Somewhere in far far away northern part of the continent, three young talented Finns, spin magical stories expressed through subtle folk- ambient music which is flowing directly from deepest places of human soul. let us listen what they have to say.
Interviewees: Aki Cederberg, Juha Kettunen, Mikko Pöyhönen
by Sylwia Partyka
Tell me about the beginning of MAA. When did you come up with the idea of forming a band and who initiated this?
AC: I consider the actual birth of the band to be a journey we did some years ago to Mikko’s remote countryside cabin on Spring Equinox, which also happens to be the birthday of one of us. The place we went to is very desolate and remote, and there’s literally nobody there or even really close by – except for many animals who made their presence known. The days were crisp and clear sunny winter afternoons, and at night the stars lit up the sky. In the main room where we set up our instruments, played and slept by a crackling wooden stove, we made one of the walls our main creative springboard, by each having bought with us disparate inspirational pictures, artwork, quotes and passages from books, which we then affixed on the wall, transforming it to a talisman or guide as to where we would like to take the band, or at least in what we wanted it to be rooted in. I remember us, aside from playing, taking long walks exploring the surrounding forests, fields and empty houses, as well as saunabathing for most of the nights. On a particular walk, we recorded one of us playing on a huge, discarded metal-container, that sounded like a cross between a gong and a deep toned drum – that recording ended up being used on the first track of the album. We also did a ritual to focus our intent and will on the new creative venture at hand, but decided to keep these things just to ourselves. All this literally gave birth to the band, and we made our first to songs then and there, ”Sydänmaa” (”Heartland”) and ”Tuhkankantajat” (”Bearers of Ash”), which are really central to the beginning of the band and very much mirror our experiences, thoughts and feelings. Since that time, we have made yearly journeys to the same remote place to coincide with the Spring Equinox. Hence, spring has become a highly symbolically significant element for us, both esoterically and exoterically, present now in imagery and song, and even the heart-shaped symbol on the album, which is an old, obscure sign for spring.
What does the band-name MAA mean? For which kind of public do you make music? Who should buy your CD?
JK: We were combining the word “maa” with other words trying to find a suitable compound word as a name, but later we simplified the idea, and left only the most important core intact. Aki also pointed out the importance of that syllable and word, how the three-letter word is used in many different languages for things of significant importance.
AC: MAA in Finnish language means simply ”earth” or ”land” or ”soil”. It relates to one of our first songs, ”Sydänmaa” (”Heartland”). Maa is the root-word for ”mother” and ”matter” in many, if not most languages. It is a universal expression. Often it is the first utterance of an infant, ”maa”.
MAA also has more esoteric connotations. For instance, in the Indian tantric tradition of the Naga babas that I have some experience and knoweldge of, ”MA” (pronounced ”maa”) is one of the Matrikas, the ”little mothers”, a chain of syllables that constitute the core of sacred speech and therefore, knowledge. Curiously, ”Ma” is also a Sumerian word for “land”, which in that mythology was used to denote the the ”primeval land”.
Although we all have our roots in perhaps underground musical cultures, we do not care if we fit neatly into any subcultural niché. Some dour underground-purists have whined about what they perceive as ”pop” dimensions of our music, but that is their problem, and is really just an expression of how people involved in subcultures like this can be self-restrictive and foster a sense of false elitism. Quite simply, we make music that we like, and that is that. Of course we hope that other people like it too, but there is no specific public we have in mind when we make music. One could view MAA as ”esoteric pop”, in that it is fairly esoteric, as in ”for the few”, in terms of lyrics and imagery sometimes, and at the same time our musical approach is deliberately one of directness, simplicity, emotiveness – all of which are hallmark qualities of ”pop”. Although, I highly doubt that we will break through and hit the pop-charts any time soon!
Who is writing the lyrics and why did you decide to write and sing in your mother tongue?
MP: For the first album, the lyrics were written in collaboration. Our new material features lyrics solely by Aki, whereas I keep to composing the songs and arranging them with the rest of our band. I for one never write any lyrical material in English – even translating the lyrics from Finnish was hard enough. Rhythm and flow serve the lyrical content when the idea is able to manifest without any translations made by the writer. (MAA lyrics translated from Finnish to English can be accessed here.
AC: Using our mother language was very central and important from the beginning. Finnish is a beautiful language, and there is much that can only be expressed in a certain way in Finnish; there is a poetic quality inherent to it, and simply the sound of it is evocative. I also believe that we can write stronger, more original material using our native language, than if we would write in English.
