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Superfjord

Superfjord is, ondanks de Noors klinkende naam, een Finse band die eerder in de categorie jazz en geïmproviseerde psychedelische muziek thuishoort dan als een exponent van Finlands belangrijke exportproduct metal gezien moet worden. Maar Superfjord bewijst dat er meer is dan alleen maar volume. Als het op intensiteit aankomt dan kan Superfjord elke band aan met hun ontspannen klinkende spekkoek van geluid. We maakten wat tijd vrij om meer te weten te komen over deze interessante band en gelukkig was oprichter, gitarist en zanger Jussi Ristikaarto meer dan bereid om onze vragen uitgebreid te beantwoorden.

Door: Jan-Simon | Archiveer onder prog / sympho metal

Your second album ‘All Will Be Golden’ was very well received here at Lords of Metal. For us it came out of nowhere, as we had not heard of you before. Can you give us a short introduction of the band, your backgrounds and inspiration?
Superfjord started as my solo project way back around 2009, when I had time on my hands and was feeling uninspired with the progress of my then-current band. I started fumbling around in my little home studio, and this lead into the gradual progress of composing and recording the music that lead into Superfjord’s debut album ‘It Is Dark, But I Have This Jewel’. The Finnish label Suomen Musiikki was inspired by my demos and they wanted to put out the stuff as an album, and lo and behold, Superfjord became reality.

When it dawned on me that stuff was getting “serious”, I realized that I need to form a real band. I didn’t want to go on stage alone with a laptop and a sampler, even though I played 95% of the stuff on the debut myself and in theory could’ve taken the “lone dude on stage with Ableton (a sequencer that can be used in live performances (JS)) and an unhealthy posture” route. But nah, it wasn’t for me. I was (and still am) very inspired by such artists as the Grateful Dead, Miles Davis, John and Alice Coltrane, Santana, Phish and many others who venture into the realms of improvisation when playing live. And that’s what I wanted to do with Superfjord on stage – to take the controlled dimensions of recorded music deeper into outer space, and play the heck out of the songs live. So eventually I found all these amazing musicians (who happen to be good friends of mine to boot) and Superfjord gradually started blossoming into life as a real band.

By the way, the name Superfjord was originally a hazy after-hours joke that somehow came up as a name for an imaginary stoner rock band when we were gigging in Norway with my old band. I was using it as basically just a joke name when I was putting out my early solo demos, but the label loved the name for some reason. After some hesitation I gave in to them and the name stuck. And here we are.

Finland is known for the large amount of metal bands. Any idea why metal is so big in your country?
I guess it has a lot to do with the climate. It’s dark and shitty for like almost six months every year, so I guess that contributes to some of the need to channel one’s shadows via the art we call metal. I would imagine we would not be a metal country were we located in the Caribbean. Plus there must be some ancient ogre blood in our veins, as – if you generalize a bit – Finnish people can be a bit rough on the edges, to put it politely. I mean, it’s not like we came up with the pyramids, philosophy or the Taj Mahal. So we put out, umm, sauna and metal instead. Awesome things, both.

Does the relative popularity of heavy music in your country help you? Do you have good record sales and many gigs or do you still have to keep your day jobs?
As we’re not a metal band, I don’t think heavy music’s popularity in Finland helps us at all. To be honest, I guess our record sales are – at least so far -- as mediocre as any independent artists’ sales these days. We don’t gig a whole lot, mostly because Finland is a really small country with regards to an active, lucrative live music scene and especially the type of stuff we play. But we also like to put quality over quantity regarding gigs. This means that we could play quite a bit more in all kinds of tiny places than we do now, but often that would mean driving to the other side of the country in the dark to play for 30 people. It can be fun when you’re 20 years old, but y’know: less is sometimes more. I’m not complaining, though – it seems like we’ve built a bit of small but solid fanbase by now, and it’s really great to see all these familiar faces coming to our shows again and again, in different towns even. It makes me think that we’re onto something. I guess things are growing for us slowly but steadily.

