Saturday, May 29, 2021

 When I got the Bablers' new album, Psychadilly Circus, I just let it sink in, because the music is so good, and as the band says in this interview, there are some other bands they like from their homeland, Finland. The Bablers are an alternative, both at home and in the US, as you don't hear music like this too much these days.

Songwriter/vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Arto Tamminen was kind enough to answer some of my questions.

Andrea Weiss: For those who don't know you, could you give your history?

Arto Tamminen: Bablers co-founder Janne Haavisto and I would run into each other through our older brothers. They hung around together and Janne’s brothers’ band rehearsed at our home – “the music room”. It was a legendary place stocked with all the band equipment: drums, Vox amplifiers, Gibson guitars, and also my mother’s old upright piano she got as a wedding gift in 1955 and that I still use in my studio, and it’s on our album! It was the "the place to go" in the neighborhood and there were some legendary parties. A bit like the ones described on Psychadilly Circus. Especially when my parents were on holiday in Spain…

I had started to play cello at the age of 6. Songwriting came immediately after my brother showed me a few chords on the guitar when I came down with the mumps. Janne and I used to hang around the music room, drinking excess amounts of coffee, listening to my brother’s vast LP collection and reel-to-reel tapes. Music from every which place and genre. I played some of my demos every now and then for Janne. One time I suggested to Janne that we form a band and try to play those. Janne replied "Finally you said it!" Then we got the band together, and everything happened really fast! Janne’s brother recorded our first band demo, we sent it to the record company and I got the call – on a landline. It was the well-known record producer Tommi Liuhala blurting out after introducing himself: "Would you like to make a record with us?" Within a year from agreeing to form a band we had made our first LP, What’s All About. Tommi Liuhala and engineer Dan Tigerstedt are mostly responsible for the fact that out of that first-timer, teenage-chaotic-fooling-around-in the-studio session we ended up with a proper LP that we can be proud of. Tommi and Dan are still very dear friends of ours.

AW: What is the scene like in Finland?

AT: Well. There are interesting bands and songwriters, but the mainstream is quite “condensed and processed” – industrialized and predictable. I don’t often hear fresh, bold and creative stuff. I guess that’s got to do with living in a small country with a handful of gatekeepers. There are some interesting and talented artists and groups on the fringes, like Tuomo & Markus, Von Herzen Brothers, and The Shubie Brothers.

AW: Who are your influences?

AT: For me they come from many places. Because of my classical background there are influences from J. S. Bach’s chord sequences, like in "Love Is Everything" and a few other songs I’ve written. I listen to quite a lot of classical music and still play cello quite a bit. Then there is the rich "soundtrack of the 60’s and 70’s" I grew up with. Everything from Clapton in the Bluesbreakers, Jimi Hendrix, Stones, The Band, Dylan, bluegrass, Irish folk music like Dubliners and Fairport Convention, jazz, and progressive stuff like Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Stevie Wonder, Tom Petty – the usual suspects! 

AW: Your songs are very Beatles-like, which is great. Are they a major influence?

AT: Not really. We have never played their stuff and I don’t have their records. Although I like a lot of most of their songs when I hear them. When it comes to songcraft I think The Beatles and Abba do stand tallest on the pop scene. The Beatles have the most classics and the most convincing song catalogue of all. When I was younger, Abba was "the band to hate" - they were so "anti rock’n’roll!" Later I had to admit that some of their songs are amongst the greatest ever written in pop. Name a better pop song than "Dancing Queen" or "SOS."

AW: Is folk music? "Child Of War," "Singing With The Bluebird," and "Where Were You My Friend" are folk-like.

AT: Yes! The first band I joined played Irish folk music with a rock twist. Fairport Convention and Dubliners – we played a lot of their songs. We actually won the band contest with that band Tupauuno! We all had classical training. The leader and the bass player of the band made a career for himself in the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Folk music has a special appeal. Nothing fancy, the elements must be there in order to make it work. There are no massive arrangements and technicalities you can hide behind. Take your acoustic guitar, violin and mandolin and impress everybody in the room. Make them dance or listen to the story. If you’re bluffing – you will be caught within seconds!

