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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

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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

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October 19, 2017 at 2:35 pm

Chosen One: The Gentleman Losers

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Interview with The Gentleman Losers.

“First there are the choices you make with the composition, the notes you choose. The silences you choose. You need to allow yourself to get into situations and moods where it’s possible for a thing to happen. Of course there’s a lot of work, and years of learning your craft. That you have to do, nothing is going to change that fact. And you need to keep refining your tastes – though taste is probably not something you can learn. The most important quality in an artist, to me, is the self-criticism. You have to set the bar high. You can’t be lazy. It isn’t easy, but the feeling, once you do succeed, is better than anything in this world.”

Samu Kuukka

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

TGL_poster_3

The Gentleman Losers is an experimental musical group formed in 2004 by the 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. The forthcoming third record – the brothers’ latest venture into blissful instrumental music of unknown pleasures – is due to be released in 2014, in what is destined to become (just like the band’s first two albums) a timeless classic.

Talking with German pianist/composer Nils Frahm earlier in the year, The Gentleman Losers was the topic of conversation when concerned with influences and musical inspiration:

“They are really one of my favourites right now. I listen to their records all of the time. Their two albums, they’re both incredible. I feel like those are the only bands I would ask for helping me with my production because I love their sound. They’re getting so much and it sounds so wonderful. I feel like they are under-appreciated and nobody has really heard of them and I feel like that is unfair. It is one of the coolest music right now and one of my best musical influences.”

—Nils Frahm

A lovely parallel exists between the Finnish duo and the German composer. Both artists share an uncanny ability to capture unfathomable beauty through the art of sound, where endless subtle details are interwoven in the sonic tapestries of both artist’s shape-shifting compositions. To think of The Gentleman Losers, I’m immediately taken back to the summer of 2006. The duo’s debut album was released in May of that year (on the City Centre Office’s subsidiary label, Büro), and the significance of the rare find is – still to this day – incalculable and impossible to quantify. Furthermore, the brothers’ meticulous song-craft and divine use of instrumentation allows the music become more than mere musical notes, but large-scale movements of soul-stirring instrumental music that unleashes a wide palette of gorgeous shades, textures, warmth, and vivid colours. Their music is steeped in a magical sense of other-worldly dimensions that transcends space and time. A musical treasure; rare and divine.

A turning point represented itself for the Kuukka brothers upon the arrival of a Vincent Gallo record – 2004’s ‘When’ record released on the Warp label – whose mixture of instrumental and vocal tracks inspired the inception of The Gentleman Loser’s unique blend of sound. The maverick film-maker, producer, actor and musician had created a powerful record encompassing songs of love, regret and nostalgia. Such feelings are forever sweeping in the deeply affecting music of The Gentleman Losers and can be mapped back to the similarly alluring voice of Gallo. For despite the non-vocals of the Kuukka brothers’ work, there is indeed a captivating voice embedded in the rich musical framework of the band’s compositions. The band’s description of their own sound perfectly sets the tone: “one part 60s movie soundtracks, one part wooden electronica, all recorded through a 50s Telefunken mixer we found abandoned in a basement.”

My first introduction to The Gentleman Losers was the achingly beautiful ‘Laureline’. The atmospheric ballad (despite this being an instrumental piece of music it feels as if the melody was sung many lifetimes before, from another era or age) contains beguiling lap steel guitar, analog synths and guiding drum beats. The music evokes childhood nostalgia. The track opens part B of the self-titled debut record. I remember placing ‘Laureline’ on many mixtapes compiled during this time period – nervously handing them to musicians such as Kurt Wagner, Joey Burns and Stuart Staples during their Irish tour – and the choice of instrumental music was always a pre-requisite for the aesthetics of a successful (in the eyes of my brother and I) mixtape. Feel flows, so to speak. ‘Laureline’ – having that Nashville country-tinged sound – would be carefully placed between Lambchop and the likes of Calexico or M. Ward. Reminiscing further on that year (2006), the records I obsessed with the most were certainly The Gentleman Losers’ debut, in addition to ‘Yellow House’ by Grizzly Bear and ‘Ys’ by Joanna Newsom. Records that remain a vital cornerstone to my cherished record collection. The song ‘Laureline’ – as well as their other stunning creations – entrench themselves in your memory.

