by: Jack Ohms
I call the old man on a Thursday night, long distance.
"Cleared your debts yet?"
"What? I suppose you're hiding behind your human rights?"
Not much I could say to that either as he tells me - by-the-way - Tottenham have just scored on his thirty-six quid a month SKYSPORTS wide-screen la-di-da T.V. and I keep quiet, quietly pouring another glass of cloudy home-brew and light another cigarette...quietly, so he won't have something else to hold up for magisterial inspection.
"David Cameron said that anyone who enters another person's property without their permission should automatically lose all their human rights."
"And here was me thinking you were being original."
"I'm going to vote Conservative next time", he tells me, as Leeds United equalise just before half time, and still wonders why I live a thousand miles away in Finland.
Well, we hang up. I syphon off more wine and wobble off to bed. Then the bloody door buzzer wakes me up out of a deep, black sleep. If friends call round they play a little tune on it so I know it's them, but these are long, cruel notes -
- like the buzzer off University Challenge from Hell, on a hangover loop - Christ, I'm caught off my guard. There's only one way to stop it and that 's to let 'em in. Maybe she's heard about - maybe there's an emergency? I open my door under haystack hair in sweaty shorts and peer down the stairs. I wasn't far off; this guy looks a bit like Bamber Gascoigne; official-like with rimless spectacles and an overall look of seventies beige about him; beige clothes, beige hair...beige face, for God's sake. I'm getting a bad taste a bit like cold milky coffee. Jehovah's Witness? I thought they came in pairs."Jack Ohms?"
He rips a few stapled sheets of foolscap out of a beige-coloured folder and sticks it into my hand. Well, it's not The Watchtower, come Lord! I note the insignia of the Intrum Justicia debt collecting 'agency'; official-looking stamps and viciously-scrawled signatures.
So he's the repo man.
All right. I've been waiting for that sucker, The Man in Beige, sent to plague the likes of me who're out of work and glad of it...having other things on our minds. My apologies to Society. He doesn't wait for me to look him up and down in disgust for the thousand and umpteenth time in living memory and ask him how he sleeps. I close the door and chuck the A4's on the old newspaper pile next to the door.
Egg and beans on toast and a bit later it's already getting dark. I've got to get going over to Pekka's place across the other side of the city to interview three of the leading lights of the ever-evolving Savo Sound that's developed over the last couple of decades in the city of Kuopio and the surrounding countryside, not a million miles from the Russian border. I work through the streets, past the lamp-post on the main drag with the shell-rip left over from the Winter War, down the hill, under the railway tracks and back up the other side as shunter's clang huge log trucks around the goods yard, echoing over an iron-hard frozen landscape. This winter's been a greenhouse-effect-busting kind of winter. Today it's quite mild at twenty-five below. With frost on my whiskers I play a little tune on Pekka's buzzer and he lets me into his flat in the cold war block by the tracks; the shunters still clanging outside.
"I like to record those sounds sometimes", he says, "I record them and then play over the top".
Pekka 'Pharoah' Pirttikangas; forest-god leader of swamp-slurpin' boogie band Cosmo Jones Beat Machine and various other projects, shows me into his living-room-cum-bedroom; the old school-house pump organ there, various guitars and string instruments of unknown origin, a big map of America, old style, curly-edged up on the wall, and miles of reel-to-reel tape in boxes, left over from his days at the local radio station. He puts Roky Erickson on over the stereo. Cosmo Jones were the support act last time he was in Finland. We crack a beer. As the track ends in come Jug Heister of punk country outfit The Country Dark, and solo bedroom band man, Cheese Finger Brown, gasping on a spliff. The wine's uncorked, fag's lit and the mic's opened as we sit round the little table in the Pharoah's kitchen. Here's the script.
JACK: Let's go back to the beginning...why did you start to play?
