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Kosmos (Finland)

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Kosmos from 2013
MSJ:

Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music – both individually and as a band?

Ismo Virta: Kosmos has made three albums, and the fourth is coming. I started with nameless and meritless gothic cellar bands playing guitar. We made our own songs because we could play only “Louie Louie” (badly). After few years I was (and still am) involved in Dystopia, which plays dark ambient. Then came Kosmos. I also play in e-musikgruppe Lux Ohr, which plays ambient Krautrock. Nowadays I play mainly keyboards.

Kari Vainionpää: I'm self-taught, starting with first tentative attempts at the age of thirteen. Since the age of 17 I have been playing mainly guitar and bass, but I like to tamper with other instruments, as well. In Kosmos I have played, I don't know exactly, maybe ten years. 

Kimmo Lähteenmäki: I'm almost completely self-taught as a musician. I've been playing drums and keyboards since the late 80s in various bands. I was a drummer in a pop rock group Silent Spring from 1995-2000 and a drummer and mostly a keyboard player in Lost Spectacles and Viima from late 1998 until 2011. I’ve now been a member of Kosmos since 2005 and I often come up with some keyboard-parts or drums when needed.

Olli Valtonen: I have no musical background. In Kosmos I act mainly as a producer and a lyricist.

Päivi Kylmänen: Been walking on the path of ”folkmusic,” in a way or another, since 1980.

MSJ:
If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
Ismo Virta: I’m very keen on orienteering, so I would spend more time with a map and a compass in the forest. And also with my wife and our dog. Maybe get a few more (dogs, not wives).

Kari Vainionpää: Books, motorcycles, boats, art, electronics, chess, there are many possibilities. Anything that interests me. But I'm glad there is music.

Kimmo Lähteenmäki: I'd probably try to create art using some other forms of expression.

Olli Valtonen: I would drive my motorcycle towards the sunset, and during winters I would drink wine and write poems. . .

Päivi Kylmänen: For a living? I´m an operating room nurse, with a life-long music hobby. Cannot imagine life without involvement in music.

MSJ: How did the name of the group originate?
Ismo Virta: Way back we had a project with Olli called “Kosmos.” There were people reciting Olli’s texts, and I made the music and recorded it. Later, when I began to write songs to Olli’s texts, it seemed natural to keep the name. Olli is very interested in “the other reality” and all the cosmic stuff, so the name is very fitting (Kosmos means cosmos in Finnish).

Kimmo Lähteenmäki: Olli can tell you about it. I've always thought it fits the band and its cosmic lyrics perfectly. It’s a good thing that the name is simple – that way it’s easy to remember. It’s also something that’s not difficult to pronounce even if the language is Finnish.

Olli Valtonen: See Ismo’s answer…

MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?
Ismo Virta: I am a big fan of the mellotron, so all the progressive groups with mellotron! I also love guitar, so all the groups with an original guitar playing. So: King Crimson, Yes, etcetera. My first love in music was David Bowie and his glam rock period, and with him I learned to appreciate the element of surprise and the c-c-c-changes in style. His Berlin trilogy is marvelous! I am a big fan of Lodger, I like his sense of humour.

Kari Vainionpää: John Martyn, Camel, The Rolling Stones, Roxy Music, Frank Zappa, Can, Bob Dylan, John Renbourn, Pink Floyd, Manu Chao, Serge Gainsbourg, Porcupine Tree. . . My favourites have changed with time and sometimes vanished from my radar to be found later anew. I listened to John Martyn in the beginning of the 80s and then I forgot his music for almost 20 years. But it's difficult to say who has actually influenced my playing and if it is audible in my playing.

Kimmo Lähteenmäki: My musical influences come from many places but I mostly listened to various hard rock bands in the 80s when I was a kid. My favourite of them was probably Queensrÿche. After that Rush was an important band for me. I realized that I liked the 70s Rush the best and it opened up my mind to other more progressive bands from that era, like Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, Camel, Renaissance, Emerson, Lake & Palmer etcetera, and I found my own style mostly from there. But of course I didn’t end up just listening to Progressive Rock. I also kept listening to Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Procol Harum, Kate Bush and some specific ones from Electric Light Orchestra and The Moody Blues just to name a few. Maybe it would be the easiest to say that I prefer almost any music made between 1966 and 1984. Anything goes. . . from ABBA to Zappa.

