Sami Kääriäinen


HEEZER is a Stoner Rock/Metal band out of Finland. In March 2023 they dropped their debut full-length album, "Sungrinder," on Argonauta Records. As the name would suggest, it's a scorcher, hitting a 10/10 on the Metal Temple altar of reviews. Gary Hernandez, writer and editor for Metal Temple, recently caught up with Sami to chat about the band, their origins, what they are working on next, and what the best beer in Finland really is.
June 2, 2023
HEEZER's Sami Kääriäinen: "I don't know who came up with the name HEEZER. There are a few variations of the how you spell it
Tell us the backstory of Heezer.

We're all from Imatra, which is a small city or town in the southeast of Finland, near the Russian border. It's five minutes to Russia. We all have history with different bands since we were teenagers. Me and our drummer, Ville Häsä, used to play in two or three bands before HEEZER.

When COVID started, I was in a band in Helsinki where I used to live for ten years or so, but I moved back to southeast Finland, where I live now. Our training space was in Helsinki, but because of COVID you couldn't go there. So, I just called Ville and asked him if he would like to go and work some songs with me. Maybe there was a mistake or something, but he called Antii Vesikko, our bass player, and Ville Räsänen, our other guitar player, and he just told me, "Oh yeah, they're coming too." And I was okay with that. So, it was a happy mistake, you could say.

I think the only music that survived from back then was the chorus from the last song of the album. That was the first thing we played together. It all started to come together really quickly and easily. There were no problems at all.

Where does the name HEEZER come from?

We were just throwing names around. At first, we were trying to find a Finnish word that we could use, but we didn't find a good one. I don't know who came up with the name HEEZER. There are a few variations of the how you spell it, but it comes from a Finnish word which is slang for weed.

Did you have a vision of what you wanted the band to be when you first started out? Were you aiming for Stoner Rock?

I don't think there was a plan. It's just the way it came out. I have this idea that it doesn't matter what the song is, if a certain band or certain people play it, it will always sound the same, if you understand what I mean. That's just the way our songs started to sound. And our bass player, Antti, is a huge Stoner fan. So, I think he had some influence on that. We all, of course, like Stoner. For me, music is music, and our band just sounds like it does. It's easy to call it Stoner Rock because it has a lot of those elements in its sound and in the music itself.

And you've had the same lineup since you started?

Yeah, the same four people. I think it was November 2020 when we had the first practice. And very soon we had like six or seven songs. We came up with a lot of songs really easily. I've never been in a band where writing songs is this easy. We chose four of those. It was early May or the end of April when we recorded the 2021 EP.

It's amazing that you formed during COVID.

Yes. well, you had nothing else to do. We had some breaks because there were limits on what you could do in Finland during COVID with the restrictions, but we wanted to make the most of our time. We have this joke going on that if there's isn't a new song in every practice, that's not good, you know? That's a practice wasted.

What's it like being in Northern Europe—Finland, Sweden, Norway, etc.—where there's so many great bands all around you?

Yeah, there's a lot of good bands, even a lot of good bands that people don't know of, like smaller bands, but for me, because I live here, I'm used to it. It's normal for me, but it's true. If you start to think about bands that are from Finland and Sweden and Norway, even Denmark . . . I don't know what it is. Maybe it's the darkness or the cold or something.

Who are your influences, musically speaking?

For me, the scale of bands I like and the music I listen to is quite wide. If I have to name an all-time favorite band, it's always THE BEATLES. But also, bands like MASTODON and ALICE IN CHAINS, PINK FLOYD, FU MANCHU, of course. There's a bunch. I like ABBA as well.

Did you watch Eurovision?

You could say I've watched some, but in reality I was sleeping on the couch and my wife just woke me up once in a while. There's a lot of really bad songs, but for the last ten years I think I have watched and followed it more. But some of the songs are just awful.

If I was to go through your music collection, is there an album or an artist that would really surprise me?

There aren't too many skeletons in my closet, but I would say ABBA is probably the one.