Elsewhere on the debut record, ‘Silver Mountain’ reaches new summits as new sonic terrain is ventured down, where comparisons can be made with Scottish duo Boards Of Canada, and particularly, their classic ‘Geogaddi’ album. A mesmerizing piano-led melody drifts along the vast seas of sound. The immaculate instrumentation is a joy to savour and relinquish in the loving detail. A pause in the piece occurs towards the song’s close – a marked silence before the enchanting strings soothe your well-being once more – that for me, is one of the (many) epiphanies of this special record. ‘Light Fandango’ evokes lost souls as a cinematic atmosphere reels you in deep and far. The drums and vibes/keys conjures up the sound of Blue Note jazz musicians and the smoky, audience-filled jazz clubs. Birth of the cool. The clean, fat guitar tones fills the air that serves the score to any vintage Louis Malle or Jean Luc Goddard film. ‘Slow Guitars’ is just that. ‘Gold Dust Afternoon’ contains enchanting sounds of woodwind and floating guitars that evokes a moment of transcendence. As the Kuukkas once said of the sound they create: “music from a past that hasn’t happened yet”, there is indeed this mysterious sense of floating and drifting that radiates from the embers of these recording sessions. The music captures that fleeting moment, as it hangs there in the air, and is recorded to tape.

Three years later, the follow-up ‘Dustland’ revealed more nuances and new cinematic delights to the band’s oeuvre. Some of the most compelling and utterly transcendent pieces of music are contained on the record, with the likes of folk etchings of ‘The Echoing Green’ and love-letter ‘Ballad Of Sparrow Young’. It is beyond me (to try to begin) to fathom just how music, delicately beautiful such as this, is created. ‘Ballad Of Sparrow Young’ undeniably belongs to a past that hasn’t happened yet, removed and swirling somewhere high in the upper reaches of the stratosphere. The slow burning gem of ‘Midnight In The Garden Trees’ shares the ambient qualities of UK producer Bibio (whose song ‘Haikuesque’ was re-interpreted by The Gentleman Losers with the aptly titled ‘Whispers In The Rain’ remix). ‘Farandole’ is yet another of the band’s towering achievements. Similar to the positioning of ‘Laureline’ on the debut record, ‘Farandole’ serves the vital pulse to the record. Divine guitar sounds and layers of bewitching instrumentation breathes new dimensions to the album’s resolutely unique universe. ‘Wind In Black Trees’ reveals the brothers’ bold artistic spirit with a brooding ambient tour de force that recalls other luminaries such as Stars Of The Lid and the output of labels such as Touch and Kranky. The piece belongs in the neo-classical realm of stellar modern compositions. Album closer ‘Pebble Beach’ marks the gradual dawning of a new day, as rays of light slowly diffuse through the shifting darkness. The use of percussion here works wonderfully, as a sense of new beginnings is etched on the sonic canvas, just as the album comes to a fitting close.

In the interim since 2009’s ‘Dustland’, the Kuukkas have been extremely busy. The brothers did a score – their first feature – for a Finnish feature film called ‘Ja Saapuu Oikea Yö’, resulting in an hour’s worth of music contained in the film. On top of other film-related projects, the band have begun work on a new Gentleman Losers record, due out sometime next year. The Kuukka brothers have also formed a new band – alongside singer Patrick Sudarski from Leipzig – called Lessons, whose debut single, entitled ‘Double Or Nothing’ was recently released on the Konkordski label, creating sublime synth pop music. 2014 will be a busy year for the Kuukkas with the eagerly awaited follow-up to ‘Dustland’ just some months away. The valve-powered heart of the record will undoubtedly set hearts aflutter, just as the previous two records have done.

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The Gentleman Losers’ self-titled debut album is available now on Büro. Follow-up “Dustland” is also available now on City Centre Offices.

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Interview with Samu and Ville Kuukka.

Please discuss for me the roots to your music? As two brothers growing up you must have been immersed in music so heavily. Please give me an insight into this special time of discovering music and what triggered you both to pursue making music together?

Samu: Playing music was always a natural way of expression for us because our dad is a musician by profession. Our family moved from the city to the country when I was about 11 and Ville was eight, and the only way we would agree to leave our friends and move, was that we were promised a drum kit. We had both been taking piano lessons before that, but it was the drums that really got us into music.

Ville: Soon after we got an electric guitar. An East German one, a horrible, horrible instrument.

Samu: Oh yeah, that guitar was probably an evil plan by the Communist Party to discourage kids from playing rock ‘n’ roll. I used to imitate David Gilmour’s guitar solos note for note, or, well, the best I could. That was the good thing about living in a big house in the country, we could make all the racket we wanted. Remarkable patience from our folks, too!

