First off, how'd you describe your music to someone unfamiliar with it?
J > My music is very personal so to me it's like trying to describe myself. I don't really know how to do it. I'm not interested in being a salesman and I also understand the restricting effect words have so I'm leaving describing to others. Words like "surf", "noir" and "lounge" have been used but I'm trying to keep my head clear and just do whatever I feel like doing. I try not to set rules for myself or plan too much. I don't think those aforementioned words apply straight away to my new yet unreleased album "Regret". I might decide to do a reggae album next and that's a genre I've never liked.
Are there some bands "H&YV" could be rightfully compared with in your opinion? Can you name some bands that have given you the most inspiration?
J > I like to think that attitude-wise Heroin & Your Veins could be compared with musicians who aren't interested in fitting in but follow their own visions. Bands and artists who create music because of their need to express themselves in an honest way. Musicians who I feel this comradeship with and also enjoy include J.P. Shilo and his former band Hungry Ghosts, HTRK and Kava Kon. They all sound like no-one else while still remaining enjoyable. The late Rowland S. Howard was probably the one who influenced my guitar playing and attitude the most. As solely musical influences I could name bands like Bohren & der Club of Gore, Tindersticks and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. I'm an art enthusiast so I could spend a long time listing things that have inspired me. Old jazz, surf rock, existential literature, hard-boiled crime novels, film noir, countless soundtracks...
You released your debut album in 2007, and currently you're in the process of getting your fourth full-length creation released. Was "H&YV" your first musical outlet? Since you handle all the band instruments I must ask you, are you self-taught or have you had any musical training?
J > Before I founded H&YV I had been in bands ever since I was a teenager. During that time I learned a lot about composing and recording music. I guess I was like a naive kid on a mission. I was always concentrating and watching how other musicians played or in a studio when others sat and joked around I was watching what the engineers did with the equipment. In school there was a teacher who showed me some things with guitar but other than that you could say that I'm self-taught. Being in bands I also learned that I worked best alone and that realization led to my first album.
Did you initially have a strong vision on what kind of music this particular band would create, or did the instrumentation and your sound somehow fall in place through experimenting?
J > I can't really remember. I guess I had some sorts of plans especially about the instrumentation. I wanted the guitar to be the main instrument and also use the typical 60's and 70's instrumentation that is dear to me: rhodes pianos, hammonds, tambourines etc. I can't help my mind wandering so there's always ideas but I've learned that there's not much point in planning the music beforehand because in the end it works itself out. When you create things alone you don't have to explain to anyone what you want to do so I rarely have a clear idea of what I'm doing until it's finished. This is ideal to me as this way the music is free to find its shape and it doesn't have to bend to any description.
How are your songs generally born, and what sparks them, if you know? Is there a certain mood you need to achieve to compose, or do the ideas just come as they will?
J > It seems that I have two phases which alternate in my life. One is when I've decided to make music and one is when I'm taking a break. Each usually take months or even years. I can always get an idea but when I've decided to make music I let it come to the forefront of my mind. I concentrate on it and then I grab an instrument and I try to play what I hear in my head. I do this until I'm happy and then I record it and then start building more things around the original idea. This is how it has been when I've recorded my albums. Each time when I've decided I've recorded enough music I concentrate on other things like mixing, mastering, cover art, music videos and I don't think about new music before the old one is released and enough time has passed. Right now I'm in a frustrating limbo as I haven't been able to release the new album and I'd like to get to work on new music already. It's been over a year now since I composed and recorded the last tune of Regret. I feel guilty of not fulfilling the ideas I might have gotten after that but I can't really help myself. I have to get the current one out of my hands first.
Further, do you see composing as more of an intuitional or a slow, mechanical process? How about the track titles and cover artwork, how are they born?
J > It's both. There's a lot of intuition and improvisation involved in playing the instruments but in the end I can't let my brain float too far away as I have to think about for example how to use the recording equipment. To me it's a slow process where both feeling and thinking are equally vital.
I consider the music floating in a vacuum so adding titles, cover art and for example videos feels a bit artificial. The music isn't dependent on the other things but to me adding them is a chance to make more art, have a little fun and also make the music more accessible. Music is expected to come with these things and while I normally don't care much about expectations I think about this like I was a painter who wants to make frames for his own paintings. The track titles of Nausea have a little story in them while Regret has titles with personal meanings.
Personally, I'd describe your music as dark, smoky and relaxed lounge-music with some surf-influence in the guitars. Its sound reminds me of a city at night, but from a film noir-perspective, and the song titles and cover artwork only strengthen these views of mine. Do you have a certain mood or a visual image that you're painting/delivering through your music, or what is it that guides the process of composing?
J > The music guides itself and like I wrote earlier the other things are added later. It's not even the case that the music brings these black and white pictures in my mind and that's why they are there. I just happen to like these photographs and they set the mood nicely but sometimes I wonder if they guide the listener's mind too much. I don't understand the idea some people seem to have that music isn't enough in itself. That if it doesn't have words then at least it's visual. If I wanted to deliver a visual image I would paint instead of making music.
Is there some specific reason for not using any vocals in your music; perhaps it being too strict for the listeners' imagination? Have you found instrumental music to be more free or more restrictive than sung music?
