(In this post, Latvian music journalist Evita Hofmane presents her interview with vocalist JP Jakonen of the Finnish band Abbot, whose debut album Between Our Past and Future Lives was released in October 2014 by the Italian label Bloodrock Records and can be heard at the end of this interview.)
Abbot? What is Abbot?
Abbot is classic heavy rock n’ roll band from Pori, Finland.
We had a pretty long and nice virtual interview with their vocalist JP Jakonen.
And btw, Abbot have a US West Coast Tour in the works for the summer of 2016.
Wanna know more? Go ahead!
What is the meaning and inspiration behind the name Abbot?
That would spoil the deep mystique shrouding our band like a psychedelic mushroom cloud if I told you that now, wouldn’t it?
The band began its life in 1996. What are your best memories of that time?
Me and Jussi [Jokinen] went to guitar lessons together, got fed up, and decided to learn Ramones songs. So we put a band together called Cherrycoles, and played Ramones, Screeching Weasel, and Misfits covers. It was such fun to be able to play a song and have it sound like real music (I had been playing hardcore punk before that, which did not sound like real music – we had plastic buckets for drums…).
We practiced in a big house right in the middle of our home town. One night some local teens teamed up against “the punks”, surrounded the house and started throwing stones through the windows. The best memories of that time are of the makeshift weapons our punker friends made against future attacks: shards of 12” glass wrapped in t-shirts, big spears and shit.
Oh, and once a buddy escaped from his home and lived a while in a closet in that house. It was a really small closet. And you had to use ladders to climb there. A good hideaway, though.
When you all got back together after ten years, what was the vibe like?
We had been hanging out a lot together, listening to music, and partying for a while. So getting back together musically felt like a natural extension. Musically, though, we had to find our thing, and that took a lot of time. We had listened to lots of new music in those ten years, so it took some time for those influences to find their expression. We played only three songs for the first two-three years!
To become a musician in Finland where almost everybody plays some musical instrument and has three bands at least – it’s a challenge, or is it something you Finns are predisposed to at birth?
We have to get through the same loops as everyone, I think: lack of encouragement, lack of money, lack of you-name-it. Let me tell you a story to illustrate the first one.
I was 16, just starting to play guitar. I was singing too, although not very good at the time. I thought I was alone in my parent’s house, strumming my guitar and singing in this high-pitched Neil Young-voice. When I stopped I saw my stepfather at my door. At first he just stared, and then, after a while, he offered me some gentle words of very Finnish encouragement: “Whatever you do, please don’t sing”.
Although we’ve played in lots of bands over the past 20 years, now we only have Abbot, and that’s the way to go for us.
What mood are you in when you are creating music?
For Jussi, the best mood seems to be playing the guitar while doing something else, like watching a TV-series or a film. Sometimes new riffs come out of that, and then we’ll start building a song around that. For me, having three kids, it seems increasingly hard to be in any other mood than “Get the crap out of my way, daddy’s trying to put together a song…”
How does the new album sound? Did the record turn out the way you wanted it to?
It’s all right, especially considering the resources and time we had at our disposal. Aesthetically, we have some differing views. Jussi prefers a slightly more low-fi-sounding, rawer, and more straight-forward, and, on the other hand, a more-multidimensional sound.
For me, the album was a really pleasant surprise. We had stuff coming together at the last minute. For “Supermind” we actually recorded entirely new vocals just before mixing, so it made the album sound really fresh, at least to my ears. We have three guys writing songs in the band, so there is variety in how the songs are structured, and also variety in opinions about the sound and stuff.
Do you have any favorite memories from the sessions? Walk me through that period!
Someone from the band eating magic mushrooms in celebration of the finished sessions! And then almost freaking out in the studio sauna when the background track we were listening to from an iPod started accidentally playing Mastodon… which we don’t particularly care for. Fun times!
We recorded the album in the all-analogue studio that Tapio [Lepistö], our bass player, owns. Everything was done in a few sessions, and the last sessions were on Halloween (that seems to be our favorite time since we played in Riga during Halloween as well). We stole a Halloween pumpkin from a local pizza place, sprayed it with Tapio’s awful cologne, and called it “The Dave Murray” because, well, Mr. Dave Murray rather looks like a Halloween pumpkin. That became our good-luck talisman for the sessions.