To clarify Mikkos statement above, everyone wrote things for the first album, but the each of us wrote entire pieces separately. I think this is represented on the album as noticably distinct styles and approaches of the lyrics. As for compositions, as said, Mikko brings guitar-based melodies to the table, which we then start to process, develope and give form to. As I have written more of the lyrics, I usually create some song-melodies, and Juha brings in his ideas as well. I usually have some lyrics and lyrical themes in mind before anything is composed that I sometimes mention to the guys, and then, sometimes by pure chance, Mikko plays something that ”triggers” those lyrics, and then the song almost writes itself, although some songs require more effort than that. With us, the whole creative process is one of discovery and transformation, reminiscent of alchemy, where you transform base matter into gold, or magic, where you create something out of nothing or take a rabbit out of a hat. For me, this applies equally well to making films, writing, or other creative efforts.
I notice that you collaborate with many musicians, including John Murphy. How important was his work for the final version of “Tuhkankantajat”?
AC: I was aware of John Murphy and his output for years before we actually became friends. I think he is a pioneer in the industrial underground. He has done so many great things in music, both as solo-projects and as collaborative efforts, and stuck with it, that I always considered him a really inspiring and interesting person. We first met when he played with Death In June in Finland, and after that we kept in contact and met whenever we were in the same country. At the time of the collaboration we did, he was having some problems with various issues and was staying at my place for a while. John and I had talked about collaborating on something before, and then MAA had just began, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to create something together. Mikko and Juha came over, and we did the collaboration in one evening, and that is what you hear as ”Toive” (”Wish”) – the last track on the ”Tuhkankantajat” album. It seemed to almost happen by itself – everyone was really happy with both the process and result of doing it, and I believe it also lifted John’s spirit somewhat in his time of turmoil. So, John’s contribution was important for MAA in an almost talismanic way, as it was the first thing we actually recorded, and sort of set the stage for things to come. John was also here last summer, and again we recorded some things together with MAA that might end up on the next record, as they are the first recordings we have done since the ”Tuhkankantajat” album.
I also interviewed John at length while he was here last time, about many things he has never spoken about in interviews before (like when he was a session-drummer for a shady French backing-band for Nico) – and I am looking for a suitable print-publication to have this published in.
I might add that all the musicians we have and are collaborating with, including Risto-Matti Salo (of Pimentola), Antti Haapapuro (Dolorian & several Aural Hypnox projects), Fredrik Löf (of Velvet Desperados) and Antti Hyvärinen are talented, brilliant people, and they have made important contributions.
I saw that you will play with Blood Axis in August in Helsinki. I think that’s wonderful! Will this be your first concert?
JK: Yes, the first official concert of MAA will be at Kuudes Linja in Helsinki, on Wednesday the 24th of August, supporting Blood Axis. This is a great honor for us. What a way for a new band to start their live performances!
AC: I think we all listened to Blood Axis when we were still in our formative years. I followed Michael Moynihan’s output in the 1990’s, and was inspired by his approach. I saw Blood Axis in, I believe it was maybe 1998, when they played on a boat in Stockholm, and interviewed Michael for an underground magazine. We have remained friends and kept in contact since then. Now, all these years later, it is, as Juha said, a great honor to be asked by them to play as support for Blood Axis. It feels like we are doing something right.
Tickets to the Blood Axis / MAA concert are available here
Do all bandmembers live in Helsinki? How often do you rehearse?
JK: We all live in Helsinki nowadays, but I have been living here for only the last five years of my life. We rehearse a few times a week now as we are preparing for a concert, and are writing new songs for the upcoming album and to play live as well. There were longer periods when we were not that active, but the upcoming concert and the strong material of the upcoming full-length album really has made the group more vital than ever.
AC: I am the only one who is born in Helsinki, but we all live here now and I think it affects the way we sound – the surroundings – and we might sound different were we to live somewhere else. The place seeps into and is reflected in the music. The lyrics even integrate some actual places, although in a subtle way. Also, we are inspired by a certain urban mythos, all the history of this city (and other cities), both esoteric and exoteric, both personal and impersonal – of which there is much in Helsinki. Sometimes it might be an old restaurant, or a part of town in a particular light, or the way an old circular window looks, or a symbol that is integrated into a piece of architecture or sculpture so as to be ”hidden in plain sight”.
When do you plan to release next album?
JK: When it is ready and we have a record deal with bigger label.
