Interview with Anssi

This is a translation of Anssi Kela’s interview published originally in French at in August 2002. The translation from French to English was done by translation software and modified by Even though the interview is over 10 years old, main things are still current! (Although he definitely works more with computer in his recording studio these days!)

When and how did you become a musician?

When I was a kid, I always had the feeling that I was going to become musician. My two parents were professional musicians thus there was always music at home. I could not think of any other profession, therefore I think I really didn’t have any other choice! It is either to make music or to stay at home watching television.

Was the decision to become a professional musician difficult to make?

I had much luck while becoming professional because I had never studied music. I was always making my own tricks in my corner and I played my music with my band. I do not know anything at all about the theoretical side of music and I can’t read notes. Therefore, it was a question of ”all or nothing at all”. If I had not been able to succeed in making my own music, I would surely now be doing something else.

Which musicians have influenced you?

During the last years my main influences have come from three sources. Neil Young, he is my great hero and I’m deeply influenced by his music. I do not know if one can hear it, but there is always a touch of Neil in my songs. Bruce Springsteen has also influenced me a lot, particularly with regard to the lyrics. The third great source of inspiration was the work of the American poet Raymond Carver. I am truly a disciple of Carver and my words represent, in their own way, a little similar form of ”unequal realism”.

Which are the positive and negative sides of being a musician in Finland?

They are probably the same as in all other countries. Finland of course has only 6 million inhabitants, therefore the music industry is rather small too. The Hollywood-like glamour is missing, no red carpets or limousines (and not much money…). At the same time Finland is geographically a large country. Therefore the distances are long and you have to spend lots of hours sitting in the tour bus…

As I had big success here in Finland, many people keep asking me if I would like to translate my songs into English and thus have the possibility of touching people in other countries. But, for the moment, I am very happy with my situation. Finland is small, but it is big enough for me!

What do you think of French music?

I am afraid I don’t know much about French music… However, in 1993 I made some concerts in France. I was in a band called Pekka ja Susi and we took part in a festival called ”L’Europe d’Art d’Art”. The festival took place in a small city called Niort. We were there for one week and we had incredible time there. We met very nice people and played three excellent concerts. I will remember this week in Niort all my life!

Is there any French song you particularly like?

I’m sorry, but at the moment no French songs come to my mind… I know Manu Chao, isn’t he French? He is really good.

How would you define your musical style?

I would say that I am a traditional singer/songwriter who uses modern flavouring. I have deep roots in the American singer/songwriter tradition, which go back to the blues singers like Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson but also to the first country artists like Jimmy Rodgers and Hank Williams. I have the feeling of belonging to this tradition though I write my songs in my own language and from a Finnish cultural point of view.

Have you thought of changing your musical style completely?

I started to amuse myself and write songs in 1986. Since that I have gone trough many different music styles. I made heavy metal, funk, reggae, punk, ska, blues… Name a music style… I surely have played it! I think that it is very good way for a young musician to find his own style. You test different styles and when you become more mature as musician, you can mix all these influences to your own style. I do not know if you can hear all the afore mentioned in my present music but they all are there. But to finally answer your question: no, I have not really thought of changing my style. It took me years to find it and now I’m going to keep it!

Which are the subjects you tackle in your songs?

I really like to tell stories in my songs! I like simple words with a meaning. At one time I was fed up with lyrics I didn’t understand. There are many songs with beautiful and poetic words, but when you start to think of their meaning, you do not know what those songs are about! I am a simple person and if I do not understand what I listen to, it doesn’t touch me. I think that the most touching songs are those in which you can project yourself and to put yourself at the place of the singer and reflect your own life. Therefore, I try to make that kind of songs: I write about everyday life; like walking the dog or taking a car ride with friends. They are simple things, but they touch all of us and thus everyone can found herself in these songs.

Which of your songs is your favourite?

I suppose it is a song called Nummela because it is so personal. It is really the history of my life, told in 5 minutes… My childhood, my youth, the death of my father, the meeting of my wife, my marriage. Everything is in there, it is a very special song for me.

Do you tour regularly? And do you prefer to play your music in front of a public or in the studio?

During the last 16 months I have been touring. We have made more than 200 concerts. Now I have a break and I concentrate on my next album. I like both, working in the studio and performing live. They are two very different worlds for sure… I appreciate them both.

Regarding the making of an album, which stage do you prefer?

One of the best things is of course when you see your album in a record shop for the first time. The making of an album is a long process. Sometimes you encounter painful moments when you think that the record will be never finished!
But I like also those magical moments in studio when something completely unforeseen takes place and something that sounds good has been found!

Which artists do you listen to at the moment?

The last album of Bruce Springsteen, of course… it is excellent! I also like two or three songs from the album Toxicity by System of a Down.

What are you up to at the moment?

At the moment I look after my left wrist. I was injured about two weeks ago in an accident during a karting race (one my favorite pastime activities). As soon as I am able to play guitar again I will continue to work on my next album which we plan to release next spring.

A stupid question… which is the best song ever made?

It is really impossible to give an answer! The favorite songs change all the time, but currently I would say that Springsteen’s ”The River” is the greatest song of all times!

What do you think of internet as a musician and a songwriter?

There are two aspects. On the other hand it is a brilliant media because it gives you the possibility of being in touch with people you couln’t be in contact otherwise. For example: I have heard about Germans who had downloaded my songs and appreciated them. You cannot buy my albums in Germany, therefore it is sympathetic to know that my music finds response even if the language may seem strange!

The problem arrives when people stop buying discs because they can find them for free on internet. If that continues, one day there will be no more music to download!

Do you use a computer when you write or make songs?

Not that much. I like to make the songs with ”old” methods. I have a home studio with a 24 track digital recorder, but I must always press the ”Record” button and play with real instruments. I don’t like the present idea of editing the music more and more and enjoying it less and less.

Interview done in August 2002 by Vincent Lefrançois.