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Interview with Vuk

1. Tell about your background, your first music experience. When did you take up music?

I don’t think there has ever been a time in my life when I wasn’t associated with music in one way or another. Most of the people on my mother’s side of the family were at least amateur musicians, and I grew up surrounded by music. My mother and aunt are concert pianists, as was my grandmother. My mother claims I used to sing in my crib as a baby, when she would play. She was my first music teacher. I started playing piano at the age of three. I played for many years, but never really got to the point where I could have become a professional, thank God! I also sang and composed little pieces of music from a very early age, but was horrible at reading and writing musical notation – I’ve always relied on my ear. I think this is one of the things that “saved” me from becoming a classical musician. I make music intuitively, and have no head for theory. But I started actually writing “rock” songs at 14, and never stopped since.

2. Speak about the members of the band, how did you find each other? What did you do before joining the band?

Some of the people in what could be called the “Vuk collective” I knew from other bands. Riku, who plays guitar, I met through working with Jaani Peuhu’s band, Iconcrash. Riku has since left the band, and I’m very happy that he’s working with me! He also paints. Jesse, who plays bass, I met through Riku. They had been playing together in a kind of studio project, and Riku introduced us when I told him I wanted to form a complete live band. Ironically, Jesse is now playing bass in Iconcrash as well as Vuk. As for my backup singers, three out of four I recruited from the Sibelius High School, which I used to attend as a teenager. Eevi, Virva and Ida were all attending Sibelius last spring, when I met them. Johanna, who has lately been playing keyboards in Vuk in addition to singing, I met while doing backup singing for the band Gris. She has an extensive background in music and is a wonderful pianist. Olli Piippo, who founded Gris, also joins us sometimes on baritone saxophone. Our drummer of the moment is Janne Lastumäki, who plays in many, many bands, such as the guitar pop band Sister Flow and Kevin, and in the jazz band Kytäjä. He’s extremely musical, and I hope he will be able to find time to stay with Vuk. Good drummers are always in great demand and are very busy. But really, the live band seems to be in a constant state of flux. There are so many people involved, now! I started Vuk in 2000 as a one-woman-band, and only recently began to expand the project last fall. I appreciate very much the contributions of the members of my live band, but as all the material is still written by me, I do still think of myself essentially as a solo artist. That being said, I love working with other musicians, and the studio sessions will probably include even more people than are in the band right now! It’s going to be wild…

3. How do American and Finnish music traditions combine in your works?

Well, I suppose both the Mississippi Delta blues traditions and Finnish folk traditions - our weeping songs, for instance - are both there, bubbling under the surface, but I actually feel it would irrelevant to single those two traditions out as my main influences, because so many other traditions have had at least as much of an impact on my work. Finland and the U.S. hold my cultural roots which, of course, affect everything I am and do. My musical roots, however, are all over the place: Bulgarian music, the early industrial music of Einstürzende Neubauten, experimental art music, the people I’ve worked with; all have contributed to my musical sensibilities.

4. How would you define your style?

It’s a mix of many things. It’s extremely eclectic, but not in a warm, fuzzy, boring, “world music” kind of way. I am at heart an experimental musician. I don’t just want to re-hash what has been done before. I want to create something new. I feel a strong kinship with artists like Björk and Diamanda Galás, who are fiercely original and musically curious.

5. What bands, musicians and composers influenced your music?

Where to start? I think my music is a product of many phases, sort of piled-up on top of each other, like the earth that is organically composed of layers from many different millennia, each with its own texture and history. For me, in the bottom layer there would be composers of art music like Prokofjev, Stravinsky, Debussy, Chopin, and also Finnish, Bulgarian and classical Indian music. This is the music I grew up with. In the middle, there would be the blues and more adventurous, often dark rock music I listened to as a teenager: PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, Blind Willie Johnson, E. Neubauten, Tom Waits, Björk and Diamanda Galás. In the topmost layer would be the people I know and love: my colleagues in the Finnish and American music scenes. Being in the same musical community as Magyar Posse, Cleaning Women, Chainsmoker and Cosmo Jones Beat Machine has been extremely important. One of the most important influences in my recent work, however, has been Dave Longstreth, whose band, Dirty Projectors, I toured the U S. with while singing and playing percussion in the band in 2005. Working with DPs completely re-organized, if you will, my perceptions of rhythm and harmony. It transformed my way of working in a very good way.

6. Vuk, you have a very beautiful voice, did you take professional lessons or is it a gift of Nature?

It’s very kind of you to say that… Yes, I have taken some voice lessons, but have never been able to completely assimilate the classical technique. While it has facilitated my singing, I don’t think you really hear the classical technique in my voice when I sing my own songs. I once played one for my voice teacher, and she was horrified!

