his life and times
I don't update this page as often as I used to do, so for all the latest Jimi Tenor news and info, check out Chris Gurney's excellent Tenorvision, the Official Jimi Tenor page.
Note: this text is based mostly on Lauri Lehtinen's story, published in Like Uutiset 1/97 (February 1997).
It's not always easy being a sex symbol, especially if one has fans who are extremely fanatical. A seven year old Lassi Lehto living in Lahti, Finland, learned this when he became pursued by a passionate pack of girls. He escaped his pursuers to his mother's arms, crying. Mother asked the girls why they were running after the boy. The answer was loud and univocal: "Because he looks just like Jimmy Osmond!". From that moment on Lassi was called Jimmy, Jimi.
So Jimi got his name from a bunch of crazed The Osmonds fans.
The Osmonds was the nicest and the lamest pop group of the 70's. The success of the sons of the Osmond Mormon family started from the stage of Disneyland. The first big hit was called "Sweet and Innocent". The youngest of the brothers, cute and cuddly Jimmy Osmond, won over the British charts and the hearts of girls with the song "Long Haired Lover From Liverpool".
As a grown-up, Little Jimmy's Finnish lookalike Jimi would enchant his listeners with exactly the same recipe as his American namesake in his days: with the mixture of saccharine-sweet entertainment and naive charisma. True stardom was still years away though. Young Jimi was not any irresistible favourite, rather a bit distant character. In his early adolescence Jimi got the nickname Jimi the Periscope. When Jimi's big brother was partying with his friends, Jimi spied on the big boys with his self-made periscope.
Building gadgets and photographing were more important to the teenage Jimi than the partying observed as an outsider. He had the reputation of a quiet but nice lad. Like his brother, Jimi was known for his musicality. Though Jimi went to the schools that had an emphasis on music, his good playing skills were mostly the result of self-tutoring and work experience. Jimi's studies at Oulunkylä Jazz school were short. Instead he spent the whole of his youth acquiring practical skills as the saxophone player for various bands. Himo ('Lust') which had gained some success in the Finnish Rock Championships was the most famous of these but still less popular than the dance orchestra Pallosalama ('Thunderball'). Pallosalama toured with popular Saturday night dance shows for older people, and was even chosen to appear on the Syksyn Sävel ('The Melody of Autumn'), a popular song contest on Finnish Television. The clean-dressed band members were all over 20-year-old professionals -- except for the saxophone player who was a sixteen-year-old high school kid. Jimi also played in the bands The Cherry Pickers and Iloinen Poika Milloin ('A Happy Boy When') of his brother Marko before he started his own band, Shaman.
Looking back to his youth spent in Lahti and how it affected him, Jimi says that "I guess it must be the Hicksville atmosphere of Lahti where all that positive irony comes from. After all, Lahti is a quite hard, dull town." Surviving the boredom requires the right attitude and a humorous dissidence.
As his side activity, Tenorwear fashion-design, Jimi Tenor reminisced about his place of birth by creating jeans that were called Lahtimalli, Lahti Model. He wanted the back pockets of those jeans to carry the image of the famous radio masts of Lahti, and Salpausselkä hills -- the place of many grand-scale winter sports events in Finland -- to adorn the buttocks. However, the jeans had to be manufactured without the symbols of Lahti, and so the fashionable people never had the chance to sit on them.
A gig of Jimi Tenor and His Shamans was at its best an unforgettable combination of impressing sights and noises from Hell. A power drill, vacuum cleaner and horns bellowed among harsh industrial settings. The Shamans, banging on empty oil barrels, were gazing into the sinister future and unleashed the powers of the industrial age. Being in that field of energy was both filled with angst and fun. The most important thing was the strength of the experience.
Jimi Tenor and His Shamans, founded in the summer 1986, was a continuation to the more ordinary rock band Shaman. The industrial influences were absorbed to the music after Jimi heard Einstürzende Neubauten and Test Department and went to work in a mayonnaise factory. "Working on a conveyor belt, I was excited by all those rhythms", he reminisces.
