Ease People with Kantele
Interview with Juha Jyrkäs
I recently said in my review that you have never heard anything like the debut album from Juha Jyrkäs. The author and musician issued ”Sydämeni Kuusipuulle” last year and the album has a very unique style and instrumentation going on in the use of the kantele as the primary folk and riff instrument. I threw some questions his way regarding his music, the kantele, playing live and a few other items of note……check it out…..
Congrats on your debut album ”Sydämeni Kuusipuulle”…. what has been the response to it so far?
“Thanks! My first solo album has got quite a good feedback and good reviews. Also the people who have listened to the album have liked it. I got this strong feeling while recording the album that this is a strong stuff. Versatile songs, good lyrics and magnificent production. All the songs sounded good, in the same way as I imagined them in my head as I was writing them. The way I see it, if you’re truly and totally pleased with your music you’re making, then someone else likes it also. You can hear the passion.”
For those that have heard the album or not, how would you describe your sound? Is there a genre that works like folk metal or black metal? Something entirely different altogether?
“You can call it anyway you like it. I’m doing the pioneer stuff that no-one other isn’t doing at the moment in the world. I just play the music that comes from my heart and I don’t think any particular genres while I’m writing songs. They just come as they are. Of course all the music I like and the life I’ve lived can be heard in the songs. For a reviews, interviews and promotion I’ve placed my music under a genre monster “pagan heavy metal with electric and bass kantele”. I don’t give a damn about how people categorize my music. I just play it.”
Landing on the Kantele
How did you start playing music? Did you start with guitar or another instrument before landing on the kantele?
“I founded my first band as I was in highschool, at the year 1997. Back then I was only a singer. The band was called VMMA, style was more or less thrash metal with very punkish attitude. The band died out at the year 2002 and I started to search a new band for myself. I was fascinated with folk and pagan metal. I was inspired from Finnish bands Shaman (pre-Korpiklaani), Finntroll, Moonsorrow and Estonian bands like Metsatöll, Tharaphita, Loits, Kalm and Assamalla. In my opinion, the golden years of folk metal were 2001-2004. And since I’m always been interested in Finnish mythology, my roots, Finno-Ugric shamanism, Kalevala and Finnish folk poetry, I wanted to make somekind of similar music. One time we were jamming with my friends and I just grabbed myself a traditional 5-stringed kantele. It was very easy to learn to play with it. Soon after that I founded ethnic rock band Poropetra and started to make my own songs with kantele.”
The electric kantele is unique in its sound but has a very similar feel to guitar….. what are the main similarities and differences? How did you arrive at the decision to make this the primary instrument in your project replacing guitar and bass?
“You can do with kantele the stuff that you can’t do with guitar and vice versa. The kantele distortion may sound at first very similar with guitar, but as you listen harder, you know the difference. Every guitar player I know have said to me: “You can hear that this is NOT made with guitar.” This all started by accident. I did more or less folk-oriented music with Poropetra for many years. Eventually the thing died out and after a long thinking, Poropetra splitted up. I wanted to play some metal! Few songs from my solo album, for example Kymmenen kyrvän nimeä and Tulisydän are from that era. At the same time I bought myself my first electric kantele, since I was too impatient to learn to play guitar or bass. Eventually I was stunned with the new soundscapes I founded with electric kantele. Heavy distortion, echoes etc. It was a new world. I didn’t want to go back with acoustic anymore. That’s why I founded Tevana3 to explore how far I can go with electric kantele. At the same time I started to do gigs with my electric equipment. As I started to make my solo debute, I ordered to myself a bass kantele. I wanted to get rid of all traditional metal instruments: guitar, keyboards, bass and drums. I want to be progressive and push the limits of the metal music even a little bit further than it is. This all happened a little by little. And soon I founded out that I was taking a kantele, as an instrument, to a totally new level . Unfortunately very rare people know what I’m doing. And now the time has come to change it. Im the first one in the world who has replaced all the guitars and bass with electric and bass kantele in metal scene.”
How does your new solo project differ than your previous projects such as Tevana3?
“My solo has a deeper tone and this is more truely from my heart. I play almost everything in my solo work. The lyrics are more intense. I’m opened myself with the lyrics. With this album I leave something behind and sametimes I prepare to face something unknown. Musical and mythological aspect is the same as with Poropetra, but the shrieking metal sound, distortion and many effects are similar with Tevana3. And perhaps some boldness and punk attitude from VMMA? I don’t know. All the music I’ve heard and liked and all the music I’ve played, spiced with the hard life will blend together in this solo album. It sums up mylife.”
Skills and Gorba
You also are the primary vocalist in your project….. How did you develop your style of vocals?
