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Chosen One: The Gentleman Losers

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So we had a feeling of being stuck in this insane limbo, this quicksand, where no matter how fast we run, we don’t make headway.”

 Samu & Ville Kuukka

Words: Mark Carry

 TGL-Promo-2018-2-Large

Last winter saw the highly anticipated return of Finnish duo The Gentleman Losers with their sublime third studio album ‘Permanently Midnight’ (released on Estonian boutique label Grainy Records). With the addition of vocals (on several tracks) and synthesizer instrumentation, the band’s unique sound world has further evolved, producing a rejuvenated, cathartic and deeply bewitching sonic experience.

The Gentleman Losers consist of brothers Samu and Ville Kuukka from Helsinki, Finland. The duo’s immaculate instrumental music first surfaced in 2006 with their universally acclaimed self-titled debut full length, followed by the equally exceptional ‘Dustland’ in 2009. Looking back, the band mapped magnificently the gorgeous ambient and modern classical recordings of the 00’s. The duo’s first two records capture a fragile beauty of long-lost folk relics, forever filled with cinematic wonder and a lyrical quality is forever inherent in their stunningly beautiful musical works. In fact, many conversations with musicians over the years has seen the name of the Gentleman Losers pop up – often with a flood of excitement and a warm smile. A remarkable band whose return last year was akin to the return of a longtime friend to grace your very presence.

The long hiatus in these intervening years saw the Kuukka brothers form a synth pop outfit Lessons (with extensive touring in addition to the band’s debut album release) and film scores and other commissioned music. Says Ville, “We were really itching to get them out”. The album’s immaculate ten tracks contains a bold spirit that resonates powerfully throughout the quiet bliss of synthesizer-layered opener ‘There Will Come Soft Rains’ right through to the closing harmony-laden opus title-track.

As ever, keen attention to detail is clearly evident across the mesmerizing sonic canvas. Gorgeous harmonies are intricately placed on the late night bliss of ‘Swimming After Dark’ while the closing two tracks (forthcoming single ‘Rising Tide’ and ‘Permanently Midnight’) merges Memphis soul and 60’s/70’s Americana to magnificent effect. A healing quality prevails throughout the sumptuously layered creations.

The album’s towering centerpiece ‘Wintergreen’ epitomizes the visionary nature of the duo’s latest sonic jewel. Cinematic strings and brooding synthesizers are effortlessly fused with clean guitar tones and a plethora of pristine instrumentation, radiating a deep catharsis as a result. ‘Occultation Of Hesperus’ is a live jam, bustling with hypnotic guitar riffs and pulsating beat. The range of the band’s sound  is widening yet their trademark ambient aesthetics remain beautifully intact.

Permanently Midnight’ becomes an experience of in-betweenness. Says Samu, “Permanently Midnight explores the idea of liminality, of being stuck in a stage where the old has ceased to exist, but the new hasn’t yet begun”. A timelessness spreads across ‘Permanently Midnight’ like the impending light of dawn.

‘Permanently Midnight’ is out now on Grainy Records.

The Gentleman Losers’ upcoming single “Rising Tide” will be released on June 22nd on all major digital services.

https://www.gentlemanlosers.com/

https://thegentlemanlosers.bandcamp.com/music

30443387_2122838307986294_8106836017710891008_o credit Mirjam Varik

 

Interview with Samu & Ville  Kuukka.

 

Congratulations on the utterly compelling and stunningly beautiful new full length release “Permanently Midnight”. I just love how on one level, it’s unmistakably the unique sound world crafted by The Gentleman Losers but also there is many new elements inherent in your sonic oeuvre in this newest chapter (particularly, the use of voice and harmonies and more heightened use of synthesizer in places). Firstly, please discuss the primary concerns you both had for this new record (from the outset) and indeed the conversations you must have been having concerning the desire to add these new colours to your musical language?

Samu & Ville Kuukka: Thank you so much! I have to say, whenever we set out to make new music as TGL, it’s always very, very hard to meet the standards we’ve set for the band. We’re not happy with almost anything that comes out of our fingertips. I don’t know how many times we’ve cursed ourselves for being so demanding. I mean, who needs this kind of madness in their lives? Sonically, stylistically, and emotionally, we’ve set these boundaries, more or less strict, within which we operate. The world is very finely tuned, and it breaks easily, so each note and idea and sound needs to be carefully chosen to preserve the magic. That said, we felt that, since the gap between the releases ended up being so big, it was time we brought new elements to the sound. The expectations were high, I suppose, from our fans, to come up with the goods again, but at the same time, we’re not the same people as we were eight years ago. So it would have felt a tad disingenuous to keep making the same music we were making then.

