Jaakko Eino Kalevi: ‘Frustration Drives Me To Do Something Meaningful’

A tram driver who writes songs by mumbling - he might not be an archetype superstar, but Jaakko Eino Kalevi isn’t far off.

Imagine a tram moving unhurriedly through snow-touched Helsinki. The large grey door at the front of the tram (with the STAFF ONLY sign) inhabits a driver, and as the snow is wiped from the front window, the driver’s view gradually fades from the ordinary reality of the municipal into a landscape of uncanny wonder. The said driver is Jaakko Eino Kalevi, a twenty-something multi-instrumentalist and the first Nordic artist to work with Domino Records. This isn’t silly fiction - it’s a day in the life of an unlikely star.

Unknown to these shores (until now), Jaakko is by no means a newcomer, having released music for numerous years on his own label JEKS Viihde. Asked if he views his new, Weird World release as a step forward, he replies ‘You could say so.

‘I’ve released with other Finnish labels too, but all of them are really small. It’s funny, suddenly I have all these people working with me – it’s great!”
Kalevi occupies a realm of curiosity, if not inspiration. There’s a sense of humbleness and honesty with Jaakko, something universally likeable in his very nature. His day job as a tram driver is a peculiar source of inspiration; “I basically drive around the city and listen to music. It’s very easy and relaxing but also sometimes boring and frustrating. I get my ideas there and the frustration drives me to do something meaningful in my free time.’

While his day job might inform his recordings, Kalevi’s primary sonic influences stem from reggae and dub - Lee ‘Scratch Perry in particular (“for his singularity and drive”), as well as fellow experimentalists Ariel Pink and Connan Mockasin. The latter’s presence is especially felt in ‘No End’, the first preview of the EP, which features Suad Khalifa’s ethereal vocals locked in a glacial territory that collapses with a saxophone solo of clear splendour. It’s a meditative track led by a dubbed bass groove, with the understanding of subtle drum patters. In fact, Kalevi is most happiest when behind the drums, which is the starting point for all his tracks: “Often I only have an idea of the beat and then I start to build it up from there.’

‘No End’ acts as perfect example of the EP’s gauzy overtones. Consider the titles ‘Dreamzone’ and ‘Memories’, for example, and it’d be hard to ignore it as a thematic approach. With the latter, it’s a much more nostalgic and lighthearted approach. According to Kalevi, ‘Memories’ ‘comes from one Ren & Stimpy episode where they sing ‘meeemoriiis’ in a certain way. I watched that show a lot as a kid.

‘Memories’ is basically about my bad memory but at the same time I think it’s impossible to really forget anything. It’s like when you have to remember something specific - sometimes you kind of panic so it doesn’t work, but it’s all there! It’s similar where you’re in a dark room and you try to focus somewhere. You actually see better when you look next to the thing you’re trying to look at.”

The title for the EP relates to lyrics in ‘Memories’, with Kalevi disclosing that his love of the word ‘zone’ can perhaps be related to Andrei Tarkovsky’s sci-fi epic Stalker, where the anti-hero (named, ‘The Stalker) leads curious hedonists to a site site known as the Zone, which has the supposed potential to fulfil a person’s innermost desires. Much like the eponymous hero, Kalevi is an artist inhabited and fascinated by boundaries, exemplified by the nebulous colour of his forthcoming release.

When asked how it relates to his previous work, Kalevi says ‘I think it’s more poppy and band-sounding. Also the amount of vocals has been increasing over the years. I remember realising at some point that it’s nice to hear human voice in a song so I started to mumble and howl on the tracks.’

Mumbling away into eternity, it’s clear Kalevi’s interests and influences lie in another world.

‘Dreamzone’ is released via Weird World on 2nd December 2013.

Taken from the new, free DIY Weekly, available to read online or to download on iPad now.