The Metal Crypt on Facebook  The Metal Crypt's YouTube Channel

Interviews Leverage

Interview with vocalist Paolo Ribaldini

Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen

Date online: April 3, 2024

Live pictures by Terhi Lahtinen
Interview top picture by Sami Norrbacka and live group shot by Johanna Ahonen

Leverage is a Finnish melodic heavy rock band who have been around since 2002, have released five studio albums with two different singers, and enjoys a positive status among old-school heavy/hard rock fans the world over.

As with every band, they have had their ups and downs, such as lineup changes, bad deals in the music business, untimely deaths of musicians, etc. Tragedy hit when their previous vocalist, Kimmo Blom, passed away in August 2022, leaving the band hanging over the edge of the void. Fortunately, the band soon found a new vocalist and Paolo Ribaldini was chosen, proving to be a perfect choice.

It's been three years since the band's fifth studio album, Above the Beyond, came out on Italian label Frontier Records in 2021, so we here at The Metal Crypt wanted to know what they have been up to since then and Mr. Ribaldini was kind enough to shed some light on the recent comings and goings of the band.

Hey, Paolo! How's life? Are you already eagerly awaiting the warm springtime to come?

Paolo: You bet, winter is unbearably long here, and this year has been full of rainy, gray, miserable, and cold days without snow. I'm really looking forward to getting the best out of the long days and the positive energy that they bring along.


You joined Finnish heavy/power metal band Leverage in 2023. Could you tell us about the process with vocal auditions and all that jazz? Were you an instant choice?

Paolo: Unlike many situations, there was no real "auditioning" involved. I've known the leader of the band, Tuomas Heikkinen, for almost a full decade now, and we've played some acoustic shows together through the years. He's been an important figure for me, and I've always trusted his wise advice. I also recorded backing vocals for DeterminUs and Above the Beyond.

When Tuomas decided to start the band again in the mid-2010s, he briefly considered having me as lead singer, but then his choice fell to Kimmo Blom. Not only had he and Kimmo been close friends and collaborators for 20 years, but Kimmo also had a different artistic maturity than me. He was a much more seasoned singer and performer, and his voice was able to conjure a certain "grainy sternness." At that time, I didn't have that feeling yet and my shoulders were possibly not strong enough to bear the weight of this music. Tuomas and I talked it through years later and I can see why he made that call.

Anyway, when Kimmo passed away there was a memorial jam night in Helsinki dedicated to him, and I performed two songs with the band. There had been some tentative talk about keeping it going after Kimmo passed, so I suspected Leverage were about to offer me the gig. After the jam session, almost everybody else had left and we were sitting at a table. Tuomas turned to me and said the gig was mine if I wanted it. It didn't take me more than a few seconds to say yes, obviously.

Can you remember your gut feeling when you jumped on stage as the band's new frontman? Felt, eh... homey perhaps?

Paolo: I confess the first gig wasn't exactly a bed of roses, because my in-ear monitors had issues. Much of my focus went just into getting through the set and staying on pitch without blowing my voice. The first rehearsal with the whole band before that gig, however, sent shivers down my spine. I was singing the songs I had listened to and idolized for years. It was one of those magic moments that only come so often in a lifetime, giving me a sense of achievement and of being in the right place. I was also determined to show I could fill the lead singer's spot in my own way.

Did you get to know Kimmo Blom, the band's previous singer, who sadly passed away in August 2022?

Paolo: Yes, Kimmo and I went back almost ten years. I'm not going to claim we were besties or anything, because we met so rarely over the years, but he was important and meaningful to me, especially for his enormous impact on my singing career. I first met him for a Metropolia orchestral project in 2014, then a few months later for "The Voice of Finland." He was always gracious and encouraging to me. He didn't care I had only recently moved to Finland from another country and had no acquaintances in the Finnish music industry. He loved Italy, Ancient Rome, history, and the band Journey, so we had a lot of common ground right away. And let's not forget how fine a singer he was.

