Music That Fathoms the Sky
With a new lineup and a new album, Helsinki’s Husky Rescue return to St. Petersburg to fill the air with images.
Published: April 17, 2013 (Issue # 1755)
Husky Rescue, the Helsinki-based experimental, ambient pop band that has been around for a decade, will return to St. Petersburg in a new form this week — as a trio featuring the band’s founder, bassist and producer Marko Nyberg, Anglo-Finnish multi-instrumentalist Antony Bentley and Swedish singer Johanna Kalén.
The band’s fourth full-length studio album, “The Long Lost Friend,” was released last week and is available in Russia digitally via the websites Fidel.ru and Zvooq.ru.
The St. Petersburg Times spoke to Nyberg via Skype on Saturday.
Is the new album the first by the current lineup?
Yes, the first with Antony and Johanna. We also did an EP called “Deep Forest Green” last year. If you heard “Deep Forest Green,” you will know the direction we are taking, and where we are going on the new album. We decided to record a full album without a real drummer, and there were some other changes made as well, but I think that was the main difference when compared to previous albums.
You once said that you considered expanding Husky Rescue to six members to add more color. Is there any contradiction with your current existence as a trio?
Actually, there was an interesting aspect of rebirth to it… I wouldn’t like to use the word “project”, because normally a project is something that… you know when it’s starting and when it’s about to end. Since I stripped down the touring band, I think it’s been more kind of… I don’t know if “democratic” is the best word to explain it, but we did a lot of things together. With the first EP [by the current lineup], we started the recording process in New York, and it was pretty much done together. It’s been very nice working as some sort of a compact team, as we are now — as a trio.
How does that work in concert?
It’s amazing! [Laughs] We are very happy, because I feel that we’ve managed to get it to work nicely and properly. Maybe it has become a little bit more electronic. I think Husky have always been described as [playing] a kind of electronic music, but I am not sure if it really is. But now maybe it’s [moved] a little bit more in that direction. Obviously, though, the methods of how it’s been constructed and built are electronic, but the sound is not hard. It’s quite organic, with a lot of [recognizable] sounds.
The current lineup turns Husky Rescue into an international band, with a singer living in Sweden. How did that happen?
We [now] have an approach which is more poetic… Johanna was actually taking some time off and was living in a trailer in the forest. It was not so far away from Stockholm and is actually pretty near where the Swedish King lives, in Ekerö. And when wintertime came, she started thinking, “What will happen, when the cold times arrive?” — and it was then that I actually called her.
How did the band start? Is it true that Husky Rescue was only you in the beginning?
When it began, I was starting to tune into [something new]. Back then I was listening to quite a different type of music. Suddenly I just tuned into this channel. I suddenly saw quite clearly how Husky Rescue should sound, what kind of elements should be put together in order to become Husky Rescue.
I hadn’t really thought that we would be touring. First of all, I saw it more as a studio project, because it was back then that I started my own studio. I was thinking we might end up producing a series of short films.
I think it took something like 18 months from the point when the first Husky Rescue tracks were put together until a few BBC Radio One DJs selected the first EP, [“Sleep Tight Tiger,”] as the release of the month on their program. The guys were Chris Coco and Rob Da Bank, and we were asked if we were able to come over to England to play. I think it took six or seven months more and then we were flown to London to play there.
What inspired you to become a musician in the first place?
When I was a kid, I got my dad’s first radio. He bought it when he was 16. It was a kind of old tube radio, and I used to sit by this radio for hours, and there was also a record player. My dad had a lot of 45s, 7” vinyl records, and there were some soundtracks and a lot of different types of music. I used to listen mostly to instrumental music with the pitch turned down. They were mostly 45 [rpms], but I was listening to them on 33. I felt it was way more exciting. I think it made a slightly different kind of painting in front of me. I’ve always tried to raise that kind of issue when making music and get back to that point where I see the music.
It was fun when one of my friends played the new album to his son today, and his son, who is five years old, commented, “I can’t believe my eyes how beautiful this music is.” I think he coined a great expression, in a way. I’ve always had this kind of connection to music that is not super physical, so that I kind of “picturize” a concrete scene for my eyes. It’s actually interesting what the inner eye can see, or some sort of third eye, when you’re listening to music.
I actually find it even more exciting that we have the possibility to create it all by ourselves and to use that kind of inner eye.
How do you approach songwriting?
It’s actually an interesting question, because Anthony has been writing all the lyrics for the new album with Johanna. We wrote the album pretty much together, more like a team. Personally, I’ve never been that much into the lyrics side of the music. I’ve always considered singing as an instrument; the most powerful instrument, because it’s the closest. When you’re human and you hear some other human being singing or making noise, that makes it the most powerful element. That’s how I see it. I think for Husky it’s essential.