Your music is somehow untypical, compared to this metal tradition. Almost light and sunny compared to the doom and gloom we kind of expect from Finnish bands. Do you consider yourselves outsiders?
Not really. As said, we don’t compare us to metal bands at all. There’s a huge amount of amazing music of all possible styles and forms made in Finland today, and I think we fit in the palette pretty nicely in our own way. And there are not that many bands that play even moderately the same style of stuff that we do. We’re not metal, we’re not stoner, we’re not just “rock”, we’re not solely “psychedelic”… I guess we have our unique thing going on. And people are maybe starting to realize that in a good way.

Of course we’re not an easy band to digest musically, but it seems like that once a person is into us, they really are into us. I guess it was like that with the Grateful Dead back in the day, just as an analogue. Many people did not get them at all, but the ones who did, ended up following the band around the country.

How did you end up with Svart records? After all they are best known for their doom metal signings.
I just sent them an email when we were in the process of recording ‘All Will Be Golden’. We had parted our ways with the previous label, and I thought Svart could be a good home for us, as they put out tons of great music. They’re a lot more than a doom label. They are artists themselves. So I thought we could fit in, and I guess we did.

A few years ago you did covers from both John Coltrane and Frank Zappa. How do these artists inspire you?
John Coltrane is one of my ultimate heroes in modal jazz, improvisation and in how one can really truly let go as a musician. He was a real spiritual freedom fighter in music, and his impact has been tremendous -- not only with regards to jazz but also to rock and pop. Zappa, on the other, was a true genius composer, arranger and guitarist, and he is an artist whose music is something that I will look up to forever. It’s an inspiring, complex – and also fun -- universe.

Are there bands you like to be compared with?
I guess, yeah. But naming them ourselves feels like we can sometimes appear that we might think too highly of ourselves. I mean, I don’t complain if names like the Grateful Dead or Pink Floyd or let’s say, Gong, are dropped when talking about us, but man, all these bands are true legends, next level stuff. We’re just trying to do our own thing and ultimately not emulate anything or anybody. But yeah, of course some bands are more inspiring to us than others, and comparisons can sometimes be a good thing and often even necessary. So I don’t mind if somebody compares us to a band we like.

Somehow I get the impression the six of you were born 50 years too late. Do you think you’d fitted better in the hippie era of the late 1960s?
Haha maybe. I guess we could’ve pulled a crowd in the late 60’s American psychedelic scene. But then again, we’re not just retro. We draw inspiration from music through all times, not just certain decades. It’s true that at a first listen we can appear like we could be from the 60’s or 70’s, but we really don’t think that way when we’re making our music. It just happens the way it happens, and if someone feels like we sound like this and that and from a certain era, well, I don’t mind. Music is a timeless thing and people really need to free themselves from era- or genre-based thinking. Good music is good music. It doesn’t matter when it was made.

Your music has a very retro feel. Does that mean you try to work with vintage equipment, or do you embrace modern technology nevertheless?
It’s funny, a lot of people tend to label us “retro”. I can understand that, but it’s not intentional. I guess it just happens naturally for us. We are into certain kind of music, and a lot of it just happens to be from decades long gone. I can understand that in can affect the way people portray us. Nevertheless, it’s not something we aim at.

But yeah, the aesthetics of the 60’s and 70’s were great. They are my favourite eras style-wise in many ways. I don’t deny that visually on stage we can appear somewhat retro, and our music is totally not influence-free (whose is?), so all the classic stuff we are into certainly can bleed into what we do and how we look like. But it’s organic and ultimately unintentional.

And no, we don’t try to work with vintage equipment. I don’t think we even have a whole lot of vintage gear in the first place. I own a 60’s or 70’s Farfisa organ but that was used for probably one track on Superfjord’s first album. We embrace modern gear open-mindedly. There’s a whole lot of laptop-run synths on the new album, and our keyboard player uses mostly modern gear. I utilize a looper and a sampler on stage. And so forth. It’s like with good music: good and useful gear is good and useful gear. It doesn’t matter how old it is if it sounds great. Again, people should rise above a linear concept of time. Everything is here now and open for use without labels or classifications, if one wants.