There has been quite the hiatus from the second Gentleman Losers record (“Dustland”) and last year’s eagerly awaited follow-up. I get the impression your involvement in the synth pop band Lessons (and particularly the numerous live shows) helped inform the sound of what would become “Permanently Midnight”? The ambitious scope of the record is what strikes you immediately where the glorious compositions inhabit this remarkably empowering and cosmic spirit. During these years of allowing the new compositions to bloom naturally – and gradually I presume – there must have been a proud moment for you once the album finally came into being?

SK & VK: We never meant to take a break from TGL.”Dustland” materialised rather easily, so it wasn’t a question of being fed up with the band or anything. What did happen, was in fact our “side projects” – seeking film music commissions, then getting them, and the Lessons band – ended up taking way more time and energy than we had thought. Lessons in particular turned out to be much more demanding than we expected, much of it owing to the fact that the third member of the band, our singer and co-writer Patrick Sudarski, lives in Germany. But then Lessons got signed to Sinnbus records and there were releases and tours and interviews and the lot. Which was all lovely, obviously exactly what we wanted to happen! But when there are people involved in your endeavours, like label folks, PR people, booking agents, radio promoters, and what have you, it sort of becomes more serious. It’s a job then, really. There are people expecting things from you. With TGL it as just the two of us, more or less, especially after our label City Centre Offices decided to call it quits, after which we in fact had no outlet for the music. But certainly it was writing synth pop songs for Lessons that got us thinking that we might write vocal songs for TGL too. It was a very natural progression, too.

It wasn’t like we were working on the album all this time, but there were long stretches when it in fact was all we did. The film music stuff and the synth pop band were helpful in opening new creative doors for me personally, but I think there were times for Ville when he felt the opposite to be true. And at some point progress on the album got mired down. Those were difficult times for us, I can’t deny it. There was depression, a feeling of futility. The growing panic of having wasted years on a project that might not ever see the light of day, and if and when it did, would we even be on anyone’s radar anymore. And as always, the question of making enough money to pay for the rent. Which, of course, is a real struggle for indie musicians. It’s genuine poverty; there’s no nice way to put it. Ville had a serious bout of burning out and it took him a long time to recover. I was getting serious physical reactions from the constant stress of years on end. I was actually in physical pain for months, and no cause was found.

So we had a feeling of being stuck in this insane limbo, this quicksand, where no matter how fast we run, we don’t make headway. This is what the album came to be about at some point. We kept working on it, because it was already way past the point of no return, and we knew it would be great eventually, because the songs were there. Then we reached the moment where we thought the album was finished. We were in Berlin, and we played that version to some musician friends – Nils Frahm, FS Blumm, Takeshi Nishimoto, Martyn Heyne – and they all liked it. But for us, this was an ear-opener. We somehow heard the thing with fresh ears, and knew that it wasn’t anywhere near finished. So from that moment on, we got back to the drawing board and after some serious reworking, we finally found the right approach and the album became what it is.

And I need to point out that in spite of all the struggle, we love the album now. Once we had conquered the biggest issues and things started moving into the right direction, we knew that we had a great record in our hands.

IMG_3159 credit Samu Kuukka

In terms of the musical set-up and equipment at your disposal (and particularly your home studio set-up in Helsinki), I’d love to gain an insight into your studio set-up and the many innumerable instrumentation and analogue gear that were vital to “Permanently Midnight”‘s enchanting sonic canvas? Following on from the first two albums, were there new musical discoveries (instruments, gear, pedals, production tools etc) that served significant foundations to this latest release?

SK & VK: What has happened is that over the years, we’ve lost access to a lot of excellent gear! On our first album we had what was probably our best-sounding set-up. It was really a matter of serendipity. We just happened to have at our disposal pieces of equipment that, when combined, gave us a gorgeous sound. Often some important pieces of gear have been on loan from other people, so we’ve kind of lost them from our arsenal since then. Over the years we’ve always kept some key pieces that we own, such as our Telefunken mixing console from the 1950s, a Studer tape machine, a tape delay, some choice mics.