AW: Lyrically, your songs are psychedelic, which I like. Is that the way you usually write?

AT: There is no pattern, really. They come from different sources. I have thought that the more concrete the lyrics are, the more probable it is that they are not products of the imagination but representations of events that have really happened. At least that is the case in a few of my songs like "Love To Live" and "Child Of War." "Love To Live" is dedicated to my wife and describes in detail a chilly Sunday afternoon in Helsinki when my wife and I were taking a walk, and everything we experienced I’ve written down in the song. "Child Of War" includes exact images and newsreels I’ve seen throughout the years: a child born only to die of famine in Africa, a child going to sleep hearing the sounds of suburban or city warfare – people are having warfare in places where children are going to sleep in their homes, how sick is that? – a child playing football in Belfast after school, dying when a car bomb explodes, a child looking into his/her father’s eyes as he is whisked away in the middle of the night from their home by the political police in former Eastern Europe or Latin America. My generation has grown up with these images and newsreels. I hope we have not grown numb, but still have the energy to fight for what’s good in life – love.

Some lyrics are purely products of the imagination or word plays. For me it’s essential that the words flow and drive the melody forward. Song lyrics are not poetry, but that’s one of the most important elements of a song. They frame the emotional landscape where the song is sailing.

AW: "Child of War" sounds very anti-war, and that's good. Is that the intended message?

AT: Yes. See my answer above. My heart does not stop bleeding every time the children and the weakest and defenseless are suffering from different forms and consequences of war and oppression.

AW: What would you tell someone first starting out in music?

AT: (I hope I understand the question correctly.) What did Shakespeare say about "The man that has no music in himself?" Music is something I could not imagine living without. It’s a positive force and the most effective means of expressing emotions. It speaks straight to the heart, soul and mind. What I would say first and last – life is great and love is everything!

 The Bablers

Psychadilly Circus

Big Stir Records

Influenced by everyone from Tom Petty to ELP to Stevie Wonder, Finland's The Bablers' US debut on Big Stir is stunning psychedelia – melodic, trippy, smart, and very pop.

And that's just the songs that rock. "Child of War," "Singing With The Bluebird," and "Where Were You My Friend" are straightforward folk songs, showing how much they've been influenced by bands like Fairport Convention. "Child of War" is anti-war, and questions what can be done to help children caught up in war. These three songs are gentle, meaningful, and "Child of War" is also heartbreaking.

If you want some great music that says a lot, that's also good for listening with headphones while taking a walk, this is a good album to get. And may this band find a wide audience in the US.

Andrea Weiss

Sunday, May 9, 2021

 I have an album called There Goes The Wonder Truck by the 80s/90s college rock band Mary's Danish. I'd bought it because I loved the hit “Don't Crash The Car Tonight.” The album is a forgotten gem -- think X meets the Pixies and Throwing Muses -- and very winning.

Later on I found out they broke up, and always wondered what happened to the members of the band. Well, two of them, Matt Colleran and Nick Zeigler, guitars and drums, are in the Forty Nineteens.

Nick was kind enough to answer some questions for me.

Andrea Weiss: For those who don't know you, could you tell a little of your history?

Nick Zeigler: Matt Colleran and I will be explained in the next question. Singer John Pozza and I go back to the late 80s with a garage band called The Leonards. We were very Detroit MC5 in spirit. John and Chuck Gorian (guitar) decided to put a band together, i.e., The Forty Nineteens. They are lawyers, (and practical jokers) and wanted a name that would be said by every judge in every court in the state of California. Thus the name The Forty Nineteens; a Forty Nineteen credit is given to anyone in jail that behaves themselves. One day good behavior gets you one day off of your sentence. That became our motto, "We all could use some time off for good behavior."

AW: Who are your influences?

NZ: After living in Detroit, John enjoys The Romantics, MC5 and Iggy Pop, as well as Elvis Costello. Matt grew up in London, and enjoys all the British punk bands from the late 70s, though he has wide influences. Chuck is a SoCal punk, and likes all the hardcore punk bands from the 80s. Kevin is a Jazz Funk Cat and digs everything from James Brown to Django Reinhardt. I like The Who, The Clash, and a lot of 80s bands like Romeo Void.

