A few weeks ago Siberian Jay could celebrate the release of their debut album (of the same title). In Finland, singer and mastermind Ilari Hämäläinen is mainly known as bass player of the bands Naked, Kengurumeininki and of Idols contestants Katri Ylander and Pete Parkkonen; and he also acts in musicals at Helsinki City Theater. A down-to-earth, multitalented musician who fulfilled his dream with Siberian Jay and now acts as front man. Ilari found time to answer our questions shortly before a show on a Baltic ferry…
Hello Ilari, thanks a lot for taking the time to answer our questions. So could you first of all introduce the band, who are the band members? How long have you been playing together, what kind of music you play etc.?
Here I am sitting in ferry cabin and drinking some sherry. The “Poets Of The Fall” will perform soon and after them it´s our turn to make the people dance and drink like hell.
Siberian Jay is kind of “my band” – I run the whole thing in spirit and economically too.
Those guys that are in the band are my dear friends and brothers. And above all they are the greatest players that I´ve ever met. That´s naturally a matter of opinion but they are the greatest in “my standards”. We have recorded the album about five years ago but then it took me quite a while to finish it, because of all the other projects and family and stuff.
by Harri Honkala
Mikko: I met Mikko about 15 years ago on a gig in a church and fell in love instantly. At first we had a band called “Dust Company”with Tuomo and Verneri Pohjola, and then I asked Mikko to join Kengurumeininki with me. We spent 3-4 years having a blast touring Finland. Then Mikko joined Apocalyptica and I started to perform in Helsinki City Theater musicals. Nowadays we only play rarely together in Kengurumeininki, but when we do, I enjoy it with the bottom of my heart.
Kristian: For some years Mikko and I played together with Kristian in a band called Megaphone. It was kind of drama-glam-punk band. It was always fun but it didn´t fill my needs music vice. Anyway I felt like I want to have Kristian a.k.a “Kris My Ass” in the line up of Siberian Jay. He is very rude and fast player. For example he plays all the “floyd rose” licks with a Les Paul which is quite hard and stupid. But that´s how Kris is and I LOVE IT!
Miika: I met Miika in a café on our school just by a fortune. I was not sure if he´s a good player or not – I was not actually even sure if he´s a musician at all, but the moment I met him, I wanted to have a band with him. Miika turned out to be just as I imagined – an awesome guitar player. The first two bands that we played together were L°60 and Jonna, but then I finally found time and personal need to unleash myself and the guys in the form of Siberian Jay. I do regret that we don´t play more often with Miika, since if I had to name one guitar player above all, it would be him.; sensitive but funky with a flavor of punk – I call it “twangy”. If you want to know what it means (to me at least), just say “twang” and listen to yourself 😀
by Deneka Peniston
Hannes: I met Hannes on a gig with Jonna. After that we did not see in a while, but when I we needed a drummer for Finnish Idols singer Katri Ylander, I came up with Hannes and he joined the band. We kind of grew together during those years and soon I felt like home playing with him. When we were recording the Siberian Jay album I told Mikko that I want Hannes to play the half of the album ´cos he will be the one stepping in for Mikko´s substitute since Mikko was becoming more and more busy with Apocalyptica.
Lauri: It took me several years with Lauri before he was willing to play in a band with me. I always felt like we´d be twice as powerful together, but it was a hard job to make him join the band. Now he is the biggest help and adviser for me with music and other content. I´m really looking forward to see how our collaboration evolves better and better ´cos I know he´ musical reserve is enormous.
Why did you choose the name Siberian Jay? For some people the bird is a bringer of misfortune, is it the opposite for you?
Actually the name was an alias of my wife in one forum. When i saw it, somehow the name sounded like it would fit this band. At that time there was something bad in the air and we feared that story in the album would happen to us as a couple. On the other hand for me that bird means the one who lives in the backwoods alone away from the others. But when a stranger comes around she´s very interested and tries to socialize. Also because of the “Siberia” in the name, it sounds like we don´t have to sound American or anything – we´re coming far far away from Finland and the “Siberia” gives a nice flavor of isolation of our geological location in a mental way at least.
Your debut was recently released physically, but fans could already download it a while ago; so how does a physical album release feel like, is it still something special or is it no big thing anymore nowadays, when almost everybody downloads music?
I´m an old fashioned guy who listens to albums – not just songs. For me the order of the songs and the covers and booklets mean a great deal. There´s a kind of a story in the album – it´s not very obvious, but it´s there. The album ends with the song “Goodbye” which has quite a long ending. The whole song lasts for over 16 minutes and it will only work for those who listen to the whole album – I think.
The end of the album is a tribute to some great album endings like “Extreme – III Sides In Every Story”and “Queen – Made In Heaven” The one who lays down with headphones on and disappears in to the flow of the album will be rewarded in the end with emotional roller coaster.
by Markku Anttila
You composed, engineered and produced the album and mixed it with your brother Lauri, so you seem to be a very talented guy. Can you tell us little bit more about your musical background?
Yes – we´ve done the whole thing on our own mainly just for one reason: “Opinions are like assholes – everybody´s got one” – and when you reach certain level of “know how”, the rest is just a matter of opinion. I don´t want to compromise anything with my music, and since I know how to do it myself, why not doing it?