“My principle of singing is: “It comes as it comes”. The singing has always been the hardest part for me. Nowadays I’ve trained myself with different singing styles. It all depends on music. If it demands growling, then I growl. If I have to sing smoothier, I can do it. This is the one area I want to get better in the future. But I still want to keep that nascent punk attitude in my singing.”
There are numerous guest appearances on the album….how did you arrange to have all of the musicians join you in this project? Did you have parts written or did everyone have the ability to add what they felt was needed?
“Actually there aren’t so many quests here. Just a few. Hittavainen with violin (and baglama and mouth harp in one song), Tero Kalliomäki with electric jouhikko (another Finnish traditional instrument), Milla Asikainen with female vocals, Pekka Konkela with percussions. I asked them to participate in the album and they did. The Kamass language (dead language belonging into Uralic language family) singing comes from the archive tape and purring is done by my friends cat Gorba. I’ve done the biggest job in these songs and guests were about to add some colour some into my songs. I gave them quite a free hand to arrange their part. The funniest and cutest part with special guests was definitely the purr-recordings with cat Gorba. I wen’t to my visit my friend with a microphone and as her cat started to purr, recording was on. To be honest, I don’t know any other metal albums with a cat as a visitor! “
You are widely known as an author…. how does your writing effect your music or vice versa? Did you take lyrical inspiration from your books?
“Yes, I’ve written 6 books in Finland and several short stories. They deal with speculative fiction, sword and sorcery, horror, weird fiction, Finno-Ugric heritage, shamanism, Finnish folklore and erotica. My inspiration into my books comes more or less from the same source than my lyrical content. The way I see it, I’m more author and poet than a musician. I’ve always been a storyteller with a lot of things in my mind. At the moment I’m writing my new novel.”
Will you be doing any sort of live dates at some point to support the album? Is playing live an easy proposition for you?
“When coronavirus pandemic is over, I want to play live as many places I can. I was doing many gigs before corona for several years. In the streets, pubs and even in some big festivals. Aside from Finland, I’ve played some shows also in Hungary and Estonia. In the future my goal is to play more outside of Finland to take my musical career into the next level.”
How do you feel about having to promote the album via things like social media outlets? Is it something you are comfortable with or is it a necessity?
“I’m very frequently updating my Facebook profile and page, so I’ll be promoting my stuff over there, of course. Instagram is a new thing for me – I’m more old school guy – but let’s see what happens. In this corona spring I’ll release the music videos from all of my songs in order to promote my music. I’ve published already 8 music videos out of 11 songs in YouTube. The rest will follow. And I’m also about to publish all the music from my older bands, Tevana3 and Poropetra in YouTube. This is my contribution to ease people during this pandemic spring. This is all free, since I want be fair with my fans and I want that everybody has a good opportunity to get to know with my music.”
Were there bands/albums that you consider your biggest influences in your music/style?
“The old stuff I listened as a teenager, will always be there. Like Iron Maiden, old Metallica, KISS, Sepultura (specially the Roots album), Slayer, Black Sabbath, Manowar etc. Pagan and folk metal will also be very much present: Old Finntroll (first three albums), old Moonsorrow (first three albums), Shaman (pre-Korpiklaani), Metsatöll, Tharaphita, Kalm, Assamalla, Thyrfing, Storm. Mostly the old good bands that sing in their native language. Black metal is a good inspiration also: Celtic Frost, Bathory, Venom, Darkthrone, Burzum, Isengard, Loits, Nokturnal Mortum, Batushka etc. There are some spices from Finnish rock (Miljoonasade, CMX, Kauko Röyhkä, Ismo Alanko, Pohjannaula), Finnish metal bands singing in Finnish (Kotiteollisuus [first four albums], Timo Rautiainen ja Trio Niskalaukaus [first two albums], Mana Mana, Viikate), Finnish folk music (Värttinä, Tsakku, Ihtiriekko, Tarujen saari) and even some punk, psychedelic rock and blues! I listen many kinds of music. I don’t even want to know exactly from where my music comes from. I just do what my mind tells me to do.”
What are the near future plans for you regarding your music? Are you working on new material?
“I have some ideas for new material. Let’s see what happens. More gigs would be good, specially more gigs outside of Finland. But I also have to promote my new album too. It was published as a c-cassette. Now I want to get it out also as a regular CD but also as an LP! I’m not signed yet, so any labels interested in, don’t hesitate to contact with me!”
“Keep yourself safe during this spring and obey the orders what comes to social distancing. Take care for each other and be strong! And when the plague is over, we shall rock, shock and fuck more than ever before!”
Photography: Janne Haika