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You have described your music before as “music from a past that hasn’t happened yet.” I think this is the perfect description of your music. The heavenly melodies and intricate layers of instrumentation forever illuminates and inspires. I would love to learn more about the creative process involved in creating art through sound?

Samu: It’s not an easy task to describe the process. It’s a bit of a mystery, to be honest. I mean, we write music professionally these days, and we can be very precise and produce whatever is needed for a commission, but when it comes to TGL, it’s always up to the spirits a little bit. It’s a very slow and toilsome process to write a TGL track. There has to be this deeper level of emotion in it. It either happens or it doesn’t.

Ville: All the aspects of a song might be perfect, on paper, but if it doesn’t touch us, it has to go. Might end up being used in a film score or something, but we really can’t fool ourselves. Sometimes the good ones just appear out of nowhere, sometimes there’s nothing for ages, and it can be frustrating.

Samu: Then there’s the whole thing with the sound, all the tweaks and the hours in the studio, adding layers of magic like on a Japanese lacquer box. In the end, music really is deliberate emotional manipulation. By whatever means it takes. The hard part is that you have to spill your soul into the music for it to be powerful. Which sort of leaves you exposed.

Ville: The funny thing is, we never have to talk about this between us. As long as the magic is not there, we’re not happy, and once it is there, we don’t need to talk about it. We both just know instinctively.

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My favourite track of yours is ‘Ballad Of Sparrow Young’ from ‘Dust Land’. The guitar melody is divine and the slow tempo exudes the ebb and flow of all life’s emotion. I have rarely heard a piece of music so sad yet uplifting; powerful and beautiful. Can you shed some light on the recording of this piece and the title used?

Samu: That one is mostly Ville’s doing. To me, that songs brings to mind a special time at the start of our sessions for Dustland when we were renting a studio by the river in Turku.

Ville: It’s in fact a very personal song to me. I wrote it as a love song to my girlfriend.

Samu: As for the title, it’s just something that popped into our heads. “Sparrow Young” might be the name of a character in a film, possibly an early ’70s revisionist western. Who knows. We don’t!

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I recently interviewed German composer Nils Frahm and he described to me his love for your music: “Their two albums, they’re both incredible. I feel those are the only bands I would ask for helping me with my production because I love their sound. They’re getting so much and it sounds so wonderful. It is one of my best musical influences.”
I think these words sum everything up for me when thinking about The Gentleman Losers. It’s a bit simplistic of me to ask but how do you both manage getting so much with your sound?

Samu: Like I said, it is a mystery to some extent. First there are the choices you make with the composition, the notes you choose. The silences you choose. You need to allow yourself to get into situations and moods where it’s possible for a thing to happen. Of course there’s a lot of work, and years of learning your craft. That you have to do, nothing is going to change that fact. And you need to keep refining your tastes – though taste is probably not something you can learn. The most important quality in an artist, to me, is the self-criticism. You have to set the bar high. You can’t be lazy. It isn’t easy, but the feeling, once you do succeed, is better than anything in this world. Including sex and charcoal grilled lamb burgers.

Ville: Then there’s the things you do with the sound. Plenty of tubes in the chain, some spring reverb, a bit of tape machine. We’ve collected some choice equipment along the way, but we will probably never be able to afford some of the really good stuff. But you pick up a knowledge of what works for what, which mics to choose, which brand of tape to put in the tape delay etc. Again, learning your craft little by little.

Samu: All of these things – the notes, and how you choose to play them, the way the recording sounds – carry with them layers of meaning; evocations of times and places and ideas and other works of art. So you make your art out of all this.

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In terms of musical influences, who do you see as inspiration?

Ville: Well there’s Pink Floyd, always a major influence. Mike Oldfield was huge when we were young, now perhaps not so much. But it’s artists like these who sort of gave us the idea of making music on our own terms and not paying too much attention to what others are saying. Vincent Gallo’s “When” was what showed us the way when we were trying to find our own sound with The Gentleman Losers. That, and Sparklehorse. And Daniel Lanois is one of the most amazing musicians on the planet, and if you’ve ever caught him live, you’ll agree.