Among the new stuff on this record there’s the Roland SH-101 synth, which is mainly appreciated in dance music circles, but is a really lovely instrument. Another unique thing was the kantele, which is a traditional, zither-like, Finnish instrument. It was used for some colours on ”Night Falls in Nowhereland”. Other things included boring, technical stuff such as some Neve mic preamps. And towards the end of the mixing stage we got a pair of these most amazing speakers called Kii Audio. Those things are like the first real major development in speaker technology in decades. Absolutely groundbreaking stuff.

What we hope to achieve is a certain level of randomness and happy accidents. Things that we don’t have total control over. Which is why we like analogue gear, all things lo-fi, and even malfunctioning units. It’s a matter of letting chance take its course, and then editing the results in the digital domain. We do use digital stuff too, Pro Tools and such, and recently, Ableton Live.

The gorgeous soulful americana, neon-lit lament “The Good Bird Singin’ In The Twilight Tree” represents one of part A’s deeply enriching moments. The meticulous layering of the pristine sounds emits such a vivid warmth, particularly the heavenly harmonies atop the warm percussion. Can you talk me through this song’s construction and how it blossomed over time? Did you envision this composition to turn out in this way (or rather, you may never know until much later in the recording process)?

SK & VK:”Good Bird” was a relatively late addition, and one that, thematically, tied the album together. It was a song that came very easily. The music was somehow just waiting to come out. I lifted some of the lyrics from another, unfinished, song, and with minor alterations the song was there. The album’s main theme is sort of condensed in the words of ”Good Bird”. The production side took much, much longer. We knew we wanted this soulful sound for it, but it took a fair amount of experimenting. It used to have just the drum machine as the rhythm section. Then we wondered how it would sound with an acoustic drum kit. We didn’t want a regular-sounding drum kit, so we recorded it with a plastic toy mic onto this 70s cassette deck we had – and voilà! Mixing the song was pretty hard, mostly because of the terrible-sounding mix room that was our bane back then. But once Ville had the mix down, we knew we had a centerpiece track for the album.

Recording over several years and in many cities across Europe must have been a very interesting experience. I wonder would you have been working very specifically on certain songs in these various recording times you had together? Looking back on the album’s inception and creation, did certain tracks bloom much quicker than others? I’m very curious to know how late in the day (so to speak) did the composition (such as “Swimming After Dark” for example?) tell you to add vocals? 

SK: The multitude of recording locations was not something we planned, or meant to happen. It was just a fact of life then that we were moving round a lot. For example Ville was living in Paris with his girlfriend Kaisa Ruotsalainen for a while, and he had set up a little studio around a laptop and Ableton Live. So stuff kept coming to me from Paris, and then I worked on those  ideas, and some of them went somewhere, and others didn’t.

Some of the songs really took forever to find a final form – most of them did, I suppose. Good Bird, like I mentioned, was an exception. Some other didn’t require that much work, if you count the hours we put into them in the end, but they were recorded in a few sessions that were far apart in time. I think ”Soft Rains” was started in this lovely old house in Switzerland and finished years later in Helsinki.

“Swimming” is a song we had lying around for years. If I remember correctly, a version of it was left off ”Dustland”. It didn’t have vocals then, and it wasn’t at all the way it turned out now. Once the decision was made to have vocals on the new album, we found that song draft and fooled around with. That’s when it really came to life.

21-3551 credit Ville Kuukka

A snippet of “Wintergreen” was heard first on the band’s album trailer in the weeks leading up to its release. I feel this piece is one of the album’s pinnacles (and the band’s songbook thus far) with luminescent beats, smoky jazz flourishes and beguiling cinematic soundscapes. It’s clearly demonstrated that as brothers, each of you informs the other – as a near telepathic connection forever connects the pair – where a certain electronic beat or synth line informs the following vibraphone passage (and so on). Please shed some light on the creative process inherent in your work and indeed has the process remained the same or changed in any way from your early days?

SK: Ville has this favourite quote when talking about the way we play on a song like ”Wintergreen”: Keith Richards talks about the ”ancient art of weaving”, which is what he does with Ronnie Wood. The players listen to each other and just trade licks and lines, and the fabric of the song comes out of that. Certainly Ville and I have a wordless understanding when playing music, most of the time, at least. Which doesn’t mean that we always exist harmoniously in the studio! There have been some major shouting matches over the year, that’s for sure.