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Another thing that catches the ear on ‘All Will Be Golden’ is the Indian music. Part of the hippie inspiration, or more than that?
Me and certain other people in the band can be considered rather spiritual people. I don’t necessarily want to go too deep into this here, but the Indian-inspired stuff is just one particular manifestation of my spiritual influences and aspirations as a person and a music maker. What was done with music and spiritually in the area we know as India hundreds and even thousands of years ago musically is a phenomenal universe and it keeps inspiring me and us. It’s totally not a style thing, much less a “hippie” fad. “Hippies” (and I use the apostrophes on purpose) and Eastern influences might have happened to vibrate on similar frequencies some decades ago (and to some extent today), but that was and is more of a media generalization that anything else. I mean, I don’t even know any “hippies” personally. On the other hand, I do know a whole lot of unique, inspirational, authentic, awesome people who are golden gems as persons – and at the same time they might appear to someone as “hippies”. It’s all in the eye of the beholder, I guess.

In the song ‘Parvati Valley’ you do a mantra dedicated to the Hindu goddess Parvati. Is this truly Hinduistically inspired, or inspired by George Harrison?
Good question. The answer is both. The mantra was somewhat familiar to me before I knew of Harrison’s version, and Mikko (our guitarist) pointed his take on it to me and I loved it. You must know what Harrison was inspired by, so there’s your answer. Anyway, about Hinduism – it is ultimately a system of symbols, if you ask me. We are not dogmatic nor do we subscribe to just one certain philosophy or system of beliefs. Everything – from Hinduism and Buddhism and Christianity and Islam and the Flying Spaghetti Monster and Cthulhu – points to the same place. All is one. It’s simple. But it’s great to have beautiful symbols to surrender to when you have the need to surrender to something. If you can understand what I mean.

With all this in mind, do you consider music of let’s say the last 30 years still has some relevance for you, or is it largely ignored by you?
As I’ve mentioned above, to me good music is good music. I don’t care when a particular piece of music was made if I like it. I love music from all eras. Once again: music is timeless. It’s energy. It’s magic. It is not constrained by linear time. Be free when enjoying art. Not limiting yourself is the road to amazing dimensions.

Can you give us a peek into your ipod / Walkman / mp3-player / Spotify playlist? In other words, what is your favorite music currently?
I’ve had Sir Richard Bishop on frequent rotation for a long while now. I love his guitar playing and aesthetics, his seemingly total freedom as an artist and his not-giving-a-fuckness. His output and attitude somehow resonate with me a whole lot. And yeah, the other day I was blasting Orbital’s awesome ‘In Sides’ album, which is probably one of my favourite electronic albums of all time. And I keep going back to Steve Hillage and Gong, and especially their more synth-driven stuff. Talk Talk, Fleetwood Mac, Santana, Brazilian medicine music. Stuff comes, stuff goes.

Me and especially Ilari (our drummer) listen to a lot of new and old stuff together and he always inspires me with his findings. Teemu (bass) delivers the best classic rock and Juho (keyboards) might inspire us with some curly prog or other obscurities. Mikko is the guy to turn to if some 60’s nuggets are in order. All the guys in our band have great tastes in music. They bring the goods regularly.

Is listening to music as important to you as making music? In other words are you guys record collectors?
Listening is always important. But I did use to listen to music a whole lot more before compared to how much I do today. Nowadays I tend to turn more towards silence for inspiration. I must have like 500,000 songs somewhere in the depths of my brain, all the myriad stuff that I have heard in the course of my life. It’s interesting to try and silence the outside world and try to look into what might rise from the stratums of the mind. But then again sometimes I might hear something amazing on the radio or in a cafe and Shazam the f—out of it and power play it at home for inspiration. It really depends on the moment. I used to collect records, but it’s something I don’t do at all anymore. I have too much stuff in my home. It’s more like I try to get rid of stuff these days as opposed to acquiring more. None of us are record junkies I guess.

