The Blanko: Trust the Inner Voice

The three extremely talented guys that form the Helsinki based band The Blanko are living exciting times at the moment. The band´s second album Into The Silence has just come out and I had a few words with Pauli Hauta-aho, the guitarist & vocalist of the band. He got my questions about a week before the album release party in Helsinki and he confessed that he felt excited about it all, but as it turned out, he was also being super busy with promoting the album. As can only be expected.

However, in the end he had plenty of time to sit down and write answers to my questions. We had a nice and rather long email discussion about the philosophy behind The Blanko and the various aspects of making their second album.

As I listened to your new album, it became clear to me that your unique style as a band has grown even stronger. Could you tell us something about the process of making this album? What was it that you wanted to say with it?
Originally we had about 40 more or less finished songs on the table, out of which we chose the ones that felt best at the time. Our producer Erno Laitinen gave us his “outsider views” on the songs and helped us with the choices.  Our work is largely based on intuition and the feeling of the moment was present in the finishing of the songs. Every song has its own soul, telling us what needs to be done. When I write new music, I need some space and time for myself, so that the delicate process of creating can happen. With this album the title track, Into The Silence, says something about the message of the album: “Your voice is way too precious to waste into the silence…”  Hearing your own inner voice, understanding and trusting it, voicing it out – that´s one of the main messages of this album.

Is there a song on the album that is especially meaningful to you?
It´s still such a fresh album that all the songs are important in their own way. Every song has its own place, dictated by a certain situation or emotion. The tracks of the album are quite a diverse batch, so it´s difficult to point out a single song as a favorite. I would disagree with myself tomorrow already..

Your music is labeled as “modern retro rock”. Are you under this label alone, or do you feel like there are bands sharing this style with you? Could those bands also be named as musical influences to The Blanko´s music?
Well, music is a universal language that connects people in so many ways. It is, of course, cool to be able to say that you have a genre of your own as a band, but I don´t think it´s sensible to try to claim that the playground is yours alone. So many others play there, too. You do need to remember that there are just as many views on matters as there are people. Another band might be calling the same thing with a completely different name.
As a songwriter and a guitarist my biggest influences are Jeff Buckley and Jimi Hendrix. Also the stand up comedian Bill Hicks has taken a big part of my time. They all have something in common. They all have boldly done their own thing, and that´s something The Blanko has also done from the very beginning. Trusting the inner voice inside and trying to fearlessly pursue the stage of understanding.

What kinds of hopes and aspirations do you have for The Blanko now that the second album is out? Touring in Finland, perhaps outside of Finland as well? A great breakthrough?
Into The Silence is, naturally, a view into a specific moment in the band´s history, and it also continues the story that began with our first album, Flying Colours. Even though I don´t like to pin the albums down with a certain moment in time as such.
I hope that Into The Silence makes people experience emotions that bring them a step closer to The Blanko. A step closer to understanding that emotions are timeless and that the love for music never dies. The person reading this interview somewhere in a thousand years´ time knows what I´m talking about. 😉
Of course we would love to play abroad! There´s not very many people in Finland and yet we feel we have so much more to give. The thing is to find the right people working with us, who have, let´s say, even a half of the belief in ourselves than we do.

Living in the moment and appreciating each moment as it comes seems to be really important to you.
It is! The moment that carries you away can be awesome! It´s easy to cling to a moment, difficult to let go, but I feel like it´s necessary to eventually let go in order to be able to enjoy the next moment as it comes. You have to, in a way, make room for a new emotion. That´s how it becomes whole and all-embracing. That´s actually also the way I think about making music. Every idea has to be written out and made as complete as possible, no matter how crappy the idea may be. That´s the only way of clearing the way for new ideas.
I hope this is not getting too deep… Hahah!

Not at all, don´t worry. It´s interesting to get a glimpse into the philosophy behind The Blanko. Brings me and hopefully our readers also just that one step closer to the band. Moving on, however. I´ve seen you play to very small audiences (fortunately not recently anymore!), but you always give a full steam performance. It seems like your rockin´ work ethics, stadium class attitude and passion towards music shine through no matter what. Where does that energy stem from?
Most of our energy probably comes out of the passion we feel for the music. There´s also the wordless force that binds us together – the stage is our home, where we can be totally open and honest, let the emotions and the moment carry us away. At its best a gig can be a journey, and you forget everything else around you for a while. There´s just the music and we filter it in the moment, through our emotions. There´s really no other way of explaining it. Music is our religion.