JUG: It was kind of an accident. I was in high school and some friends did this C-cassette tape of noise and they asked me to come and play guitar over it...and they sent this demo-tape to a punk record company and they said, Come on guys, come to the studio...and I didn't know how to play, but I borrowed a guitar and we recorded this one song. That was the first time. I never thought of myself as a musician. It took a long time. Of course, I liked to listen to all kinds of music: old garage rock 'n' roll, fifties, Stooges, Cramps...Radiopuhelimet were a new band then and it was an inspiration to us.
Pharoah and Jug have known each other since childhood. Cheese Finger Brown's a foreigner, like me. He comes from a little place called Putten in Holland.
JACK: I've heard a lot of stories about your home town...Varpaisjärvi, is it?
JUG: Yes, Varpaisjärvi, sixty kilometres north from here. Population of 3,000 in the early nineties. It's a lot smaller now.
PHAROAH: So, yeah, there weren't that many blokes doing this primitive rock 'n' roll stuff. Jug is a bit older than me. He was an inspiration to us younger guys.
JACK: So that was the beginning of the Savo Sound?
PHAROAH: Well, for me it was. There were other bands as I was growing up, but I didn't get to hear about them, of course.
JACK: What was it like to grow up in Varpaisjärvi?
JUG: Pretty hostile...for different people. It's countryside...lot's of farmer's, truck drivers -
JUG: I have four uncles and they're all truck driver's. My father's a mechanic.
PHAROAH: Everybody I knew were farmers. I grew up on a farm and lots of these fellows were after me; wanted to murder me, beat me up - threatened to shoot me with a shot-gun and stuff like that. Music was an escape.
JUG: I think so too. It was such a small village, the reason why so many of us from there started playing music was because the situation was...a kind of hard environment, so the people who thought differently got together and started bands.
CHEESE FINGER BROWN: Putten was a bit like that, except it was a bit bigger and we had this religious stuff going on there, and growing up as kids, we didn't know what to do with the situation, so we hung around. We didn't go to the bars 'cause you got beaten up there as well, so we had this old caravan where we'd go and listen to records and learn the guitar.
JUG: It's the same situation all over the world.
CFB: There's not so many truck-driver's in my family, but -
JACK: Why is it the Savo region - Kuopio, Siilinjärvi, Varpaisjärvi - those little towns out there...why is it this area has so many good bands and musicians in proportion to the rest of Finland? I mean, apart from Radiopuhelimet, I can't name a band I particularly like...say, out of Helsinki. Some of the best gigs I've ever seen have been in Kuopio. Why is that?
JUG: In other places...like Northern Finland; other bands are more orientated to singing in Finnish. For some reason here we sing in English. We wanted to play a little bit like our influences and combine it with Finnish punk. We wanted to have a good time.
JACK: Reach a wider audience than Varpaisjärvi?
PHAROAH: Yes, and to have a good time there too...before it was possible to get away.
JUG: The good times - yeah...that was the thing that drew us together; to have fun; different kinds of people getting together, starting to drink and listening to music, starting to hit the bars...fights...going back to the rehearsal place to play more music.
JACK: Cheese Finger - how do I call you,? Is 'Cheese Finger' OK?
CFB: 'Cheese Finger' is OK...but not 'Finger Brown'. You're polite English readers won't like it.
JACK: OK, Cheese...you've not played in a band since your Holland days, have you? You play alone at home and record. It's something you have to do - right?
CFB: Yeah, but it was different for me...it wasn't the drinking that got us together as kids, like these guys, it was the smoking...it was Holland. So it was the cheese as well.
JACK: I guess it's always been a big influence of Dutch music.
CFB: Of course... I don't know why I started to play again, though. I think I got restless, so I picked up the guitar and started to record - then, yes...I've got to do it. Like the other day I was in the countryside and I didn't have an instrument, but all the time there's this music - like when you're walking along somewhere and you just have to sing or whistle or listen to the rhythm of your own foot steps...it's got to come out.
PHAROAH: For me - since I was eight years old...I have this studio set-up in the living room, where I sleep...so when I wake up I start recording...every day. I've got closets piled up with material. Constant recording.