7. What was the public reaction to your first album ‘Exile!’?

Well, it got some very good reviews, and some that were completely unsympathetic. On the whole, I think it was well received. Haven’t sold too many copies, though. It wasn’t very widely publicized… I think the album had many technical flaws, and this probably got in the way of some people who were used to a more polished, “polite” sound. I appreciate the album nowadays, though at first I wasn’t very happy with how it came out.

8. When will your second album be released? Is there any difference between the first and the second albums?

The album should be released by April 2007. Yes, there are many differences between the two albums! After all, some of the material on “Exile!” was written when I was as young as 16. It was a compilation of songs that had been written over a long period of time, as is often the case with debuts. The songs on my next album were written within the span of one-and-half years. They are all strongly linked with one another, and are the product of an intense process of musical and emotional growth that happened within the past couple of years. Also, the technical and professional resources I had on “Exile!” were a fraction of what I have to work with on this new album. This will all be evident in the outcome, to be sure.

9. Your songs have a very strong emotional impact on people, what is the secret of this?

I think there is a direct correlation between the amount of emotion one pours into a song, and the amount that pours out of it. If I put all of my heart into a song, it will be truthful, and people will hopefully be moved by it. The truth is always moving.

10. What is the source of your inspiration (books, music, cinema, history, life experience)?

Personal experience would have to be the most important source. Without it, one’s words remain hollow. I’m also strongly influenced by Modernist literature: the worlds that writers such as Vladimir Nabokov, Mikhail Bulgakov and James Joyce are able to create in their work. Cinema is very close to my heart, especially Tarkovski, Jarmusch, and early Scorsese. I enjoy the interplay of subjective and objective reality in their works. It’s something I strive for in my music, as well. But I’m constantly looking for new ways to express myself musically, so I keep my ears open for any new kinds of sounds and traditions I might bump into.

11. What is love for you?

Everything.

12. What are you trying to teach your listeners? What meaning do your works convey?

My work conveys reality and truth and as I experience it. It isn’t necessarily trying to “teach” anyone anything.

13. What is the reason for living for you? The sense of life in general?

To become a more loving person in thought and action. To create, and to experience life as fully as I can. This is what I believe is the essence of coming closer to God. It is becoming more aware of reality.

14. I was impressed by the song Kiss the Assassin. What is it about?

I wouldn’t want to spoil any individual reactions people might have to the song… I general, it’s about a sense of frustration at dealing with a self-destructive person and fruitlessly trying to give them affection.

15. What about Arms of Spirits? Is it about a broken heart?

Come to think of it, its subject matter is very similar to that of “Kiss The Assassin.” However, for me, it was written out of a deeper sense of loss and rejection from someone I adored. So, yes, it is about a broken heart, but more than anything, it’s about waking up to the realization that one has spent huge amounts of time, emotion and energy in the wrong place, and that it’s time to save one’s self. I think the lyrics speak for themselves, really.

16. What dreams do you have at night?

This is a subject I could talk about for hours, so I’ll just tell you about a recent one I had that was particularly impressive. I don’t remember how it started, but I do remember that at some point a messenger came to guide me to the land of the dead. As we were approaching it by flying through the sky, I looked down and saw a black forest. Then, astonishingly, I saw through the crust of the earth under the trees. Instead of seeing stone or molten lava, however, I saw the universe. I could see thousands and thousands of planets that were just like the Earth, blue planets teeming with life. I remember being amazed that the earth was only one of countless living planets. It was beautiful!

17. What qualities do you appreciate in people?

I think I’m pretty good at getting along with many different kinds of personalities, but there are some qualities that I think are shared by most of my friends. They are usually good-hearted, intelligent, sensitive, generous, and have a sharp, often dry, yet insightful sense of humor. It doesn’t hurt to appreciate art and music, though… The one thing that will instantly make me run away from a person is if they are manipulative. I’m allergic to manipulative people.

18. What label are you signed to? What are your plans for the future?

I’m signed to Next Big Thing, a Finnish indie label. My plans are to record the new album in the beginning of 2007, and hopefully tour after that in Europe and/or the U.S. I really hope I can find an audience outside of Finland, because I want to travel and the scene for non-mainstream music here is so small.

19. Is there anything you would like to tell our readers?

Be kind to yourselves and those around you. Be mindful of the consequences of your actions. Create beauty into the world.

Thanks,
Katrina, Alcatraz.ru

Vuk’s site - http://www.myspace.com/vukmusic