Tuuletar is a Finnish vocal group that has a new, unique and exciting approach to pop music. The four girls who make up the group met while studying at the Royal Academy of Music in Denmark. Venla Ilona Blom, Sini Koskelainen, Johanna Kyykoski, and Piia Säilynoja, all come from diverse backrounds but when they became friends and decided to sing together, a certain magic happened that has made the international music community take notice. With a nice balance of traditional folk influences, superb harmony, and modern sounding beatbox rhythms, the four young ladies have essentially created a new musical genre "Vocal Folk Hop". After competing and winning prestigious awards at European vocal competitions, they agreed to produce an album with the American a cappella production company Liquid 5th Productions.. They recently came to the US to record the their 1st full length debut album titled "Tules Maas Vedes Taivaal". The album name refers to the four elements of the nature and their mutual resonance. The name also represents the different personalities of the four talented women. I recently asked Piia about the history of the group and the process of making the new album.
R.V.B. - Congratulations on your brand new CD release "Tules Maas Vedes Taivaal". It's a wonderful collection of songs. What is behind the name of the CD?
Piia - Thank you Robert! The name of the album can be translated as ”On Fire, on Earth, in Water and Sky”. The album name refers to the four elements of the nature and their mutual resonance. The name also represents the different personalities of us four. As individuals we differ a lot from each other but together we are in a great balance and we find a lot of inspiration from the differences. Also in our music we combine various musical elements - beatboxing to traditional and world music with spices from for example hip hop and bollywood - and all these elements complement each other.
Piia - Last summer 2015 we participated in Vokal.total a cappella competition in Graz, Austria. There we met Josh Chopak from Liquid 5th Productions (L5), who had bumbed into our music already before Vokal.total and showed keen interest in collaboration. We started discussing of our music and visions and our plans to release a whole album in the near future, and Josh had already great ideas what we could do together if we’d be interested in working with L5. The US based Liquid 5th is one of the world’s leading a cappella production companies, and we decided to take a chance and record our album with them. Soon after this decision one of our band met Jyri and Aija Lehtonen from the record label Bafe's Factory in WOMEX (world music expo) and suddenly we had also a signed record deal with them and we were ready to buy our flying tickets to the US.
R.V.B. - What kind of preparation did you 4 girls have to do before your trip to the US? How often did you rehearse the material prior to the trip?
Piia - The whole process of getting ready for the studio was quite intense. After meeting Josh in the mid July 2015 and completing the contract negotiations and bureaucracy issues with L5 and Bafe’s Factory in the autumn we started working on our music. Some of the songs in the album have already been in our repertoire for some time but the other half is completely new material. Because we four live in different cities and even in different countries (Sini in Sweden, others in Finland), we work in intensive periods. Before the trip to the US we had around 4 longer rehearsal sessions (3-5 days) together from August to January, plus concerts and rehearsing individually.
Piia - Well, actually, we had only 4 efficient days at the studio! We had planned the schedule in advanced together with the L5 team: Chris Juengel, Carl Taylor and Josh. We had eights songs to record and the plan was to record all the parts of every song on Monday and Tuesday, so we could start playing around and record extra ideas and polish up solo parts on Thursday and Friday. Everything went absolutely smoothly!
R.V.B. - What was your general feeling of coming to the US for the first time and how did you enjoy performing in Manhattan?
Piia - We were all really excited about the trip to the US. It was thrilling to get to take our Finnish music to a new continent and see how people react when they hear it. And also what kind of influences we were gonna get while recording our album together with American professionals. Performing in Manhattan was a great experience. We had such a lovely audience and we would love to return there soon.
Piia - The story of our band began in Denmark in 2011. Somehow we four Finnish singers, who didn’t know each other before, happened to end up studying music at the Royal Academy of Music in Aarhus, Denmark. It was a lucky coincidence - we became good friends and after a while we started singing together. When we sing, we are switching parts all the time - the only permanent role is beatboxing and Venla does that job. We always try out which parts work the best for everybody in each song and I think this makes the overall sound of our band versatile and rich when we can take advantage of all the tone colors that we have in our voices. We neither have a lead singer in our band.
Piia - Initially Tuuletar was formed in the spring 2012 when we performed our first gig. When we sang together for the very first time in the end of 2011, we actually didn’t plan forming a band. The first song we sang was a Finnish traditional song ”Kaipaava” (means ”longing”) that we wanted to record as a gift for our international friends. During this spontaneous small project we felt that hey, now we’re on to something, we should try to compose something together and so we did and here we are now!
R.V.B. - Can you briefly describe the kind of music training each of you had? Does anyone play instruments?
