Guitarist Juhani Nisula has been writing and recording his own music for the past twenty years in his native Finland. What originally started out as nothing more than a hobby slowly evolved over the last few years into a project that he has christened Time Traveller.
Nisula worked on and off for almost two years, and although as an independent artist he didn't have to deal with time constraints or record label exec's breathing down his neck for the finished product, he did encounter his share of obstacles along the way. He made it through the other side, and the results on the self titled instrumental debut, which contain the first two chapters of what Juhani hopes will end up being a trilogy, are absolutely amazing.
Time Traveller is a glorious throwback to the golden age of classic and progressive rock and these first two chapters in the instalment sound like they could have been recorded anytime between the late 60's and mid 70's. Swirling Hammond organ, gloriously rich Melotron soundscapes and vintage Moog solos all form a lush velvet cocoon of sound, which acts as a base from which he meticulously weaves his plethora of hypnotically psychedelic guitar work. All of the music was laid down in Juahani's home studio and recorded in analog so a general feeling of warmth permeates throughout.
If you are a fan of such guitar heroes like Frank Marino and Robin Trower to name just a few, then Nisula's eloquent chops and Time Traveller's music is going to be right up your alley. Juhani caught up with Sea Of Tranquility's Ryan Sparks recently to provide some insight into the genesis of this exciting new project, as well as professing his love for vintage gear and instruments.
Sea Of Tranquility: The first two chapters of Time Traveller which have just been released are absolutely fantastic. Can you tell me how this project came about and what the general concept is behind it?
Juhani: Well recording and composing my own stuff has been something like a hobby for me for a long time. I've been doing it since the 80's with various kinds of equipment. I think it was in the early 90's when a friend of mine said to me that I should make a whole album of my own music. That inspired me to do some tunes that matched each other, but luckily my interest in the project was soon over. A few of these tunes had some nice ideas in them though, so they remained somewhere deep in my brain and also in my tape archives.
Then the kids came and all the things that surround them so there wasn't time or even the inspiration to do this stuff. However, in 2003 or 2004 I rediscovered these old tapes and also made some new songs. By that time I had also rediscovered my old vinyl record collection which sounded so good and still does. From that came the idea of making the album now and the idea of making it especially more album-like, or conceptual, so that everything joins or links into everything on the record.
As for the concept, it is surprise, surprise, based on travelling in time and space, in the vein of some of the 70's progressive albums, but I see the concept also in a more individual way. It is kind of a time travel within my own past life, in its musical sense, my musical interests and personal influences can be heard in the music, though I've done it in my own unique way, or at least tried to do so. I still think that my own stamp or trade mark can be heard in my music.
SoT: With the exception of drums and a few guest musicians, you play everything else on the album, so Time Traveller is essentially you. Was it your intention from the beginning to do most of it yourself?
J: Yes, as I said earlier making music has been my hobby, so it was clear from the beginning that I'd do the album mostly by myself. I cannot read or write music in notes, so it would have been so difficult to explain to some other person what I wanted or how the specific part/track/instrument should sound, so it's much easier for me to do it myself.
However I don't have a drum set of my own, and I'm not a good drummer either, so my good friend and band mate Esko 'Zeko' Takamäki was the obvious choice for a drummer. He has a very good sense of 'smelling' things from tiny winks, nods and things like that. We've also played together for so long, that we know each other's way of playing so we don't have to talk or explain things, we just play.
By the time I was layering tracks on Part One: "The Pioneers" I was trying to play the Moog solo and everything I tried sounded horrible and 'square' to me, so I called my friend, keyboardist Timo Ristilä, who's almost my neighbour, to come over for a cup of coffee and play the solo. Well Timo came, listened the track and while drinking coffee he played this unbelievable solo on it.
Part Seven: "The Release" has an 'oriental-duel-solo-section' which begins with a 'Scandinavian-type folk music' part that had to have a violin in it so I called another friend of mine, violinist Sanna Ågren, to come and play. There was one small detail and that was that Sanna was pregnant at the time. She said to me on the phone "Yes, sure I'll play it, but I think we should record it this week, preferably today or tomorrow, because the date for the birth is next week".
