after the smallest kids, while my eldest son played with the wee bit older ones. He also cooked for us and kept the house tidy! So it’d be fair to say that making this EP was very much a family affair. Like I said, I had many fun moments putting all of this together, the most embarrassing of which was when I was spotted by a few of my kids’ friends’ parents in that ridiculous weatherman gear you see in the music video. They looked at me very peculiarly as my wife and I greeted them with a smile and disappeared into the nearby forest with a camcorder and a tripod. The things one does for music videos!

I’m also working on the next Impersonators single, which is a song called “Rodeo”. I’m super excited about that. It’s a bit more badass than our previous one “Cloud Nine”. This tune is easily one of my favorite moments in my recorded catalog. Actually, for once, we are a bit ahead of schedule. The track’s all done and good to go but it won’t come out until late August or early September. It’ll be great to have a few extra months in which to turn this release around. I’m sure we’ll miss a few deadlines regardless, we always do, but I’m hoping it’ll be less stressful like this. I can’t wait for this one to come out.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

I just watched a documentary about this a few nights ago. It dealt with Hollywood and the movie industry in the forties and fifties, an era during which most minority groups and communities were not presented on the silver screen. It was rather disturbing to realize that there was a huge group of talented actors, who weren’t given the best parts simply due to their race. Instead, these parts were handed off to people who couldn’t act but looked the part if you will. This is perhaps one of the most important reasons, if not the most important reason, why diversity is very important.

Another reason has got to be that art, especially movies, should represent society, which it obviously doesn’t do if all characters in each and every movie are white, heterosexual, Christian and stunningly good-looking. It’s rather funny to watch old movies from the fifties and realize that for a long time this was actually the case — it’s almost surreal!

The third and the most important reason for me is that diversity helps to dispose of stereotypes. Just like not all boys fight, like cars or play football, there are girls who are into martial arts and hate playing with dolls. I could go on but you get the idea. Nowadays, female characters can be pretty badass and intimidating in movies, whereas a few decades ago, their roles were rather restricted.

Diversity is conceivably great for business as well. I might be wrong since I haven’t checked but my guess is that it’s easier for Asian Americans, for example, to identify with a character who is Asian American and so on. I know at least I always need a character I can identify with. It’s actually pretty funny how this changes as you age. When you are young you identify with young characters and when you are a bit older, you identify with characters with slightly more life experience. You’ll notice this especially when you are watching the same movies or series that you first saw as a teenager. All of a sudden, and much to your horror, you identify with the parents and not the teenage rebels.

Whether movies affect culture is a big question. It’s true that what happens on the silver screen will shape our view of reality but as to what extent, it’s hard to say. Some scholars of American Studies, for instance, claim that movies simply reflect what’s happening in the world, instead of having an effect on it. However, I do know you can reinforce stereotypes, opinions and perceptions by presenting certain individuals, nations or groups in a constantly negative or positive light. Think of how Germans, for instance, are represented in war movies or Russians for that matter, not to mention Native Americans. When you think about the question from that perspective, I suppose it’s fair to say our culture and the way we think is affected by movies.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Never sign anything without having a lawyer look at it first. I’ve signed contracts that actually forbid me to re-record or release some of my songs without the consent of the label. I’ve also signed contracts without end dates. I’ve learned all of this the hard way. I’m lucky now to be working with a bunch of great people but this hasn’t always been the case.
  2. Own your band name. If you don’t, somebody will buy the rights to it and forbid you to release music under that name. Antti and I own the name The Impersonators, and that has been very useful during the past two years. Seriously, don’t market your band or put any money towards it until you own the name of the product you are marketing. It’ll all be in vain if you lose the rights to the name.
  3. Work hard at finding the right people to help you. Without the help of someone who has the right connections, your chances of getting anywhere are very limited, if not nonexistent. There are always exceptions to the rule but let’s face it, those are few and far between. In addition, in real life, nobody becomes a super star by accident: stories are stories, reality is reality. Don’t believe everything you read.
  4. Stick with the music you like because that’s where your ultimate strength lies. So many bands and writers start writing and producing tracks that they feel improve their chances to get signed. However, if it isn’t the real you, it will not be the best you, and this usually means that there are people to whom the music style you are copying comes naturally, which gives them an advantage over you.
  5. If you want to succeed even a little bit, you can’t really have anything in your life that’s more important than music. It sounds awful but yet, it’s true. This statement will mean different things to different people, so I won’t start elaborating on it except to say that I’ve blown off quite a few hot dates just to finish a song I was writing. If anyone I’ve stood up in my late teens is reading this, I’m sorry.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Keep it real and make music that you like and enjoy. You cannot please everyone no matter what you do, so you might as well just focus on producing stuff that’s close to your heart. If other people like your stuff, that’s great. My goal has always been to find an audience that nods their heads to what I’m doing. I don’t really care if it’s a small audience or a huge audience. As long as I’m able to provide folks with an occasional escape from reality or a cool moment where they can pour themselves a drink, close their eyes and enjoy a few tracks by me, I’m on cloud nine.