The move towards more industrial sound was accelerated by the collaboration of Tenor and Matti Knaapi. A graphic designer who also had his hands in the engineering, Knaapi is to Tenor what "Q" is to James Bond. He was responsible for the special equipment (Sirkka, Vera, Melukone ["Noise Machine"], Liberace) which formed an essential part of Jimi's creative output. According to Tenor the musical gadgets get their origins in a way that: "we meet in some bar, Matti draws loads of pictures and I always agree with him! The only demand is that everything must work on a gig. The practical work belongs more to Matti because I don't have the sufficient techical knowledge needed."
The men who create their ideas tightly together can't exactly remember which one has invented which instrument. "The idea for the vacuum cleaner trombone was mine", Tenor knows. "I had seen a guy who played vacuum cleaner with a dishwasher's glove, and I decided to take that a bit further."
On a primitive level the Shamans had a field day as the drummers of empty oil barrels. The barrel fad started, according to Tenor, from a sheer coincidence: "We were having a gig at the Popkellari club in Turku. Some fella working in a factory got an idea to bring us some oil barrels and told us to bang on them. The resulting noise was horrid which was was quite exciting then."
The oil barrels became a near obsession for the band. The title of the first album of the Shamans, Total Capacity of 216,5 Litres, means how much an oil barrel can hold. The gig venues were ordered to bring in some 216,5 litres barrels every time the Shamans came to town. The band also brought along a smaller barrel on which their drum-machine Sirkka banged.
An oil barrel also saved the Shamans when they were recording the album Diktafon under strange circumstances: in the middle of wilderness. "The studio sessions were in the middle of forest, and a couple of times the temperature in studio fell below zero. We couldn't afford any oil but we managed to beg ourselves a barrel from a service station. Then I thought that if the album will be bad, at least I know a reason for that", Tenor remembers.
The albums of Shamans are not as merciless audio assaults as one might imagine. Usually they deal with quite conventional melodies and traditional lyrics. "I don't know why those albums always became so clean", Tenor ponders.
The costume plays became an essential part of the Shamans show. Drag shows were brought to the stage both by the phosphorescent Plastic Pony group of Helsinki and Jimi, wearing a sequinned dress, industrial goggles, and having a Soviet flag wrapped around him, emphasizing the working-class connections of industrial music.
Outside gigs the band was splitting apart. "All of of us had other commitments, we only saw each other at gigs and even learned the songs only then. So, we started to improvise even more. You can fool people quite a lot when you just keep your cool. Audiences can't tell the difference among all that dreadful noise."
Although Jimi is still disappointed with the bad motivation of His Shamans, he can understand the reasons quite well: "I was really no religious leader to the band, and on the other hand, there was no money." Audiences were not actually holding their breaths and expecting some new sound experiments. Furthermore, maintaining the complicated noise systems started to feel like an unnecessary burden. Jimi got fed up with the Finnish coldness and decided to change the scene. He sold his extra property at a junkyard sale, left to Portugal, ended up in Berlin and settled there. Fear of a Black Jesus, recorded in Berlin 1992, was the last LP of the Shamans.
Nowadays the constant industrial testing of one's hearing is left to the days gone by as far as Jimi is concerned: "I don't know if I would still be so excited about that. My left ear is in a quite weak shape now."
New York and Kauklahti
After Berlin there was New York. Tenor's long-time girlfriend, the dancer Tiina Helisten (aka Tiina Timantti, 'Tiina the Diamond', nowadays Tiina Huczkowski; see the image right) moved to New York to continue her studies with Jimi following her. They settled to the area in Brooklyn where the original population consisted of Puerto Rican immigrants. "Then white artists -- just like us -- were starting to push themselves there and the whole neighbourhood really got watered down in a way." The couple lived in a former bar which walls were decorated with portraits of famous mafiosi. Next was an enormous second hand clothing store, where the clothes freak Jimi visited three times a week, making some nice bargains at special price.