I´ve lived my whole life playing and doing music. I have a classical background with violin, just like my bro. After that we both started to play bass and sing. Composing and producing with mixing and engineering have always been a natural way of expressing ourselves. We both have also studied music with a very wide spectrum for over 25 years.
My hidden secret is that I love musicals. I´ve composed four musical theater pieces and been performing in several professional productions. So I may have a little bit different approach to rock music than most of the others.
You are playing bass in a couple of other bands, also the other guys play in other bands, isn’t it hard to handle more than one band at once? I know you are all pros, but don’t you mix up the songs, and what happens when two bands get booked the same day – which band comes first in your case?
At this time we try maintain very realistic point of view. We all earn our living from music and until Siberian Jay reaches the certain level of economical sense, every case will be unique. I don´t know which of us will be in the line up then, but I hope we reach the level together. There´s one thing I´ve learned: If you push the band forward too desperately – it´ll break the line up. We all have reached out for a miracle before with the other bands and know that they don´t happen. The only loyalties in the music industry lay amongst the band members. Bands get lot of offers in the name of “great promotion – and good will”, but seldom the rewards are worth a trouble. We are doing this for our love for music, and try to spread the word around – but at the same time, we all have the other factors in life that we have to respect. So only God knows what will happen with this whole thing. I want to enjoy the ride on the way, ´cos you really can´t tell when the wheel will stop turning and we reach the maximum level of our success.
So usually you are on stage as a bass player, in this band you are the front man, so what do you prefer?
Well – I feel more safe when I have the bass in front of me, but I do prefer being a front man now that we play our original music. I´m not sure? I guess I need to have both of those roles in my life. One without another would become boring.
I’ve heard a couple of times that people who are used to play a guitar or bass on stage are feeling kind of lost when they only have their microphone, do you know that problem too? Is it something you had to get used to?
Yes – that´s a whole another thing being there without an instrument. You have to find another way of being there. I hope my performance doesn´t look too ridiculous without the bass. Usually when I do this – it´s in a theater, where you have a role that gives you the way of being and moving. With a band you just have to be yourself and actually only way to do that is to forget yourself. Sometimes it´s a bit difficult, but once the music starts moving you – it get´s a lot easier.
by Anssi Karjalainen
You’ve produced the video for “Do you feel Sexy” (http://youtu.be/mK-CAXgu4gY ), it is very well done. Can you tell us little bit more about it, where did you shoot the video? And how cold was it out there on the ice?
The video was shot in Emäsalo near Porvoo. It was shot on real ice and the weather was terrible for that kind of clothing. We shot the video like 15-30 seconds at a time and then we had to warm up a bit. Hannes had difficulties playing ´cos he did not feel his hands so the drum sticks flew away from his hands every now and then – and he didn´t even notice it sometimes.
Actually the cold weather was one of the reasons to shoot it that way. Do You Feel Sexy is such a sleazy song, so we decided to have something less sexy on the video. Can you imagine anything more anti-sexy that a naked man coming out of freezing water? There´s not much to see then 😀
You have this cartoon effects in the video, and also some band pictures have this comic book style, who has made those? And how did the idea come up to do pictures like this?
The promo pictures have been drawn by Joni Ahonen “Teräskäsine”, Harri Honkala and Ville Vainio. We were so lucky to get those guys to join the project. There was an idea to make a comic book along the album at first, but then we could not find the resources for that. I hope it will happen later in the future. Inside the booklet there are some pictures from other artists too, but the main look was created by those three guys.
Your brother Lauri is also part of the band, would you say this is very helpful because he can back you up, or is he your most demanding listener?
Lauri has both of the roles. On the other hand he´s the most critical listener but on the other hand he´s the one who helps me achieving the goals when I get stuck on something. It´s a great thing having a guy like him in the band.
by Markku Oksanen
How does it look with your live experience? Did you already have gigs with Siberian Jay or do you have plans for playing some?
The album release party was the first gig of SJ, but we´ll start playing more gigs soon I hope. I would be great to do some here in Finland soon to support the album. But I think our main goals are abroad. We´d like to play a show or two in Sweden and Estonia, and naturally in Germany and it´s surrounding territories.
We have one un-exclusive booking agent who´s gonna start selling gigs in Germany and around it, but the plans are just plans now. We´ll see…
What are your plans during the upcoming months with the band? What do you want to achieve?
I´m gonna concentrate on marketing the album first here in Finland, but at the same time we are looking for labels in other lands for licensing. We are quite open to all business proposals from labels, agents and managers ´cos we can actually decide about those things alone. We are running the whole thing ourselves right now, and there´s no one telling us what we can do or not. The goals are to become internationally as successful as possible, but here we come to the issue of the realism I spoke of earlier. Although we love music, the love won´t feed our families and pay the rent´s and loans, so the challenge is how to make it economically reasonable.
by Deneka Peniston
Ok, then do you have some famous last words for the STALKER readers?
Remember the wise words of The Muff of Naked: “Don´t eat the yellow snow” a Siberian Jay may have pissed there 😀
Thanks a lot and I wish you the best of luck with your debut!
Thanks a lot for this interview. I hope the people will find a moment to listen to our whole album on Spotify for example, because one may get a wrong idea about this band just by judging a random single track from the album.