JACK: Is it like that for you too, Jug - a compulsion?
JUG: Pretty much. When I was ten years old I started to imitate those Gene Vincent records - the way he sang. As I said, I'm not really a guitar player...in fact I'm planning to give it up and concentrate on the singing -
PHAROAH: Fuck - no!
JUG: Yes, the guitar is just a way to make songs these days.
JACK: Going back to the point about your music being about a good time...but for me the words are pretty important too and you're all great lyric writer's - which is important to me...some humour in there too, quite dark at times, like with Beefheart, Ivor Cutler, Velvet's, Love - and Morrissey, who I know you hate, Cheese -
CFB: It's not that I hate it, it's just a bit gay.
JACK: A good record has to have a good sound, for sure, but the lyrics are vital too - if there are lyrics. Some humour there. Something a lot of the big name bands simply don't have - dark, sarcastic or otherwise. They don't make you laugh, but I've often found your lyrics humorous.
CFB: Yeah, the thing about the 'Savo Sound' though, is that there's humour in the sound itself too; a lot of American sound adapted, so you can overdo it and joke with it and graft your own things onto it...take the piss. I mean, if you're in America in a small town and you make a funny country record and take the piss out of it, they might fucking hate you for it, I don't know, but here they appreciate it. And because of that you discover really good sounds or stick another style over it...but there's nothing to say it won't work.
JACK: So, where do you pick up these sounds; are you cocking a snook at country? What is it that you want to copy or imitate - or change?
CFB: Those sketchy bits...maybe a catchy part and I write the whole song from that point and then you try and do that over the whole song long. And you're not playing strictly your own music, cos it's not authentically yours...and that brings you to a point where you're overdoing it and then when you record it it sounds completely different...so then you start working from that...getting away from the original source by degrees.
JUG: Recording at rehearsals is really important for me, because many bands when they start out, they don't have a clue how they want to sound and it's a good thing to start recording straight away, so you can get some idea where you'd like to go with it. It's always good to take these old elements from other music and bend them...start to play with them.
JACK: I'd like to hear more about this Savo Sound - I mean, you can't pin it down and say it's one style. It sounds like there's some unity of approach, but no definitive sound as such. How about you, Jug; you've developed this country/punk mixture to paste your hilarious lyrics over. Tell me about that.
JUG: It wasn't easy to find that sound in the 'real' studio. It took years to arrive at that sound. In the early nineties when we first went into the studio, the engineers there didn't have a clue; they were always trying to achieve this polished heavy metal sound or something like that. They didn't understand the kind of sound we were looking for. They thought we were weirdo's wanting to sound low-fidelity while they had all this 'proper' equipment. They were always after the so-called, best possible sound: 'Ah, you don't like it! This is the best equipment here - the best mic's!' And that's bollocks.
PHAROAH: And that was also true at the gigs back then too.
CFB: I had something like that the other day. The cable on my guitar isn't working too well. You know, it crackles. Sometimes, if I move along to what I'm playing, that crackle goes along with the rhythm and gets picked up on the recording. When I listened back to it, those crackles were pretty strong, but when I tried to take them out of the recording it wasn't right any more.
PHAROAH: Yes, you get to using mistakes. Tape hiss doesn't matter, broken wires don't matter -
CFB: For me it's not that it don't matter - it's that it's super important!
JACK: I agree. When you listen to music, it's not coming at you pure, for Christ's sake, it's bouncing off things, echoing, breaking up. Like sometimes when you hear a band outside a small venue; it somehow changes the sound and that sound can be just as compelling as it is when you get inside out of the cold, take a beer and stand in the audience. I just get the feeling people have got a lot too precious about recording quality and meanwhile miss the very sounds that punctuate it from beneath - that gave birth to it, if you know what I mean...it's almost like this stuff doesn't sound real anymore, as if the human - the living edge has been shorn off of it.
CFB: What people are used to now are over-produced CD's. If they hear hiss or crackle they don't like the music - they don't even hear the music in that, they just hear noise.
