Tuesday, March 31, 2009



"Paavoharju is not a real band," says Lauri Ainala.

"Never was."

It is easy to agree that the word 'band' would rather describe their more stage-oriented Fonal comrades Risto, their sweaty club shows giving a clear picture of what they're all about, which obviously makes them easier to adopt in the finnish media. And even though Islaja's music isn't for everyone, her magazine cover face is. And when you add Kemialliset Ystävät to this soup, it is quite surprising to hear that Paavoharju is the best-selling act from Fonal Records, according to a message by Sami Sänpäkkilä (the label manager) at the Fonal message board. Surprising even for the group itself since they don't see it necessary to stay updated with these things, the number of sold records etc.

Paavoharju's world is truly confusing and pretty far from ipod heads that associate indie with the Killers and wearing certain type of shoes. Their pop is mixed with soundscapes that make your niece see nightmares, their sequencing lacks the sense of control one usually finds in electronic music... And their christianity isn't the sort you learn at your weekly bible study, man; with this amount of piss, blood, shit, vomit and alcohol we're talking about something totally different.

"You want a beer?" asks Lauri when I have hardly taken my coat off.

About two weeks before this I had sent an email to him asking if Paavoharju wanted to take part in this blog, record a new song and so on (see 'info' for more details), but he told me they are having "a creative break" and therefore are not writing any new material. He kindly invited me to his place, which is not in Savonlinna anymore but in the very center of Helsinki downtown, where he lives with his wife (married just a week before I went there) and a third roommate.

Calling their apartment simply bohemian wouldn't do justice to the unique feel there is to it. The walls are full of Lauri's art student wife's morbidly mesmerising works, surrounding their bed that is (self-)made of pieces of waste wood... Branches all around the bed and room, candles, conserved little birds in a jar, bones, the skull of some big animal, and furniture probably a lot older than what you call vintage. Next to his laptop is a book of finnish folk spells which they got as a wedding gift. And a crusifix hanging on the wall.

When I asked Lauri if he could show me some of his recording equipment, he said he could, but added that "Paavoharju is not about the gear". And now he has a proof: he brings me a cheap-looking digital camera, Hp R717.

"The church organ in Kirkonväki was recorded with this, just like most of the material in Savonlinna DVD."

That is the working name for a DVD they are making, coming out in late 2009, including Paavoharju's live footage, but also something that could be even more important: clips from Savonlinna, their Savonlinna, from deserted buildings they used to live in: cabins, a slaughterhouse, a cave, a dairy, even a boat, which they found and utilized... and all the 'houses' and saunas they've built. That life style also included dumpster diving and hanging out with local drunks aside from the society. But most of this is left to Savonlinna.

"Drunks in Savonlinna are not unpredictable and violent like those in Helsinki, and instead of always bumming something they often share their booze and cigarettes with you. I have no intentions of making friends with drunks in Helsinki."

The picture of a window in the back cover of Yhä hämärää is actually taken from a house where their drunk friends used to live in. I tell Lauri about an organisation in Helsinki called Oranssi, they squat old empty houses, renovate them and live in them, but Lauri says "it's not as exciting," and emphasises that there's nothing organized or ideological about their way of living.

Lauri shows me some of his tracker software on his computer, with "nothing special about them, just basic stuff".

"Is this where Paavoharju's music starts, from your computer?" I ask.

"My brother (Olli Ainala) writes the songs with keyboard and guitar, makes demos and sends them to me, and together we figure out what ideas we start to work on," he explains, and after a short pause he continues: "... That guy's been having some problems lately..."

Here he is, playing what is possibly a new Paavoharju song:

Lauri has always been against the idea of Paavoharju playing gigs - which must be the reason for the total absence of electronic layers in their shows, Lauri being the man behind the laptop - but now they have a good reason for not being on the road.
Olli Ainala, a married man with two kids, suffers from exceptionally bad Psoriasis, a skin condition which usually includes pain in the joints, rash or abscesses, but this guy got all of the symptoms. Sometimes his skin gets stuck on sheets while sleeping, and the skin in his hands is so thin that even touching an object hurts. So the gloves in the video are not just for looks.