I’m pretty sure that a lot of musicians burn out chasing after the wrong thing. It’s very easy to do that because everyone who ever goes as far as signing a recording contract will have at least a small attraction to becoming famous and being worshipped by fans and critics alike. If you don’t grow out of that and realize that cutting records is a job like everything else, you will probably end up disillusioned and miserable. I’ve seen it happen to quite a few people. When the fame fades, they don’t know what to do with themselves anymore. Even worse are the bitter ones who never achieved fame. They are the ones who usually burn out completely banging their heads against the wall, attempting to achieve acclaim no matter what it takes. It’s really very tragic sometimes.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think if I had to choose just one movement, it would have to do with trying to make sure that all children around the world have equal access to school services, regardless of their gender, race, religion, ethnicity or socio-economic status. I believe this wouldn’t just further equal human rights, it would ultimately help us deal with all sorts of predicaments we are facing still today, such as the shortage of skilled healthcare workers in the developing countries and also, environmental issues.

We should at least make sure that the level of literacy around the globe increases. A person who cannot read is also a person who usually has no way of finding out about their responsibilities, rights and duties. There was a good program about this on TV a few months ago. It dealt with how there was a village somewhere in Africa where the villagers hadn’t been educated about their right to vote. It was an interesting documentary, albeit a slightly disturbing one.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are so many who have helped me along the way that if I mentioned all of those brilliant individuals, this interview would be about a page longer than it is now, so I will just mention one individual without whom I wouldn’t be where I am today and that’s Carmen Gray’s manager Peter Kokljuschkin. He was singlehandedly responsible for making Carmen Gray famous, and without him, my songs would never ever have found their way to the radio.

When Carmen Gray was dropped by Sony/BMG after the group’s second album failed to chart, Peter risked a huge amount of money by paying for the third album himself. That’s how much he believed in the band and the songs. And it turned out his hunch was right. “Gates Of Loneliness” became the group’s biggest hit and his risk paid off. Of course, he had no way of knowing that. It could have all gone to hell and he could have ended up losing a lot. I suppose we all got a lucky break as well. Nevertheless, because of Peter’s bravado, my confidence as a songwriter grew, as did my brother’s, and we realized that we have a future in the music business. I’m forever grateful for that.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have two. Abe Lincoln’s: “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count; it’s the life in your years.” And then there is John Lennon’s, “Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans.”

These are both very true and are great grains of wisdom. I try to remember both at all times. The lesson you can learn from them is clear. You can’t always plan everything and more importantly, don’t waste life, it’ll come to an end at some point and when it does, it’s better to have lived fifty happy years than two hundred half-assed and unsatisfactory years.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys or Paul McCartney of The Beatles. If I had to choose only one, I suppose it’d be Paul McCartney. It’s a tough call but meeting McCartney would be a dream come true. I love The Beatles, Wings and his solo records. A few weeks ago, I put his brilliant Chaos And Creation In The Backyard album in my CD player — it’s still there. It’d be awesome to have dinner or a drink with him and talk about life and music. Based on his interviews, McCartney comes across as a great guy. Hanging out with him would be very cool no doubt.

I also admire the way McCartney has been able to keep the business side of his career in check. I read one of the many books written about him recently, in which McCartney is explaining how he got into music publishing. Since it was impossible for him to own the rights to his own songs after The Beatles split, he began buying publishing rights to the songs of artists he admires and respects. Obviously it’s going for the business end of things a bit, but when you think about it, is there really a better way for an established artist to make financial investments? I like that idea very much.

How can our readers follow you online?

The best place to follow Tom Tikka & The Missing Hubcaps or The Impersonators online is to go to The Impersonators’ webpage: In addition, the tunes are obviously in Spotify, iMusic and YouTube. Those are the best places to go to check it all out.

Of course, since we live in the 21st century, The Impersonators are also on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. That’s where I will be posting about my solo venture as well. And naturally, both MTS Records and FBP Music Group’s webpages will have info on my comings and goings. There are also quite a few reviews, interviews and blog posts on me and The Impersonators. Just do a search in Google and these will pop up.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

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