Posted by: admin in: Music
When and how was your band created?
There was never really a moment when we decided to “start a band”. We met each other in the mid-to-late 90′s, in high school and later through our studies, and just started making music together for fun. It was something new to all of us and something we enjoyed. So there was no intention to “become professional” or get into the music business — just individual songs, one after another, that needed our attention. And eventually there were enough for a whole album.
We proceeded to produce the album — “Support de Microphones”, a nice French name which can easily be misread as a kind of slogan in English as well — ourselves, from start to finish, hoping to cover the expenses and sell maybe half of the first 500 copies to our friends. And their friends. And our families. And their friends. We even found the courage to walk into some small record stores in Helsinki to ask them if they would consider selling the album. Then, somehow, word slowly began to spread, and those same five record stores called asking for five more copies. Ten more. Twenty more.
Now, a little over two years later, the album has sold close to 10,000 copies, and we’ve played close to a hundred gigs all over Finland. So I guess now we have a band even though we never decided to start one.
Was the choice to become professional difficult to make? Why?
I think we still consider ourselves “semi-professional”, because all four of us have our studies or day jobs to tend to. But despite this, the realisation that we have a growing audience interested in what we do, and that making music and playing gigs and giving interviews requires more and more time and effort — all this took some getting used to. And what’s difficult about making music professionally is that it is easy to lose sight of the most important thing: the fun of it all. Playing music should never become routine. But so far, that hasn’t been a big problem for us. And as long as we love doing what we do, playing together and having fun doing it, I think people will enjoy our music as well.
What musicians or artists did have a major influence in your life / work?
A great variety. We all have some similar tastes and some very different tastes in music. In terms of jazz or classical music or hip hop, most of us can probably agree on some artists — be it Miles Davis or John Coltrane, Dmitri Shostakovich or Claude Debussy, The Roots or Gangstarr. But that’s about it. We could go on with a list of a hundred artists or bands varying from country to jazz, pop to hip hop, reggae to heavy metal, blues to dub etc. etc.
But we all love Dire Straits. And ZZ Top.
What are the positive and negative aspects of being a musician / singer (in Finland)?
It’s hard to make any comparisons with other countries, because we only know what it’s like in Finland. On the positive side, it’s a small country, and even completely unknown or marginal bands can “break through” and find an audience for their music. On the negative side, it’s a small country, and it has its limits. There are only so many clubs in a country of this size, and within a couple of years it’s easy to get the feeling you’ve seen them all. But for us it’s definitely been a good place to grow. As people and as a band.
What “image” do you have of french music?
Different images. There are the distinctly French classical composers: Debussy, Ravel, FaurÃ©, Satieâ€¦ There’s the older, quite charming Edith Piaf Jaques Brel (although he was Belgian, right?) type of chanson tradition, and the new awful pop chanson crap…
But most importantly, there’s French hip hop, which many of us have listened to a lot, especially in the late 90′s. MC Solaar (particularly his first two or three albums), IAM, Sages PoÃ©tes de la Rue, Assassin, MÃ©nÃ©lik… My personal view is that French hip hop produced some of the best music in the 1990′s.
Is there one french song that you prefer? If so, what song is it?
MC Solaar: ObsolÃ¨te (from the album Prose Combat)
How could you qualify your style of music?
Any one definition is either too narrow, or alternatively just as good as all the rest. We have been called “a progressive hip hop band” that plays “electronic music with real live instruments”. But you can really call it hip hop, dub, jazz, electro, house, blues… take a pick.
Teppo MÃ¤kynen, who is a fantastic drummer and a good friend of the band, recently called our style “special music”. So I guess record stores will just have to put us in the “special music” section.
We encourage people to listen and come up with their own definition.
Have you ever considered the possibilty to change totally your style of music? If so, what style of music would you choose?
All four of us would probably choose a different one and start our own bands. Then we could get back together again when we’re 60 years old and play country.
What are stories/topics you tell/treat in your songs?
Anything at all, I hope. All stories are worth telling, no matter how small or insignificant. Some songs have a kind of vague social message, and they can be seen very generally as defending human values over material values. Some stories are distinctly “urban tales”, or just random thoughts about what living in Helsinki feels like.
A lot of songs don’t have a story or theme, because they are all about word play, about form and not content. On the first album, most of the writing consists of scattered images and thoughts with no clear aim. For me, song writing has been more about sparking thoughts or images or emotions in the listener than it has been about storytelling. In the future, we hope to be able to tell more stories too.
Do you actually prefer performing your music live or in a studio?
It’s almost impossible to compare the two, but personally I do prefer playing live. There’s very little that compares to the intense feeling of pleasure after a great live show. But playing live is more about instant gratification — powerful, intense, and beautiful for about two hours, and then it’s over — whereas making music in the studio can be a very long and sometimes painful process that requires a lot of determination and patience.
During the process of making an album, what is the moment that you prefer? Why?
Maybe the phase in which a song is just beginning to find its final form and everybody is coming up with crazy new ideas. Things happen fast, and different ideas are tried one after another. When that spontaneity eventually fades out during the night, we’re usually left with the most boring and certainly the hardest part: going through the recorded tracks and trying to decide what to leave out from the final mix.
What are your actual and future projects?
We plan to play some more live shows in late September and in early October. After that, all our focus will be on our second album which will be released next spring.
Internet is something interesting for musicians because it gives them the opportunity to touch a larger audience but it is also a threat for them (regarding the copyrights). What is your opinion regarding this medium?
From our perspective, the Internet is mostly a convenient way to communicate with people. We’ve had great discussions with fans about past shows, music in general, and just about everything. The Internet also serves as a good medium for exchanging bits of music.
On a more general level, like most technology, it only offers you tools. The way those tools are being used is another issue altogether. The copyright issues that have risen due to the birth of peer-to-peer application infrastructures like Napster are of course an important topic of discussion, but the truth is that people have made illegal copies of music performances for their own use for a long time — be it cassettes, cd’s, minidiscs or mp3. You can’t really blame the technology for all the different ways it can be used.
Right now we are actually in the midst of assembling our own official website www.donjohnsonbigband.com which will open this autumn. We have been gathering material for a long time and are very excited to see how people respond to the site.
Do you use computers or home studios during the process of making an album or a song?
Very much. Our music could not exist without our own studios. But we are not heavily dependant on a huge arsenal of synthesizers or drum machines. We usually record a lot of live instruments, chop the resulting tracks into loops or hits, and then use computers to reassemble and add effects to the tracks. We try to constantly think of new ways to combine traditional songwriting and playing techniques with heavy chopping, cutting and pasting made possible by digital recording.