When we start writing new material, it’s always a very intimate process. It’s rare that we sit down and write together starting from scratch. Usually each of us brings something to the table that we’ve written alone, then see how the other one responds. So it’s this two-part filter always at work on the music. There are so many rejected ideas as a result that I can’t even guess at the number. But it means that only the strongest stuff gets a green light. This process has remained the same over the years.

“Permanently Midnight” encapsulates this in-between state, so it’s as if the immaculate sounds capture precisely this feeling of tension, despair and melancholy but therein also lies burning embers of hope within the darkness. Please talk me through the album’s title and the themes central to this latest journey of yours? The accompanying photobook (beautifully depicting “pictures from the in-between”) offers another perspective on this striking narrative built. Can you recount your memories of taking these many photos – the places you were, the feelings you were striving to capture – and the visual nature of your music (and the undeniable cinematic quality to the band’s sound)? The relationship between sight and sound must forever serve undying fascination and inspiration for you?

SK &VK: It was something that dawned on us as the recording process dragged on, and, in essence, took over our lives, that we were living in this weird place, or non-place, outside of time. We had the feeling that our lives or careers hadn’t really progressed much, in spite of our ceaseless work. We were working on something new, a piece that was to redefine us as artists to a great degree, but the work wasn’t finishing; we were stuck in a moment of transition. In anthropology, this is called a liminal state. In a broader sense, liminality has always been recognized as special, even dangerous state. In folk magic, certain places and times have been considered liminal, and therefore supernatural, such as a crossroads, a place between the worlds, so to speak. Think of the myth of Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil at a crossroads at midnight in exchange for superior guitar skills. So for example, the twilight is a time that is between day and night, and, of course, midnight is a time that is no longer the day before, nor yet the next one.

We then realized that we weren’t alone in feeling this. Many of our friends were feeling this in-between-things state as well. Culturally, politically, and technologically, so many things have changed recently that it has left us all reeling. The whole world is in a state of transition, but not really moving on into the future. Technology seems to have altered, in a profound way, a whole generation’s perception of the world, and what it means to be a human being in the world. The world as we knew it has vanished, seemingly overnight, because of technological progress running amok, this inhuman greed setting the pace, and people as the body politic behaving like idiots. Things are changing, but there is nothing in anyone’s field of vision to replace the old. I certainly don’t know what to expect from the future anymore. Like they say, the future ain’t what it used to be.

The photos were something that just happened on the side. We have both been avid photographers for years. So we always go everywhere armed with a camera of some sort, at least a compact 35mm. We shoot a lot of pictures, and at some point near the completion of the record, we realized that we have actually been sort of documenting the process all along. Not really capturing the actual work, but rather our lives, and how the world looked like to us during the recording. And turns out that many of the pictures can be seen as a visual continuation of what we were trying to put down in the music. I guess we tend to have a similar approach to taking pictures, where it’s a mood that we’re capturing, and the mood we’re in ourselves defines the subjects and the approach. So it’s really about this mental and emotional free association. You see different things depending on you’re feeling. The pictures in the book have been shot in many places, from Helsinki to Paris, and Tallinn to Leipzig. To put it in grand terms, I suppose we’re trying to capture how it feels to be alive at this particular time in history.

IMG_3166 credit Samu Kuukka

What also strikes me is the sequencing of the album and how the gorgeous celestial harmonies ascend into the atmosphere, towards the album’s close? It almost feels as if the crystal light of the impending horizon is nearing us. The meticulous attention to detail abounds at each and every turn. Is the sequencing a significant challenge?

SK & VK: We’re happy that you appreciate this! The sequencing is indeed an essential part of our art. We give it a lot of thought and go through endless permutations before find the kind of dramatic and emotional arc that delivers the kind of feeling that we’ve been looking for. We’re big fans of the Album as an art form, and it sort of baffles us that, really, very few artists seem to be interested in offering a good album, a whole, instead of a random collection of songs. I know this is very old-fashioned in this age of throwaway singles, but this is in fact a great loss that albums aren’t appreciated anymore, or supported (or even acknowledged) by many digital platforms. Mainstream music, of course, has never been about the album as a thoroughly thought-out piece of art, the label people just want to have the most obvious hit song to be first, then the next best song, and so on, until there’s the godawful side B. But if done well, the music album can be a unique form of expression. And the vinyl record, by its physical attributes, becomes a two-act show, which is a splendid way to present a suite of music. For the listener, there is a physical and psychological aspect to it as well, getting up, walking up the record, and flipping it over. It’s like reading a book. You have to do something physical to find out how the story continues.