Tell us about your 2021 self-titled EP. How did it come together?

Well, of course, when we recorded the EP, the band was really new. We didn't really know what we were going to do when we went to record it. Basically, we wanted to record an EP so we could get some gigs and just get things rolling. We had played together for only like six months or so. It's really raw and the band wasn't as tight at the time.

I live in a house that has a deck in front of our yard. It's quite a big one. And the night before the recording I was oiling it for the summer. I did it for hours. My hand was killing me the next day and I couldn't play some of the riffs. I had to ask Ville to play them for me. I couldn't even finish making adjustments and maintenance to my guitar so it would be good for the recording session. I totally half-assed it. I couldn't even play the guitar because the strings were so high. I don't know what I was thinking, what I was doing, but we still got it done.

And how was it when you recorded "Sungrinder"?

Well, actually, that wasn't easy either. We had this idea that we would do it in the same place that we did the EP and with the same recording guy. We had talked about recording it in the summer, but the recording guy wouldn't be available until the end of summer based on schedules, but our second child was due in July, so that wasn't going to work. We ended up changing everything on that spot.

In March we recorded the drums. We did those in two days. And then we had plans with this other guy, a friend of Antti's, to record all the vocals and guitars. Well, he didn't have time, so we went back to the studio where we recorded the drums to record the guitars. And when those were done, then we were trying to ask about the vocals, and he didn't have the time to do those. I asked the guy who did our EP to record the vocals with me in, I think, June, but it was a whole mess just to get the timing and everything together.

But considering all that, I'm really happy about how the album came out.

Where did the title "Sungrinder" come from?

Well, actually, that's a reference to all the trouble we had. Like on the cover, there's a guy dragging that millstone. That's how it felt recording and working on the album. It was just bad luck after bad luck with mistakes and troubles and it felt like dragging that millstone in the hot sun.

But even with all those troubles, the tracks seem very positive. They make you feel good. I mean, not just because of the music and the melodies, but the lyrics as well.

The record deal which we got after the EP was for vinyl. The plan was we would get a gatefold vinyl, like an LP. We had this idea that we would have the A-side be like more upbeat rock songs. And then at the end of the A-side would be the acoustic song ("Breathe") that now is like a hidden track at the end of the album. That track should have been the transition to the B-side that starts off with "Red Giant" and then all the songs on that side would be a bit heavier.

But then the guy who had this record company ran out of money. So just before our album was set to go into pressing, we had to come up with something. Luckily, we found a way to do it with Argonauta records, so in the end it all worked out.

There's several tracks on the album about your past. There's "Fourth Line," which is about the street in Helsinki; there's "2009," and even "Mother Rain" is about someone you guys knew in the past.

Fourth Line was the apartment where I lived for a while as well. But my friend lived there too and that's the place where we used to drink and have after parties and always crash at the end of the night. So that was the "Fourth Line."

Then on Fifth Line in Helsinki—there are streets like Second Line, Third Line, Fourth Line, Fifth Line—on the Fifth Line there was a 7-Eleven type of store which had this cashier who was always so upbeat on life that we were pretty sure that she used to be a junkie or something. She would just be happy all the time, even when it rained and stuff like that. So that's what "Mother Rain" refers to.

A lot of songs are about the sun. I was just wondering, why the sun? Was it the Stoner Desert connection, or is it just maybe because Finland is so cold all the time?

It might have been because the first songs that we wrote for the album started to have this sun type of theme, then maybe it just followed from there. It's hard to remember exactly, but I have this style. When I write lyrics, I have a memory or a picture in my mind of something that has happened or I imagine could happen, or just like a clear image of something. And I write around it. It could be just one line or a small thing in the whole lyric of the song, but it's a starting point.

What comes first, the riff or the lyrics? How does it all come together?

It starts from a riff. A few times I have had this vocal melody in my head, and I just find the chords to that one and start from there. But usually, one of us has an idea or a riff or something. And then we start playing on it. Sometimes it's just a riff, sometimes it's like a whole song. But all of the arrangements we work on when we have practice. All of us pitch in on the songwriting.