And now about the design of your new album. That’s also an important part of the message you give to your listeners.
Yeah, the butterfly on the cover is taken from an old school education poster our guitarist Jussi saw in San Francisco. I wanted an animal on the cover, kinda like in Rush’s Fly by Night or Uriah Heep’s untoppable Innocent Victim cover. We gave that and some good weed to our designer and he came up with some cool ideas. On the vinyl version there is a take on Neil Young’s On the Beach album art as well.
How are the reactions in general towards the album?
After putting the word out to different reviewers in Finland, UK, USA, France, the Netherlands, and elsewhere, it seems to be that people either really like it, or they don’t get it at all. Heavy music fans who tend towards a cleaner aesthetic may feel it’s too low-fi. Classic heavy rock-and-roll fans who understand analogue production value seem to dig it a lot. Suits us!
Can you mention a review or opinion about your music that get stuck in your mind?
There are a few. Let’s see…”Abbot’s ‘Child of Light’ could easily be a track from a 1970’s Vertigo compilation album” is a good one; so is “like the work of a genius autistic child” from More Fuzz (France), or “imagine Primus and Egypt combined”. I am not even remotely sure how that should sound like!
What’s your view on the value of music today? In what way does the abundance of music change our perception of it?
When internet suddenly made all the music instantly available and some of my friends were downloading EVERYTHING all at once, I remember thinking how the human mind’s not ready for it. It can be hard to digest that much, and still retain a sense of enjoyment and newness. Of course, it is a matter of personal restriction and stuff.
I use the analogy of “open systems” and “closed systems”, where for example Spotify is an open system – like an endless library – for you to browse around and get aquainted with stuff. A physical album with a beginning and an end is a closed system for you to get to know the music.
A good mix of open systems and closed systems gives awesome value for a music fan these days. You can get into a band from Spotify, and then get deeper by buying their album and getting into their whole gestalt, their whole picture. So you need abundance in order to diversify, and restriction of that abundance in order to dive deep!
Usually, it is considered that it is the job of the artist to win over an audience, but listening is also an active, not just a passive process. How do you see the role of the listener in this communication process?
That’s an excellent question! The role of the listener can be a passive or an active process, depending on many things, especially your state of being at the moment. I think you can also decide to participate in the listening process intentionally, trying to be as open as you can to receiving new impressions. That can be hard if the music’s shit, though.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space, and performance?
Sound should be loud. Space should be taken. By the performance that makes it worthwhile for the audience to attend. That’s a tricky question, by the way! It almost makes one wax philosophical, but let’s try to avoid that.
Do you feel connected to the Finnish Doom scene?
Not that much really, especially now that doom influences for us are not that strong anymore. Also, lots of local bands play more of a sludge or occult-rock type stuff, so that doesn’t make connecting any easier. Doom has kind of a “done” feel to it in Finland: it wouldn’t feel fetching to fill the gap left by Reverend Bizarre.
How do you consider the whole Doom scene? Can you see something that ties all those bands together?
It’s a great revival of modern day bands bound together by a cool sound from the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Is Doom energizing?
Sure, why not? For us, as a band, we’re going more and more towards heavy rock n’ roll, plain and simple. And that is really, really energizing, at least for us, and hopefully for our fans too.
Maybe you can help by passing on some wisdom. What is the main conclusion you have learned during these years about life and music being two inseparable things?
Life is breathing. In breathing there are three forces: active (inhalation), passive (exhalation), and neutralizing (the silence or gap or stillness between breaths). In order to make anything you need all three forces.
You are, also, all three – not just the one force you most identify with according to type. You are active, you are passive, and you are the silence or stillness or emptiness that is the background to all the activeness and passiveness of our immediate, visible lives.
Breathing – this play of the three forces – is the most fundamental form of music and we should study that in our own experience, because all music is just that: attack, release, and silence.
Are you working on any new music right now? What are your plans for this year / the next year?
At the moment we’re writing new stuff, we’ve got an albumful of material to work with. Next year we’ll be heading out for our first ever tour outside Europe. We have a US West Coast Tour in the works for the summer of 2016.