Piia - We all have long musical studies behind us. I started myself with classical piano at an early age and at the university I studied rhythmic singing and piano and graduated in 2013. Sini is just graduating from the Academy of Music and Drama (Gothenburg, Sweden) having her major studies in voice and improvisation. She has also played flute. Johanna instead started with classical violin and after that she studied rhythmic singing at a university, just as Venla did. Venla is currently continuing her master studies in Global Music at the Sibelius Academy. In addition to singing she beatboxes and plays kantele, a Finnish traditional string instrument.
R.V.B. - What are some of your influences as far as singers?
Piia - Wow, where should I start… We all have gotten influences from so many different styles and singers over the years, starting from the Finnish pop and rock bands when we were teenagers or younger. From the very beginning to this moment I myself have been inspired by Celine Dion, Abba, Whitney Houston, Tori Amos, Nina Simone, Kate Bush, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Björk, Eivør, Boxettes, Michael Jackson, and to mention some Finnish ones Värttinä, Emma Salokoski, Soul Captain Band and PMMP. Nowadays all different musical cultures and alternative ways of using human voice are inspiring. Also different instruments, nature and why not even digital sounds can give new ideas for singing.
Piia - Since we started making music that was inspired by Finnish traditions and mythology we wanted to find a name that refers to these. We started going through the old Finnish poem collection ”Kanteletar” and there we found Tuuletar. Tuuletar can be translated as Goddess of the Wind, a female spirit of the nature that controls the wind or it can be a wind’s personalization. We felt that this word had the same feminine power in it as there is in our group. It reflects natural, free and flowing and ever changing energy.
R.V.B. - How does the writing process work with the group? Does someone come up with an idea and bring it to rehearsal, and then everyone suggest ideas?
Piia - The writing process varies. Somebody has an idea of a melody or lyrics and then we start working on it together. Sometimes some of us has composed a whole song herself, other one writes lyrics and then we just arrange it together - or the opposite: we have composed ideas together and some of us finishes the arrangement. Most of our songs are done by co-writing. Improvisation is an essential method for us and for example our song ”Kohma” was made through collective improvisation.
R.V.B. - I see that you write a lot of lyrics for the songs... Where do you get the inspiration for these songs?
Piia - I love Finnish language and different dialects. I think that our language and the way of using it is changing a lot. Old words and expressions disappear and are being replaced with words from English, for example. I feel that I want to do my part in preserving our unique language and that's why I enjoy writing in Finnish and exploring old words. What comes to the topics, I get inspiration for instance from nature, strong female characters, one's personal growth, joy and friendship. Also old folk tales inspire me.
Piia - We have taken part in four a cappella competitions with Tuuletar. There is a different pressure in competitions compared to a standard gig - in a competition your performance is under critical eyes and ears. Competitive setting isn't maybe our favorite thing when you think about creating art and touching the audience, but these competitions are often part of a bigger festival and it's an excellent opportunity to meet people with a common interest in music. I have enjoyed a lot of the feeling of solidarity in these competitions and we have made good friends with groups from all over the world.
R.V.B. - What are some of your favorite performances up to this point?
Piia - Hmm, there has been so many memorable concerts, but Graz and Vokal.total 2015 festival was absolutely one of my favorites. In the competition we got to perform for a full house in such a cool venue, Dom im Berg, a concert hall that was built inside a mountain. The whole festival, the beautiful city, the Audience Award and the second price in Pop category and all the lovely friends that we got to know was a significant turning point for our band. I also need to mention one of the very first gigs that we had in Denmark! We performed at the Grobund LIVE 2012 festival in Aarhus. The venue was a community center full of teenagers and their young rock bands. It was probably our fourth gig with Tuuletar and we were not sure how our music would hit the audience. We started our first song and suddenly the whole bar was silent - all the young guys with long heavy metal hair stared at us and listened the whole gig stock-still. One of these boys came to us after gig and was really touched by our music. This moment showed that folk based music in Finnish can be current.
R.V.B. - What are your plans to support this new album?
Piia - During this summer we have concerts coming in Finland, Hungary and Sweden and in November we are heading to Germany to perform in Berlin and Munich. In the autumn we are also starting to tour in elementary schools around Finland, and it's gonna be a lot fun! We launched a children's show, a musical play, that is based on our own repertoire and it is booked by the Concert Center Finland Association. Tuuletar has been booked also for longer tours in Germany and Taiwan in 2017, so we are excited to see how our new album is gonna catch wind!
R.V.B. - Thank you for considering answering these questions and good luck with your new CD.
Piia - Thank you.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
This interview may not be reproduced in any part or form without permission from this site.
For more information on Tuuletar visit their website www.tuuletar.com
Special thanks to Aija Lehtonen and Robert Steven Silverstein
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