Jimi Tenor

Higher Planes
An interview with Jimi Tenor
by Chris Gurney, Nov 2002

CG: Jimi, how's life these days in sunny Barcelona?

JT: It's a bit of a struggle, really. I'm in a middle of moving and I don't like it. It drives me a bit crazy to be doing this stuff. I would rather spend the time making music.

CG: It took quite a while to put together your new album Higher Planes. Now it's finally ready for release, what are your thoughts about it?

JT: I think it took too long to make. It's pathetic to take so long! I had hard time finding the right label to release it. Also the birth of Phoebe (my kid) delayed things considerably. But musically I'm happy about the album. There's always some details I would have liked to have different, but from the audience's point of view these this are totally irrelevant. I made some kind of productional u-turn compared to Utopian Dream. This album is almost entirely played by man, instead of a machine. Not 100% though. There are tracks like Spending Time and Good Day which are electronic drums. wanted to include more "hippie" elements into this album. Like playing bongos and recorder. I don't necessarily play them in a "hippie" way, but I used those instruments. Especially the recorder seems to be a very uncool instrument to use nowadays, so I decided to use it.

CG: Ah, the recorder! Every time I hear Led Zep's Stairway to Heaven, that recorder bit there brings back memories of having to play the recorder back at school, the whole class all together. It sounded so terrible!

JT: Yeah, that's the biggest problem with recorder. Almost every school makes kids buy one because it's the cheapest instrument available. But I think it's the worst instrument for school purposes. If you don't cover all the holes properly it just makes this crazy high pitch scream and when you have 32 of them playing the same time... I guess the result is very similar to some of the "power book"-genre stuff that people play in gallery openings. There's a huge difference with the sound if one uses a wooden or plastic recorder. The wooden one sounds really nice. I used a plastic one because I happened to buy it from a flea market.

CG: Your albums have been quite diverse in style, this one is maybe even more so. The opening track Cosmic Dive is a powerful fusion piece, which might scare the hell out of those who for some reason think of you as a techno guy or something like that.

JT: That's right, it's like the opening track Out of Nowhere on the Out of Nowhere-album. It's like a test for the listeners. If you can take it you might like the album! I think it's also a very stupid choice commercially to do that kind of track in the beginning of the album. Well, it was my choice...

Actually I don't agree with my albums being diverse in style at all. If you listen to them they all have certain elements which are always the same. For example: the song length (about 4 min), instrumentation (almost always drums, sax, flute, vocals), structure of the songs (not very far from pop-music-structure). I also think it's quite easy to recognize my stuff from the harmonies I use. I use very simple chord progressions and I never use the standard jazz-cycles, for example. I don't even know the standards to be honest... Uh, maybe the intro of Nuclear Fusion in fact isn't that simple chord-wise.

CG: Maybe not… But what I really meant was that like on Higher Planes for instance there are many genres represented - not that I really enjoy categorizing things. Though of course you do it all your way, it's distinctly Jimi Tenor…

photo by Nicole Willis

JT: Well, I don't know how many genres there are on Higher Planes. I can't recognize genres like, for example, the journalists do. They seem to be able to pinpoint the smallest differences from music. I think the biggest reason that "genres" exists at all are the record stores. The nazis invented the term "race" and the record shops "genre".

CG: Right. And sadly in your case the genre may well be techno! I personally don't care about all that or really think of genres at all… there's just music - some of which I enjoy very much and some I don't.

JT: About the techno thing: If you listen to my first album Sähkömies there's one track which could be considered as techno: Take Me Baby. Even that has really loud vocals, which of course, is a no-no in the world of techno. All the rest of the tracks were electronic experimental stuff or soft electronic stuff with sax and keyboard solos on top. I like techno and electronic music and the way I work on everyday basis is from that world. Almost all of my stuff is composed with the equipment one could find in the studio of a "techno" producer as well. The biggest difference is that from the start I went with the soft sound. Like a "friendly" electronic sound, heh-heh.

