Only a northern song
Singer-songwriter Aino Venna will perform at the News From Helsinki music event next week. Aino Venna’s influences range from urban folk and chanson to torch songs and pop with a Finnish flavor.
Published: November 28, 2012 (Issue # 1737)
Venna released her debut album ‘Marlene’ in late October, featuring the single ‘Suzette.’
Aino Venna, an up-and-coming singer-songwriter from Finland, sings in English and French, blending folk, chanson, torch songs and pop, but admits a Finnish music tradition.
Venna, who released her debut album “Marlene” in late October, had success with the album’s first single “Suzette,” which was named the “Summer Hit” by Radio Helsinki and was among the most played songs at Radio Suomi for three months.
Venna will perform in St. Petersburg and Moscow early next week — alongside Big Wave Riders and Tundramatiks — as part of the News from Helsinki project organized by Music Finland.
In St. Petersburg, Venna will perform with her band, which features double bass, guitars, percussion and ukulele.
Born in Helsinki, Venna spent five years in Turku studying film at the Arts Academy at Turku University of Applied Sciences.
“The music came along a bit later,” Venna said speaking to The St. Petersburg Times by phone ahead of the concert.
“I have been composing and writing songs from a very early age. I decided to study film because I was too shy to perform my songs, and I thought that making films was more introvert work.”
Venna said that at the end of her studies, she suddenly found that her passion for music was outweighing her interest in film, and music started to take up much more of her time.
“I did a bit of TV work after I graduated, but then I realized that I really wanted to focus on music, so that’s what I am doing right now,” she said. “I have directed our music videos, so that is my way of making films.”
Venna, whose first musical instrument was cello, said her interest in music originates from her childhood in Helsinki.
“My father listened to a great deal of music, and he used to play guitar when I was very little, and I was into music from a very early age,” she said.
“He used to listen to everything, but musically it was like old style, like blues and jazz, Ray Charles and Edith Piaf, old chansons. It was [everything] from Pavarotti to the Beatles. He had a very large appetite for music. But in the beginning it was old style, [stuff from] before the 1960s — Elvis and all the big names.”
Venna said her influences are international, but admitted that the Finnish music tradition could be felt in her songs.
“I think a certain melancholy, simplicity, like we have in our traditional songs in Finland — you can see some influences from that in our music,” she said.
“[The songs] are very minimalistic in a way, I think it’s very Finnish to have this kind of certain frankness.”
One of her earliest music memories was of her father confiscating a tape by Finnish singer-songwriter Juice Leskinen from her and giving her an Elvis tape as a replacement.
“I used to listen to this Finnish musician, singer-songwriter Juice Leskinen, his songs were a bit provocative, and my parents took his tape from me and gave me an Elvis one,” she said.
“I was maybe five years old, I was a bit angry at first, but I liked Elvis almost instantly and he became my idol. I used to watch these awful Elvis movies they made in the 1950s and 1960s.
“I used to sing in public, on trains, buses or trams when we were traveling to school or to visit someone, I used to sing all the time, so I think my parents got a bit embarrassed of my interpretations of Juice Leskinen, so Elvis was nicer.”
“Juice Leskinen is very famous and he’s famous for his lyrics that are quite brilliant. But his early recordings were more provocative and more against the government, and they had some punk tones. I think that that was the part that my parents didn’t like. They used to listen to that music themselves, but they didn’t want me to listen to it, or sing it in public!”
Venna said she mostly writes in English, apart from two songs that she wrote in French, but none in Finnish.
In Petersburg, Venna will perform with her band, featuring double bass, guitars, percussion and ukulele.
“I think it’s because I was shy at first, so it was easier to choose a foreign language, to express yourself it was easier to have this kind of distance. Finnish is a bit of a difficult language; it has a different tone than English. But I think it was probably just a way to get distance and the courage to perform —that was the reason that I chose a different language.”
Venna, whose first recording was a solo EP called “Missing Buttons” released last year, said her debut album was built around the title song “Marlene,” which referred to German actress Marlene Dietrich with themes “circling around love and the feeling of being the odd one out,” as she put it in a press release for the album.
The album was, in a way, a development of her first recording with the band, the EP “Waltz to Paris,” released in February.
“We had such a good feeling about it, a good feeling about playing and recording, so we just stayed in the studio and continued, and then we realized that we actually had an album in our hands,” she said.
“It was a very intense process, we were sitting in the studio for a year.”
She calls Dietrich and French singer Edith Piaf, to whom she paid homage in “Waltz to Paris,” her idols.
“The first time I heard [Piaf] sing, I understood that something very important was happening. I didn’t understand the words but it sounded like she was singing like it was the last moment in life,” Venna wrote in her autobiography.
“She and Marlene Dietrich are my idols because they had the courage to change the female role of their times. I named our first album after Marlene because of respect for this great artist, woman and a great speaker of peace.”
“Piaf and Dietrich are inspiration to our music but we are not trying to imitate them or reproduce their works. They inspire us like a beautiful landscape, a good book, movie or a cello concerto.”
According to Venna, she finds inspiration for her lyrics in “old movies, books, the past and present world,” rather than in everyday life.
“I think it’s because there are more strong feelings that are not that like everyday life,” she said.
“And I’ve always been a great fan of melodrama, at one point I was a great fan of your great writers, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, who have these very strong pictures in their books about being unhappy, and alone, and being in love in a very destructive way. Because I’ve been watching films from a very early stage, I started to adopt a certain taste for huge and dramatic gestures and feelings. It’s not like everyday living.”
The success of “Suzette,” a catchy tune in French, came as a surprise to Venna.
“We were a bit shocked, because it was so popular; it won the ‘Summer Hit’ contest on one of the radio stations in Finland, Radio Helsinki. I was a bit astonished.”
According to Venna, the song stems from the French urban folk tradition.
“It’s about a girl, she is not a very nice girl, she is singing that you should leave me, I’m not good for you. I’m with other boys, I [run around] with girls who are criminals,” she said.
“If I smile, I’ll never smile for you, so you should leave me. It’s very simple, it’s like old-style street songs that they have in Paris, it’s really repeating the same thing. She sings ‘Pourquoi tu ne me quittes pas’ — ‘Why don’t you leave me?’”
“War Song,” the album’s closing track whose video features beautifully desolate Finnish landscapes, is somewhat darker.
“It’s not about the Winter War per se, I was maybe thinking about the Second World War; not the war we had to go through in Finland, but the war that we had to go through all around the world,” Venna said.
“It’s not domestic, but more a global song about war. How someone always stays at home, and someone always goes to the front.”
Aino Venna will perform as part of the News from Helsinki project at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 4 at Zoccolo, 2/3 3rd Sovietskaya Ulitsa. Tel. 274 9467.