With help from his friends Tenor got a job at the top of New York at the world's proudest building. He became a photographer at the Empire State Building, taking pictures of tourists as souvenirs. His clients got a chance to pose with King Kong or could get to a fake Time magazine cover.
After his working hours Jimi photographed people in strange costumes. He was looking for models from the freak department of Coney Island fun fair and put an ad to a paper with the words "Scandinavian art photographer looking for extraordinary models". The ad was answered mostly by ordinary wannabe models but among all the mundane things some real pearls were also found. A thoroughly tattooed man, a beauty weighing 100 kilos (about 200 pounds) and a grotesque black muscled man all shine in Tenor's incredible, darkly human pictures. They were inspired by the world of Marvel superhero comics, which were imitated in home-grown fashion. Tenor made his sci-fi heroines wear cheapish home-made regalia for his outlandish shoots -- everything from dust caps to cake moulds.
Tenor printed his freak pictures on large metal plates and organised an exhibition around them, called X Factor, to the Limelight club. "Limelight is a club of mafia, obviously gay mafia", he reveals and adds: "The manager is a weird guy. He's obviously spending time these days with his friends killing some guy and then throwing him into a river."
The tough club bosses mistreated the artist. "The exhibition was of a rip-off kind, a bit like all the activities there. An art exhibition is a big project but after the opening night no-one gives a damn: take those fucking pictures home and you won't get a penny -- don't come around to cry here in the office! It's the same all over there. The business is hard, artists are treated badly."
In spite of the negative experience Jimi thinks his New York phase was important, though its meaning just can't be put into words. "It's hard to explain but through that I got to where I am now. Somehow through the back door, in a mystical way."
In New York, Tenor mostly played in a band who rehearsed in the backroom of a S/M club. Jimi tells that, according to the girls at the club, many of their clients wanted that the girls would defecate on them. The girls didn't want to do it, so they grabbed some dog poo from the street, and warmed it up in a microwave oven. Because the clients' eyes had been blindfolded, they didn't see what was dropped on them. Alongside his band activities in this joyful environment, Jimi also recorded in his kitchen some new kind of material: relaxed, ironic lounge jazz which was later published on the LP Sähkömies ('Electrician'). (While in New York, Jimi also recorded with Khan/4E's Can Oral (under the name Bizz O.D.), releasing the "Traffic" single on Ozon in 1995.)
After three years in New York, Jimi and Tiina moved back to Finland to live at the old Workers' Union House of Kauklahti, with the singer Markku Arokanto as their landlord. Moving from Brooklyn to Kauklahti was not a problem for them but Jimi's cat had gotten too used to the big city to survive in countryside. It climbed to a birch in Kauklahti and couldn't come down. The branches of the tree couldn't bear a man's weight, and in addition the Finnish firemen were on strike.
The cat endured the cold in the tree for two days and was miaowing loudly. A friendly neighbour, armed with a shotgun, arrived and promised to shoot the animal "if this mistreatment of the animal" wouldn't end otherwise. The crisis was overcome without killing, though, when an aluminium ladder was found among some of their friends.
A Film Man
"The whole thing is that first we shoot, then we edit, then we write and finally we take care of the sound recording." Thus says Jusu Lounela of RadioMafia, the national Finnish radio station, who has directed several short films with Jimi. The film-makers go a long way back. As a teenager Lounela used to party with Jimi's big brother. At this time their movie hobby got its origins: "In the first film Jimi was 13. In this Super-8 movie they won't sell us any beer in a shop but the little kid Jimi walks in to get some for us. Then we go to a house in country, we drink and Jimi is filming us at the same time."
The rough debut has got, alongside its realistic description of intoxicants, a bit of child porn: "When we lived in Lahti, we had this game called "willy tag". You had to touch another person with your willy who then "got caught", after which the pursuit went on. The neighbours were amazed when a naked guy jumped out of the bushes to complain that: "I can't catch you because mine is too small!"
