The eclectic six man prog juggernaut chat with Sea of Tranquility's Dave Kime at NEARfest 2003. Extra historical commentary courtesy of Pete Pardo.
Finland has produced some interesting progressive rock bands over the years, most notably Wigwam, Tasavallan Presidentti, Finforest, as well as solo acts Pekka Pohjola and Jukka Tolonen. However, it's been quite a while since one has emerged sounding so fresh, so different, as the six-piece Alamaailman Vasarat. Featuring two distorted cellos, raging saxophone, aggressive trombone, organ, and drums, the band combines ethnic sounds with heavy metal intensity and prog complexity for a truly unique sound.
After the groups' first album in 2000 called Vasaraasia, they took the time to play some gigs and begin writing for the follow-up CD, which was released earlier this year. Dave Kime and drummer Teemu Hanninen shared some coffee and conversation the morning after a powerful NEARfest performance and many celebration drinks.
Sea of Tranquility: Can you tell us a brief history of the band and how you came together?
Teemu Hanninen: Jarno Sarkula (sax) and myself started the band back in 1997 . The story behind the band is such that Jarno bought a soprano saxophone for himself, and we decided to start an acoustic group with no guitarist whatsoever, or any other traditional rock instruments. At that point is was not yet certain how the band was going to sound, but we invited Mikka Huttunen (organ) to join and for a while we practiced as a trio, and then later added Marko Mannenen on cello and a trombonist. On the new record we have Erno Haukkala on trombone, and back-up cellist Tuukka Helminen.
SoT: What are some of the bands' influences?
T.H.: I wouldn't say there are many clear bands that influenced us, but more styles, like ethnic music, heavy metal, klezmer perhaps, as well as film scores. Tom Waits has been an influence as well, at least in our mentality.
SoT: You do have that ethnic style, very festive, as you really shove it at the listener full-force and then wait for their response.
T.H. : Yes, that's right!
SoT: What's the name of the new CD, and how many songs are on it?
T.H.: The new album is called Kaarmelautakunta, meaning "snake coming at you" or something like that, and there are nine songs on it.
SoT: How do you come up with names for these songs, seeing as they are instrumental?
T.H.: We might have an idea of what a video or film would be if there was one, so we might have a story behind it.
SoT: So it's more like a soundtrack?
T.H.: We do the music first, and then it's fun having a break or a cigarette outside rehearsal or the studio, it's fun to imagine what it would be.
SoT: Is that a vision for the future, to have your music be used as a soundtrack?
T.H: Our music actually has been used on some soundtracks for short films and videos.
SoT: Are these played mainly in Finland?
T.H: Yes, mainly in Finland.
SoT: Who does the main songwriting in the band?
T.H: Jarno is the one who takes most of the main melodies and brings them to rehearsals, and then we mix and change stuff, and then songs come together.
SoT: Can you get by on being musicians in Finland?
T.H: It's very difficult in Finland to make money to live as musicians. Most of us have other jobs in addition to being musicians, except Marko who is the only purely professional musician in the band, and he has to play in a few bands to make a living! The rest of us are sound engineers, sound designers, software engineers, and psychologist. For us, we have a great record company that allows us lots of freedom to do whatever we want, so we do our day jobs and fit the music in during spare time.
SoT: Does the band play a lot of concerts?
T.H.: Not so much, maybe less then 20 per year.
SoT: How about open- air festivals?
T.H.: In Finland, which is like the promised land of festivals of all kinds, during the summer time there are tens of dozens of rock festivals, featuring lesser known Finnish groups and big bands from abroad. We try to play as often as we can.
SoT: How has your experience been playing at NEARfest?
T.H.: As you Americans say it has been awesome! (laughs) The reception here has been so friendly, and the audience so receptive!
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