So Sanna came over to our house with her violin and I showed the notes to her with
a keyboard and told her that this part should have 'a Scandinavian feeling to it' and the solo section should have a real passion to it. Sanna said "Ok", I put a Neumann mike over her violin, said "Play" and pressed record. I almost wet my pants when I heard the solo she played, though she said she made one wrong note in the first take, so we recorded it again and the result was even better. She is an unbelievably talented and musical person and I'm so lucky to have friends like these people.
SoT: Was this a difficult process for you and did you face a lot of challenges with the recording in general? How long did it take from beginning to end?
J: Yes making this album was quite like time travel itself. The first recording sessions were made in December 2005 and I finished the final mix in November 2007, so it took two years to make. The final mastering was done in April 2008 at Finnvox Studios by Mikko Karmila and Mika Jussila.
Of course I didn't play, record or mix all of that time- the process had many pauses and stops for personal issues. In the beginning of 2007 I didn't sleep at all for nine weeks, or at least very, very little, and I wouldn't recommended that to anyone. Also both of my parents died in the summer of 2007, and there were many, many other smaller things that made this journey so long.
SoT: I understand you plan to recruit musicians to help you recreate Time Traveller's music live onstage. Will you record the future chapters of the trilogy with a full band or do you plan to continue to do it mostly on your own?
J: Yes there is now a live band called Time Traveller with Zeko Takamäki on the drums, Miikka Kivimäki on the bass, Petteri Hietamäki on the keyboards, saxes and flute, Jarkko Salo on the keyboards and of course me on the guitar.
n it comes to the next chapters, I haven't decided yet how they'll be recorded and of course I still have to make the music first. Maybe I'll do most of the parts again myself, for reasons like I said earlier, and ask these great musicians for help on the parts I can't do or aren't good enough to play myself
SoT: The sound is very thick and warm; the fact that you recorded it in analog makes it a real throwback to the classic rock sound of the 60's and 70's. You used quite a bit of vintage gear on this album as well. Tell me more about this and your recording setup in your home studio.
J: I'm quite a vintage junkie when it comes to equipment; I love these old guitars, amps, synths, Melotrons and organs. I also think that it's fairer to play these instruments for real, from the beginning to end. I mean that in the computer world you can just copy and paste one successful part on the track as many times as you want, but it isn't fair or real. It doesn't have the right kind of feel or the touch to it in my opinion. With analog you have to play the stuff right from scratch or do as many takes as it takes to make it good enough. Of course you can do that with digital as well, but I'm so old-fashioned that I like these old tape machines and stuff. Maybe I'm so lazy and stupid that I don't want to learn all this modern stuff [laughing]. I still think the analog machines sound much better anyways.
My studio, Magic Mushroom Studio, consists of an old Fostex ½ inch 16-tracker, a Behringer Eurodesk MX9000 board and few cheap, old echoes [laughing], quite a bit of junk aren't they? But when you know your equipment and know what you can do with them (and how) and what you can't, the results can end up being quite good. For the master recorder I have a Studer A80 ¼ inch 2-track machine.
SoT: Your guitar work obviously plays a large role in defining the overall sound of Time Traveller. I could definitely hear the influence of classic rock legends like Frank Marino and Robin Trower in not only your playing but also in the music itself, which has a real hazy and hypnotic vibe running through it. Who do you consider to be your main influences as a guitar player and a musician?
J: The main man has always been and will always be Jimi Hendrix. His music and playing was so unbelievable, he was way ahead of his time. Of course there are many other musicians as well; Frank and Robin definitely are among them. Ritchie Blackmore also has always been one of my favourites. In his own genre, he has always been the most sovereign guitarist.
SoT: With regards to recording, did you use one guitar on all of the tracks or did you experiment a bit in order to achieve the sound you wanted?
J: Well most of the time I picked up a guitar which happened to have all the strings on it [laughing]. Seriously speaking though I do love Stratocasters the most for their versatility because they fit on almost everything, but on the album I also used Gibson Les Paul's, a Firebird VII and an SG custom as well. Also I did some parts with an ancient Roland guitar synthesizer.