CG: The title track Higher Planes is quite beautiful… It has this heavenly, dream-like touch to it, I can hear the sea there too…

Jimi Tenor with his daughter Phoebe

JT: One should hear the sea. The week when Phoebe was born I went to the hospital every day around 9am and the sun was rising over the Mediterranean. Every morning it was the same and very beautiful. It gave me inspiration to make that song. Of course the birth of our child was the other inspiration. I almost managed to mess the mix of this song really badly. I was struggling a lot to make it sound warm and nice. In the end I dumped the whole mix on to a cassette and then edited it in the computer. Just before the mastering ended I listened to it and it sounded all wrong. Then I went back o the mix, added the little choir line under the second flute solo and added the bells in that part as well. I also made Maurice's drum pattern much louder than it was earlier.

CG: About writing music… I guess you’d usually just start working on some ideas at home… or how do you go about it?

JT: Almost always I do a demo with a sequencer or multi track at home or in my studio. Then later on I transcribe some of the tricky bits to paper and I play the track to the guys. I still made a couple of songs for this album my "old way" like Spending Time. This means I sit down with my midi gear and start building a track, normally starting with a synth chord sequence or a bass loop. Then I sequence all other instruments and make a b-part. When I'm happy with the result I dump the whole thing on to an ADAT and add vocals, sax and in this case: recorder. I like to work in this fashion when I do the final mix of the music "as I go", so to speak. That way all the instruments have their right balance and role in the mix from the start.

CG: Would you on the other hand sometimes perhaps like to get together with your band and just start jamming and see what might emerge from that? Well, like the White Dots On Red tracks on this site...

JT: Yes I think this will be the theme of my next album. I've been wanting to do that for a long time now and now I have more ideas how it could work for me. That kind of improvising is very difficult. It's easy to go to studio and have a laugh playing long jams but who wants to listen to that is another story.

CG: Your music works really well live, you seem to be giving people just what they need - be it just you solo, maybe backed up by horns, or with your band… You let your music live and it gets quite wild at times. I guess you must enjoy performing?

JT: Yes, I do. I think that's my real place in the music world. Stage, that is. I hope the bootlegging gets really out of hand so that the big labels fall. I don't think the bootlegging harms the underground music anywhere near that bad as the majors. And in the end if all labels fall there'll still be music! There was music before any record labels! And the bands were bigger! And they had a lot of work as well. Unfortunately even if the labels disappear there will be a huge amount of records left to listen. There won't be such a big comeback for live music after all... But if nobody sells records musicians need to make money somehow and I would see live performance as a perfect way to make money. That's how I survive nowadays anyway. But live, yeah, that's great. Next year our tour should be pretty amazing. 12 players in the band, most of them horns. To play Higher Planes live requires a lot of horns and percussion and I really felt I need to expand from my usual 6-piece band to something more substantial.

CG: Well, that'll be cool! Now, on Higher Planes there are actually some live cuts too... you recorded them with UMO last year. Did you enjoy working with them?

JT: Yes, it was a good experience. I felt honored to work with them, since they are all good musicians. For the people outside Finland who obviously don't know what is UMO: It's a big band that is supported by Finnish government and the City of Helsinki (as far as I know). UMO stands for "the orchestra of new music". I think their standard line up is about 17 players, but for my show we had some extra players like percussion, synth and electric guitar (and me playing Farfisa, photophone and flute). The good thing about UMO was that the saxophone section has a lot of additional instruments. In my case I needed flutes. In Trumpcard at some point 3 of the five sax-players switch to flutes. I enjoyed more playing with big band than the classical music orchestras because the writing for big bands isn't that tedious. The drum parts are really easy to write for big band and a lot of the times I just give the conductors score for the drummer and he can write down the accents and stuff. I explain the drummer the style I need for the track before we start playing and that's it really. Also the big band people have no problems at all playing the rhythms I write. In the classical music side that seems to be quite a big problem.