J > I've often been asked this and I think it's because of the expectations. No-one asks classical or jazz composers why there are no vocals in their music. It's like if you use rock instrumentation it sounds weird if there's no-one singing. I've never seriously considered composing music with vocals. It's all come very naturally. Sometimes I've toyed with the idea but in the end I don't want to have words in the music. Words put images in listener's minds and narrow down the space in which the sounds live. This way you also don't need to understand a certain language to understand the music. The listening experience involves no required skills. I don't want the music to tell anyone anything. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I'm not very happy with this world and I want the music to have as little strings attached as possible.
Unlike your first two CD-albums, your third one "Lovely Bone Structure" was released only digitally. Just out of curiosity, noting that (in some sense) your sound is based on the past and there's a vinyl-boom going on... Have you thought about trying to release your music as a vinyl?
J > That would be nice but it's up to the record company to decide. Both my CD albums have been composed with the time restriction of a CD in mind so some compromises might need to be made. I'm happy with having only the CD and digital releases this far. What's important to me is that listening is possible for most people and I don't think there are many who can only listen to vinyls.
The main difference between "Lovely Bone Structure" and your other albums is it being a one 48-minute track instead of a number of shorter compositions. How did you come to start working on this "monolith" of sorts; was it perhaps to test your limits? Care to explain how you came to name the song as "Lovely Bone Structure," does it have a story behind it?
J > Your guess is not far from the truth. Lovely Bone Structure happened almost by a chance. I was in the midst of recording Regret while I had to stop for a few weeks because of some maintenance of the equipment. To pass the time I dusted off some old equipment and decided to try something unusual and see what happens. This was the first time I consciously started "testing" myself with an idea. The plan was to make a tune over 45 minutes with the same beat pattern and bassline going all through it and to see if I could still make it interesting. I wouldn't have cried had I failed but I think the result is quite good. I guess I got the idea from listening to this band called The Necks who usually have one-hour tunes with repetition and very slow changes. I can't remember where the title for the tune came to my mind but for some reason I liked it and thought it was fitting. I didn't consider it an album then and I still don't really know what to call it.
Regarding the above, do you have any other "experiments" planned for the future - be it trying out new instruments, song styles, even vocals?
J > Right now I just wish to get Regret released so I can think of the future more. I like to find used instruments from flea markets and find out what I can do with them so in a way I'm always experimenting. There's been some talk about me working with a vocalist but outside of H&YV. There's no pressure and no timetable with that.
Speaking of experimentations last winter I did my first ever remix. A long-time idol of mine Barry Adamson had this competition to remix his new single and I took a chance. My remix was one of the winners and Adamson liked it so much that he's going to include it as a bonus track on the deluxe edition of his new album. Needless to say that that's quite an honour.
As mentioned, you're currently working on getting your fourth album released. As I naturally haven't heard it yet, would you like to tell us something about how it differs from your previous CD "Nausea" - and of course, what's still similar to it?
J > It's longer as it lasts over an hour and it's more dynamic. It's been recorded over a long period of time during which my personal life was in quite a turmoil. I can remember it all by listening to the album but I don't think it's necessarily just a painful or a sad album. There's some playful and fun things too. It's warmer and breathes more than anything I've ever done before. It rounds out my musical world quite nicely and sometimes I wonder if it's even too diverse. The album has formed its manic depressive self and it is what it is now. I often feel like imperfections are what make things interesting.
You've performed live as a quartet a few times, but on records you're a one-man band. Have you had any plans for making an album with the live-lineup?
J > No. There's a reason I work alone and I can't let anyone or at least almost anyone close to what I do before it's finished. World is full of more skilled musicians than I am but that's not even the point. My music is an egoistical recluse. It's the only place where I'm content of being alone but also a natural way for me to honestly communicate with the rest of the world. For the first time a guest musician might be included in couple of tunes in Regret. I guess the reason for that is that for the first time I've met someone who I completely trust and who can also play an instrument that I can't. Including her would have a personal meaning to me and that would be fitting as the album is already full of them. Although I'm not sure yet if it's possible to add anything as I've already considered the album finished. The composing process is when I need to be completely alone and with this I can't imagine an exception.
You're also a part of the bands Ultranoir and Piss Ennui, would you like to share a word about those, too?
J > UltraNoir is a band in which I played before I founded H&YV. I was asked to rejoin them a year ago. Nowadays my role is small as I have my own musical outlet. I don't have to strain my back or friendships with forcing my visions through. I'm just playing guitar and having fun with old friends.
Piss Ennui is an album I recorded in a couple of weeks with UltraNoir's vocalist. It just happened in almost a tongue-in-cheek fashion but ended up being quite good.
Anything you'd like to add?
J > Being a recording musician comes with certain expectations. People who like my music often ask why I don't play live more. I guess my record company would also like to see me doing it as it's good promotion. It's just that this music is too detailed to translate well when played live. At least with the limited resources I have. Playing in front of people can be lots of fun but at the same time I'm thinking that this doesn't sound like it's supposed to. I often wonder if it's worth the trouble. I'm too much a control freak and perfectionist to be at home with my music outside of my own studio. I don't really even understand why anyone would want to listen to this kind of music in a bar or any other surrounding full of distractions. My recommendation for the best listening experience would be solitude, silence and a good sound system.
Thank you for your time!
Photos: Siiri Raja-Aho