This is the first post in a series of recollections and memoires from some of the most memorable sessions Julius has been involved in. Some of these will be more in-depth than others, some will be not much more than funny stories or anecdotes.
This one is very long and divided into parts for several reasons: it is possibly the most memorable session I've ever been in and it involves Vesa-Matti "Vesku" Loiri, who's one of the most influental, loved and respected performing artists in the history of Finnish recorded music, film, theatre, opera, football or falling over (and yes, all of those qualify as art). Also, there were only three of us involved in the sessions that took place near the town of Ivalo, in northern Lapland, 1100 km from Helsinki. I also have a feeling that the other two (the artist himself and producer and my dear friend Hannu Pikkarainen) may remember different sides of the sessions. Or then not. They may or may not have written down or recorded them. I don't know.
And the part about dividing it into parts, well, it is about three albums and there are a lot of things to remember. I hope this makes it a better read!
Anyway, here's my take on the subject of
Part one: Background
In the spring of 2006, before my involvement on the project, the record label (Warner Music Finland) had come up with this idea of making a record based on Johnny Cash's fantastic "American Recordings"-series of records - mostly acoustic, low-key, slow tempo versions of Finnish classic pop songs - with emphasis on songs with strong and moving lyrics. They had the artist (who, interestingly enough, never had been a big fan of Johnny Cash's music), they came up with a guy who would be just the right person to produce it (Emma-winning producer and guitarist Hannu Pikkarainen, more about him later), they had a release date, but they also had a problem.
Loiri likes to spend his summers in a little hideout cabin near the town of Ivalo in Lapland - about as far you can get in Finland and still have some services of the modern world (such as an airport, decent grocery store, two hotels). But due to the projected release date, the record would have to be made during the summer and Vesku had absolutely no intention of coming to Helsinki to make the record. Why should he? He had everything that he wanted there and he wasn't originally that keen on the idea of making a new record. He had other things planned, such as spending time with his two sons and taking it easy. His message to the record company was loud and clear: he wasn't coming, the record would have to be either postponed or cancelled altogether. The guys at Warner (at the time Pekka Ruuska and Pete Eklund) were under a lot of pressure, they had counted on this record to be one of their major products for the final quarter of the year (you know, Christmas and stuff... When people used to buy records in the old days) and it looked like it wasn't going to be made. Shit.
After a number of very stressed hours or days, Pete came up with a solution of taking the studio to Lapland. The artist agreed, as long as his other plans weren't going to be affected and I was contacted by Pekka to gather a mobile recording set and go do the record. Why they called me was because Hannu, the producer had mentioned me in a discussion about engineers. What's interesting is that we barely knew each other at that point. We had worked together on a very short overdub session for an artist he was producing. I remember having to be talked into doing the session by colleague and friend Juha Jäntti (thank you for insisting!), since it happened in the most rushed, stressful and panicy phase of the building of our studio. I agreed to do it and we got along really well with Hannu and based upon the vibe he got from me during those maybe three hours, he recommended to hire me.
(Side note: I don't know what would've happened if I hadn't done that overdub session but I guess the moral of the story is NEVER to look down on a gig, no matter how minuscule it may seem, you never know what may come out of it.)
So there I was, going to record Vesa-Matti Loiri - whom I had never met - with Hannu Pikkarainen - with whom I had worked for three hours - in a makeshift studio more than a thousand kilometres from home and we were told to come back only when we had a finished (save mixing) record, preferably one that would have the potential to be very successful.
But to be honest, I didn't have the time to think about all that, I was busy trying to work out what to take and how to make sure we had everything we needed. That was sort of difficult because I had no idea what our to-be-studio was like (to start with, I didn't know whether it had electricity or not). For some time I tried to inquire about it, but as it was a remote, rented house that had just been bought by a new owner (whose contact details we, conveniently enough, didn't have in the Helsinki end) and the old owner was something of a hermit (whose contact details we didn't have either for that matter) - my attempts were in vain. At this point I just had to figure out all the things that could possibly go wrong and work out ways to overcome those things - part of the job description, as any self-respecting recording engineer knows.
For a few weeks, I was all "What if such-and-such-part breaks?" and made historically and hysterically frequent visits to Yleiselektroniikka, our then-local supplier of audio connectors and such to get the oddest audio adapters, fuses, wire, AC splitters and maybe a little more than enough spare XLR and 1/4" connectors. And a few RCA's that probably won't hurt.
But then a few days before the trip I was all set, I had absolutely everything covered. I had the core studio equipment (more details next time), I had every possible audio connector and cable I might need (and of course a soldering iron and connectors), I had the phone number of the closest audio related and IT companies if there was a catastrophy related to those things and I even had the phone number to the local electricity company in case there was a need for a diesel-powered generator. However there was a technical hurdle waiting for us in Ivalo, but I'll leave that to next time (yes, I just needed to have a cliffhanger).
I was quite confident everything was going to be ok, or if not, I could come up with something. I was nervous, of course, but prepared. Until the last evening when my mother casually asked the question:
"What happens if you don't get along with Vesa-Matti Loiri?"
Thanks, Mum, I really needed that.
Part 2 coming soon! Until then, enjoy the Spotify playlist I made of the records.