Olli Valtonen: Mainly from sixties and seventies: Donovan, Leonard Cohen, Marc Bolan, Who, Renaissance, most progressive groups, especially King Crimson and Italian progressive groups. Krautrock is also very important to me.

Päivi Kylmänen: Acoustic, melodious, improvisational music.

MSJ: What's ahead for you?
Ismo Virta: Kosmos and Lux Ohr both release their albums this spring. There will be some gigs with Lux Ohr, and the planning of the next Kosmos album.

Kari Vainionpää: Old age and death. Well, death at least is certain.

Kimmo Lähteenmäki: I'm no longer in Viima, although we’re still making an album together, and Kosmos doesn't occupy my time very much, so I'm open for new musical projects after both bands finish their albums. I also might start writing some songs for Kosmos for the first time.

Olli Valtonen: The lyrics for the next Kosmos album.

Päivi Kylmänen: Fourth album of Kosmos, hopefully soon.

MSJ: I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labelled, but how would you describe your music?
Ismo Virta: Progressive and psychedelic folk or rock? If there is mellotron it has to be progressive, right? Seriously, I think it is easier to label individual songs than your whole musical career.

Kari Vainionpää: I haven't thought much about that, but I have been told (and I accept the definition) that it's psychedelic folk-rock or something like that. 

Kimmo Lähteenmäki: The music of Kosmos has influences from folk and psychedelic music from the late 60s and the early 70s. The music is also mixed with some slight elements of progressive rock.

Olli Valtonen: I think acid folk is the nearest adequate pigeonhole. . .

MSJ: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?
Ismo Virta: Haven’t really thought about that, but I’m getting to know more and more musicians all the time, so the possibilities really are limitless! If I have the time and the idea of the project sounds good and there are people involved that I get along with, I’m willing to try it.

Kari Vainionpää: Certainly, but I don't know who they are yet. I play with people that are around me, people who want to make music and who I like to be in contact with. 

Kimmo Lähteenmäki: Well, I’m just happy to play with anyone.

Päivi Kylmänen: Any folkjazzfusionist there is available.

MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
Ismo Virta: I feel that in legal downloading you give your music away very cheaply, so the question for me is not is it legal or illegal, but what do you gain? If you get enough exposure, it can be valuable for you in the future. If you operate in the marginal, there won’t be much money in any case.

Kari Vainionpää: It's hardly a help, but I'm not for harsh measures against it. It doesn't seem to have diminished the amount of music that is constantly made around the globe.

Kimmo Lähteenmäki: It's a complicated question. Well, I guess it raises interest towards more unknown bands and other music. The most important thing especially for young people who are interested in music, is to listen to every kind of music as much as possible with an open mind – especially if they’re going to be musicians. Music should be easily available for them somehow. There should be an equal opportunity for every kind of music that’s been made. The freedom of choice should prevail. The big record companies usually take most of the profits and they’re not helping the true music that’s out there. Naturally, they’re in it for the money and the art of music gets overshadowed by cheap noise that’s made popular. Well, if the music on the album and even the artwork is interesting enough, people will still buy it. If an artist really makes an effort while creating an album it will show and people should respect it with their wallet. Well, I probably haven’t really answered your question. I might not be able to answer it. I’ll just end by saying it’s a double-edged sword.

Olli Valtonen: Big artists lose money, but maybe the new ones and the alternative bands gain something. . .
Päivi Kylmänen: Depends. Paradigm shift going on.

MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
Ismo Virta: I don’t mind at all, I’m flattered if they are that interested. Maybe they get something on tape that I want to hear sometime.

Kari Vainionpää: I think that's ok, haven't they been doing that for ages?

Kimmo Lähteenmäki: It doesn’t really concern us and personally I have nothing bad to say about that.

Olli Valtonen: I don’t mind, if they get their kicks from lousy sound quality. . .

Päivi Kylmänen: Feel okay, but wouldn’t do it.

MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
Ismo Virta: Basically the kind of person who says “you can’t do that” all the time. To me, all experiment is valuable and the end justifies the means. I like to do the things “the wrong way” because you may find something new! And there really are no rules.

