Juska Salminen is a former keyboardist for the bands HIM and To/Die/For. After a long break from music and withdrawal from public life, he began to make music again and today he is a member of a band called Reine. After he left HIM, which at that time became one of the most dominant European metal bands, his life turned sour and he had to fight himself to end that dark period. Fortunately, he emerged as the winner. Today, Juska is the executive director of the production of a company called Concrete Media and works as a pedagogue. He uses his life experiences and acquired education in working with young people to help them overcome difficult times. Juska talks to Helly Cherry about all these and other topics related to his professional and private life.
Hello, Juska. I’ll try my best not to be a fanboy, but a journalist. My first question will be what’s going on in your life lately? How the whole pandemic situation affected you?

Heh. Our local ice hockey team,which has a player budget of 1,6 millionreached the bronze medal game.They outlasted 10 other teams, some of them have over million more euros spent for players. I’ve been supporting them for 30 years, so a fanboy here as well.

I’m doing fine thanks for asking. I mean situation in world is really distressing, but personal life is good.As it comes to pandemic,it affected me most through my work. I was a youth leader for the city when it started, andnow I’m working in childcare. As an adult we can cope better with changes. For me helping youngsters was the main thing since they are more fragile. My wife works as a nurse with Covid patients, so in that sense as well it is quite close on daily basis.Many of my friends are in music and event business, so it’s been sad to see them suffering financially.

Can you tell us something about your first contact with music? What kind of music made the biggest influence on you?

I started to play piano when I was 9 years old. Took lessons for 3 years. Dad had keyboards, so got bored to practice, as it was more fun to learn by hearing. I quit rehearsing, which was a main reason for not being able to handle the pressure in “professional league” of music.

I guess Faith No More and Pearl Jam were on top of list. Then RHCP followed. I liked British pop such as Suede and Oasis. But it was just before HIM when I started to listen more metal, like Paradise Lost for example.

Did you play in some bands before joining HIM?

Yes. First band was called The Swampies, in which I was a singer. I don’t have the skills to be a lead singer, but that era introduced me the feeling to be in a band. Our music had elements from rock and punk. Lyrics were from horror B-movies, heh.In 1997 I was asked to play in Mary-Ann, which was the earlier “version” of To/Die/For. At that time they changed the music style from glam rock to more gothic, so they needed a keyboard player.

And now probably the most wanted question from the rest of the fans. How you became a member of HIM?

Hmm… There’s a story, so I’m trying to figure out now how to write it without making a novel. I have my own firm now. Main product is the story around HIM; how I got to play in my favorite band, what was it like and how I fell from the stars to abyss just to fight back to fiund myself. (https://www.juskamedia.com/in-english). It’s mainly aimed for youngsters, but as a story, I think everyone can relate to fact that anything can happen to anyone.

Short version here. I became a huge fan. Went to talk to Pätkä after one gig and ended up to a after party. We became friends with Pätkä. At that time they kicked Antto out of band. I had been following HIM in many gigs and met Ville and other members as well. After one gig Ville came to ask me, if I would want to join them for a tour in Germany. This is quite mellow version of the story. I  actually happened to be in a right place at the right time.

You played with them for two years and in one point things got really big, you became one of the most popular bands in the world. What was like to be a celebrity and playing festivals, bigger venues, being on posters? You guys were really young, and should I say, innocent then.

Bit over two years. Adding that, because for me the strongest feelings were when I joined the band in 1998. I was that fanboy who suddenly played with his idols. It was overwhelming to be on stage with guys whom all were my brightest musical stars. Even now after over 2 decades it feels weird to see clips in Youtube. Did it really happen to me?

As it comes to being celebrity, we were in a constant hurry. Ville was a front figure, so us other band members weren’t recognized that often. I did love to play especially in festivals. In Germany we were the main act in some point, so playing in front of 20 000-60 000 people was mesmerizing. There were huge bands such as Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson etc. So for that young boy from Kouvola it was mind blowing. And I loved to meet fans. It wasn’t too much for me to give an autograph or to have a little talk with them. I had a privilige to make someone happy.

What are your most beautiful memories from that time?

It was to make people happy, and it worked both ways around. In the end we were constantly moving. I still cherish those little moments. The fact is that I can’t get the same massive euphoric feeling coming off from stage after a gig anymore, but I don’t think I need to. It’s not about being a rock star, it’s about embracing the experience. Especially now after so many years I’ve come to an understanding that beauty of it was that it actually happened to me. An unexpected turn that life gave to me. I paid the price though since it took years to recover. But still, it gave much more than it took away.

When you left HIM, what happened in your life? What was like to go back to ordinary, non-touring and performing days?

I completely burnt myself out. For one year after leaving the band I was in areally dark place. Like in a pit covered with mirrors which are too slippery to get a crib to climb up. Reflection from them is always distorded, since my system couldn’t cope with the fact that I had to leave everything behind.Luckily I got to work in cultural youth center Gloria, which was a venue for gigs. I had a safe surrounding to build myself whole again with the help of friendly co-workers, mostly musicians and music technicians. For example former bass player of Nightwish Marco Hietala was working there at that time.

