Interview with Tyko Saarikko of Tenhi

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Interview by Jason Guest

Finnish band Tenhi (meaning a village elder, wise old man or seer) have been creating minimalistic and dark music since 1996. Combining modern rock approaches in the rhythms with folk-influenced melodies in the instrumentation and vocal lines, Tenhi’s music is earthy, esoteric and mystical. Recently released, Saivo captures once again captures their vision in elaborate, complex, and deceptively simple structures. Speaking to Midlands Rocks’ Jason, Tyko Saarikko discusses the writing of the album, its ideas, themes, and concept, the visual side of the band, and much more.

According to your website, Saivo took four years to complete. Can you tell us about the writing and recording process for the album? Did you work on one song at a time or the album as a whole?

Tyko Saarikko: When we started to draw the outlines for the album there were some thirty demo themes for songs to start with. We tried different approaches and paths until we felt we were satisfied. With previous albums we have worked more with individual songs and the just put them on the same album. Now we had the final sound-landscape to aim at ready before we started.

Was the band’s writing process a collaborative effort or do you write individually? Was your approach to writing in any way different on Saivo than on your previous albums?

Tyko Saarikko: There wasn’t any change in our working methods in that sense. The basic elements in a song are composed by me or Ilmari alone and then we start arranging and building up the song from there. As it is just us who play most the instruments we have start recording at very early stage to be able to fit all the wanted instruments. The mixing is part of the arranging and even composing process too.

Can you tell us about the lyrical themes? What are they and how do you approach writing them? Do they inform the music or does the music inform them?

Tyko Saarikko: In most occasions I write the lyrics before the music is composed. Usually they start to shape around a single word or phrase. The lyrics are poems/stories of a place where not all laws of nature exist or the nature’s elements can emerge in different shapes.

Can you tell us what the album title means and how it relates to the themes and ideas in the music?

Tyko Saarikko: Saivo in one world of the dead in Sami mythology. Saivo can be reached thru a special double-bottomed lake and there the dead may live as they lived on earth together with their ancestors in a mirror world to our. We however interpret this myth our own way to thrill the imagination. It is just a starting point and a metaphor for the album. Saivo can exist within us all.

The songs feel as if there is a common thread running through them all, as if it has almost a narrative structure. When structuring the album is that what you were aiming for?

Tyko Saarikko: This is our most coherent album and that was our goal, stream-like feel, a listener being a drift-wood. The song order and albums dynamic is carefully though thru.

You sing in Finnish, your native language. What is it about the language that you prefer? Do you find it more expressive?

Tyko Saarikko: The sound of Finnish language is part of our mental and sound landscape. Using English langue would probably affect our style. The Finnish langue is essential part of Tenhi.

Your music has a “multimedia” experience in that it is very atmospheric and has a very filmic/visual feel to it. is this something that you strive for in your writing?

Tyko Saarikko: We love to have different layers in the music so you can find different shades each time. The visual side is there from the beginning. When I compose I often image certain place, view, fell or landscape. It also helps me to get back to that songs atmosphere and to remember the riffs; to imagine myself back to that certain place.

Can you tell us about the artwork? What does it represent and how does it relate to the album? Who’s the artist?

Tyko Saarikko: I have made all the artwork myself. The artwork brings another level to the music. I first started to draw images for each song but that soon seemed too underlining so I changed the idea. Now they may refer to certain songs but also hopefully create stories of their own in viewers mind.

Can you tell us about the video for ‘Saivon Kimallus’ and ‘Siniset Runot’? Who directed it? how much input did the band have in its making?

Tyko Saarikko: I also did the video entirely myself, wrote, filmed, directed and edited. It is one vision I had of the vast black void/lake which could be one shade of Saivo. The rest of the band wasn’t too keen on it when I told them to go to stand in the lake in the cold autumn night. We had a sauna on the shore and we run in and out to film for a while and back to warm ourselves. A making of a documentary would have been a laugh for sure. But luckily they trusted my vision and I believe they are happy with the way it turned out.

Does Tenhi’s music and the visual aspect develop together in the creative process?

Tyko Saarikko: Yes, the visual aspect and music is very tightly related. They feed each other.

