The Gentleman Losers

Putting a seashell to the ear

» Interview

le 14.04.2010 à 00:00 · par Janf R.

[Mail interview of Samu Kuukka, from The Gentleman Losers | January 2010]

Who are The Gentleman Losers? Can you introduce yourselves, please?

We are brothers Samu and Ville Kuukka from Helsinki, Finland.

Is it easier - or harder - to share the same musical project when you are two brothers? How do you share the activities? Do you have specific roles or responsibilities?

Being brothers makes everything easier. There's a lot of wordless communication; we often work on a piece for a long time without even realizing that we haven't really discussed what we are doing. It just seems natural that we both are working along the same lines. One of us brings in an idea and we get to work.

We've shared records since we were kids, so we do have nearly identical musical backgrounds.

However, our approaches are very different. I tend to bring in very well thought-out arrangements, I'm all about structure and detail, up to a certain point, at least; I want to have a backbone on which to construct the songs. Ville, on the other hand, focuses on moods and sounds and experimentation. And he is our recording engineer who knows all about the gear whereas I have very little knowledge or interest in those things. So we both have our strengths. We make a great team.

'Dustland', released last June, is your second album for the City Center Offices label. Have you played music before The Gentleman Losers? What have been and what are still your sources of inspirations?

We've been making music together ever since we were young. When we were kids, our family moved to the countryside, and we city kids didn't have a very good time there among the farmers. It was a wasteland, mentally. So we started making music. Ville had a Casio keyboard, I had drums. Our first electric guitar was made in East Germany. God, it was awful! That guitar nearly killed our enthusiasm. Maybe it was a communist conspiracy to end rock'n'roll. We used to make recordings on a little four-track tape machine. I actually found some of those tapes a while ago, but i haven't had the courage to listen to them. Which is probably for the best.

We grew up on a healthy diet of Pink Floyd, Genesis and Mike Oldfield, but also diverse stuff like The Jesus And Mary Chain and Curtis Mayfield. Even now, we tend to listen to older stuff: King Crimson, Eno, Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen, Scott Walker, Serge Gainsbourg. And even older stuff, jazz and blues from the 40s and 50s. And Ennio Morricone hit me hard as a kid, and I still worship every note he writes!

We do listen to modern stuff, too. El Perro Del Mar's self-titled album came out when we were recording Dustland and it inspired us a lot. Vincent Gallo's When (and his film music) was a key influence when we were finding our sound earlier.

But really, a lot of our inspiration comes from the movies. And not just theatrical films: i love going to flea markets and finding old, dusty Super-8 films with faded imagery, shot by some unknown person decades ago, of their family or travels or whatever. I made some amazing finds at Berlin's Mauerpark last autumn. Those films are quite magical.

How could you define your music?

It's like standing on a beach at dawn and putting a seashell to your ear. If you give it some time and listen carefully, you can pick up among the distant hum of the modern world the ghost of the 20th century, whispering some fading words of beauty and wisdom. We want to imagine the future by exploring an imaginary past.

Actually i read something, not long ago, about the jazz great John Coltrane: he said that in his music, he was looking for the 'mysterious sound' that according to him was like holding a seashell to his ear, and that the sound "contained some essential truth for him, existing as an omnipresent background hum behind the facade of everyday life". Without comparing our feeble efforts to Coltrane, the idea is beautiful. The mysterious sound is exactly what we are looking for.

What is for you, the perfect album (or the closest to the perfect album?)

Shine by Daniel Lanois. It's an amazingly warm and sexy album, with wonderful musical ideas, production and spirit. We've been huge Lanois fans for ages, both his productions and his own albums, but still we were blown away by Shine. A modern masterpiece.

Dustland is very warm and intimate, sounding like a collection of old blues. It is great to listen to it very late at night, right before dawn. Have you composed it at night? Did you have any mood in mind while composing it?

It's great that you feel the night in Dustland. We almost always work at night, we are both nocturnal people. It's commonplace for us to wake up late in the afternoon and to go to sleep early in the morning, when everybody else is waking up. Night time is the right time, as they say. Funnily, in the 19th century it was thought that the night air was harmful, that vapors known as miasmas rose from the earth and caused diseases. I feel the miasmas are a good thing. They're vapors of inspiration.