SoT: More and more artists are also issuing their work in the vinyl format these days, which seems to be making a bit of a comeback, and this something you've done as well with Time Traveller. The gatefold artwork, even in the CD is excellent and really compliments the music perfectly. How important is the visual element to the music of Time Traveller?
J: It is really important. I think when you see the cover of Chapters I & II for the first time you'll think that it must be a prog album, you know what I mean? The Time Traveller album cover has a certain early Vertigo-label feeling. They had the best album covers with artwork done by (Marcus) Keef, with the infrared stuff and everything, not to mention the great pictures.
It was a lucky accident that I ended up with this magnificent picture, which was taken by a very, very talented photographer Suvi Kiviniemi. When I first saw the picture I just thought "Wow, that's it. This picture has such a great, spooky feeling to it." It's like if you mixed the cover art of Black Sabbath's and Affinity's first albums. I asked Suvi if it was ok to use this picture for the front cover of the album and she agreed. I did a bit of wok in Photoshop with the picture as the original wasn't taken on infrared film. The inner cover picture was taken by Suvi's father, Arto Kiviniemi.
SoT: Tell me about the music scene in around the area of Finland where you live. You've been playing in a real kick ass hard rock / blues style band called Black Passat for quite while as well haven't you?
J: Seinäjoki is quite a small town in Etelä-Pohjanmaa (a Finnish region) and almost everyone knows each other here. I must admit I haven't been into the 'scene' here for a quite some time. We did a lot of gigs with Black Passat all around Finland, in a lot of different places and venues, that if you didn't have to go to these bars or places like that you wouldn't. It's nicer to stay at home in your spare time. We have been on a break with Black Passat for a while now, and we've only done a few gigs now and then, here and there. You can check out Black Passat at http://www.myspace.com/blackpassatblues
There are some great bands, many are metal-oriented, but there's also some very nice prog or prog influenced bands from here as well. Around Seinäjoki there's a large province, with a lot of bands.
SoT: Growing up as a child was there a defining moment whether it was a song or an album that you heard which made you decide you wanted to become a musician?
J: Well my mom used to say that my first words were that I wanted to be a guitarist [laughing]. I don't know maybe it was after I heard Deep Purple's In Rock album which was really something, and still is. I was about four or five years old then, I was born in 1966 but I can remember it so clearly. The final straw was that my cousin had an electric guitar, so he was my hero at the time.
SoT: You're not only an accomplished guitarist but you also tackle quite a bit of keyboards and organ as well. Did you take any formal lessons on either of these instruments (keyboards, guitars etc…) when you started out or are you self taught?
J: I'm self taught and as I said earlier, I cannot read or write music, I only hear and feel it. I don't consider myself as a keyboard player; I'm really bad on them [laughing]. I just fumble with the keys as long as it takes until I find the correct notes, you can hear that on the album [laughing].
As a matter of fact, I took guitar lessons for two terms in music academy as a child, but I never practiced my homework which made my teacher really mad. It just wasn't for me you know? [laughing]
SoT: The internet and sites like MySpace are fantastic tools for musicians to get their music heard and these outlets can reach people all over the world who otherwise might never get to hear your music. Tell people how they can get a copy of Time Traveller.
J: Just go to Time Traveller's MySpace page which is: www.myspace.com/aikatraveller
Under the 'about Time Traveller' section, there are some direct links to online shops from which you can order your copy. For some reason MySpace doesn't allow the U.S. Syn-Phonic music link to work, but the direct link there is www.synphonic.8m.com/
On the Time Traveler myspace page you can also listen to some samples from the album but as I said, the album is meant to be listened to all the way through from beginning to end in one sitting.
SoT: So what's next for you, when can we expect to see the next chapters in the trilogy?
J: If the next chapters end up taking as much time as the first two then I'll be ready for retirement when the last ones come out [laughing]. I think I have some good ideas already for the next album. On the whole I think there will be more guitars and maybe some more fusion stuff, although I'm not sure yet.
Photos courtesy of Suvi Kiviniemi