Jimi Tenor: Millennium Cool
Erkki Rautio, Prospective, June 1999
NOTE: this is an uncut, uncensored version of the interview conducted in the late February 1999, which should appear in some form in the June 1999 issue of Prospective magazine and is published here by the permission of the writer. Special thanks to Enrique Pena.
E: Was the latest single Year of Apocalypse your contribution to the current Millennium / apocalypse craze, or just an ironic comment on it?
J: I guess it was more ironic. On the paper the numbers of "1999" and "2000" do look really cool. That's some kind of excuse to have some fun, though you would not really believe in that kind of thing. The video was directed by Sökö Kaukoranta and filmed in Estonia with the Futuro house. (Futuro is a UFO-shaped plastic house from the late 60's, which is now considered a Finnish design classic.)
E: Did you have any conscious retro sci-fi kind of image in mind with the cover photograph of Organism album, where it looks like you're strolling among a giant floral scene in some 60's science fiction film? And how about the cover of your Venera EP?
J: No, the idea was to create some kind of cheap, ham-fisted collage image; something that looks exactly what the record sounds like. We photographed the cover of Venera during the same session in a nearby park. We tried some particular colour thing, exposed the image several times over. Like some poor man's 3-D effect. The camera was not actually moved, so it was just a coincidence.
E: I thought the track Serious Love had some similarity to some recent Detroit-electro tracks, with the kind of monotonous, bleak vocals...?
J: Yeah, there's a certain Mad Mike [of Underground Resistance] feeling in it. Originally the track was supposed to be "urban boogie". An organ riff was sampled, then a certain Laibach-kind of feeling developed there. When my mother heard the track, she thought CD player had broken; I guess that indicates a kind of generation gap.
E: The name and the feel of the track Xinotepe Heat somehow reminded me of the "space jazz" master Sun Ra, sounding a kind of Aztec/Maya style of name. Any conscious similarity?
J: Xinotepe is the same kind of beach in downtown Managua, Nicaragua, where people come to hang out, as Kaivopuisto is in Helsinki. With "Heat" I tried to evoke some kind of cop show spirit, like in Miami Vice. I'm not too much into any kind of imitations, so I don't know, if I tried to sound like Sun Ra...
E: But I guess I didn't mean so much an imitation as a tribute. Sun Ra was such a great cat in his time, so there would be nothing to be ashamed about that...
J: Well, maybe there are some hidden Sun Ra influences every now and then, that I try to get through. In the track Much Mo we actually tried to reach the Sun Ra spirit in the brasses, that were then sampled. Maybe some intros have that, too.
E: Talking about samples, this makes me think of the track Total Devastation, where Mika Vainio of Pan sonic contributes, with his typical sounds that intrude during the track, named on the album sleeve as "glue buzz" (probably as a tribute to the Finnish band Liimanarina, which is a literal translation of that).
J: Yeah, Mika gave me some conceptual help there.
E: Are you planning any other collaborations with Mika?
J: Nah, Mika is all the time so busy with his other projects, such as the new Pan sonic album and tour coming, also his myriad solo releases and so on... The last actual thing we did together was the Kosmos project for Puu label.
E: Was it a conscious thing, that both your and Pan sonic's new albums are released on the same day, the 22th of February, 1999? Some kind of "Finnish culture abroad" project?
J: Really? No, that wasn't premeditated.
E: ... which is, co-incidentally, also the 12th anniversary day of Andy Warhol's death. Which makes me think, that some people have compared you to Warhol, since you both have your hands in so many areas: music (Warhol had his Velvet Underground), short films, painting, photographing...
J: Well, I'm a Warhol fan, he was an ingenious guy. Maybe we could create something out of that coincidence...
E: How about any new short films with Jusu Lounela?
J: We just don't have any new ideas for those. Jusu's got some new ideas for a play, though. Now when the Helsinki 2000 Culture Capital project is coming, we were pissed about that why didn't they asked us to contribute anything. We proposed them some ideas, but they didn't get through; some political intrigue was involved there, I guess....
E: That's pretty typical. How about when the Finnish TV 4 channel were supposed to show your short films, but that was cancelled eventually?
J: The bosses of the channel had read from some tabloid papers, that Jimi Tenor is now "in" and "hype", so that's fucking great, we'll show those films. But after they had seen what the films were like, they thought that was not such a great idea, after all... Their producer was really pissed about that, since they had invested a lot of money in it.
E: Great, should have seen their faces! How about your moving to Barcelona, did it have anything to do with the Sonar electronic music and culture festival held there? And now you seem to have a bit of a Finnish "colony" there; with Tommi Grönlund of Sähkö, Mika Vainio and Ilpo Väisänen of Pan sonic living there too.
