Interview with Finn Progressive Rock Band Rantama

“I wouldn’t give up even if something didn’t sound good to me in the first try, I’d try to understand the music.”

Hailing from Kuopio Finland, Rantama is a progressive rock band originally formed as a trio in 2014. They released their refreshing self-titled album in March 2020 via Eclipse records and achieved global outreach including radio plays in prestigious stations as well as placements in Finnish Jazz Spotify editorial list. Rantama delivers a fresh and powerful album to the prog scene with an elegantly assertive eight-track album. The band brings us many roller-coasterish feelings of gloominess and excitement influenced by the woodlands and lakes of Finland, presented in their own style throughout the album. We talked with Timo -the guitarist and the main composer of the band- about their album, tours, production process and more.

Hi Timo! How are you doing, how is life in Finland these days?

I’m doing great! It’s Christmas time, a little bit special Christmas time here in Finland because of the reason that we all know, the pandemic. We can go out, but the government insists that we don’t meet that many people. The restaurants and bars are open but not till as late as before. But I’m doing good!

Rantama was formed back in 2014 originally as a trio in the city of Kuopio in Finland and later in 2017 Taavi joined. How was the original idea of coming together born?

Actually, I had written some of these trio songs, these instrumental jazz rock songs before we formed this band and played them live with a different line up. Things then progressed in that direction when I spent some more time with Iiro, our drummer, who I met back in high school in 2006. But we hadn’t been in contact for years. Then we spent some time together and I decided that I could ask him if he wants to play these songs. Afterwards we jammed in his rehearsal place. It just worked pretty well from the beginning, from the get go.
Tatu, the bass player, had filled in for our earlier bass player for a wedding gig. Here in Finland, we have this wedding gigs thing in summer. We play mainly cover songs like old Finnish dance music.

Like the ones in those large ferries that go to Stockholm or Tallinn?

Yeah, also been there and done that [laughs]. We had that project in summer 2013, Tatu was this young dude who was living also in Kuopio, studying there in the conservatory. He filled in for our bass player at one gig and he played so well and he was such a nice guy. It really got stuck in my mind that “there is this bass player here”. When we played with Iiro, I asked Tatu to come down to the rehearsal place. He came and we jammed on some of my ideas and some Jimmy Hendrix. It really worked out and we became the best friends.

Cool! And then Taavi joined?

Yeah, we actually made a record with the trio and it was quite successful. We didn’t expect it to be such a big thing. We got a record deal with that album and we played in Pori Jazz, this big jazz festival and we got many fans around Finland. We also played in some other big festivals like Lost in Music in Tampere, which is kind of a show-case festival. So, we drew our mark with that record, which was really done from this really humble origin. We didn’t have money for expensive studios, we were just three guys who played together. We played all live in the studio. 

When that album cycle began to fade towards the end of 2016, I had already had many ideas for these songs that had vocals and lyrics. Some of the ideas where there even before this project had started. I didn’t really know anyone who could sing these songs. I tried to sing them myself at some point. Even though I like to sing, I don’t have the range for these. These were not really for me.

I knew Taavi from my time in Joensuu, when I was living there. He moved to Kuopio around 2015, which was our home town. Once again. we had this wedding gig [laughs], when Taavi filled in [laughs] for our regular singer. I saw the progress in him, in his singing that I hadn’t heard for a while. I was like “this rough diamond, there could be something to his voice”. I then called him and asked him to come to the rehearsal and it worked pretty well!

I must say it did! So, I understand that the weddings in Finland have a big potential not only for the people who get married but for the bands around and people enjoy them, on an off the wedding!

Yeah, they are also a big employer for musicians in summer in Finland!

You released your album via Eclipse Records in March 2020. The album starts in a rather uplifting feeling using major modes with Bird Nest and Roaring Rapids, which are then followed by more minor dominant songs, Dying Star and Ground Frost Forger. Especially after the gloominess brought by Ground Frost Forger, album is then kind of reborn with Splendid Sun and We Are. The last song almost has an 80ies vibe to it, in which I sense some nostalgic flavor given that we are about the same age. I am almost inclined to say that there is a direct relationship between the long dark winters and the bright endless days of summers in Finland. Can you tell us more about the conceptual ideas behind the album?

Yeah, the nature is a big part of the inspiration. You said it correctly, of course the place where we are from make its mark to our music. It has a big influence in our music. I’m a musician who loves all kinds of music. It really doesn’t matter to me so much what genre it is as long as it is done well and with musicality. I think the album has many elements from my past, like the stuff I listened to. For example, for Bird Nest, some reviewer said it has this grungy sound, alternative rock kind of feel. I listened a lot of bands like Sound Garden and Pearl Jam. Also, some extreme metal bands, I know that you like Death [laughs]. It was huge for me, when I was around 14. You also mentioned the 80ies vibe, yeah, I love the 80ies. I like this kind of sound with chorus and a lot of delay.

I think that’s also in your gear. You use a lot of chorus pedal in the songs.

Yeah, there is plenty of it. I try hard not to do it in the cheesy way.