Samu: Duncan Browne’s 1968 baroque pop album Give Me, Take You, has been getting a lot of plays lately. Browne later formed Metro, which was a great band, too. He passed away rather young in the early nineties. Then lots of artists where you can’t probably discern a direct influence: Tom Waits, Peter Gabriel’s film music, John Cale. Mark Mothersbaugh’s film music – that’s big. Thing as diverse as Nico, John Foxx, Lee Hazlewood. Maher Shalal Hash Baz; John Lurie; Can; Italian pop from the ’60s like Patty Pravo; Scott Walker’s old albums and the new frightening stuff; Shriekback.

Ville: While making the new album, I’ve been listening to lots of “art” music: chamber music by Shostakovich and Schnittke, Finnish composers Aulis Sallinen and Joonas Kokkonen.

Samu: There are going to be some soul influences, too. I’ve always been a big fan of classic soul, Motown stuff, Marvin Gaye, Al Green. And then there’s Arthur Russell. He was in a class of his own. And old music (as in medieval and renaissance) has actually always been a big influence for me. The modality of medieval music often seems to find its way into our melodies.

Ville: Of the more “contemporary” artists, Bibio certainly inspires us. He keeps releasing excellent albums. Stina Nordenstam, Lambchop, Bat For Lashes, El Perro Del Mar, Fever Ray come to mind. We like Nils Frahm’s stuff a lot. We’ve talked about doing a collaboration of some sort, but haven’t found the right thing, or the time yet.

Samu: As you can see, this is an eclectic list. We don’t actually much listen to the type of music that we make, funnily enough.

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In terms of instrumentation, you play many instruments: keys, bass, harpsichord, vibraphone, glockenspiel, drums, guitars, bass, magic boxes to name but a few. Please discuss your love for collecting instruments and what were the instruments you first began to play? Also, what musical instrument are you fascinated most by?

Samu: It’s always fun to pick up a new instrument see what kind of sounds are hidden inside. Even with guitars, you get totally different music out of different ones. Not to mention synths. The harpsichord and vibraphone that we’ve used were on loan, but I guess we have been hoarding up instruments over the years.

Ville: The lap steel guitar that we use has been a source of inspiration. It’s a Fender from 1954 and I’ve never heard an instrument with such a sound. The notes seem to emanate from another world.

Samu: One instrument that I play that never ended up on a record, is the saxophone. We’ll have to see if that will change now. We will have a string section on the new one, and that’s something that we’re very excited about right now.

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My first introduction to your music was your self-titled debut record. What an album it is. Please discuss the recording of this album and take me back to this particular space and time for you? I was interested to read it was recorded at night in a reputedly haunted house in Finland’s medieval district?

Ville: The first TGL album came after a long period of writing music and trying to find our own voice. We had already recorded an album’s worth of this sort of synth-driven electronic music that we hoped to get released. But eventually we just tossed it out – it wasn’t good enough, and we just didn’t want to do it anymore. This was in May 2004. We decided we need to start looking at completely different directions. We wanted to be quiet, atmospheric, cinematic. And a bit alt-country, too. That was the original plan. We took a lot of influence from Daniel Lanois’ production, especially his own music. And then we heard the Vincent Gallo album and something clicked. By the end of the summer we had an album’s worth of music done.

Samu: It was a very special time, for sure. Then it took almost two years to release it, even if we did find a label quite soon. City Centre Offices actually started a new sub-label just to release our album, so it took a long time to set it up.

Ville: We recorded it in Turku, which is our original home town, and the oldest city in Finland. Our studio at the time was located in the medieval quarter. Lovely studio, but hot as hell. It was in this old building that housed the city cultural offices, so at night it was empty except for us. Which suited us fine, because we are serious night owls. So we started at around five, six in the evening and worked until the sun came up. And yes, the house is said to be haunted. Certainly that sort of an ambience influences you, even if you don’t believe in ghosts!

Samu: Didn’t see any ghosts, but every morning, when we dragged ourselves home after working 10-12 hours in that 30+ degree heat, we were zombies for sure!

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‘Laureline’ is perhaps my favourite on the album. I also love the Bibio remix of this gorgeous instrumental. I would love to hear how this track came together; did it originate from the lap steel melody?

Samu: Laureline originated from this sequence of chords that I was playing on an electric piano. Ville started playing the lap steel guitar over it. Then I had another chord progression for the middle part and we put those together. It was probably one of the most important songs for us in the sense that it of opened a lot of locked doors in the creative process and pointed us down the right path. It is a very personal piece of music, and we’re so glad that so many people seem to like it. An American couple recently told us that they played it as their wedding song. That was amazing to hear.