JACK: My old lady's got an old wind-up Victrola kind of thing. Last time I was home she put this Joseph Locke 78 on there and it was all I could do not to fucking cry - it was like he was in the room with us. Like an echo of the original event. I mean, I don't think I'd rather hear Charlie Patten all CD-ed up. To me, if you can't accept that shit, you're not hearing it, like you said. I don't go much for deliberately trying to sound old - that's pretentious, but if it's just naturally there, so what?
PHAROAH: And that's how the recording industry got started, anyway; outside, on location, with all these sounds coming from outside of the music - street sounds, whatever it was, leaking in all the time.
JUG: But it seems that no matter how the quality is or the sound the band's looking for it's always hard to get the right sound, no matter what the situation might be and it's weird that sometimes you get a good sound and next time you try and reproduce that...you do everything the same way and the sound is totally different...but maybe that's the magic.
We all agree with that sentiment.
JACK: Any chance of another glass of house red?
CFB: It's also - with this sound quality thing - I like the old music; old blues and jazz, old gospel from the 1920's. It's so good because of the way it's recorded. But it's also if you see a good movie on an old black-and-white telly, it doesn't matter, but if you see a crappy modern Hollywood thing on some wide screen TV, you're still not entertained. It's all to do with the quality of the song itself and the rhythm.
JACK: I think I learned this early on when I bought my second Bob Marley LP after I'd been listening to Catch a Fire. I was fifteen and I didn't have much dough, so I had to choose a record carefully back then. It was his early stuff - you know; Small Axe, Trenchtown Rock, that kind of thing. African Herbsman, that was it. Anyway, I got it home and it didn't sound too great - hiss and stuff - it wasn't as clear as Catch a Fire, so I took it back, because I thought I'd been ripped off!
PHAROAH: I remember going down to Helsinki to buy blues records as a teenager. It was a big deal. I found The Story of the Blues series and stuff like that. The salesman said, Don't bring them back; they sound the way they are!
CFB: This is how it is with the Savo Sound - the music comes from the good times. If I'm listening to Gospel Bones or The Slideshaker in K-Klubi ( - arguably Finland's best underground venue just off the main drag in Kuopio city centre -), the sound is born out of the people who go, who fill up that place...and so it fits with the moment. It gets made like that, in that situation - it evolves like that. It's the same as these mistakes we're talking about. The other day I was driving and there was some really bad radio programme on and it wouldn't tune right or stay with the signal, 'cause the knobs are pretty much shot and Whitney Houston's bad enough when the radio's working well, but she's painful when it isn't. Anyway, on comes Nut Bush City Limits and that was a blast because it still worked through the hiss and came just at the right moment. And this is kind of what I'm talking about with the Savo Sound; it's based around a loose collection - a group of people and I think that's what makes it sound so good. I like what that whole group do. It sounds good because they feel good.
JACK: It's feeling as part of the sound.
JUG: Atmosphere and -
PHAROAH: And beer!
JUG: And beer. It's a combination of these things that make the sound right - yes. In our early days there weren't any bands in Finland that sounded like this old stuff. I've never liked these new rockabilly guys trying to re-create the fifties sound - it just doesn't work, because back in the fifties they had a new thing going...the later stuff is just imitation.
PHAROAH: Yeah, they missed the point! One thing I've been thinking about - these old things I love - they give me these ancient access points...reference points, where something can break off of that old stuff and be re-worked.
JUG: I like to listen to many styles of music; country blues, rock 'n' roll - The Stooges, for example, because they created something totally new, which still feels fresh. Also Black Sabbath.
JACK: It seems to me that most of the time influences just get watered down..?
CFB: Ya, probably because all the time the recording equipment was getting better - technical equipment - and because of all these new inventions - well...we got the eighties!
I try not to re-decorate Pharoah's kitchen wall in the new art claret colour.
CFB: And you know...the eighties...shit...they never went away! Very clear - too clear. Everything was made for the radio to score a hit, with all the parameters you need to stay within to score a hit - catchy tune, etc...so you end up with the blues turning into Gary Moore, for example.
