Eläkeläiset – Pranks, Jesus and some serious shit

Eläkeläiset, the Kings of Humppa, musical vaudeville of Finland and our favourite pensioners are back on tour. As this tour is called „Farewell to Humppa“, we needed to have a word with them. Onni Waris, lyrical master, singer – like all of them are – and keyboard player of Eläkeläiset granted us an audience where not only the story behind the farewell got revealed.

(After Onni asked for a cigarette)
Last time I interviewed your band, Lassi tried to convince me to quit smoking. And I did so, no sorry.
Until I was 38 I was the only guy in the car who didn´t smoke. I became passive smoker so I thought one day that I could try something else and started smoking actively myself. It was an easy start for me. No coughing. But I only smoke on tour.

If you can switch on and off, that´s enviable.
That´s the only way to survive is not to smoke all the time. I don´t get any cold turkeys or hangovers from smoking. When I smoke on the last day on tour on Sunday and go to work on Monday, I have no urge to smoke until the next tour.

Even if you go to bars on weekends?
I don´t go to bars (laughs) I am a very serious alcoholic, so if I go to a bar, I drink like a maniac, get in trouble, and get kicked out of the house.

Your tour is named „Farewell to Humppa“. Do we have to worry?
No. It is dedicated to an old Finnish artist called Hector. He is always playing his last show, announcing that this is his farewell gig. Then he goes home, stays there for one month, and gets really bored, so he starts a come-back-tour. This is our farewell-tour and next year we´re doing a come-back-tour. We have done this now for 20 years, why should we stop it now? It is so much fun and a very good, but dangerous hobby. With 20 years existence of the band, it makes Eläkeläiset older than our children or grandchildren (laughs)

You´re never getting tired of it?
Of course we´re getting tired but we all know that if we survive this 16 gigs we´re having one month off. Then the motivation comes back. The only problems are the hangover-days. As long as we drink we are happy, but towards the end of the tour when three gigs are left to play, we´re having an evil calm-down-phase. We can´t continue drinking as we soon have to get back to our regular jobs so everybody is feeling bad, having hangovers, and thinking about old-times. At this point we are really, really tired. But those are the only problems we have with that.

I imagine that this gets worse when you are with another heavily drinking band on tour.
We had a tour in January with a very good Finnish band called Stam1na. They are very young thrash metal band, singing in Finnish. Those guys are something like 25 to 28 years old and kind of showing off with how young they are and how much they can drink. We thought that we are old enough to be their grandfathers and still drink this and this much. So we got in a drinking competition somehow.

Who won?
I have no idea, but we all ended up really, really drunk. It was every night the same mess. We had nice hotel rooms, but everybody slept in the corridor because we couldn´t find or open the door anymore. (laughs)

If you sum those 20 years of Eläkeläiset up in one word, which one would that be?
Drunkenness. The whole thing started as a drinking joke. We were playing with our band Kumikameli (rubber camel) in the western part of Finland. We were very bad and the club owner hated us. But she said: „You can stay in the pub, the beer tabs are open and you can drink as much as you want.“ So we drank like maniacs. I mean, of course – there was free beer – hallelujah! We ended up trying to play some music and we couldn´t play anything apart from blues and humppa. Blues is shit so we went with humppa. Next day we were talking about humppa music being for old people and that we should form a band, because it´s so horrible. We couldn´t get that joke out of our heads anymore and it got more and more detailed. We thought about a name and agreed easily on Eläkeläiset – the pensioners. After that was clear, we started to think about what songs we could play. We can play rock with humppa and roll with jenkka.
It is like humppa and polkka, but it´s slower and more foxtrott-ish.
So we were discussing about what we should do about it, when our bass-player suddenly said that he made a Led-Zeppelin-song in Humppa-style. I said I made this Clash-song into „Should I do Humppa or should I not do Humppa“. Our guitar player made a Humppa-version from „The Final Countdown“. We played them and laughed our arses off. That was back in 1993. We thought we would do some joke-gigs on festivals without PA, just acoustic. And only for this one summer but when the winter arrived, somebody told us to do a record. We haven´t thought about that before but why not? So that was how all got started. We have tried to quit his band two times. The first funeral was in 1994 and the second was in 1996. We also had a year off in 2007. That was when the best of album was released I think. The reason for that break was that I broke myself totally in 2006 by falling off the stage in Finland. It was 1,50 meters high and I fell on my hand, it snatched and the broken bones came through my skin and all. Because of the stupid Finnish law-system, I couldn´t go into the hospital nearby and saw no doctor until the next morning. We played in Seinäjoki and I live in Joensuu. Seinäjoki-Emergency has nothing to do with the other Emergencies, so I was transported to Joensuu. That was a horrible trip. I had a metal thing going through my bones for six weeks and I had to quit playing guitar in Kumikameli as my hand was in a crooked position. I´m still in the band btw. It´s a more punk and metal oriented band.