Dustland was definitely a night album. Even now when i think about the record, i think of the Scandinavian summer night. The sun never sets completely and there's a sort of magical twilight with blackbirds singing in the distance and a scent of plants in the night air.

Our first album was also recorded at night, but that was out of necessity: the rooms we were renting as our studio were in a building that housed some offices, and we couldn't start playing until everybody had left, which was at about six in the evening. Then we stayed there all night and left at dawn. It was a big building from the early 19th century that had a nice inspiring atmosphere. They say the building is haunted, and while we recorded our stuff there, it was - haunted by us.

Do you enjoy playing live? Do you plan to tour this year? In France, maybe?

We enjoy playing live immensely. We are sad that we haven't been able to do it more, but it's really a matter of time - we are always in the studio, making new music. It takes a lot of time to rehearse a band properly. Besides, our songs are deceptively complex. There are so many instruments and parts to be played to make it work nicely. But I'm sure we will be doing it again, don't know when, though. We keep getting requests from all over. We could use a good booking agent.

We actually played in France a couple of years ago. It was a festival in Saint-Malo, in Bretagne. We had a great time, it was my first time in France and i completely fell in love with the country and the people.

Have you already planned - or started - a third album? Any idea of how it should sound? Are you thinking about introducing new elements, maybe such as voice?

We are planning a third album, and we did start recording new stuff when we were living in Berlin at the end of last summer, but we are currently busy with a couple of other projects - producing, mixing and film music. We have been into some drone and psychedelic music lately, and there will most likely be some influences from that. It will have a darker edge to it. We've always been interested in doing a sort of musical equivalent of a David Lynch film, where there seems to be a darker undercurrent beneath the placid surface.

And yes, we have seriously been considering having a singer - or several - featured on our record. We are always on the lookout for potential vocalists.

We will be getting to work on a full-length record a bit later in the year, but in the meantime a new track will be featured on a compilation by the new Japanese label Nothings66, and a bit later there will be a 7" on a UK label. And our long-sold-out first CD will be re-pressed soon, with bonus materials.

The Finnish scene has been quite famous for a few years (thanks to artists from the Fonal label, for instance). Do you feel like belonging to this scene? To another scene? To any scene?

That has always been a problem for us. Or maybe not a problem, but just a fact: we have never felt that we are part of any particular scene. The Finnish alternative scene around the forementioned Fonal label is something that we greatly appreciate. Finland is a country of mathematicians and engineers, and Finnish mainstream music is awful beyond words! It's all very corporate, calculated and fake, and not a very good fake even. Without the alternative scene, there would be no life here. But we don't feel that we belong to that scene, and we weren't even very much aware of it when we made our debut album. Finnish music just never was interesting to us. As it happens, we haven't gotten very much publicity in Finland. In fact, not one mention! But then, the Finnish music press is a sad affair. They are mostly interested in writing about major label artists.

Are there any Finnish artist(s) you would like to introduce and advice us?

Paavoharju on Fonal are our long-time faves. And Vuk is one artist definitely worth checking out, as is Lau Nau. And the folky singer-songwriter Sami Kukka (not to be confused with me, we are NOT the same person!) writes some magical songs.

Same question for artists from City Center Offices.

Tijuana Mon Amour Broadcasting Inc. are quite brilliant.

And at last, is there a question you would like to be asked (and to answer)?

Well, there's an idea I'd like to mention. Terence McKenna, in his "Stoned Ape" hypothesis, introduced the idea that, after our primate ancestors descended from the trees and left the forests, they experimented with new foods, and that by eating psilocybin-containing mushrooms that grew in the dung of the herd animals in the savanna, they developed spoken language. The effects of large doses of psilocybin - hallucinations and glossolalia - caused synesthesia and gave the early humans the ability to form pictures in another person's mind through the use of vocal sounds. That's an intriguing idea. I wonder if they also invented music the same way?

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