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!