JACK: Robert Cray.
CFB: Exactly. And to me, it's nothing to do with the whole idea of music. I mean, I'm sure there's good music mostly everywhere, but it just doesn't reach the radio any more...plus, there's quite a few generations who've grown up with that polished sound nowadays...so that's why too.
(It's worth noting here that Cheese Finger Brown's production team are called, Polished Knob Productions.)
JACK: Yes, it's as if people believe the technical problem of music itself has been solved. That's five star wankness, in my opinion.
CFB: Right. If you go back to the crossroads in music - you know, where something new happens -
PHAROAH: Like when Bebop came out of the Swing era and then Cool and Free Jazz - these things happen by a lively kind of lucky mistake. They never really have to think about it, it just happens by natural means.
JACK: And a kind of reaction to what happened before - yeah?
CFB: Yeah, the mixture of cultures and influences, like when different people came together in towns and cities like Detroit, New Orleans, London in the sixties -
JACK: It's the same here, but on a smaller scale.
CFB: Yeah, even in small places like Kuopio, because a lot of people come from just outside the city and it's remote. But these people are all very different and that's what binds them; they felt uncomfortable out in the styx, so they come together here and then they can exert an influence and that's why there are so many variations on the Savo Sound.
It's true; there's a wide range...from Pentti Dassum's noise collages, Aavikko's electronic Fin-pop weirdness, SuPo's bass-driven punk kicking rock and The Cleaning Women's total industrial batter rock, through to people doing all sorts of rough and ready versions of blues and rock 'n' roll and Finnish folk, re-hashed. The city and its environs are awash with a whole raft of talented and accomplished musicians and session players, some of whom graduated from the local conservatory.
JUG: The usual thing is that everyone is some kind of outsider.
CFB: If you have four guys who wanna play music like Santana; if you cover it and get close, you still don't have a good band with a good sound. But if you get four guys from different places and times even, different tastes, you're going to get a more interesting sound. I don't know this for sure but I get a feeling it's like that.
PHAROAH: It crossed my mind just now, that when we started the Astro Can Caravan thing ( - yet another of Pharoah's many projects - ), the idea was that there were lots of different kinds of players there; those boys from the Sibelius Academy who were really professional...classical players...then there were those fellows from the street who couldn't read a note, but can play somehow in their own way. So when we put these fifteen, twenty guys together - what's going to come out? I like that idea. Everybody says I'm the leader of Astro Can Caravan and Cosmo Jones -
CFB: The Nazi.
PHAROAH: Yeah, the Nazi, but I don't see it like that. I'm an uncomfortable Nazi. I just like to just create these situations where things can get mixed up.
JUG: I've known Pekka - Pharoah - many years...and he's given me a hell of a lot by playing me all these different things from all round the world and with the radio programme we were doing here a few years ago...
JACK: So, you've kind of fed each other, in that way?
CFB: It's been the same with me, but now we have the net.
JACK: Yes and I feel that's had some adverse effects on how we listen at least. It's not a bad thing, I just mean that the old days of - literally having to hunt down records is not quite what it was - but I'm being puritanical here. Then again, you guys - I think - have benefited from that...you know...with your gigs and your recording's and your listening; you've had to travel the long, hard road...slogging it out, playing across Europe in small towns.
JUG: Yes, even with my earlier bands like The Festermen, Chop Suey...we travelled through Denmark, Germany, Holland, places like that. Small bars and clubs.
JACK: So what is it exactly that that long hard road gives you ? You know, that good solid piece of experience that's vital to anyone who's really going to do anything creative.
PHARAOH: The first thing that comes to mind is to meet new faces and see new places. My environment would stay the same all the time if it wasn't for these band activities, 'cause I never travel myself - as a tourist. So here's an excuse for me travelling around. Of course the most important thing is to play my music to the folks who haven't heard it before...I know there's so many out there and it's crazy in a way, 'cause with Cosmo Jones I feel that here we have one of the tightest live rock 'n' roll groups happening right now...and very few people know about it.