I was torn when I found out about his illness. I would send him messages every now and then and check on his mood, but I never had the courage to suggest hangouts. It felt a bit like invading his privacy. In the summer of 2022, I heard he was getting worse, and I had planned to visit him after coming back from some gigs in Italy, but he died before I could make it back. I'm extremely sorry and regretful that I didn't get the chance to tell him how important his encouragement was for me, I think he really deserved to hear it. I suppose it's part of human carelessness: we think we have unlimited time to do the important things, and we keep rolling them back until it's too late. The only thing I can really do now is carry on the flag for him.


It's been roughly two and a half years since the band's previous album, Above the Beyond, came out on the Italian label, Frontier Records. Where are you with the band's sixth studio album right now? Are you still in the writing mode?

Paolo: We just entered writing mode and fans can rest assured we're hell-bent on recording the best Leverage album ever made. It's mostly Tuomas and I who are working on new material and going through the inevitable phase of getting to know each other's little quirks and qualms to find fertile common ground. It's a complex journey that merges craftmanship, diplomacy, attunement to each other's wavelength, and trial-and-error. We're both stubborn dudes with defined musical tastes, but we also trust each other, and we know we're going to get good results.

Setting deadlines for the new album is untimely at this point, but we're trying to make it happen within a year. The number of moving parts is high, and much depends on the record label too.

How would you describe all this new material?

Paolo: My voice is different than both previous singers'; therefore we're messing around with vocal approaches that will bring new dimensions to the material. The vocal range and the sources of inspiration we're experimenting with are wider, and hopefully we'll be able to push me beyond the current boundaries of my abilities.

Lotta is also going to be a fundamental element in Leverage Mark III. She's a violinist with an eclectic background deeply rooted in jazz and folklore inspired music. She played on the two albums sung by Kimmo, bringing her flair to the singles "Wind of Morrigan" and "Emperor." We don't want to turn Leverage into a folk metal band; instead we aim to fit the instrument to heavy rock and make it sound aggressive and chunky. Lotta's familiarity with Middle Eastern music is also a noticeable asset. Scales like the hijaz (mostly known in rock and metal as Phrygian dominant) and the double harmonic major have already been a part of heavy metal for 50 years anyways. Just go and check out "Gates of Babylon" by Rainbow, "Egypt" by Dio and a lot of stuff by Yngwie Malmsteen...

But don't be scared off by all this novelty, the core elements of Leverage are not going anywhere. That includes killer riffs and distorted guitars, soaring melodies, evocative lyrics and honest, heart-on-your-sleeve songwriting.

Have there been any challenges to making the new songs sound like "Leverage songs" if you will?

Paolo: Of course, there have been. It's not easy to find a personal way of singing that does justice to the old material without sounding like a copycat of Pekka Heino and Kimmo Blom. I don't want to just mimic their style.

Tuomas has always been the prime motor behind Leverage, although Torsti Spoof and Mikko Salovaara also contributed to the songwriting. As long as Tuomas writes songs, this band is going to sound like Leverage.

This band hasn't reached the heights of fame its music deserved, but most songs on the past albums are awesome and some full-fledged masterpieces. Each record has been different. Compare Tides to Above the Beyond and many times you'll think they are two different bands. Whatever the future has in store, the music is always going to be good.

We're considering new ways of producing and recording the album. Leverage is scattered around three Finnish towns, and traveling is expensive and time-consuming. Most band members have families to take care of, so we can't expect to rent a castle somewhere and bury ourselves into the dungeons for two months straight. Things happen in small bits, with constant online communication, and through session work. At some point, we will have to unfold the technicalities and make more concrete production choices.


You are also known as a skilled lyricist and wrote some lyrics for Beast in Black's 2019 album, To Hell With Love. How do you determine which topics you'd like to write about? What kind of things inspire you to sit down, pick up your sharp songwriting pencil, and start writing lyrics about something?

Paolo: I believe there is no "ultimate recipe" for songwriting. The best you can do is just write. A lot. Any creative job is like a muscle, you can't expect to hit the gym once a month and be a professional athlete. Writing is the same. Unfortunately, I'm not a full-time writer so I can't sit down ten hours a day and just write! But when I write, I try to implement some tricks and methods that help blurting out ideas in a short time span. Writing on a stream of consciousness for 5 to 20 minutes is a great way to get rid of self-criticism. Usually, my biggest challenge is perfectionism. I'm used to doing things well at an early stage, so the trial-and-error approach is a bit foreign to me and this is a big flaw to overcome. Learning creativity requires you to produce a lot of s**t that you need to get out of your system before you get the actual golden stuff, especially on a regular basis.

