“We’re just a band that happens to use human voices as their primary instruments”, says Venla Ilona Blom from Tuuletar. We speak to the Game of Thrones approved – 'vocal folk hop' stars on the eve of their second album Rajatila/Borderline.
The self-described “vocal folk hop” quartet Tuuletar is a pleasant anomaly in modern Finnish folk music.
Not because Tuuletar is an all-vocal group or because its success has mostly been happened abroad. But because Tuuletar (rough translation: “Goddess of the Wind”) is genuinely a band: not a project-like ensemble that gets together every now and then – which quite often is the case with professional music groups these days.
When Music Finland interviewed Venla Ilona Blom, Tuuletar’s main spokesperson last October (read here in Finnish), she stated that the band and its aspiring international goals are in fact the main commitment to all of its four members’ (Blom along with Sini Koskelainen, Johanna Kyykoski and Piia Säilynoja).
Now Blom reflects the idea this way:
“I guess the culture of temporary jobs has slid itself to music world as well. People see versatility as a virtue, as well as the skill to be in a lot of different projects simultaneously. Not that it’s a problem, but focusing on one thing one thing only is a rarity nowadays!”
To be fair, no one in the band follows the premise by the book. Neither does Blom – she has just arrived home from Germany, where she did a handful of shows with guitarist J-P Piirainen. The peculiar duo combines beatboxing and fingerstyle guitar. An album by this duo is on the way as well.
As seen on television
Times have been exciting for Tuuletar since the release of their debut album Tules Maas Vedes Taivaal (“In fire, in earth, in water, in sky”) in 2016.
The album was awarded by IFPI Finland for being the “ethnic album of the year” at the Emma-gaala, Finland’s equivalent to the Grammys. Its opening track Alku ended up being featured on the German trailer for the seventh Game of Thrones season. Another show that featured the track was the Australian drama Wentworth.
Tuuletar’s latest accolade was the “Border Breaking Act” award that was handed at the 2019 Ethnogala in January. It was a recognition for their international success.
Blom gives credit to their record label and booking agency for making it all possible.
“Johanna Sauramäki from Saura Booking Agency and Aija and Jyri Lehtonen from Bafe’s Factory have gained a broad experience from international business and networking. They’re doing an insane amount of work by going to different events all around the world in order to promote Finnish music.”
I definitely see a niche there, regarding how broad the supply of different musical styles in films and television is today
Blom is especially excited about synchronizing music for film and television. The audio visual industries have lately seen an influx of pop artists working as curators and producers in different productions.
“I definitely see a niche there, regarding how broad the supply of different musical styles in films and television is today. It’s something Finnish music promoters should focus more on.”
Tuuletar’s latest track to end up in an international television series is La Fôret Vide (from the band’s recent ep Valtaaja/Invader), which is placed on the Danish post-apocalyptic drama The Rain (season 2), coming out May 17th on Netflix.
Folk music from a faraway angle
Tuuletar was founded in Århus, Denmark in 2011, where Blom, Kyykoski, Koskelainen and Säilynoja were studying as exchange students. Besides meeting each other they also met musicians from very different musical cultures.
“That was the moment when we started thinking of our own heritage and culture from a different perspective. We wondered how to articulate our own tradition to people who are not familiar with it at all.”
We wondered how to articulate our own tradition to people who are not familiar with it at all
Tuuletar’s first ep from 2013 consists of original compositions to texts from Kanteletar, a Finnish folk poetry collection. Yet, no one in the band has an educational background in folk music. Instead, the members have been dealing with a wide spectrum of vocal music from opera to performance art.
“Of course we were not total strangers with folk music to begin with. I found the new wave of Finnish folk in my early teens and Johanna has been a part of Näppärit (a pedagogic folk music course for children) for many years.”
Not just a vocal group
Tuuletar’s versatile background has given the band their unique sound. The word “hop” is there for a reason: Tuuletar’s aesthetic leans not only on folk tradition, but also on sampled vocal beats and Blom’s beatboxing. That’s an influence the band got from the UK group The Boxettes, another experimental vocal group.
Despite their connections with the European a cappella scene, the band doesn’t affiliate with it that much.
We’re just a band that happens to use human voices as their primary instruments.
“We’re just a band that happens to use human voices as their primary instruments. The European a cappella ideals differ from ours: many groups do mostly pop covers and emphasize a very clean and crisp sound. Our four voices just don’t blend together in that way.”
Yet in 2015 Tuuletar took part in the international a cappella competition Vokal Total, held in Graz, Austria, and won the silver award in the pop category.
“Surely we do not discard the circles completely! We are thankful for the recognition and help it has given us during the years”, Blom adds.
Back to the roots
Tuuletar’s sophomore album Rajatila / Borderline will be released May 30th. Blom describes the album as a slight turn towards a more down-to-earth sound, that combines rawer vocals with a more experimental production.
“Our debut was produced in a lavish, American pop style. But this time the whole production team is Finnish.”
The album was recorded in engineer Samuli Volanto’s living room with jouhikko master Pekko Käppi as the artistic producer. The post production work and mixing was done by Oona Kapari.
If we hadn’t tried a cleaner sound first, I don’t believe we would have had the courage to do things in a more rugged way this time.
Blom describes the new approach more rough and vulnerable. Rajatila includes very personal themes and texts.
“We really wanted to get away from the debut album’s clean production. But if we hadn’t tried that cleaner sound first, I don’t believe we would have had the courage to do things in a more rugged way this time. Pekko, Samuli and Oona were exactly the right people to summon this sound from us.”
Teach your children
Beyond new records and international fame, there are even more angles to Tuuletar. Their eccentric music is very useful for educational purposes, so the band has been doing shows in schools for children and teenagers.
“It’s extremely rewarding”, says Venla Ilona Blom.
“It’s perhaps the most important work we’ve done. In my book, our school performances go way past all the Game of Thrones things and such accolades.”
School concerts have forced the band to rethink their ways of performing music and conveying traditional stories. For instance, the band has revised pieces from the national epoch Kalevala into rap verses in their shows.
In my book, our school performances go way past all the Game of Thrones things and such accolades
“It has improved our stamina and decreased our aim for perfectionism: when you’re doing three shows per day, nobody cares if you won’t nail all your harmonies perfectly. What’s more important is the energy. Secondly, if kids come after the show to ask you, where they can read ‘that Kalevala’, it really gives us a feeling that we’re doing something right!”
Tuuletar’s "Rajatila / Borderline" will be released May 30th through Bafe’s Factory. Find the band’s upcoming shows on their website.