JACK: That's true - I don't understand it. Cheese, you're pretty shy about playing outside your own four walls.
JACK: Why? Because you've played with bands back home in Holland and you've been gigging with Pharoah Pirttikangas recently...
CFB: Back in Holland we usually played on the street and that's so different 'cause people can just walk away. I don't have any explanation for it, I just feel so uncomfortable playing in front of audiences. It's got better while I've been playing with Pharoah's band, but...you know...you've got three minutes to get it together. When you play alone...at home...you don't have that problem.
JACK: Your recordings have a very live feel, though.
CFB: Yeah, I always use first take. I noticed that if I have to do something again, somehow it doesn't work - so then I just write a new song.
JACK: To me that sounds like a very...generous way to think of music, in a way: it's not something you can capture...it's something you have to - kind of let go.
CFB: That's the hard part about playing gigs, for me...you have to capture it in advance in order to keep doing the same thing over and over again. I get caught up in the idea that it should also be somehow beautiful, but that's not really the point - again, it's because there are people there, watching...
JUG: And playing in a band is also about compromises. Other guys in the band sound different. That's the way it is. It's not necessarily a bad thing because those guys can give you something different...something extra.
PHAROAH: And that's what I've basically been looking for with the Pharoah Pirttikangas project; finding new players with different ideas and sounds, techniques.
JACK: There isn't a strict line-up, is there?
PHAROAH: No, it changes from gig to gig. It's not so rehearsed as with Cosmo Jones. And I don't mind if it goes a bit wrong now and again, because somehow you can still pull it off because of all the practice you've had on the road over the years. Cheese Finger Brown joined us for the last gig. He wasn't so happy about it, but we pulled it off.
JACK: Christ, my hangover's finally starting to clear. Pass the wine? Cheers. Look, we've been talking about the happy mistakes - can't those things happen live as well?
CFB: Yes, but for me they were not happy - hahaha! It went ways beyond happy mistakes!
We all buckle up, take a break outside where the railway men have stopped for the evening. We carry on talking in between spitting out flakes of tobacco and when we get back inside...
JUG: The important thing about playing a gig is the atmosphere. Most of the time, if we make mistakes, the audience don't even notice it.
JACK: I know I keep banging on about the mistakes aspect but hell, sometimes the whole life thing seems like a mistake - an accident. It's like the Monk album you played for me a few weeks ago - it was like one long fuck-up of 'wrong' jazz notes, but it was fantastic, hilarious.
PHARAOH: Yeah, it must have been Thelonius Monk going solo on piano. We've been talking about the importance of rhythm and humour in music and with Monk these aspects come together in such a lovely way. And like Cheese Finger Brown here, I think Thelonius is at his best alone, with no distractions. Monk once stated something like, 'Wrong notes don't exist'. Playing your instrument is about getting lost and then finding your way back home.
CFB: That's why I like recording so much, because you record something and then you put the guitar away and you listen to it through and it's maybe not so good, but you lean your guitar up against the wall and you get that - CLONK! - and that sounds great, so I wanna do something with that, so I start a new song. So then the mistakes are very handy and you find out new sounds, whereas that don't happen live at all - not for me, anyway.
JUG: All the recording that I've done over the years; we've always tried to play live in the studio. I never sing separately from playing the guitar. The whole band plays together in order to get the right feeling and if there's some mistakes, well, OK...let it be. If there's something really bad in there you just take it one more time. Then it's all there. Maybe you add some backing vocals, but that's it.
CFB: I use all the things that I record, but I use five potential tracks played that first time...then I change those parts around; especially the singing part: I like to chop that up...then I have this obvious melody part and then you find different ways of singing it, you know? Of course, sometimes I've noticed that I record something that sounds like it's from another song because of these familiar melody parts that then spring to your mind, and I use those to find new stuff - in order to overcome my other limitations, probably. Often I do the obvious thing with myself and that's why mistakes are so good because you do something you weren't planning on doing and off you go again.