We all know what the cheesy chorus means, I guess [laughs].

Yeah, I really try hard [laughs].

I think I just like to write songs about with nature in mind, metaphorically, about the things that happen in the nature which also happen to us in our life. These kinds of themes, I really like to juggle with them.

When I first listened to Rantama it was the single Dying Star. I heard a lot of different influences in guitar parts such as Opeth and the Aristocrats, and some early 70ies prog synths like Camel. What is your take on this? Can you name us three albums that influenced you the most whilst writing the album?

It is quite hard to just name three albums [laughs]! I don’t know about albums but especially for Dying Star, there are really some John Scofield kind of stuff there as well. He has made an impact, maybe not on composing side of things but at least on my guitar playing. There is also this guitarist called Oz Noy, an Israeli guitarist. I also listened to a lot of his playing. Of course, the Aristocrats, the first album is something I listened to a lot in the past but not while writing the album. Maybe Opeth’s Damnation and Camel as you mentioned. The one that I listened the most is Moonmadness. I also have to mention Toto [laughs]. I like the commercial aspects in them. The really knew how to write complex songs but still make it catchy. If you really analyze the stuff that is going on in their songs there are so many modulations. It is really mind boggling how they do it. So maybe Toto and their Isolation album, yeah. It’s not the most popular Toto album but maybe that’s the reason I like it so much. The songs haven’t been ruined by constant radio play [laughs].

Taavi’s vocals are such a big part of the album. His presence is heavily felt almost in each and every section where he sings. How do you see his role in this album and how do you project his amazing vocals onto the new material of Rantama as the main composer of the band?

This album that was released this year, Taavi is a big part of it. It is really a vocally-oriented album. There are a lot of singing parts there. I didn’t really try to push it that way but it came naturally. It sounds like a cliché [laughs] but those singing parts came together really naturally and it turned out to be a singing-oriented album with big instrumental parts in between. We are writing the next album. I think there is going to be more of an interplay, more of a balance. Maybe the vocals won’t be as dominating.

So, some surprises for us?

Yeah, there could be some. In the 70ies prog especially, singing isn’t really on top of everything. It is just one instrument there along with the others. So, maybe it will be more like that in the next album. But I also like when singing is on top of everything. So, maybe some songs will be like that.

The album has an incredible mix. As a mixing person myself, I can tell that the source material sounded really good and the mix emphasized best parts of the tracking. Tell us a little bit more about the recording process. How did you choose the studio? How many days it took to deliver the performances that you were happy with?

Where would I start that subject [laughs]? Mattias, Mattias Kiiveri was the recording and mixing engineer for the album. He is young, like our age. Young and hungry [laughs]. We supported their band; they were playing funk stuff like Prince. He saw our gig and we chat a bit after the show. He was such a cool bloke and a great guitar player. He had stuck in my mind that there was this guy who pursued his career as a recording and mixing engineer. So, when we were at the stage of recording the album, he came to our minds naturally. Tatu had already recorded in his studio for a different project and he had nothing but good things to say about his working ways. We also thought about some expensive studios, but they were distant. You send an email to them and they don’t answer within two weeks or they say “oh no we don’t really have time for you”. I asked Mattias on Facebook chat and he said yes directly. That affected as well, it was really easy to settle things with him pick up the dates and so on and so forth.

We actually went there to his studio in Helsinki for two days, then some break and maybe a month later another two days. It wasn’t like ten days straight.

Interesting, so you had four days with a break in between?

Yeah… Let me think clearly [laughs]. Now I remember! We had six days with me, Iiro and Tatu, the instrumentalists. We recorded the album tracks the three of us live. Many of the songs were one take. It wasn’t mostly the first take but maybe the third take. You can really hear this when you listen to the album.

Actually with Taavi, we had four days. So, it was me and Taavi, the rest of the guys weren’t even there. As you said earlier, Taavi has this clean style and he really stays on pitch. Thus, it was really effortless. We didn’t have to squeeze anything out of him, or maybe the really high parts [laughs]. You have to force him to do it [laughs].

But you knew that he could do it?

Yeah, me and Mattias knew [laughs]. He himself didn’t. But all in all, it was pretty effortless.
Then I recorded some synth parts in my apartment later on. But all the guitars, drums, bass and vocal parts were recorded in the Hollywood Studios in Helsinki.

That’s the same studio where Tatu recorded his album, right? It is also such a great sounding album.

Yeah. I think Tatu recorded elsewhere but Mattias mixed the album. I have to talk about the Finnvox Studios which is such a legendary studio. So many albums were recorded there such as H.I.M., Rasmus, Nightwish and so on. It was across the street from Mattias’ studio. Mattias had good connections with that place. So, we ended up mastering the album there by Pauli Saastamoinen, who has mastered like all the H.I.M. albums. He is such a big professional, we are really privileged to have him mastered our album.

What were the differences in the songs after the mastering done by a world-class mastering engineer? How did they compare with the final mixes in your opinion?