Are there more Eläkeläiset-band-member in Kumikameli involved?
Our bass player and I are in Kumikameli right now, but the others have all played in the band for some time, so it´s kind of all in the family thing. We are all so difficult people that nobody else wants to play with us. Our humour is very rude, violent, and horrible.

Could you give one example?
If somebody is having a bad day and a hangover, we will push him over the limit. If he feels like vomiting, we´re telling him jokes about infections, shit, puke, and dead rats until he finally pukes. And if he is passing out, we paint swastikas and penises on his face. In Finland this is called “friendship”.
I think the favourite thing for me was when I passed out somebody put pieces of chocolate in my underwear. When I woke up it was melted and I went to toilet, asked myself how drunk I was and why does my shit smell of chocolate. But I deserved it.

What did you do to deserve it?
Well, nothing really. I just passed out after the gig. One time at a gig, our bass player passed out. We slept in some kind of small zoo. We collected donkey-shit and shoved it in his pillow, pockets and everywhere.

Who was the person you drove the most crazy?
I guess it was our first soundman. He doesn´t drink any alcohol and doesn´t eat any meat. So we basically tried for five years to hide meat in his food and put alcohol in his drinks. He finally got so pissed off that he left us for ten years. He came back last year. As we never quit, we are trying again to put meat and alcohol in his food and drinks. He is smelling on every bottle and looking into every sandwich.

He is a Finn and doesn´t drink?
Yes, his father was an alcoholic and he has some very bad experiences with alcohol. It´s weird that he stays with us.

Maybe he sees you as a challenge?
Could be.

Do you still have the problem getting permissions to do Humppa-cover?
Yes, we do. For the last album we did 87 songs and 17 got through. The album before this, we did about 70 songs and we got barely the 14 or 15 songs for the album. It is very difficult and the more popular we get, the more difficult it gets. The artist and the manager and who the hell gets to decide the permissions know that we do really bad versions of the songs. So it gets more and more difficult every year.

Do you do the songs and send them with a request for permission, or how does that work?
First I write the Finnish lyrics, then we translate them to English and then we send the lyrics to the copy-right-owners to decide.

What are the songs on your new album „Humppasheikkailu“ about?
The same as always. They are about cat-pee on the tongue after serious drinking, old women, and no sex. Not drugs, no rock´n roll.

So there are translations to your lyrics? Why don´t you put them online so non-Finns can enjoy them?
All the lyrics from 2000 till 2011 were available somewhere but the link was taken away from our website. Friends of ours have had that and we leaked them. I don´t know why they are not available anymore. I can look for them and send them to you. ( Here are 20 translations from Onni for you – the editors)

Great! I´d love to read them.
They are very stupid.

I guessed that. How do you come up with them?
That´s very easy for me. We have this box, like a cat-litter-box with which we operate. There is a lot of sand in the box, but also these words we use. They are always the same: old women, old men, dancing, drinking, and no sex. We always dream about the old lady of our dreams but we never catch her and if we finally catch her, we are too drunk to do anything. There is also some serious shit hidden there about the situation of the old people in Finland. How they are left in this old-people´s home and relatives don´t care about them. Relatives only wait for their grandmother or grandfather to die, so they get their hands on their old house, forest, and money. So there is some serious message in all this bullshit. Back then, when we started Eläkeläiset we were just thinking about the old people, but nowadays we kind of are the old people. Now it´s like: remember your morning medicine. If I don´t take my morning medicine my heart will go out of rhythm, or whatever. Our story is catching up with us, which is a very cool thing.

How old are you?
I´m 50. Our accordion player is 51. The youngest in our band is 42, I think. So we are really old.