AC: We have been working on new material that we feel is very strong. Aside from a new album, there has been talk about a split vinyl release with another band, about contributing a song to a compilation release by an American label, and about an LP re-release of ”Tuhkankantajat”. As Juha said, we are looking for a label with a wider distribution to release our next album.
Is MAA a full-time band, or do you play in other bands/projects?
JK: I have several other active projects: Tervahäät with Mikko, Slave’s Mask with Mr. Spellgoth, and Key with Mr. Rauta.
Tervahäät was founded in 2008 and a second full-length album is on it’s way. The music of Tervahäät is some kind of mixture of experimental folk and ritual ambient, and it has been described by listeners and concert crowd as somehow very Finnish, ritualistic and intensive – maybe because of the eerie and mystical aura and distinctive ”coldness” in the imagery, lyrics and music itself. The second full-length album is ready soon.
Slave’s Mask was founded in 2003 with Mr. Spellgoth, who is active in several underground and well-known black metal groups, and the second singer of notorious industrial-metal partyboy-group Turmion Kätilöt. The first album ”Faustian Electronics & Bruise Poetry”, released in 2006, is combining the aesthetics of EBM, black metal and industrial noise. It is almost sold out, so get your copy while you can! The second album of Slave’s Mask is well on it’s way, this time with a much softer touch, leaning more towards trip-hop avangarde and more subtle atmospheres.
Key is a relatively new band of Rauta and I. Rauta is the man behind dozens of different – usually black metal oriented – projects, of which I’d like to mention Circle Of Ouroborus here. I made a split album with them with my deceased project Somnivore. Key is an acoustic and somewhat native neo-folk, pop, post-punk hybrid. We really didn’t think about anything else than avoiding electric guitars and keeping things simple when we started, and we have been quite active and succesful on that road: there are three demos and two full-length albums available.
There exists a couple other projects too, but these are the most well-known ones I guess. Despite the amount of bands I have at the moment, I have learnt how to concentrate a hundred percent on the band or project at hand, and there is no competition of my attention between the groups. I dedicate almost all of my free time to art and especially music, so this skill of focusing is important for me in order to keep all the bands vital and active. I also run the label Anima Arctica, of which the focus is releases of the esoteric Finnish underground movement. The next album on the list is the debut of Mikko’s solo project Pyhä Kuolema.
MP: As noted, Juha and I perform as Tervahäät. I have a solo project called Pyhä Kuolema, with an album coming out this Summer/Fall through Anima Arctica.
AC: MAA is the sole band I am part of now. However, I am also active in other areas, such as writing and film. An occult book-anthology entitled The Fenris Wolf (Volume 4), edited by Carl Abrahamsson, has just been released, that features a long article by me, and is available via: http://www.fenriswolf.se
Which kind of expectations do you have? Is success something that you want to achieve?
MP: I expect an open field with MAA. We are quite fearlessly mixing a bunch of influences none of our previous nor other projects are capable of dealing with. This might give a song or two a more pop music makeover, but when the message and the intention still flows through, I am not complaining.
JK: For me, success equals making profound art. Everything else is just a bonus.
AC: What is important is to have visions and strong ideas, and not to limit those visions and ideas, but simply figure out how to go about realizing them, and to understand that there are really no limits to what can be achieved. That is one thing that really exites me about this band – the limitless possibilities and open horizons, and knowing my companions are adventurous and enthusiastic enough to always want to take this ship into uncharted waters – for all of us.
“Tuhkankantajat” has very melancholic and romantic aura. Are Finnish people hopeless romantics?
MP: I don’t think the word ‘hopeless’ applies here. While some parts of the lyrics can seem a bit melancholic, I’d like to believe we produce, for a change, bright and even optimistic thoughts through our music.
AC: I would agree with Mikko. We are trying to maintain a balance between Eros and Thanatos in our songs, a balance between songs that are life-affirming and songs that are death-affirming, and to have both aspects equally represented. We have tried recently to avoid making too many melancholic or utterly sad songs, as we realize that for some reason or other, this seems to come naturally for us, and so, yes, perhaps a certain melancholy romanticism is ingrained in our nature. But so is a perhaps a rather dark and lively sense of humor, and even this is part of MAA.
Several words to Polish listeners?
JK: I have spent far too little time in your great country. I hope to see more of your beautiful cities and nice people in the near future!
AC: Although my last visit was too brief, I really enjoyed performing, meeting like-minded people and musicians, as well as discovering the history, architecture and atmosphere of Poland, so I hope we can get back soon.