Kari Vainionpää: The Abominable Accordion Man. Nothing wrong with the instrument, but good music and the accordion seldom meet. That's the kryptonite. The Accordion Man throws in a couple of lines of good music in the middle of a battle and I'm paralyzed by the beauty.

Kimmo Lähteenmäki: How interesting questions you have! First I have to say that I appreciate all kinds of music. I applaud every person who makes an effort in creating this art. There are always some good and some bad music in every genre. Well, just to give you an answer, an easy target would’ve been Stock Aitken Waterman in the late 80s. I guess they were one of the reasons why the concept of popular music has been turning more and more towards mere cheap entertainment.

Olli Valtonen: Michael Jackson, sick “ubermensch” whose actions don’t all stand the daylight! Besides I have never liked his music.

MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?
Ismo Virta: I know that many great artists are not that good at team playing, so there are limits.  Or maybe we should get David Bowie, Richie Blackmore, Pete Townsend, Gene Simmons, Keith Emerson and Ginger Baker together and see what happens.

Kari Vainionpää: Well. . . I would have loved to hear what Ry Cooder and John Martyn would have come out with from the studio, for example. Personal chemistry is tricky so you never know what will come out when you put musicians together.

Kimmo Lähteenmäki: That’s a too difficult question! You just can’t say who is the best player or a singer. I’ll just say this: The band would probably have some players from progressive rock bands from the 70s but whoever they are, they should be the artists who show the most emotion in their playing or singing.

Olli Valtonen: Keith Moon, Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger, Jimmy Page, Jack Bruce, and for backing vocals Roger Daltrey and Robert Plant!

MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?
Ismo Virta: All the great big progressive groups from the seventies, but you would need a time machine for that! Nowadays most of them are a bit tired or out of business altogether…But not all!

Kari Vainionpää: Can't give you exact names, but at the moment it would be a blend of reggae, West African beats, blues (rock), classic progressive rock and some mellow jazzy sounds.

Kimmo Lähteenmäki: Is there any way to dodge these tricky questions of yours?  Well, here’s a thought: all the best new progressive rock bands on the list and then they would be joined later by some classic members of Yes, Genesis, King Crimson etc., and the members of Rush. That goes without saying.

Olli Valtonen: Hawkwind, Amon Duul 2, Styx, The Beatles, and finally the Hair Musical with the original cast! (I have over 50 different ”Hair” albums).

Päivi Kylmänen: I think -  loads of jazz vocal artists. . . Josefine Cronholm, Eeppi Ursin, Beate S. Lech, Nina Ramsby, Laura Sippola, for example. Would be wonderful!

MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
Ismo Virta: I have to thank Olli for informing me about Judy Dyble’s latest, I think it is magnificent! All the King Crimson connections are a bonus for a long time fan like me, and I really love her voice! Just like Olli, I buy only vinyl, with very rare exceptions.

Kari Vainionpää: The last CD I bought was Sergio Altamura's Aria Meccanica.

Kimmo Lähteenmäki: The last thing I bought was The Word Is Live collection by Yes.  I’ve been listening to some of Enya’s work and lots of new talents from SoundCloud lately. Usually I end up listening to some of my favourite songs in collections that I've made.

Olli Valtonen: I buy CDs only if I can’t them on vinyl. I can’t remember the last one, it has been such a long time ago. Lately I have been listening to Talking with Strangers by Judy Dyble, and the albums by Use of Ashes.

Päivi Kylmänen: Been listening to Sixto Rodriguez. Hurray, Spotify! Last CD I bought was by Yiotis Kiourtsoglou, Hapopsis. You don’t find it in Spotify

MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
Ismo Virta: My literary taste is very escapistic, and I tend to read the same books again and again. At the moment I go through the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett, and detective stories by Robert van Gulic and Rex Stout -classics!

Kari Vainionpää: Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall was well written. And Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace, I enjoyed that too. And Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, harsh but nevertheless enjoyable reading.

Kimmo Lähteenmäki: No, I haven't. I should definitely take the time to read more books and I recommend it to everyone.

Olli Valtonen: I have no time to read books. Sometimes I read comic books by Sokal (Ankardo).

Päivi Kylmänen: Robert Bolano, The Savage Detectives.

MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Ismo Virta: It was a free festival in Stockholm, Sweden called “Arts Birthday.” It was mainly electronic music, and they all seemed to play Apple computers! The main attraction was J.G. Thirlwell, better known as “Foetus.”