The world around us is full of inspiring details and seeds for creative ideas if you're ready to catch them. Movies, books, even just random conversations with other people or sitting on a bench and being open to what surrounds you. All the good ideas are written down in my phone's notebook.

I'm very grateful I got to be involved with Beast in Black, Anton is a true artist, a really good friend and a very skilled hit-maker. Finding the lyrical topics for From Hell with Love was really easy because he already had an idea about most songs by the time they ended up in my hands.

Leverage has always had strong lyrics. Tuomas is phenomenal at tapping into the "real concerns" that virtually all human beings share, at pouring big existential and archetypal questions into the songs, and then creating a concrete context of magnificent stories for those questions to be brought up.

When you create a song together, are there certain aspects that you always try to pay attention to in the creative process so that the final result satisfies your innermost soul?

Paolo: If you mean within Leverage, there is no fixed aspect that we maintain. Of course, it must sound like... Leverage. For me personally, I think there always needs to be a degree of gravitas in the songs. I like "meaningful simplicity," the simple idea that nobody would come up with is genius, a simple idea that is generic and uninteresting is just a simple idea. I don't mean you have to reinvent the wheel, which is almost impossible in popular music nowadays. You should sound like yourself in a personal way.


What has the band brought to your life, considering the fact you also have some other bands going on, like Seraphiel and Skiltron?

Paolo: I had been a fan of Leverage for many years before joining the band, especially after listening to Blind Fire and Circus Colossus. Being asked to become the lead singer was a big step, even for a band which doesn't have a huge following yet. Obviously, joining a band means more attention to scheduling and to energy management, but so far, I haven't had any enormous problem with it. In Skiltron I'm more of a finalizer, the receiving end of the audience's focus together with Pierre (the bagpiper). The creative and managing aspects are in Emilio Souto's hands, so this leaves me with free time to do other things.

I'd say Leverage and Seraphiel see me equally involved in the core activities of each band, and I'm eager to bring them both to a level of recognition they have never achieved before. I can express myself and learn from astounding musicians who are better than me in many aspects. The music business is tough nowadays, you must give your best and make stuff happen if you want to give people a chance to find out about you. Then you also need some good old solid luck.

For me, human interactions are very important, and I'm happy I've found many good friends and wonderful people in all the bands I've been involved with so far. It has brought a lot of positive energy to my life, and taught me much about myself, other people, and the world we live in.

...and what do you believe you have brought into Leverage?

Paolo: Oh, what a loaded question! I have a pretty good range and overall decent control over my voice, so I'm a reliable singer both in the studio and on stage. I've garnered solid knowledge of music theory, so I can work on par with most instrumentalists, and this reflects on the creating process and the communication within the band. I'm also driven towards honing my skills to the next level, and my pedagogic training makes me good at constructive criticism. Through the years, I also learned the power of "I don't know." I'm better at admitting my incompetence within certain subject areas. I look back many years, I realize sometimes I sinned in arrogance and thought I knew more than I actually did. Being able to shut up and listen is an asset that tends to be sorely forgotten these days.

Coming from outside the band's "bubble," I have some fresh insights on the music and what could be new directions for this group. Trying to make the exact same music as 2007, for example a hypothetical Tides II album, doesn't make sense. It's 2024 and we want to translate the successful formula of all previous albums into "year now." I'm pleased and flattered by how much the band have listened to my opinion and taken to heart what I have been bringing to the discussion, instead of just telling me to sit in the corner and learn from the older boys. It shows intelligence, humility, and a will to grow.


Then a tough one, perhaps. What makes you proud of yourself, and not only as the frontman of Leverage?

Paolo: I used to greatly downplay the positive things in my life. Sometimes counting your blessings is tricky business for growth-oriented people. It makes it hard to enjoy the steps forward on the journey. I wouldn't use the word proud of myself, and I still shy away from talking about my merits, but let's say I'm slowly learning the art of acknowledging bits of one's own success here and there.