I got better for a while, but it didn’t last. Those HIM years, or to leave them, made a too big wound to heal, so I was lost for many years. I didn’t have any plans, so everything became grey. The first step to heal was when I got elected to University of Applied Sciences back in 2008. I studied audiovisual communication and graduated 2013. I was happy, but I still didn’t completely know how to deal with the past. Somehow HIM was always there. For examplesomeone brought it to conversation, or I read some news of the band. Social media boosted the effect. I didn’t want be an ex-member. It was hard to talk about that time without having the feeling I was living in the past. When I started to work with youngsters, I finally knew that I can share the story, because I could help someone.

You played with To/Die/For in two occasions, and that band has a number of fans here in Serbia since the beggining. How do you look today on that period? Do you think that maybe that band deserve more credits in metal world?

I think To/Die/For should’ve deserved more. But it was a tough spot being behind HIM. The gothic wave was about to rise, and there were many Finnish bands surfing over it without finding that perfect one.Some sunk. It needs a lot of work, but I guess it needs a bit of luck as well. I’m happy that guys got to play around the world, and I had a chance to be part of that journey in some point as well. It was pure rock’n’roll. We couldn’t pay our bills, but I loved to play around the world. On European tour Serbia had the biggest crowd and it was awesome! Synergy at its best, audience was great.(As a tip, just read an article: https://metalinjection.net/lists/10-criminally-underappreciated-finnish-bands-to-add-to-your-playlist)

I read in one of your interviews that you earned a college degree meanwhile. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

I have bachelor’s degree in audiovisual communication and community pedagogy. Now I’m studying master’s degree in last-mentioned. So basically, I have studied for almost 8 years now. Heh, enough to be a doctor. But I love to work with culture. My field in youth work was to coordinate cultural youth work. So for example studies from production in audiovisual communication helped a lot. For example I was a project manager in Rock Academy, which lasted for two years and was funded by the government for over 100 000 euros. Developing different kind of methods were much easier when I had both a degree and experience from my past. Master’s degree followed because I love to learn new stuff. As well as studying youth work, I chose entrepreneur courses. We launched media company Concrete Media last November. I’m the CEO and my friend is the art director. (www.concretemedia.net)It think by studying one is able to create an environment around to reach the flow. And that brings energy to create something new.

What are most valuable aspects of life for you today? What did you learn through all these years?

I believe in life. I’ve been given a chance to experience something magical. It took years to understand why it happened to me. I don’t know if I have found the profound reason, but I can sort of relive the experience, now in a bit different way. I can still make people happy. For example, it was amazing to see the affect when I dropped a comment in Instagramto a guitar player in South America who had rehearsed massive amount of HIM songs.I got an answer back filled with joy. Even I’ve been away from public life for ages, people still love HIM.

I work with youngsters and I find my work meaningful. In childcare they have had a really difficult past, so by sharing a bit of my harder times makes them understand that I can relate to darkness. To be able to give a moment of peace to their troubled mind… For me it’s very important. It might be bit clichee to say, but I guess I found my place. I’m turning 45 years in September. I’ve lived colorful life. I have as well lost all the colors but got them back. Hence, I believe in life. Life gave me understanding and understanding gave me peace.

Which advice can you give to someone who is going through a rough period?

I can only talk of myself. Severe depression is a monster. For me, I did survive, but fell down. I got up but faced the same demon later again. I got help, but as well I needed to fight. In the end I won. At least for now. Never underestimate anyone’s pain, because we are all individuals and deal with things in a different way. And that counts you as well. Give yourself freedom to recover. Find a place where you can breath. Don’t maybe try to find the reasons, but when you feel stronger, create understanding.

Going through rough period is a net of many different variables. I think in the end world is so complex that we all should give few minutes in a day to congratulate ourselves that we managed to live it through. And don’t get me wrong, I love life. It is just insanely difficult to find the balance. But do we even have to?

Beside music, what are your other interests? Do you have any hobbies?

I’m a huge fan of sports. I follow ice hockey and Finnish baseball, just to mention those most important ones. I play as a goalie in floor ball. That takes my mind away from everything.

foto: Carita Koivumäki
Recently I watched your live stream on Instagram you did with your band members from your new band called Reine. I listened to a song called Panacea and I must say that I really like your synth-oriented metal sound. Can you tell us something more about Reine?

Thank you. Markku Nykänen, who is the art director in Concrete Media, asked me to feature in that song. I did, but the next day he asked me to join the band. It was a right time since I got the spark. I didn’t know Sanja Audy before, but she’s awesome. This is the first time I’m gonna compose and write lyrics as well. We are not in a hurry. Markku is the main composer, and he is constantly working. I think even when he sleeps, heh. We enjoy making music. We are taking it seriously in a sense that we have goals. Not waiting to get on tour but would be awesome to play in some gothic festival for example. And one thing is great… We can make the whole production ourselves. From the first spark of creation to final edit of music video.

What are your plans for the future when it comes to music?

I’ll take that new step to compose and write lyrics. We make an album and few music videos. I’ll keep lecturing of my time in HIM and sharing little stories in Instagram. I don’t live in the past, but open it a bit, so I can adjust it to present. As I said earlier, I found my place.

Juska, thank you for an interview, it was an honour for me as your fan to do this.

Thank you. It was my pleasure.
interview done by Ilija Najdanović
photos chosen by Juska