With the second album there were some changes in The Blanko´s team, in the form of a new record company as you were signed to Sony Music Finland. How did this change affect the process of making the album? In one review of the single Face The Fear someone wondered if being signed to a multinational record company would mean that The Blanko´s music was going to become “fashionable”. Are there pressures for you guys to make “easier” music? Is modern retro rock going to be “in fashion”?
Our work remains the same, no matter who is in the team in the background. I mean, writing and arranging the songs, creating and making music happen – that doesn´t change. I write and compose the songs and usually we arrange them together with the other guys. After that we fine tune them with our producer Erno Laitinen.  Any expectations people have concerning about the record company will have to, more or less, be connected with whatever happens after the album is released.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the production of Flying Colours and Into The Silence was in the actual recording process. Flying Colours was recorded during three separate sessions, whereas Into The Silence was, in a way, a “single journey”. We only had a break for the Christmas holidays and then I had to take a break from recording the vocals, thanks to a cold.
However, turned out that everything happened for a purpose. When I was sick, I wrote three songs and one of them was “Let Me In”. After I emailed it to the other guys it just sort of haunted us so much that eventually it just had to be included on the album!
As to being “fashionable”, I really don´t have much to say about that. Except that I do think it would be awesome, if there were more doors opening to music that is a bit more challenging and if people would wake up from the comatose state caused by reality TV. I honestly believe that through live music one can experience truly great emotions and I want to be a part of something genuine like that.

How about the featuring artists on this album – how did they end up being involved in the project? What was it like to work with them? (Cellist Eicca Toppinen of Apocalyptica and guitarist Angelo Bruschini of Massive Attack both give a featuring performance on the album.)
I met Eicca Toppinen at the Inkfish Studios in Helsinki back when we were recording Flying Colours. He told me he had eavesdropped on our guitar sessions behind the door and then when we met on a few The Blanko gigs, he told me he was a real fan. ´Absurd´ might be the right word to describe how I felt at that moment! A man who has seen it all is a fan of our band? But that´s the way it came to be. Eventually I gathered up the courage to ask him to join us in making this album. He and his cello feature in Krazy Heart.
I got to know Angelo Bruschini a few years ago through some other music industry connections. After one long day in the studio I called him and asked if he´d be interested in featuring on our upcoming album. He was very happy to do it and he plays on Fade Away, the closing track of the album.
We gave our featuring artists the freedom to do their thing and we are very pleased with their input.

So, normally only three guys in the band. It must be like being brothers, I would imagine. Do you guys have any specific roles within the band that each of you takes?
Indeed, we are very much like brothers. In good and in bad – but mostly in good. We all know each other really well and sometimes we do have those “Huey, Dewey and Louie” moments when we finish each other´s sentences.
Roles are pretty clear: Jakke plays the drums, Marko plays the bass and I sing and play the guitar… Hahah! Well, no, seriously, if we´re talking about the roles outside of playing a specific instrument, it depends on the situation. Nowadays everybody who´s playing in a band has to have some experience in computers,   selling t-shirts, driving a van, and even the law, when it comes to signing the deals, etc. The list is quite long, so we do need to have some kind of a rotation on our “to-do-list”.

Good thing you got those clear roles… Hahah! Would get kind of confusing if you were behind the drum set the next time I saw you guys on a gig… Anyway, we´ve had a long chat already and I know you´re super busy with the promos of the new album – do you have anything you´d like to add, to say to the STALKER readers?
Enjoy autumn! It´s the best, at its best!

Johanna: Thank you so much for your time, Pauli, it has been a pleasure to talk with you. I will remain waiting for the Into The Silence tour dates, and in the meanwhile I recommend all the STALKER readers to go and listen to Into The Silence. ROKK, Bple! (As The Blanko frequently utter.) 🙂

Author: Johanna Ahonen, transl. K.Weber Photos: The Blanko / Veli Granö, J. Ahonen (live-shots

GastmitarbeiterInnen / guest contributions

Regular guest contributors e.g. Grit Kabiersch, Maria Levin, Elvira Visser, Nina Ratavaara, John Wisniewski