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
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
CG: Maybe not
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
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
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 youd 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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
Planes album info
Planes track-by-track - Jimi's comments
Tenor explains Higher Planes (realaudio)
Tenor explains Higher Planes (lyrics)
Hole (mp3 download)