The "willy tag" mentality lives on in all works of Tenor and Lounela which are hard to believe as the works of grown-up men. Painimies I-II ("Wrestling Man I-II"), Urinator and Dr. Abortenstein are best to be missed if childish pranks are not your cup of tea. On the other hand, the rascal mentality of the films is so sincere that there is something charming in them. Tenor and Lounela are honestly excited about penis fantasies, poo-pooing, bad jokes, space creatures, super heroes, karate men and mad doctors. Our gentlemen are really involved with their 16 mm follies: a lot of attention is invested especially to the fantastic props. The breath-taking tempo of the films -- all running about 40 minutes -- is a lot more concise than the snail pace of your usual underground amateurs.
Painimies, Wrestling Man, is the tights-wearing alter ego of Jusu Lounela, who comes from the Finnish frontier land of Kainuu to the capital Helsinki and gets involved in the fight against the Mob and a Kung Fu man. The ingredients of the energetic action farting originate from Chinese Kung Fu movies -- even the production company is called Suomi Fu, 'Finland Fu'.
In Painimies II our hero swims from Helsinki to New York, meets space creatures and talks at the United Nations. More hilarious than part one, the adventure is full of exaggerated penis action, obscene clay animation and Finnish-English bilingual narration. "Koko nightin uutta homea etsittyään hän vihdoin finds one -- ja ei muuta kuin showeriin!" ("After looking all night for a new home he finally finds one -- and after that, time for a shower!"). Lounela made some deserved attention fooling around Manhattan in wrestling tights.
Dr. Abortenstein, made between the Painimies movies, was a black & white combination of nostalgic Gothic horror and totally disgusting acts of abortion. For Abortenstein Jimi and Jusu applied for and were granted the total of 37.000 marks from AVEK, the Finnish state organization supporting audiovisual arts -- after the actual filming had taken place. With this money the film-makers left for Istanbul to create some home-made short films (among them Missä Jallu luuraa? ('Where is Jallu hiding?') and Kuolema Istanbulissa ('Death in Istanbul'). Later they received 15.000 marks for writing the film biography of Jean Gigelius ('Jean Dickius'; a pun with the characteristic "willy tag" mentality on the Finnish national composer Jean Sibelius).
The Gigelius script became so wild that it was pointless to apply for the actual production support money. Jimi had in plans to do an unorthodox -- to say the least -- take on the great composer's life, where Sibelius, aka Gigelius, creates all his masterpieces by chance, when being drunk and pissing in snow, as the reknown Sibelius expert Erik Tawastjerna keeps following him and writes Sibelius/Gigelius' piss marks down as notes. And this way such famous compositions as "Finlandia" would have had their origins.
So, Jimi Tenor's Sibelius would have been a talentless drunkard who gained his reputation just by accident. Jimi also intended to put Sibelius' virginity on focus in the film, but quite understandably, the iconoclastic project fell through eventually. Jimi says it was only his intention to get everyone pissed off, since Jean Sibelius is somewhat a sacred cow in Finnish cultural life, and thinks Sibelius' music is "a bit too stern and romantic" to his own tastes.
The Gigelius project and Painimies films are attached to the Reinin myrkky ('The Poison of Rhine') orchestra which is a carnevalistic descendent of the Shamans. The gigs of Reinin myrkky, heavily equipped with horns, were all theme nights where no holds were barred. "At one gig we presented the life of [Finland's legendary ex-president] Kekkonen from the womb till tomb. In Turku we had a toilet performance Iiro '59. It was shown in the ladies' room where we had a puppet theatre, a toilet bowl equipped with microphones and maybe even some instruments", Lounela reminisces. Lounela had no instruments at all; he just made some noise and was generally fooling around.
In 1993 our heroes felt like making another film. Lounela proposed a catastrophe movie "Towering Public Lavatory Inferno" but Tenor couldn't find a suitable lavatory in New York. However, in Brooklyn they found an empty swimming pool at which they filmed the piss fantasy Urinator. In the film, which gets started at the dry bottom of the pool, a cyber mutant torments the protagonists who lie there and move their limbs in vain. The Dynamic Duo (Jimi & Jusu) runs to help and sucks the evil Urinator dry.