AW: You and Matt I know were in Mary's Danish, a band I always liked. Could you talk about that?

NZ: Matt was in the band from its very beginnings. The band (to the best of my knowledge) initially would sit in the apartment and write songs. As they developed a repertoire the band decided to play live. The band did not have a permanent drummer so their friend would sit in. Mary's Danish had a manager, Jonathan Schweid, that I was friends with too. He suggested I try out for the other band he managed. Eventually Mary's Danish asked me to play for them. Within a few weeks I was recording with the band. One of those demos was "Don't Crash the Car Tonight," which was picked up by KROQ DJ Ken Fusion. The song became a huge local hit, and really put us on the map. Matt and I were in the band until early 1989. We performed with The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dramarama, Thelonious Monster, Redd Kross, among others. The band went on some phenomenal tours in the early 90's

AW: I like your garage rock sound. Is it a fun style to play?

NZ: Thank you for the compliment. Yes it's an incredible amount of fun to play. When performing covers, we always, what we call, "Forty Nineteen" the song – that is, perform it our way, while paying homage to the original. Our covers of "Dead Flowers" by the Rolling Stones and "Moonlight Drive" by the Doors are good examples.

AW: Tell us about “I'm Always Questioning Days.” It sounds political, but with an uplifting message.

NZ: We're glad you enjoyed the message to that one. We steer clear of politics, but we think in general that everyone needs to think for themselves, observe and come up with their own solutions or answers. We feel that is the positive message to "I"m Always Questioning Days"

AW: Many of these songs are relationship songs. Are they meant to be general, or are they about specific situations?

NZ: John wrote "Tell Me" after sitting at lunch while a girl seated next to him was telling the person on the phone to "Tell me that you love me." John will be the first to tell you it pretty much wrote itself. He has great observational skills. If you listen to our song "I'm Free" from Rebooted, he wrote it after a conversation with a family member that was ending his marriage. That song also wrote itself.

AW: How has the pandemic affected the band and how you make and record music?

NZ: We haven't seen one another for I can't even recall how long, so we keep in touch online, and send song ideas online, or via Zoom calls. Our song "We're Going To Las Vegas" was recorded in our separate homes and sent to our producer/engineer. I recorded the drums at my house, then the rest of the guys figured out parts and sent them to me. I put them together and presented to our producer. He checked them for quality and cohesiveness. Once we had the framework, we then added or subtracted parts according to what serviced the song the best. It turned into a fun little romp that became our Call to Action for everyone once the greenlight sounds and we can all go out and live life again! Whether its Las Vegas or anywhere, we hope everyone gets out, sees live music more than they typically would. Like our album suggests, we are preparing for a "New Roaring Twenties."

AW: What advice would you give someone who's just starting out in music?

NZ: One thing we ALWAYS suggest to younger musicians or anyone learning an instrument, is to see as many performers, genres of music, as possible. We especially suggest seeing the older musicians perform. Rather than be put off by "old heads," get out there and see how they play their instruments, and work around other musicians. There is a wealth of information from those players. Bassist Kevin Barber and I went to The Ponderosa Stomp in Memphis to watch three days of music performed by original 1950s Rock n Rollers and bluesmen. It was a three day masters class in Rock n Roll. Something we'll never forget.

 The Forty Nineteens

New Roaring Twenties

Big Stir Records

This energetic garage/power pop band is a lot of fun to listen to and has some very smart lyrics.

Some of these tracks have been issued as singles, such as “Tell Me” and “Late Night Radio,” on which Tony Valentino does a cameo, and make any net or off line radio station jump around. “I'm Always Questioning Days” is a good political song, but is also more than that, as one question is “Where do we go after we're gone?”

Matt Colleran and Nick Zeigler were in the popular 80s/90s college rock band Mary's Danish. Remember “Don't Crash The Car Tonight,” their hit? I always did like that band.

If you want a fun album that will make you bounce around the room, or just to listen to and be happy, this is a great album to do it to.

Andrea Weiss


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