When I listen to those four albums — it’s actually a little bit hard to even listen to them — it’s like 10 years passing by; like some sort of movie. It’s not a movie, but like a series of emotions. I see it from the perspective I have now, in 2013. I kind of notice that it’s been very personal, actually, because it’s always been quite emotional. There’s been some sort of emotion inside, which has been touching. I don’t know how to explain it properly, but it takes a lot of guts when you start composing a pop tune, or any tune, and you really need to trust in this kind of emotion that you have. You’re kind of ‘picturizing’ the emotion, this kind of abstract thing which then becomes concrete when the song is ready. It’s a sort of reflection of the emotion that was important [at the time]. But I feel it isn’t necessary to say anything about that kind of emotion that we were into when the music was being born.
Can Finland be heard in your music, or could your music be made by someone outside Finland?
That’s an even bigger question. It’s a combination, like now, when we were producing this album together… I don’t consider myself a musician, but more as a craftsman of music, because my way of making music is like sitting with a huge box full of tools.
I recently spoke with someone about the track called “June” on the new album, who said that it somehow [seems to] refer to something like early Björk, the Icelandic artist. It made me think. It’s interesting how, for example, nature in Finland is stable and super tangible. For people who live in Iceland, it’s a lot more unpredictable. The ground you’re on is very different. If you don’t trust the ground, it’s different, because you’re thinking there might be some super-hot water coming from a hot spot, and you never know when it could hit. Obviously, there’s a kind of stability that we have in our nature. It certainly gives us some sort of tools to work with, because they’re quite deep, somewhere inside.
If you think about the shape of pop culture, the glasses that you use for seeing things through might be a little different if you lived in New Zealand or China, the United Kingdom, Sweden or Finland, and you talk a slightly different language, when you’re putting the elements together — be it graphic design or painting work. Mostly people have the same tools to work with, but how the elements come together, how the ideas come together, is different. But the main thing, I think, is still the person and the personality.
Where was the new album recorded?
We started the recording process in Brooklyn, and then we had one gig last summer in Berlin and we went to a studio there for four days. It was super enjoyable to be in Berlin. And then [part of] it was also recorded in Sweden and Helsinki. Four different places. Actually, five: [We also recorded in] a small town in Finland called Porvoo, which is a super beautiful old town on a river, where we recorded some elements in an old pencil factory. The magical coincidence is that we also recorded in another pencil factory, in Brooklyn. The music was mostly recorded in pencil factories!
Didn’t you used to record some of your sounds in an attic in Helsinki?
On some previous albums, I recorded some of the elements in an attic. We try to scout for inspiring places. One point of the recording processes is to become inspired. It’s very obvious that when we’re trying to be creative and uncover some content inside [ourselves], the environment is very important. Some of the stuff for the new album was recorded in a wardrobe. The place where you’re recording something affects the result of the recording very much, in a way. It can have a completely different spirit depending on where you do it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a well-equipped studio. Sometimes, actually quite the contrary gives you a better result, not a studio at all. It might be not as hi-fi, but it has more soul sometimes.
What kind of music do you listen to?
So many different kinds, is the short answer. I hardly listen to music when I’m in the middle of creating something new. We’ve just had breakfast, and there was great breakfast music for a Saturday morning by the band Beach House. I know Antony really likes Sigur Ros.
I certainly like what I call “vintage” music. I have actually gone quite deeply into it, because mostly what I listen to now at home is some early 20th-century music, from the 1920s and 1930s. I find it inspiring, because it’s not typical of this age at all, and it’s a kind of soundtrack in itself. It’s mostly transferred from these old 78 rpm records, so it has these scratchy, noisy sounds that I really like.
Can you tell us something about your experiences in Russia?
We’ve been [to Russia] a few times. I’ve always had a good time in Russia, because I find the culture you have very interesting when we go further back in history — [to the times of] the monarchy — because it’s something so powerful. St. Petersburg has so much in common with Paris, for example, in that old culture and cultural life, I find it super exciting. It’s kind of sad we haven’t really had time to be on our own in St. Petersburg. I’ve only been a few times, but then we were playing and it has been always so [strictly] scheduled, it was not really possible to see things. I’ve seen a little bit more in Moscow.
We have always had a great time in Russia, and I really love this old-school tradition of Russian food. There are a couple of great Russian restaurants in Helsinki. I like the whole package. In these modern times, when everything is globalized and you have the same experience everywhere in the world — like the same kind of coffee shops and you have this Asian fusion cooking wherever you go — I started to appreciate when something is honest to the roots, when there’s a real culture surrounding it, when it’s unspoiled. Everything is changing all the time in a constant [push forward] but I get a feeling that sometimes it’s great when progress is slow. When you go to a Russian restaurant, the style should be old-school, and it’s great to drink champagne or vodka from crystal glasses. Then you feel you’re part of that experience.
Husky Rescue will perform at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, April 17 at Zal Ozhidaniya, located at 118 Naberezhnaya Obvodnogo Kanala. M: Baltiiskaya. Tel. 333 1069.