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How has your hometown of Helsinki inspired you as musicians and composers?

Samu: Helsinki has been my hometown for fifteen years, and Ville’s for some time now. It’s a funny thing, to think about how it has inspired me, because on a conscious level it probably hasn’t very much. But I think it does have a way of affecting us. The word that comes to mind is “isolation”. It’s a fairly small city, about 600,000 people, and it actually feels even smaller. Every time you spend time abroad and return to Helsinki, it’s like you’re in a slow-motion film. It’s very quiet, almost eerily so, and there seems to be no one around. So you get to focus on your own things.

Ville: Then there’s the northern climate. I love the summer dearly, and although the summers can be gorgeous, they’re also short, and the winters are gruesome and go on forever. The nice thing about this is that winter is a time of introspection and that suits us perfectly. It’s a time of creating your own worlds inside your head.

Samu: Another thing is that Helsinki is on the periphery of Europe, both geographically and culturally, which means that you kind of get to do your own thing in peace, without new influences constantly being crammed down your throat. I choose to see this isolation as a good thing, but it can be bad, too. The Finnish society is very homogenic and can be extremely suffocating.

Ville: But we tend to live on the outside of it anyway, very consciously. Which is probably the reason why we’re not really known in our own country. But the Finns aren’t big on music, anyway.

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How does the recording and process itself change from album to album, for example from the debut record to the follow-up ‘Dust Land’?

Ville: The gaps between our albums are always so long (and this is not by our own volition, we just need to do paying jobs in the interim to save enough money to have free the months needed for the recording) that we sort of have to relearn the process each time.

Samu: In the last few years we have developed better routines. But, even so, making our own music is again different from commissions. It’s a lot more delicate process, and we don’t actually want to get too “professional” about it.

Ville: The way it usually happens is we both come up with ideas on our own, then present them to the other, and if it gets an OK, then we get to work on it together. That basic method hasn’t really changed.

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Remixing other artist’s work must be a pleasure for you to do. I love your remix of an old Bibio song. Similarly, Bibio remixed your own work. Discuss the remixing side of your work and how this develops you as artists?

Samu: Remixing certainly has given us new insights into our own music. There are so many levels of remixing, from just fooling around with some tracks to doing a complete reworking, like what we did on that Bibio song.

Ville: It’s a nice way of experimenting and getting new ideas. We certainly have some new tricks up our sleeve for the next album, and we’ve been itching to do it for many years now. Luckily, I can now say that it is finally happening.

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You are currently working on some film music where you have been commissioned to write a feature film score. Can you tell me a bit about this particular project please? How does the process differ from working on a Gentleman Losers record?

Ville: We did a score for a Finnish feature film called Ja Saapuu Oikea Yö. The director loved our albums and wanted us to do the score, even if it wasn’t exactly TGL type music that the film required.

Samu: It was our first feature, and it was a lot of work. In the end, there was about 60 minutes of music in it, which is a crazy amount for a non-musical film. It took us about four months of work, every single day. A lot of string arrangements and so on. But, you want to deliver what the director asks for, and that, of course, is the main difference. You don’t get to make the big decisions yourself. Film music is great, but I don’t think we would cope, as musicians, if we didn’t get to do our own thing, too.

Ville: There’s also a Swiss/French film called Left Foot, Right Foot coming out soon which features our tracks. And an Armenian film called “I’m Going To Change My Name” has some music by us.

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It’s very exciting to hear that there is a new Gentleman Losers record in the works. Can you discuss please the sonic avenues and themes this particular journey descends on? Any working titles?

Ville: The album is getting along nicely, and despite all the compulsory breaks in the process, we have some wonderful things lined up. No titles at this point, but what I can say is that there will be some surprises in store.

Samu: Years have passed and time has come once again for some new directions, but there will also be familiar things.

I’ll mention the other reason why the GL album has been delayed so much: it’s called Lessons, and it’s our pop project that we’ve been working on for the last months. The idea is to do some tasty, clever pop music. We had been thinking about it for years and now was the time to go ahead with it. We released our first single Double Or Nothing on the Konkordski label a few weeks ago, and we have an album nearly done. Lessons is the two of us and singer Patrick Sudarski from Leipzig. So next year is looking to be very busy for us, with two album releases.

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The Gentleman Losers’ self-titled debut album is available now on Büro. Follow-up “Dustland” is also available now on City Centre Offices.

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Written by admin

September 23, 2013 at 10:05 am