Lounela spent his time in New York efficiently. "First we were having a constant party for two weeks, and in the last two days we were rushed to make the movie. When the last images were shot, we had an hour to make it to the airport. "
The unfinished project of Tenor and Lounela is a hardcore porn movie that will be done using clay animation, in which "a man goes to buy some flowers for his wife and the flower shop assistant gives him a blow job. The shooting was aborted because the clay was of so bad quality -- the clay puppets always fell apart when it was a time for the act."
Jimi has also filmed a documentary on Sähkö funded again by a government grant. Next in plans is a Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde style of horror story, again to be filmed with Jusu Lounela.
Jimi's ironic lounge style was officially launched in the 1994 solo LP Sähkömies ('Electrician') published by Puu, the sublabel of Sähkö Recordings in Helsinki, Finland. Sähkö had previously been known as something of the muso's minimalist techno label. Tenor had been pleasantly surprised when he first heard Sähkö's records that something this original can come from Finland, of all the places, sent along some tapes and landed a recording contract.
At Love Parade in Germany, the most popular track of Sähkömies, "Take Me Baby", was played for the gigantic audience. At the ending party of the mega event the dancing people were ravaged by the song. "Baby" became the favourite of the Germans; going fine with mainstream audiences, the makers of cover songs and that quality-conscious minority. "It became the new national hymn of gay people", Tenor tells. The artist's relationship to his gay support is typically relaxed: "It's cool, why not."
There is also another typically Tenor-esque anecdote on how Jimi got his six-record album contract on Warp Records, England. Jimi was playing a gig in Vienna, and there was a representative of Warp among the audience. Jimi was on stage when Mika [Vainio] of Panasonic brought along a ham-sized lebenkäse horse meat pie and put it on Jimi's organ. Jimi fondled the pie at the same time as he was playing a romantic song. At that moment Steve [Beckett] from Warp decided: "I'm going to make a star of that guy!", as Jimi tells. Then it took about six months before the solicitors got the contract written, and Jimi's world conquest could start in full force. The first Warp album, Intervision, was published in March 1997.
Jimi lived for a while in Barcelona, Spain, where also his Sähkö label mates Tommi Grönlund and Mika Vainio were found (afterwards, Tommi moved back to Helsinki). His February 1999 album was called Organism. Jimi says, despite his one-time "lounge" image, he's not into any sort of cocktail jungle à la LTJ Bukem or the fashionable French artists like Air or Daft Punk.
Jimi Tenor was already planning for his next album, in co-operation with Polish composer Zbigniew Karkovski, who has worked with Blixa Bargeld and Clock DVA. Karkovski was responsible for the album's orchestrations, and also Pro Canto choir of Lahti were contributing again. This time it was going to be a full orchestral album with mystical and scary film soundtrack-type compositions, as Jimi told. The recordings took place in Poland with a 55 piece orchestra and it was a "MIDI, drum machine and sample free product".
Jimi's new wife is called Nicole Willis and they got married at a Chinatown karaoke bar, late 1999. Jimi now moved from London to Barcelona. The album, Out Of Nowhere was released in July 2000. This also marked the end of Jimi's and Warp Records' co-operation, as the recording contract expired. Jimi's next works were the production for Nicole Willis' album Soul Makeover (2000), eclectic project Impostor Orchestra (2000), and a new full-length, Utopian Dream (October 2001), all of them again from Puu Records.
Jimi Tenor has now a one album contract with Berlin's Kitty Yo records. The album, Higher Planes, was released early 2003, with 70s jazz-rock type of fusion sound and a tribute to Dirty Harry film composer Lalo Schifrin.
Now Jimi has moved back to his native Lahti in Finland with his wife Nicole Willis and their two children.
(You can also read more about Jimi's adventures at pHinnWeb's Scrapbook section.)
To be continued:
Check the official Jimi Tenor site for the latest news!
Translation ER, ably assisted by John Fanning and Janne Suominen.
[Sähkö Recordings History] [Panasonic History]
[FinnScene - general info on techno in Finland]