But not old enough to be a pensioner.
Not, but we are very tempted to read the obituaries in our local paper, which is the final sign of being an old man. That is hard to explain but in Finland my father and mother, they are 76 and 72, read every morning those obituaries and discussing them to see if they knew the persons. And now we are getting near to this point as our friends are dying like flies. All our friends are drug addicts or alcoholics and those don´t live very long. 50 years is the point where they start dropping dead like flies.

Oh, this is sad.
No, it is funny.

Well, if you look at yourself, what would be the text in your obituary?
I don´t know. Maybe just the birth date and death date and maybe “Fly Me to the Moon”. I was asked what song would be played in my funeral and it was “Fly Me to the Moon”. After I decided my death song I immediately did a Humppa-version of it.

Why did you choose this song?
It´s an excellent song and it will be on our next album. We just changed our record company. We were having the same record company for 20 years but we were now forced onto this 360-deal, which is kind of a hot thing in Finland right now. With that deal the record company wants also to sell the gigs. We refused to sign this so we got kicked out of our old record company and found a new one. The new album will be released this year. It is an old-fart-album with covers of traditional songs like “Rollin´ and Tumblin´”, “#9“, „Fly me to the Moon“, „Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head“ and stuff. So, we will release this traditional album and maybe in the beginning of next year the other one. The good thing with the traditional album is that the songs are so old that they are free of copyright problems and we can do anything with it. Beside those traditional songs we will do the hymns, the songs you sing in a church. They have been written in 16th or 17th hundreds so they are free to use and we are ding Humppa versions out of them. We will replace „Jesus“ with „Jenkka“ and „God“ with „Humppa“. One of those songs is an old German song where they sing about the spirit of truth and we are singing about the spirit of alcohol. It will be horrible and been released this year before Christmas.

What is your new label?
It´s not a real record company. They are called Akun Tehdas and it´s owned by one of biggest finish bands called Eppu Normaali. They are no record label, but they are good friends of us. We have a special deal there as they are not releasing any other band than Eppu Normaali and Eläkeläiset. The have good studios, cd-factory, cd-cover factory and everything. So we can make small prints of special editions and all. The guy who took us under his wings is the guy who worked in a big Finnish record company called Poko Records and his responsibility was dealing with translation permissions. So he knows how it works. Now we have been working like maniacs to get lyrics to him to get the permissions, so we can make a new album this year and making another album next year. We plan to make a special gig with a symphony orchestra in this autumn in Joensuu with the City Symphony Orchestra. We have a guy who will film it and record it. So we get a live-album and a live-dvd maybe. We´re quiet busy with all this and when we have more time afterwards, we can try to get permissions of The Scorpions and those modern artists.

Time for some readers´ questions for you.

If Superman would get drunk, would he get super drunk?
Of course! We know that because we are Supermen.

If you could play a cameo in a movie, which one would you pick?
“Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” (laughs). Well, “Taxi Driver” maybe, or some kind of a romantic movie where I could play the role of Julia Roberts and my brother Martti Waris could play the Richard Gere part, or what was the name of the actor who got caught with that hooker?
Hugh Grant?
Yes, him! Awkward, nobody remembers his movies but everybody remembers that (laughter)

What music do you listen to in private?
My favourite records during the last two weeks are Soilwork´s new album „The Living Infinite“ and the new album from Ghost. Our drummer listens to old Finnish music, our other accordion player listens to 80´s, Yellow Magic Orchestra and things like this an our other keyboard player is into punk. So we have a lot of influences.

Two readers from Finland got a question for you: Is it true that you are available to play in any home party and all you demand is an unlimited amount of alcohol?
We used to do that a lot, but now we all live in different cities in Finland. I live in Joensuu, our drummer lives in Helsinki, our accordion player lives near Helsinki, our bass player lives in Tampere and our other keyboard player likes in Turku. So nowadays we can´t do that anymore really as we have to travel a lot. If they fly us in, we would be still up for it, but as the flight prices got raised so much, nobody wants us to play anymore as they would have to pay a lot just to get us there.

Thank you. Is there anything you like to add?
I think I already said too much but we are playing three or four gigs with a German band called Gankino Circus on this tour. They play this kind of slapstick punk music. They are excellent musicians and really nice young guys. They are really worth checking out.

Author: Samira Alinto | photos: Pentti Hokkanen | Jaakko Kilpiäinen

Samira Alinto

reports, reviews, photos