JUG: To me it's not important what methods we use with The Country Dark, because we've played live and the records live (, as in they are alive, they continue). You see, the gigs you play, people forget...so all that matters after is that the recording sounds good. You know? The records that last over time - like the old records we've been talking about. The next generation might listen to your records, but they don't know a shit about the gigs - even if somebody writes about it. It's the record that matters in the end.
JACK: OK, but when I've seen Cosmo Jones play, it's so good I take a kind of...a kind of ball of memory from that, and that's lost and gone forever in the details, but so what?
PHAROAH: So, do you think that written and recorded history diminishes the value of...err...mystery?
JACK: Eh? What's the value of mystery?
PHARAOH: Well, something about the early days; the story-telling before Man got to writing things down. It's been passed down to us by word of mouth until this recording process started. It's interesting what Jug just said about selective memory. I'm thinking about how before the written word we had the story-telling and before records we only had the live musicians and if you wanted to hear them play, the only way was to travel to where they were playing. Before the records the music was about socialising...and it wasn't this day-to-day background tapestry that it tends to be these days. We used to observe this great, unknown world from such a narrow gap, but now the view seems so wide that it looks like we've lost the horizon.
CFB: But it's also because people have so much going on in their minds - they haven't got the time to write a song about it when the bears comes out the forest and start eating the rubbish out of their bins. In the old days they would have written a song about it.
At this point it breaks out into an unfathomable blur of voices, laughter and impassioned arguments and we have another ciggy break outside; they're getting closer together now. We all are. It's a cosy feeling for a mid-winter's evening, but the party's about to break up as Cheese Finger Brown needs to get back home to look after his little boy, Emile Finger Brown, so we all decide to pack it up, follow CFB into town and maybe drop into K-Klubi to see whatever band they have on this Friday night.
JACK: It's been pretty much twenty years now since you've been playing. It's a surprise to me - coming from where I do, that you haven't had a little bit more success abroad and what-have you. The Micragirls seem be getting along quite well and there were those Peel Sessions for Aavikko and Deep Turtle - why is that?
Nobody seems to know, but for my money it's nothing to do with the playing, because as my ex-lady said after a recent Cosmo Jones gig, The Rolling Stones aren't this good nowadays. Maybe it's something to do with Finnish male confidence...and the Dutch. These guys don't push themselves and their small record labels don't seem to be too interested in marketing either. Is it that there's a certain pride in remaining underground - a certain philosophy? Because if that's so, I reckon these guys deserve a lot of respect for hanging back, constantly tuning and honing their - I was going to say 'acts', but these guys are no actors; their music is as much a part of them as their own testicles. No...this has got a lot to do with integrity. All of these bands will sell five hundred to a thousand copies of their records: Cosmo Jones Beat Machine, Astro Can Caravan, The Slideshaker, The Country Dark, Aavikko; but in Finland's underground those figures are actually pretty big, when you consider there's only five million or so people in the whole country. So, I'm convinced they could do pretty well in the UK underground too. It's just that I'd like to see them reach a wider audience. I like to share what I've found as much as the next man and I think other English-speaker's would appreciate them like the Russian's, Estonian's, German's and Finns seem to do...if they only got to hear them.
We get to K-Klubi where Hole in the Head have already started their set. We pause outside, standing in the snow as more lands on our heads and shoulders, and have a last smoke together.
JACK: You guys have done things slowly, from the bottom up, with little outside recognition. What would a wider success mean to you now? What does success look like? What is success in your music?
CFB: Getting laid!
JUG: Drinking too much and getting laid. I'm too tired to go out looking for work and then losing the job - that's success...it sucks!
PHAROAH: Yeah, we succeeded.
Half pissed, we all crack up. Cheese Finger Brown offers us a parting shot.
CFB: I just like when you're playing and you find something new and you get a better song - at least for a while. That always feels good to me.
JACK: But not many people get to hear it. Are you happy about that?