Is there a philosophy behind your music? Can you tell us about it and how you try to capture it in the songs?

Tyko Saarikko: No special philosophy. We just try to be honest in our music, close to earth.

The songs have a traditional/folk sound to them and seem to bear the influence of prog bands like Pink Floyd and Ulver. Who are Tenhi’s main influences? Are there any modern bands that you like? How do they influence the band?

Tyko Saarikko: Sometimes we might hear something in the actual sound or in the mix/production that might inspire us to try something similar. But musically I can’t name any influences, we pretty much have our own musical landscape where we wander. But for the bands you mentioned: Ulver was one of my favorite bands back in 1996 when Tenhi was founded so they have had some influence in the beginning. For a long time I disliked Pink Floyd but very recently I am starting to enjoy their music. I think Ilmari is keener in searching new music and bands; I am quite stuck to my old favorites and I don’t search new music, whenever I came around interesting group I might check them out.

Saivo has a melancholic beauty about it and feels very meditative, ritualistic even. Is this what you wanted to achieve with the album?

Tyko Saarikko: The album turned out to be more introverted and meditative than we expected as it has some of our most straight forward and even “pop-like” elements. Along the recording and mixing process the album grew darker and foggier. It has many layers and it might not be the easiest to digest on first time when listening. Hopefully it will slowly reveal all its shades and depths.

Tenhi’s albums seem to follow a natural progression from the last. Is this how you see them?

Tyko Saarikko: I think so too. We have always felt that there is no need to push our music to any direction. We want to make albums that could have been there always, not connected to certain period or era.

Do you return to your previous works at all in order to develop your sound and music?

Tyko Saarikko: Quite a lot. We intend to listen our previous works and comparing them to the mix we are making. As we record, produce, mix and master the albums ourselves we have lot to learn always raising the bar.

Does Saivo represent the next step in the band’s development?

Tyko Saarikko: Not entirely. We always work in “big waves” composing material for the following album when still working with the current one, so everything is in constant flow. There might be themes on the next record which were composed before Saivo.

Tenhi have been together since the late nineties, what do you think is the key to band’s progression? What motivates you to keep making music?

Tyko Saarikko: The inner urge. There is no way to explain it better; it is a need that must be satisfied.

Do the band members have any creative output outside of Tenhi? If so, how does it inform Tenhi’s music? Does Tenhi satisfy your musical needs?

Tyko Saarikko: Ilmari had doom metal band Mother Depth back in nineties but it has now emerged with Tenhi. Our focus is now totally on Tenhi and we can do what we please thru it. We had plans producing other artist as well but there isn’t time for that.

Do you have any plans to play live? If so, what would a show be like? (Given the visual aspect of the band, I think it could be very impressive.)

Tyko Saarikko: Not at the moment. We are too keen on getting back to work with the songs that didn’t make it to Saivo. When and if we would play live I would like to bring some visual aspect to the show. Probably we just stand/sit still and introverted so audience should have something to watch besides listening to the music.

If you were to tour, where would you play? Europe? UK? USA? And would you play festivals or your own shows?

Tyko Saarikko: UK and USA would be great as we haven’t played there. We got offer for a tour in China which would be something special too. Generally the clubs and such are much better for us than big festival venues. At least for the latest live shows which we did just with acoustic instruments, most of our songs need intimacy. But as I said live shows won’t happen in near future.

How do you see the future of Tenhi and its musical development? Do you have any plans for future releases? And will it be as long in the making as Saivo?

Tyko Saarikko: Right now we are again doing some updates to our studio and learning to use new equipment. We are anxious to get to work on the songs that didn’t end up on Saivo and we have bunch of new songs as well. I truly hope for the sake of our mental health that our next album won’t be another four years.

Do you have anything that you’d like to say to our readers?

Tyko Saarikko: Everyone should get their hands on the digibook or the artbook version of the Saivo as it includes the full-artwork which will give the music another dimension.

Again, thanks for taking the time out for this interview. I look forward to hearing more from Tenhi in the future!

Tyko Saarikko: Thanks for the interview

And you can read Jason’s review of Saivo here