“Just as a drop of ink dissolves in a glass of water, it is said that life on Earth began in this way,” and so too did “Dissolution”, Jaakko Eino Kalevi’s new mini album. Securing his nook in the music multi-universe through his unique assembly of psych-pop, deep funk, chakra-aligning electro and space balladry, the Berlin-based, Finn, draws deep for a set that explores the cosmic implications of a life being well lived. We caught up with him in a suitably Berlin-lit, cafe corner, to talk about what entails hard work, the question of luck, being a former substitute tram driver, and sauna hats.
“Life on Earth is a mystery – it’s a story of dissolution.” – JEK
If your new album were a place what would it look, feel, and smell like?
Hmmm, it would definitely be a liquid place and it would smell like some kind of nice shower product… like a nice shampoo!
In the song “The Search” the lyrics “The success of your search is up to your own effort” really feels like a mantra for life. So our question is both music & Berlin related – what are the ways that you think that hard work will end up making a difference in terms of getting your songs heard when you are young and not yet signed to a music label? And what entails hard work as a musician in general?
I guess the idea for the song actually came from this one time that I was looking for my keys and I couldn’t find them and I was going somewhere. I thought to myself, actually, if I wouldn’t have put in the effort to find these keys I would have never found them. But then also it’s about luck and what places you decide to look. Definitely it is important to be in the right place at the right time but you also can’t really control that. Like, for example, how I got signed by Domino is that my current manager was helping this other Finnish band called Villa Nah at the time, so then they played my music to him and then he bought some records from me and asked me if I would like some of his help. And he also went to London and played my music to some people there. So that was more the luck part, and the effort part was making all the albums that I had made before that which were mostly self-released or released on a friend’s label. Also, while I don’t practice playing instruments so much anymore, you do have to put in those hours and do that work at some point as a musician.
Do you have an idea of how many songs you have written by now?
No idea (laughs)
Could you give us an example of when you think you experienced a moment of luck in the making of “Dissolution”?
Probably being able to have my friend master the album, that was really nice, but at the same time I don’t think I’ve ever asked him before. Before that I tried three different mastering places where they each mastered different songs on the album. But then my friend Stefan sounded the best. I believe in mastering. I believe that somehow it can really make a difference.
And you mixed and recorded the album yourself?
Yeah… But also my friend Sami helped me to mix it.
We heard that back when you were living in Finland you used to be a tram driver by day and a DJ by night. So our question is, what number tram line did you drive and what was the weirdest thing you ever experienced on one of your routes?
I didn’t drive one particular line, I was kind of the stand-in tram driver you could say, when someone was sick or couldn’t drive that day. My favorite line to drive was the line number 3 and it doesn’t exist anymore. But when I was driving it, it was called the 3B or the 3T depending on the direction it was going, and basically it goes everywhere within the city center in Helsinki. Some trams lines are very boring and just go back and forth and this was a figure of eight shape.
The weirdest experience was probably with some homeless people that were peeing or fighting on the tram. One time there was a fight about to start and I used my loud speaker to announce that they should stop this now and somehow they did (laughs). I can’t remember what I said, and I don’t think I would have been very convinced by myself if I were them but for some reason they stopped.
I’ve recently been thinking about making a soundtrack for that route and shooting it in different seasons of the year and making different compositions for different parts of the journey.
So then the next question is for all the dj’s… Did you ever dj your own songs in your sets?
Yeah… yeah of course (laughs) Mostly I would do it when I have a new master of a song and I want to try it to see what it sounds like on a particular sound system.
Did you write/make songs before you started djing?
Yes… I think I played live before I had ever djed.
Now your music is very synth based but what was the first instrument you ever learned?
It was the guitar and at the time I also played in a heavy metal band (laughs)
Do you remember your first on stage experience and what it was like?
Yes it was in 1996 and we just had the 20 year anniversary of this first gig when we were doing a show in Lithuania. And actually there’s a video of it on YouTube but my friend who was playing in the band with me at the time didn’t want to have it up, so I took it back down. But I thought it was just cute, because we are little boys with big guitars who are thrashing out. There was also no singing, it was all instrumental. And we played two songs because we didn’t have any more. The show was in a youth center and my sister took the video and in that same venue my friend took a video from another show that then became the first video to be uploaded from Finland to YouTube ever.
Haha that’s amazing! So from your heavy metal roots to your music now, and “Dissolution” – it’s very synthy, spacey, and psychedelic at the same time. When you aren’t making music these days, what percentage of your time do you think you spend listening to music, and how varied is your music taste?
I listen to music but it’s mostly mixtapes or radio shows. It’s been difficult to find a new album to get into, it would be great but that doesn’t happen for me so often. But I like listening to nts radio a lot because sometimes artists that I know will make mixes for the radio station.
What time of day or in what sort of situations do you think you listen to music the most?
I listen to music when I am having breakfast for example, but I was thinking recently how in the evenings I would rather watch something than be like, let me just put on this record…
What’s one thing that you hate that everybody else loves?
Reality tv shows. They aren’t something shameful to watch, it’s still cool to watch them but I just kind of hate them.
What’s one thing that you’ve tried that you’ll never try again?
I’m not sure… I think there is a bunch of things that I’ve said I’ll never do again but then I do them.
Explain this picture
This is in Berlin at a sauna place in Prenzlauerberg where they also have a cold pool. The beanie that I am wearing is one that my younger sister made in school when she was really young. Sometimes I also like to wear a sauna hat in a sauna. This one isn’t meant to be a sauna hat but it also works as that. People in Finland don’t use sauna hats so much, I think it’s more of a Russian thing, but basically you use them so that you can take more heat.
Explain this picture
That’s at my gym that I go to in Berlin. I don’t know who he is but I’ve seen him a few times there and his body is just completely out of proportion and so angular. He doesn’t speak english but one day when I was there I was brave enough to ask him if I could have a photo with him. Later a friend of mine told me that to get muscles like that these guys have to inject themselves with something. So I googled it and there’s all these weird pictures of people on the internet who have just injected one of their arms with this thing, so that arm is completely inflated but the rest of their body is normal.
Is there a particular piece of gear that you bought and fell in love with recently?
For this album it was also recorded in Holland using the same gear as the last album, which is mostly analog synths, since I don’t really use software synths. And there is this one electric piano in the studio that I love.
What’s your most trusted piece of gear?
My bass guitar. It’s an early soviet bass guitar that I bought in the early 2000s and it’s really heavy. It’s like the heaviest bass guitar to play for some reason and the strings are really old, I’ve actually never changed them. I think the strings might be from the 80s.