Kari Vainionpää: Last '”concert” was a private gig by the band of a friend of mine. No, actually the last one was a local troubadour in a local pub. 

Kimmo Lähteenmäki: A Rush concert… you might have guessed.  I’ve also seen Yes several times live.

Olli Valtonen: The last foreign group I saw here was Big Elf. I missed Donovan’s concert last summer and I will regret it for the rest of my life.

Päivi Kylmänen: West of Eden, Celtic folkrock from Gothenburg.

MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
Ismo Virta: Doesn’t everybody?  Lousy Bowie covers. Ruby Grant’s reggae version of “Space Oddity” from the eighties is a personal favourite, Ronnie Hilton’s “Laughing Gnome” a close second!

Kari Vainionpää: No, I feel no shame when it comes to music.

Kimmo Lähteenmäki: There really shouldn’t be such a thing… I actually have too many of them to mention.  Well, OK… here’s one: Trillion – a late 70s pop rock group. Ismo sometimes teases me for enjoying that. They have a song called “Child upon the Earth” which I quite like. I even have two copies of that self-titled album.

Olli Valtonen: I love to listen to old Finnish schlager (and also to recommend it to others).

MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Ismo Virta: I deny all the rumours you may have heard!

Kari Vainionpää: It would be great if I had a good story to tell but alas, I haven't. Maybe when our acoustic trio broke when free beer ran out. We had got our money and drank our beers but the guys wanted more and started to fight first with the pub-owner and then with each other. I bought a new beer from the counter. 

Kimmo Lähteenmäki: I just remembered this one: I find myself playing some random gigs from time to time in one of my friends’ band. Several years ago we were going to play a wedding gig in a Swedish-speaking area of Finland. I was the only one who didn’t really speak Swedish and I ended up drinking quite a lot before the show. I already thought I had enough. Then people wanted me to join them. It was for something I wasn’t really prepared for. Naturally, I didn’t refuse the offer but I wasn’t used to the Finnish-Swedes and their drinking-song habits.  Well, after a while I really had too many drinks and I somehow escaped. My feet found their way and I dived into my car. Then I just sat there and passed out. The bass-player took the difficult job of finding me, then waking me up and leading me to the stage to play the drums. The first song was “Johnny B. Goode” and it went down quite well. Thank God it's not the hardest of songs to play. Well, that wasn’t such a good case of a Spinal Tap moment but at least I could swear some of the guitar players I've played with had a curious amplifier knob going to eleven.

MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?
Ismo Virta: Maybe I should give some guitar heroes a change to meet each other, so for instance Hendrix, Al Di Meola and Eddy Van Halen should be interesting.

Kari Vainionpää: Dead friends and dead relatives, absolutely. But that's probably not the gist, so I'll say David Attenborough, Frank Zappa and Carl Barks.

Kimmo Lähteenmäki: That's almost impossible to decide. Well, lately I’ve needed people to cheer me up and make me laugh, so maybe John Cleese, Rick Wakeman and Alex Lifeson. Any member of Rush would do but Alex might be the most fun to be around. . .

Olli Valtonen: Madame Blavatsky, William Blake, Aleister Crowley.

Päivi Kylmänen: Ulla, Sanna and Marja. Long time, no see. . .

MSJ: What would be on the menu?
Ismo Virta: Who cares?

Kari Vainionpää: Something delicious, I would leave that to professionals.

Kimmo Lähteenmäki: It doesn't matter. Anything will do. The good company and the conversations would be the most important thing.

Olli Valtonen: Vine, bread, fish

Päivi Kylmänen: Organic, vegetarian food.

MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
Ismo Virta: Thank you for your patience and goodbye!

Kari Vainionpää: If you are into psychedelic folk-rock and happen to buy a Kosmos record, I hope you'll enjoy it.

Kimmo Lähteenmäki: Thank you. It was a pleasure doing this interview with you. I’m wishing you and all the readers a very good year.

Olli Valtonen: I enjoy seeing how popular vinyl still is in the present “format jungle.”

Päivi Kylmänen: ”Well, just climb up on my music, And my songs will set you free, Well, just climb up on my music, And from there jump off with me.” - Sixto Rodriguez

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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