Interview: Lighthouse keeping with Ville Leinonen

Ville Leinonen
Picture by Tomi Palsa

One of the biggest pleasures for the ear in this year of 2010 was the beautiful "Majakanvartijan Uni" by the Finnish singer-songwriter Ville Leinonen. The album is so atmospheric, warm and cozy that you could live there. Unfortunately, there's a lack of information about this artist in English so Ville kindly agreed to answer some questions, thus the interested reader can know more about him and his music.

Hello, Ville!

Hei! Siistiä, englanninkielinen haastattelu on harvinaista herkkua! Thrilled to answer your questions.

Please tell some things about "Majakanvartijan Uni (The dream of the Lighthouse Keeper)". Is there the connection with any actual lighthouse and what does N 61° 28' 16.95" E 23° 47' 7.24" stand for?

"Majakanvartijan Uni" is a musical story of a lonely lighthouse keeper who seems to be the only human survivor after the massive destruction of Earth's ecosystem in the year 2067. It all came down when the oil company Lotion Da Vies president Lord Verneux went totally mad and started to blow up his own oil pipelines around the seas of the world.

The lighthouse keeper is badly wounded but stayed alive in his isolate tower in the center of the black poisonous ocean, and somewhere between his imagination and this realism of apocalypse, the story begins. He collects radiowaves and remains of all wwws trying to puzzle what happened, and if there's anybody else living on the planet still. Sadly, all he can find seems to be just pieces of old broadcasts and advertisements, and he's getting weaker.

N 61° 28' 16.95" E 23° 47' 7.24" are the original coordinates of the supernatural event that made the whole album appear to me in December 2008. It suddenly just appeared full and finished one night like a light out of the sky. I just captured it. [note: The original demoversion of the whole album is going to be released soon! About that DVD later...]

Tell about people who helped you make the album. I heard that Islaja took part.

If you buy "Majakanvartijan Uni" the album (CD or white vinyl) you can find a list of people who play on it. I asked my friend Janne Lastumäki to produce the album. Janne, being a multi-instrumentalist, plays a lot of different instruments there. Of course I do too. And then there are lots of musicians who I think are the best in Finland. On solo albums I always liked to ask the best to collaborate with. Yes, Islaja is one of the best of the best.

Parts of the making/recording process are filmed and can be viewed as several short promo-videos on Vimeo. In one video, where the recording of "Mal Du Soley" takes place, there are papers with musical notation -- and people sing according to it. When did you learn notation? Did you already understand it when you recorded "Raastinlauluja" or you decided to learn it later?

I have studied music since I was little, so notation is quite natural language for me. "Raastinlauluja" was my first album (or actually a cassette) made in 1997. I made some notations then too, when rehearsing live shows of that material in Savonlinna (my original home town).

The making of "Majakanvartijan Uni" film is going to be released soon also. It's my first film direction. The note papers you mentioned are the ones that Rakkauden Äänet (Voices of Love) used when making the backing vocals on the album.

"Majakanvartijan Uni" was released on . Why don't you continue to release your solo albums through ?

is musically the best Finnish label, no objections to that, but all my albums that Fonal have released have originally been released by other labels first. I have been a artist since 2000. is a new label by the same Poko staff. SOF has a wide distribution in Finland and I sing in Finnish, so simply that's it.

Your vocals sound strong, clear and free -- different from how it was on "Raastinlauluja". Maybe it was made rough intentionally since that record is experimental, but anyway, did you do anything later to train your voice or did it happen naturally, getting better with practice?

Thank you for saying so. (Ville smiles)

Well, it seems that singing develops just by singing. Playing and singing in front of the audience is the best school for it. When I recorded "Raastinlauluja" I was a 21-year old (young) drummer and I never thought that I would really be a vocalist, especially I never thought about singing live. It was more just like an art form to explore mental moods, and somehow I also had to find ways to introduce my poetry that time. I actually thought I was going to be a poet... ha haa -- so original when you're in your twenties and start to be psyched about love, death and everything.

What's your attitude on easy and free file-sharing? What do you think about the fact that people can download your music for free: stealing or a great opportunity for music to find its listener?

It is absolutely horrible that people share music freely in the web and are not buying records anymore. It should be every artist's own decision to put music there for free, not some pirate nerds' choice. I'm trying to support my family by making music. It's not just a hobby for me. Same thing goes for Madonna also.

Good, we'll buy everything you advertise here! Do you remember your first experience as a musician?

I was born in a musicians' family. I really had no choice. I started to play drums seriously when I was 5 or 6. I remember rehearsals, gigs and traveling on a bus from very early on. First I joined a local marching band of 20 different aged children. Then I suddenly became a drummer of Savonlinna Big Band. So playing all kinds of legendary standards of jazz, military music, old hit tunes, folk music, classical and children music was a normal part of my childhood. I also started to do some restaurant dance music gigs for money when I was 12. Of course, that time rock'n'roll hit me. At first it was Kiss. Then became bands like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and all kinds of heavy metal genres but at the same time I also found my mother's favorites of 50's and 60's pop and folk music. So I'm a mixture of all that. I'd like to do music where you can find all those elements at the same time. That's my quest.

You played drums in Office Building, took part in recording of some Risto albums (drumming also), and currently you're a member of Teemu Elon Puhuvat Eläimet (backing vocals and synths). Are there any other projects you're involved?

Well, I played drums in O.B. 1999-2003 and in Risto-band 2005-2008. At this moment I take part only in Puhuvat Eläimet (Talking Animals) from Pori, and then there's my own band Majakan Soittokunta. But I have different kinds of projects that come and go all the time. One current project is an album of songs made by 10 year-old kids from schools of Tampere (town where I live nowadays). I'm a producer and a musician on that one. And then the reggae album will be out next year...