It sounded like the songs came together and give the final punch and warmth. I really don’t know what Pauli’s process and have never done mastering myself but it was as if the songs were more glued together and had this roundness to them.      

You had a small tour in Finland where you visited a couple of cities right before the release of the album. I bet you must be feeling lucky that you did it before the virus breakdown. How did it go? Can you share us your experience? Has it affected your promotion for later stages?

Yes, that’s true. We were really lucky; we had booked a tour in February and we really got it down before all the hell broke loose [laughs]. Tour went really well. We saw many friends from all across Finland. Yeah, a lot of friends and new fans from the places that we have never played, like Oulu. The place was packed and people came to talk to us after the gig and we were really happy about that. There aren’t that many bands that play the prog stuff live or do it with full passion. There are always these people who like this kind of music and they come to these gigs so it was really great to see that. It was before the official release of the album but we had copies of the album so people could purchase. It’s hard to say how the virus situation affected us. Probably we would have played more gigs.

But you didn’t have any festival booked or something like that?

No not really. In our band all of our members, or at least Iiro and Tatu are really busy playing with Erja Lyytinen. They play about 200 concerts with her all across Europe, so…[laughs]

This brings me to my next question. The band members have a lot of other projects such as the drummer Iiro and the bass player Tatu play with famous blues artist Erja Lyytinen and you with Gentle Savage. Also, Tatu had his solo record which sounds amazing by the way. So how do you find time and balance for Rantama, how do you set your priorities and project goals within the band?

I can only talk about myself as I don’t know how this is for the guys. I really see things in a project-oriented way. We had this album, a really big goal towards which we were headed for many years, playing that tour and all. I must say, going against the grain, that I was a little bit relieved after the release and the tour, that we had done it. So, if there was a good time for the virus to come, it was the best time for us [laughs]. Because it was a lot of hard work the release, and the process, well you know [both laugh].

With Gentle Savage, we have an album coming out early next year. It’s really fun, this project, because I’m not the leader, I just play the guitar.

And you do it well!

Thanks [laughs]. I don’t have to spend all my time thinking about how to progress it. Of course, I do some promotion stuff but it’s not the biggest thing in my life. I’m just playing the guitar, having fun.
I could imagine that when we set the goal for the next album project and the ball starts rolling, we will become more active once again. Because it is a lot of work, you know, booking all those studios, composing, arranging that stuff, promoting, try to get your voice heard.

You guys are all talented musicians with lots of different influences. What is the strongest and the weakest sides of Rantama in your opinion?

I would say friendship as the strongest point. Especially the trio, we have this strange kind of humor, that is really hard to get. And Taavi really tried his best to get in [laughs]. Then Taavi became a part of this family but at first maybe it might have not been so easy for him to get in, we had a tight connection. Yeah, the strongest point could be the friendship. We have fun together and I think it shows when you see us live.
Maybe I can add all the different influences we have. Me and Iiro come from the heavy metal side while Tatu comes from blues with a little bit different angle. You can hear it from his playing, it is not like the cliché metal palm-muted playing. And Taavi comes from more of a singer-songwriter background, listening to stuff like Beatles and Elton John. All these influences, everything really blends together in the band.

The weakest part, well… I’m not the best person to judge that. But maybe it’s the schedule and all. We don’t really have so much time together. But when we come together, it doesn’t matter how much time it has been between the rehearsal sessions, it’s always like coming home. Guys always nail it; they are such professions, you know.

Here is a funny one. I was once asked if I had the power to erase one song from history what it would be. So, if you had the power what song would you wipe off?

Your body is a wonderland by John Mayer. I mean, I love John Mayer but that song isn’t good [laughs].

The amount of music available out there is humongous these days. Even if we try hard to discover as much as we can, there are only so many bands we can explore. I personally take this slow and spend more time on the bands I have already discovered rather than searching for more and more. What is your take on this? What do you listen to these days?

I haven’t listened to a lot of prog lately to be honest. I am a big fan of pop music really. I like to see what’s going on in their production like all these big names such as Ed Sheeran. Yeah, I’m the same as you are in that sense. I come from the days when I didn’t have that much money but could buy that one album and listen to it for months. Really try to get it to open to me, I wouldn’t give up even if something didn’t sound good to me in the first try, I’d try to understand the music. I’m more like that. Maybe, I should buy a vinyl player because that would mean that I would buy all those prog records and listened to them [laughs].

Finally coming back to your album, it took some time after the first one, about four years. For sure it paid off with a great production and well-composed tracks. But in the recent years, especially with the streaming dominating the industry, musicians are forced to release new music literally all the time. This tendency makes more single and EP-oriented music scene rather than full-length albums. What are your thoughts about this situation and when should we expect new music from Rantama? What’s next for you guys?

Yeah, this single and EP direction, I really don’t have much problem with it. We released four singles before the album even though the album was ready for release for at least a year. We wanted to build a momentum and it seems really like the way to do it, so I don’t have a problem with that. Of course, it is great to have that album because the album really makes the big statement and the closure, if you know what I mean. You really turn the page with an album. I’d like think that we could cook something for 2021.