The album’s final harmony-laden gems “Rising Tide” and the gorgeous title-track really conveys just how far the band has come and this sense of a journey – undoubtedly one of rejuvenation – that this music takes the listener on. Recount your memories of writing the lyrics and the various musical layers to these beguiling creations? Were there reference points (certain albums or films or books even) that you turned to throughout ‘Permanently Midnight’s album making process?

SK: The song ”Permanently Midnight” searched its form for a good while. Again, the demo had been around for a couple of years, sans lyrics, but it wasn’t until the phrase ”permanently midnight” came to me, and we decided to do something unexpected with the vocals, that the song found its form. It’s a very sweet tune, but we didn’t want to go too far in that direction. It was another song that was essential to our rebirth. The lyrics are really simple, to drive the point home. And the phrase ”all dressed up and nowhere to go” felt like a good way to describe what we were feeling.

Lastly, I must ask you about the menacing, seductive groove of “Occultation Of Hesperus”. It feels this glorious cut saw the light of day from a jamming session one evening? There is a live feel to this recording, which I love and a charged immediacy and rawness. It must be an exciting prospect for the pair of you to be touring the new record, will you be expecting new versions to evolve as a result of the chemistry of live performances?

SK:”Hesperus” was indeed a live jam, back in our dingy studio in the Punavuori neighbourhood of Helsinki. The basic track was just a drummachine, Ville on the electric guitar, and me on the Rhodes. It’s relatively rare for us to record like that, but it’s something we enjoy doing, and, indeed, will be doing on the road! We just recently played our first live show in many, many years. The reception was amazing and it really left us wanting to do it more.

‘Permanently Midnight’ is out now on Grainy Records.

The Gentleman Losers’ upcoming single “Rising Tide” will be released on June 22nd on all major digital services.

https://www.gentlemanlosers.com/

https://thegentlemanlosers.bandcamp.com/music

Written by admin

June 13, 2018 at 2:10 pm

First Listen: “Permanently Midnight” by The Gentleman Losers (album teaser)

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We are delighted to premiere the new album teaser by Finnish duo The Gentleman Losers. This beautifully shot video is the first official announcement of the Helsinki-based band’s soon-to-be-released third studio album ‘Permanently Midnight’ (scheduled for release on 8th December 2017 via Estonian boutique label Grainy Records). The Gentleman Losers possess an uncanny ability to capture unfathomable beauty through the art of sound – as captured on the band’s first two utterly captivating studio albums – where endless subtle details are interwoven in the sonic tapestries of their shape-shifting compositions. The brand new track sees electronics added to the mix, with gorgeous strings, reverb-laden piano notes and ghostly guitar, representing a beautiful first glimpse into ‘Permanently Midnight’s otherworldly, far-reaching world.

gl_pm_web

 

The Gentleman Losers is an experimental musical group formed in 2004 by the Finnish brothers Samu and Ville Kuukka. Since then they’ve released spellbinding music on several labels including Büro, City Centre Offices, Warp, Nothings66 and Standard Form. Their two full-length releases – 2006’s self-titled debut album and 2009’s sophomore effort “Dustland” – have been universally acclaimed, winning the hearts of many esteemed music-lovers worldwide, while also being championed by such independent music stalwarts as Germany’s Nils Frahm and UK’s Bibio. The forthcoming third record – the brothers’ latest venture into blissful instrumental music of unknown pleasures – is due to be released this December via Estonian boutique label Grainy Records, in what is destined to become (just like the band’s first two albums) a timeless classic. The Gentleman Losers’ self-titled debut album is available now on Büro; follow-up “Dustland” is also available now on City Centre Offices.

‘Permanently Midnight’ will come out on December 8th on the Estonian boutique label Grainy Records, on vinyl, CD, DL, and a limited edition CD with a photo book of pictures by Samu and Ville.

Pre-order “Permanently Midnight” by The Gentleman Losers HERE.

 

https://www.facebook.com/TheGentlemanLosers/
https://soundcloud.com/the-gentleman-losers

Written by admin

October 19, 2017 at 2:35 pm