Are you into listening to music of other artists? Do you collect records, spending a lot of time listening to music or you rather concentrate on making your own thing? Could you name your favorite artists/bands?

I listen to music a lot but it's very rare that I find anything especially new. The best things going on in Finland right now are M.A. Numminen, Islaja, Pekko Käppi, Omfalos Renaissance, Circle, Rättö & Lehtisalo, Joose Keskitalo. On the other hand I have started to dig some finnish hip hop and rap like Asa, Jätkäjätkät, Raappana and Paleface.

My all time favorites are Leonard Cohen, Einstürzende Neubauten, David Bowie, Kiss, Priest, Samhain, A-Ha, Scott Walker, Alice Cooper... There's so much perfect music in the world! I love also all kinds of horror movie soundtracks and strange ethnic soundscapes, Indian, Asian...

But if I have to say just one, the best of the best of the best of the best, it will be always and forever Serge Gainsbourg.

Question about "Hei!" album. What was the criterion of choosing songs for making this cover album?

I had been unable to write a new material for almost 4 years. I don't know why, but after I finished my band Valumo, I somehow lost interest in doing songs with that same formula I had done for ages. Year 2006 was a busy year. There was much going on that time. I moved away from Tampere where I had lived for six years and did a great amount of solo gigs around everywhere, not having a steady place to sleep. During one year I had small but peppery gigs around Finland and also some in England, Spain, France, Russia, Tanzania. I started playing drums in Risto-band, I toured with some other Fonal bands. Well, there was just no time for writing songs... and a huge lack of ideas. (Ville smiles)

I have always loved to add some good old 70' Iskelmä songs (Finnish and international) to my gig repertoire. So making a cover album at that point of my life was a foregone conclusion. That album ("Hei!") helped me to go further from rock and also indie-alternative music that Valumo represented. It was just fun being a "normal" pop singer for one year. After the album came out we made some very nice concerts with Chrisse Forever-band at big festivals in Finland. The version of the song "Pieni ja Lämpöinen" was played on the national radio stations regularly. So "Hei!" was a success, at least compared to anything I'd done before.

The songs were chosen on the basis of lyrics. I chose the ones which fit best to my life situation that period. All my albums are kind of diaries about their times.

There's a video on YouTube (poor quality though) where you perform "Old clock", a Russian song. How come that you covered Alla Pugacheva?

Ha haa! That's from my 2007 gig at Ikra-club in Moscow. For any Finnish songwriter it's absolutely great honour to be asked to play in Russia. Of course I added a few Russian songs for that gig, otherwise I would not have been writing signatures for beautiful Moscow girls the whole night.

Pugacheva is one of the brightest stars when talking about hit music internationally in the 70's. I have loved her music since I was a kid.

Question about Valumo band. On your myspace page it is said that "today it's dead and buried", haha. Why so brutally, you're not interested in playing rock music anymore or what?

Ville Leinonen & Valumo existed from 1998 to 2005. We did four studio albums and two live albums which are still quite good. It was a unique band, but I grew to realise that there has to be more than just one way to operate in music. I mean, my rockstar fantasies died when I turned 28. After that we still tried to "make it" for two years with Valumo. I don't want to go backwards never more. It's nothing against rock and loud electric guitars, vice versa. Actually, it is the character Iskelmäprinssi (and its side persons) that is dead and buried. If someday I wake up with ten new total heavy pop classic riffy melodic anthems which sound like pure Valumo, there's no way of stopping the comeback. [note: Valumo's last gig in autumn 2005 was recorded and it's available only on double vinyl, it's called "Alive II". It's probably the best album of that band.]

Well, if we take for example "Blue lagoon II" song from "Valloittaja", then it'll become clear why the band's records still sound good -- shamanic vocals with instruments going out of control closer to the end -- you can hardly hear this kind of rock music on the radio, it won't make you bored...

What do you do in life except music?

Mostly I'm at home with my daughter and wife, trying to keep myself fit and healthy. I read books a lot about history, art, war and politics. Then there's always music in all its forms. I try to write and compose, record and mix almost all the time. Right now when I'm writing this I also listen and mix some new songs. I'm on a train to pick up my new (old) guitar from maintenance.

Tell about your plans for 2011.

I'm doing solo gigs around Finland more than this year. So keep your eye on the gig calendar.

At the present I write lyrics for my next solo album. I hope it'll be ready by summer 2011. We have some gigs with Majakan Soittokunta coming. You don't want to miss those!

The reggae album "2 Leijonaa" with the other male singer Niko Ahvonen will be out next February. There will be some concerts with that project also. Then I'm thinking about making a fairytale album for children soon. We are editing my first DVD with Sami Sänpäkkilä. It will be ready in two or three months. It contains fresh live material, demoversions and documentary material about "Majakanvartijan Uni" year 2010. With SOF, we have to make new websites which would contain possibilities to download new music that is not available anywhere else. For example, the latest ambient album "Camp Crystal Lake" for the price of an empty C-cassette.

Ville Leinonen
Picture by Ninni Luhtasaari

Kiitos paljon Ville, it was so interesting!

Спасибо! И холодной зимы!

You can listen to the single "Tyttö" from the forthcoming reggae album on YouTube.

Yeah, there's also strange bits and pieces of my music on YouTube from past years, shot with mobile phone cameras on various events. But actually Valumo-era is not presented at all. All the VHS-material is still not digitalized. There's also a famous ice-hockey player named Ville Leino and a Neurology Doctor named Ville Leinonen in Finland. Anyway, have a good safe surfin' Finlandia!

Interview by Alex Kudryavtsev.