Suppose you had to spend the rest of your life on a deserted island and could take a record player with you and only five records. Which ones would you take with you and why exactly these?
Oh man. These questions are always the hardest. I guess I gotta just drop these intuitively without thinking, right now, sitting here. This list is probably different tomorrow, but then again, tomorrow doesn’t even exist. So here goes:

The Grateful Dead – Live/Dead: best live album ever made
Spiritualized – Lazer Guided Melodies: the album I was probably inspired the most when I was starting to find my steps as a musician. Such a fantastic mandala of sounds and vibrations.
The Beach Boys – Smile: a musical trip and construct unlike any other In the universe.
Sir Richard Bishop – Polytheistic Fragments: I could have this album on this list just because the song ‘Saraswati’ is on it.
Baden Powell – Os Afro Sambas: phenomenal music by phenomenal guitarist and singer who happens to capture certain ineffable energies.

Is there anything – apart from good music – you cannot do without? Or things you’d like to get rid of immediately? Does this in any way affect the music you create?
I cannot do without love, good food and the occasional certain molecular structures. Currently I do not need to get rid of anything. And yes, the aforementioned necessary things do affect my music a whole lot.

Back to ‘All Will Be Golden’. The record is very intricately put together with many layers stacked on top of each other. Can you tell us how you work in the studio? Do you have the songs completely worked out already when you start recording?
Layering is exactly the word for how we work in the studio. The songs most often start with a riff, melody, a vocal part or a bassline (or a combination of these) that comes from me. I then take it to the guys for rehearsal and we start to arrange the song together. Sometimes I compose certain instrument parts, sometimes the guys in the band just take total control of their parts. It’s an organic process where everyone trusts each other and no egos hinder progress. The music is always the boss.

When the songs are ready “live”, we lay down the basic tracks in the studio and start doing overdubs. And there’s really no limit to the overdubs as long as we feel that each layer has its purpose. It’s like constructing a mandala or carving a sculpture. Intricate, yeah. That’s the word. We’re surgeons. Surgeons who every once in a while like to use a sledgehammer or a nuclear detonation.

Looking at the line-up, I see lots of keyboards mentioned, does that mean much of the instrumentation we hear on the album comes from a little black box?
Yes. Juho (our main keyboard player) and Ilari (the drummer) are both amazing with keyboards and synths. I play some and love all kinds of keyboards and synthesizers, but I’m not technically very good. So yeah, it’s natural for us to apply keyboards to our sound spectrum. Sometimes I might have an idea and I’ll just try to explain to the guys what I mean and they will play it perfectly. Sometimes they come up with these most amazing melody lines or arpeggios or something awesome and I’m just floored by them. It’s all good. Black boxes are great.

There are also two drummers and no less than four people busy with percussion. How does that work out on stage?
It’s not complicated, but yeah, we naturally need more people on stage than one’s usual foursome of a band. On stage we most often have one person (Ilari) playing the drums. In addition to that, we have a dedicated percussion player (usually Jussi Peevo, although he might sometimes play the drums if Ilari can’t make it) with a whole lot of stuff to bang on. On top of these, Mikko plays a bit of percussion live, as does our saxophone player Olavi. So yeah, we do love our percs and will keep bringing them on.

Speaking of stages, any chance of seeing you in the Netherlands soon?
We would love to come! Let’s get something going, shall we? It’d be great to play in your fine country. You can find our booking agent’s contact details on our Facebook page or at Tumbler if you know what I mean!

Thank you for your time. Here at Lords of Metal we wish you all the best and hope to hear a lot more from you. Any final words or wise thoughts you would like to share with our readers?
Thank you! Great questions. Much appreciated, this has been an honour. Last words? Hmm. Breathe. Be kind. Spend time in the water. Explore the possibilities of your mind. Take time out every day to listen to yourself and the world around you in good balance. Try to be a part of the solution and not part of the problem. Call your friends, don’t just text them. Remember that we are all made of the same starstuff. Love is all. You can always do everything based on love. Just try it and you’ll see.

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