CFB: Am I happy with that? It's kind of the same whether they do - cause it's good to do it anyway. If I can sell a few CD's in the shops, then I can afford to keep going; buy some more blanks to record and sell, so it doesn't come out your own pocket all the time. I'm happy about that. Then you can make new stuff. I just like making new songs.
Pharoah, Jug and myself step into the bar and carry on drinking. It goes like that round here most nights. And what's nice about drinking in Finland is that you can go out at eleven at night and you've still got a good five hours left before chucking-out time. In the end Pharoah just disappears and I'm left with Jug somewhere in the weekend crowd, both of us a little worse for wear. I get the hand-held out again.
JACK: You mentioned the way that punk influenced you...what about the country aspect? Speak close up or we won't get a fuckin' word.
JUG: OK. Well, I got into this weird country stuff by Ramset Kearney & John Trubee...song called, Blind Man's Penis. Thanks to Matti Niskanen who taped this song for me back in 1988. It's the weirdest thing...great story behind it too. Also later on...I think it was 1990, I bought these two crazy compilation albums called Wavy Gravy and Four Hairy Policemen. Incredible stuff there...weird instrumentals, trash rock and creepy country songs. Eddie Noack is so damn great! When it comes to more well known country stuff...let's see...Porter Wagoner...Johnny Cash...Hank Williams...Uncle Dave Macon...there's so many great artists. I also love Cajun music like Nathan Abshire, Tex Mex like Boozoo Chavis and Bluegrass music too...Bill Monroe...Earl, Flatt & Scruggs. The Finnish singer Tapio Rautavaara is one of my all time favourites...he did some great country stuff back in the 50's and 60's...like his famous truck-drivin' modification of I Walk the Line: "Yölinjalla" and this really great, heartbreakin' version of Way Up North called "Kohti Alaskaa". Talkin about Alaska...the June Carter & Johnny Cash song, When It's Springtime in Alaska...is one of the best songs ever made.
JACK: And what is it with you guys - you seem to like to have an alias - Jug Heister, El Bubbles (from Cosmo Jones) - what's it all about?
JUG: Well, in the earlier days and with those earlier bands I did use my real name...but I think this countrified material is something different. I added more American or southern - whatever you may call it...twang? I added more twang to the vocals and tried to sound like some demented hillbilly. I read old Li'l Abner comics to get the right feel. When we did the first demo tapes I noticed that the vocals sounded pretty good for this kind of psychotic material. You know, I just felt awkward using my real Finnish name and singing like Hasil Adkins or some other real deal. I picked up this old American hobo slang term for a chronic drunk...Jug Heister. I later on noticed it also meant some kind of swindler and a bank robber and so on...so the name gives you more artistic freedom, I think...more power to express yourself. But, you also can hide behind the moniker. Jug Heister can sing whatever he wants - that dirty bastard! Then it's not my fault.
JACK: That right?
JUG: Yeah! Mommy made me do it!
Eventually I lose Jug in a crowd of drunken Finns and the odd foreigner who's found themselves in this remote corner of the E.U. and decide I've had enough, so I get home, get my things off quick and as I untie my shoes, notice those papers on the floor from the repo-man.
I toss my clothes about the floor, grab a glass of water and get into bed, humming a little local ditty to help get me to sleep:
Someone's got his hand in yo pocket and
you don't know, because they got a wire up
your brain. And you was thinking you're
gonna go out for a stroll, cause the sun is
shining, but you ain't going, because they
told you it's gonna rain.
Because somebody's got his hand in yo
pocket and you don't know, cause they got
a wire up your brain, you got a wire up
your brain, you got a wire up your brain.
They put it in a long time ago, you
can't know, because they got a hand in
your pocket and you just can't get ahead.
It's that wire in your brain.
I pull the bed clothes over my head and fall asleep...behind my human rights.
By Jack Ohms
With many, many thanks to all concerned
Artwork and direction: Phil McMullen © Terraascope Online (Finland edition) - June 2010