CG: Do you think you'll still at some stage write stuff for a classical orchestra though?

JT: I think so. I mean, even though I've had problems writing for that set-up, it doesn't mean that great things can be done with it. I simply need to learn a bit more and have more patience. I'd like to write something for an orchestra that wouldn't be boring for the young people to listen to. Most composers in the concert music scene don't have to worry about this because the average listener is 65 years old. When I played with an orchestra in Riga for example the audience was like normal club audience; mostly young people. I think it was a great moment when we played Out Of Nowhere which in style is modern contemporary music and the audience went wild. I can't imagine that to happen in a "regular" contemporary modern music night. This of course doesn't mean my stuff would be superior to the "real" contemporary concert music. The difference is that I've found a way to present it properly. Properly in this case means that it touches the people in this society and time.

CG: What about films then..? When I heard Dirty Jimi for the first time, an imaginary movie started playing in my mind… And when a couple of weeks ago I saw Dirty Harry on TV again for the xxxth time, I was hearing an alternative soundtrack by Jimi Tenor… I suppose film music is something you'd still like to do?

JT: The title Dirty Jimi obviously comes from Dirty Harry. The beginning of the track is very similar to the opening of Dirty Harry the way it starts and doesn't start. The rest of the track is completely different, but I thought I leave a little "tribute" to Lalo Schifrin naming it Dirty Jimi. The movie game... it's very hard to get in and I'm not that kind of guy who will push himself by force to Hollywood. If I was I wouldn't be living in Barcelona. Also I'm sure Hollywood would rather give the job to Lalo than to a nobody like me. Honestly it would be a big risk to give me a job like that! I'm such a stubborn guy, I would most likely fuck it up anyway..!

CG: He-he... But now from Hollywood to the forests of Finnish mythology: in Tapiola you take a dive into psychedelic rock and... well back in time to the early 70's I guess?

JT: Sure, I wanted to make the track slow and dragging. The opposite of groove, kind of. We've been playing this track live a lot and it has developed into quite a different track. Much more aggressive. If I make a live record that version should be on it! (on this website I have many times promised to release a live record soon. I'm sorry it has been postponed. Well, uh, it just isn't ready!) Tapiola is the kingdom of the forest god Tapio and in this song there is a virgin to be sacrified there in the woods. There are these sacrifice woods in Finland. I doubt that they ever sacrificed any virgins there, though. But in Finland virgins are supposed to roll on the morning mist on the grass of a meadow during midsummernite.

CG: Errrm.. Have you ever seen that happen?

JT: Only in my dreams. I have a clear vision what it would look like. Sun coming from behind her. Very high tone image, a lot of light (well there would be in Finland midsummernite). In fact the person should be wearing the same kind of laurel that Cicciolina has. It would be very quiet.

CG: There's another track on the record which you've been playing live for quite some time now, the rather funky Black Hole... You also shot a video for this one, didn't you?

JT: Yes, it's kind of a live video. Actually was shot at two gigs, but most of it in Finland. We also did a couple of takes before the gig in Finland. Shots that required a dolly and stuff like that. It was shot by Sökö Kaukoranta and I ended up editing the final edit. I love editing actually. You need to feel the rhythm of the music to be able to do it properly.

CG: The album cover is quite interesting. Would you like to say something about it?

JT: I took the photo in the statue park of Veijo Rönkkönen in the east of Finland. I think he is one of the most important artists in Finland if not THE most important. In this part of his park there are at least 100 self-portraits of him in different yoga positions. In the cover they are all facing the rising sun early in the morning. The statues are made of concrete on a chicken wire (as far as I know) the yoga statues have painted faces but most of the statues in his park have glass eyes and teeth that look real (I take it they are dentures).

Higher Planes is released on on Kitty-Yo, January 2003.

Higher Planes album info
Higher Planes track-by-track - Jimi's comments
Jimi Tenor explains Higher Planes (realaudio)
Jimi Tenor explains Higher Planes (lyrics)
Black Hole (mp3 download)