Olli is the man behind the transcendental harmonies, whereas Lauri covers everything with misty hiss and lateral noises. Jenni naturally plays a major role with her significant approach to vocals, but more or less it's Lauri who puts it all together... Being more than a music producer; he takes care of the lyrics and the visual sector, artwork, videos etc. The role of the rest is vague, filling something here and there when necessary. One of those 'rest' is Joose Keskitalo, who joins us as we have managed to make it to Helmilevyt studio in Pihlajanmäki. Before that we had left Lauri's place, taken a wrong train (which we didn't notice until we already were in the neighbor town Vantaa) and some beer to survive all this. The studio is in the basement of an average suburban house, in a random place in a random condition - just like expected.

Joose writes something to a tiny notebook in the corner of the room when I do the dishes to have something to cook with: we brought some pasta and chicken with us. Lauri plays drums in the other room with an excitement that reminds me of jam sessions in junior high. He plays drums in their new hip-hop trio Harmaa Getto (='grey ghetto', a word play with Harmageddon) where besides Lauri and Joose there's Arwi Lind (Helmilevyt manager) doing some heavily drunken rapping.

"Have you listened to any hip-hop?" I ask actually assuming the answer already.
"Nah, not really, only some Cypress Hill..." Well, you can really hear that in their music, even though there are almost DJ Shadow-like moments in their song Harmaata ku harmaata. But that's not rap really.
"Or wait a second, I've got some Danger Mouse too, he's great."

"I don't really listen to music that much," he confesses when I ask him about his biggest influences. It's easy to believe after seeing only about thirty CDs back in their flat, including his own output and most of them being his wife's. He mentions Es and Burzum because "they are not about mastering any certain instrument. Instead they have a vision of what kind of elements they want in their music and build them with really simple blocks. But the funny thing is that Paavoharju isn't simple at all," he says smiling.

"Any certain Warp records artists?" I suggest.

"Well, a bit after finishing Yhä hämärää I checked out Boards of Canada, and liked Music Has Right to Children and Geogaddi. "

So these so called influences seem to be later attachments. He also mentions Portishead's Third and Joose Keskitalo's newest as the best records lately.
Despite their less serious approach to hip-hop, they're obviously making it to the cover of a relatively scene-loyal (mostly hip-hop and electro) Basso magazine, which in this case is more than eyebrow-raising. These guys don't seem to care how things "should" be done; everything from their musical and architectural consepts to theology couldn't be less dogmatic.

The air in the studio is getting filled with smoke from cigarettes between oily fingers, and conversation about god, existence and information society sci-fi utopia - highflown enough to make this listener just to consentrate on finishing the chicken.
After that we have a 20-minute jam session before leaving the place, me and Joose jumping from one instrument to another while Lauri gives an unfocused beat behind the drums. You can really sense some stage of exhaustion in the playing, after Joose's band rehearsal and our long and adventurous day. Which is why the recorded material will not be shared here. (Instead of that Paavoharju gives you a less heard track, which can't be found from their debut nor Laulu laakson kukista. It's titled Aurinkotuuleen (= 'into the solar wind'). Click the player below for preview.)

After this Joose heads to Kallio and after a few warm words and a handshake Lauri goes back to his wife to finish some champagne from week ago.

The biggest mystery about Paavoharju is that its music feels completely random, a total mess, but still makes sense in a remote way like the thoughts you have just before falling asleep. You can't put your finger on it. It is hard to avoid seeing a connection between their weird solutions for accommodation and music.

Lauri shows me a photo of one of their houses in Savonlinna, which is in an extremely chaotic condition, just imagine a shitty crack house, make it twice worse and you're close: "You know, all that stuff there... It wasn't there when we found the place. We brought it all there. It's our stuff."

Excactly, inside demarcating walls, it's their mess.

Paavoharju - Aurinkotuuleen
mp3 - 192kbps

click the player for a preview.

Paavoharju's myspace and website.