J: Actually, Ilpo spends quite a little time in Barcelona, since he has to move a lot with Pan sonic and still has his apartment in Turku. No, the move had nothing to do with Sonar, which is, after all, just once a year; it was just a thing to do at the moment, I guess... I just heard that some other techno people are now moving to Barcelona too, like Richie Hawtin, DJ Hell and so on.
E: Was Sökö Kaukoranta's Midsummernight video, which was shown in Finland a year ago, in any larger rotation on the international music channels?
J: It has been on MTV maybe once. Probably it has drowned among Warp Records' internal politics.
E: I have got the idea that Warp has pressured you a bit, since they obviously want you to be their big "star" with mainstream appeal. How about that?
J: No, there's not much in that, but sometimes it feels Warp would like to have me in more mainstream direction - and especially if it wouldn't cost them anything! We have some arguments every now and then, like about making remixes. The idea would be that they would like to have my songs remixed by some French losers, but I'm not interested about that at all. I think remixes in general don't interest me, especially if the own music of the remixers totally sucks.
E: What current artists you're into?
J: Underground Resistance and Jeff Mills, though he has become a bit too career-orientated lately and I haven't been too excited about his gigs. The Japanese noise stuff in general, like Masonna, Boredoms and so on.
E: How about Merzbow?
J: Nah, he's a bit too academic for my tastes. Recently I saw a gig by Whitehouse, which really impressed me; aren't they British or what?
E: Still talking about those now-fashionable French artists, like Air and Daft Punk; and since you are still mentioned with all that easy listening hype...
J: I think Air is shit and Daft Punk doesn't make any kind of impression on me. Too calculated music; the kind of stuff, that doesn't want to take any risks. The agent who gets warm-up acts for me has a background with indie bands, and they always get these bands that are on a totally different wavelength, but which they obviously want to break through commercially, standard stuff.
E: Do you think your previous band, Jimi Tenor and His Shamans, has any songs, which you could still play in your gigs?
J: No, since I've got so many new songs on my own. That would make me feel like an old boxer, who has had too many matches in his time. Take, for example, the whole career of a band like Hanoi Rocks; they had one OK song, which they just kept on dragging with them. I'm not sure, though, if I'm allowed to say things like that aloud...
E: But I meant more like if there are still any old Shamans songs you could still keep in appreciation...?
J: Oh, seeing in that way, I think the more experimental, abstract Shamans tracks have endured quite well in the course of time, the wildest things we did.
E: How gradual was the transition from the Shamans to your current style? The Shamans were usually categorized as industrial, but I can already hear a lot of funk in that stuff...
J: It happened a bit by bit, but I think there's really a kind of continuum in what the Shamans did and in what I'm doing now, so that may be right.
E: How about the peculiar instruments Matti Knaapi has designed for you? Are there any plans to continue using any of those?
J: Yeah, I'm going to use the noise machine again. Then we've got one new thing, a kind of light synthesizer with optical sound, which is operated by this control device I can hold in my hand: when the film is rolling, it's really impressive-looking.
E: You're going to tour with your new album? There's one gig in London, on the 25th of February...
J: Yeah, then I'm going to France; on April there's Germany, Holland, Belgium, Spain; in summer also Japan. It all really depends on the success of the record. I only wish to get that much money that the financial outcome would be positive. Finland? Possibly some festivals, maybe also a gig during the Tampere Film Festival in March...
E: By the way, because of your glasses, I guess, you're often compared to the Joe 90 character in one of Gerry Anderson's puppet shows. Did you ever watch Anderson's shows, such as Thunderbirds or Space: 1999, when you were a kid, and became influenced by them...?
J: They never showed Joe 90 in Finland, did they? But I did watch Thunderbirds and Space: 1999. The Brain, the scientist guy of Thunderbirds, really impressed me. He had those giant glasses, so maybe... It was really great every time, when those Thunderbird spacecrafts were launched, and you could always see exactly the same loop of the skies rolling behind their cockpits, just in every episode!
E: I heard someone say that you've also once drawn comics - is that true?
J: No, but I have done some storyboards for my films, they are a bit like comics.
E: Tell me about your Fan Club...
J: At the moment it's based in Spain, where I'm living. There's not much in the fan club at the moment, really: you only get some info letters before a new record comes out, some photos and so on.
E: Your Tenorwear clothing brand is connected with the fan club?
J: Not actually; there has only been some Tenorwear clothes sold in the stores like Limbo in Helsinki, somewhere in Turku, etc.
E: Do you still think your music provides the best background for having sex?
J: Well, it's up to everyone to decide for themselves. I don't think any Motörhead fans would agree, though.
Copyright © 1999 Erkki Rautio / Prospective. Reprinted with permission.