Do you handle all the vocals?

On the "Sungrinder" album, we had our friend Heikki Pöyhiä join us for I think three songs. He did the backing vocals and he's the best singer I've ever heard. He's like a real singer. He used to be in this Power Metal band called TWILIGHTNING in the late 90s and 2000's. They were a pretty big band.

Do both you and Ville do the guitar solos or does one do rhythm and the other lead?

Ville does most of the solos and leads. I always say that I'm not gonna play any solos, but still there is like one song on every release that I have a solo. Even though I always say I will never play a solo again, I can't kick the habit of just one time starting to stretch something.

You sing and play guitar at the same time. I don't know how that's possible. It must take a special brain that can process and do those functions all at once.

I think it's getting better. And training, of course, helps, but it's sometimes like in "Fourth Line," the verse riff is this funky type of riff. I was sure that I wouldn't be able to play and sing at the same time. But that was easy. Then some songs that you have just like a chord progression going on and you're struggling with that. I don't know how it works, but sometimes your hand just goes where it needs to go, and you don't even think about it. It's like muscle memory.

 "Spacegod" and "Red Giant" have a science fiction theme to them. Are you science fiction fans?

I like science fiction. I don't know about the other guys. I think Antti is as well. He seems to like science fiction or maybe fantasy.

Do you have any favorite writers, shows, or games?

With movies, of course, "Star Wars" and "Dune" and others. Some games as well, but nowadays I have two young kids, so I don't have that much time anymore to play.

On "Sungrinder" there's a number of tracks that get really heavy and verge into Metal. Do you think you'll stay on the heavy side?

Actually, we are recording an EP and I got the first two songs today, a few hours ago. The idea is like some artists have Christmas albums, you know, they sing all those Christmas songs. We want to do a summer album, like this feel-good rock and roll, high energy and really, really turbo charged, just blasting rock and roll. That's what we're working on now and releasing, I think, at the end of June or July.

Wow, that's quick!

Yeah, like I said, we come up with songs pretty fast and easy. We are working on the second album, writing the songs, and my vision has been that it's going to be heavier than "Sungrinder." It will have more complex songs, you could say. But also, I don't want to lose what was good in "Sungrinder," like the rock and roll side of it. Like you said, that up upbeat positive vibe it has going on, so we have to find the right mix for that.

Tell us about the hidden track, "Breathe." It's clearly much different than anything else on the album. It also seems to come from a really personal space.

Well, we had that vinyl deal that I told you about, and it had to be a certain length. We were all done and even though we timed ourselves in rehearsal we ended up short! We thought about adding some synthwave stuff, like some space trippy intro, but then I wrote that song "Breathe." And actually, you're right, it's a personal song. It's actually for a friend of mine. There are some really dark times behind it and I won't go too far because it's not my story to tell, but the message behind it is just breathe, just relax. Just take it in. Just take life in.

 Let's say you're back at the Fourth Line in Helsinki. You go into your favorite bar. A band's playing or the music's going. What's your go-to drink?

Beer. It's always beer. And it's the cheapest one!

Nice. Is there a famous beer in Finland?

There are craft beers and all that kind of stuff going on. but when you go to a bar, it's game on and it's about the end result, not the taste.

You mentioned you have an album in the works, and you also mentioned a summer EP.

Yeah, in the summer it will be a four-song EP and then the next full-length album I think will be 2024, 2025.

And are you touring or doing gigs?

Yeah, when we have the time and when we have a good gig to play. We're too old to go playing somewhere nobody has ever heard of. That's not for us anymore. We like to choose shows that we feel are good and where there will be a lot of people.

Do you have any final words for our Metal Temple readers out there?

Well, thanks for listening to the album! I think that's the best reward for us. I like statistics, so I'm using the Spotify and Bandcamp statistics apps all the time and watching how it goes. And, yeah, it's a nice feeling to watch those apps and see a lot of people listening to the album. It's pretty cool, so thanks to everyone for listening!

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