I believe I've done a good job at integrating into Finnish society. I speak the language fluently and I teach music in Finnish. I have a very international kaleidoscope of social interactions, but many of my closest people are Finnish. I'm still 100% Italian and I absolutely love my cultural heritage; I've just added a big chunk of Finnishness on top of it.

I've also been able to carve my little spot, hopefully an ever expanding one, into the music business, even though I got to it quite late compared to most musicians. I started to do this as a professional in my early thirties. Sometimes, I feel I missed many basic requirements for a successful career, which many of my colleagues and friends developed as teenagers. But I also realize I have come a long way. I've managed to earn my bread through music only, performing, recording, songwriting, and teaching. I'm not obscenely rich (yet), but I live a comfortable life and have no problems paying rent and bills. When I was studying classical music at the conservatory, many years before I moved to Finland, no one would bet a dime on me becoming a professional musician, not even myself. I needed to improve some basic life-management skills, some consistency and working ethics. Good things always come at a cost: becoming a sensation is often a matter of luck, but making it work in the long run requires you to earn it. I think my life in Finland has taught me a lot in that sense.

I teach singing at the best higher education institution for popular music in Finland, and arguably one of the best in Europe. As far as I know, my students are happy to have me as teacher, and I want to keep giving them my absolute best with my expertise and experience. I wear it as a large, heavy badge of honor.

I believe most of it has to do with reliability. In the past few years, I've played some of the biggest festival stages in my line of music business, like Wacken main stage, Graspop, Tuska, and 70,000 Tons of Metal. And I dare say I've always delivered. People know they're getting the best of what I can offer, and I put everything into every note I sing. Even acoustic duo shows. My best is not always the same, of course, everyone is sometimes tired, sick, sad, stressed out and so on. But every time I give 110% of my possibilities in that given moment.

What makes me most proud is probably my inner circle of friendships, which I've been able to select wisely. I've surrounded myself with reliable, clever, loving, and diverse people who have been on my side through hell and high water. Some of them I truly consider family. I've been very lucky with that but choosing right also takes effort and a tough learning curve.

Have you guys talked about short- and long-term plans for the band? This could be related to single gigs, tour plans, the visual side of the band, making promotional videos, etc.?

Paolo: There's a lot revolving around a band's activity, and ten times as much when making a comeback as we are. The most urgent matter at hand is playing gigs on a regular basis. For that, we need a good booking agency capable of putting us back on the radar. We will take care of the rest, just give us a good stage to hit and we'll set it on fire. We already did it by playing two excellent shows with a band just out of a 4-year hiatus. The guys are such solid musicians that the improvement is apparent after each rehearsal. In all humility, I can draw a parallel to the Swedish band Nestor. They got back together after many years and they made the right moves, they churned out a masterpiece album which was sorely needed in their niche, and they rapidly got to a position of prestige within the AOR scene. Rightfully so! I feel Leverage can replicate that in melodic heavy rock.

Probably a couple of weeks straight is the maximum we can afford right now, timewise. Everybody's schedules are a bit divergent, so leaving on tour for two months straight is not a realistic prospect right now. But shorter legs worldwide are surely possible and they're what we aim for.

Leverage Mk III offers plenty of possibilities to think about new angles for visuals and other content outside the music. I'm passionate about movies, music videos, and visual stuff. I worked on some absolutely epic videos we projected on a back screen during our first gig. They're homemade and it shows, but they added a lot to the music. Probably, the wisest starting point is doing these new productional things on a small scale right at the beginning and letting them grow organically in time.

Well, I believe I covered what I wanted to, so I sincerely thank you for your time, and wish you all the best with your future endeavors with both Leverage and other projects, too. May your road be filled with rewarding surprises as well. Any closing comments to wrap up this conversation?

Paolo: Thank you for the opportunity of this interview, it was fun. I hope to see as many readers as possible at our future gigs! Check out Leverage's social media and keep following them, it's the best way to stay informed and give us support.

My own pages and all my bands and projects can be found at:

I also teach singing live in Helsinki and online, so hit me up if you want to improve your singing skills!

Other information about Leverage on this site
Review: Tides
Review: Blind Fire
Review: Circus Colossus

The Metal Crypt - Crushing Posers Since 1999
Copyright  © 1999-2024, Michel Renaud / The Metal Crypt.  All Rights Reserved.