Two years back, it would be safe to say Jaakko Eino Kalevi was relatively unknown to these shores, having spent a number of years moonlighting as a musician, and spending his days as a Helsinki tram driver. He released his own music through an eponymous label and like-minded Finnish DIY labels, before landing an EP release on Domino imprint Weird World. The more complex twists and turns to his unique backstory are the kind reserved for fiction but fortunately, it was expressed with clarity on the aptly-titled ‘Dreamzone’, giving fantasy a whole new ice-cool definition.
During a hit and run visit of London, and ahead of his self-titled debut album, Kalevi is reflecting on the next chapter unfolding in his trans-atlantic life. Since winter 2013, he’s relocated to Berlin to study at university, though a change in his day-to-day life hasn’t hindered musical output or creativity. Kalevi has remained as prolific as ever, releasing the ‘Yin Yang Theatre’ on Beats In Space in 2014, while writing and recording ‘Jaakko Eino Kalevi’ between Berlin, Helsinki and New York during the same period.
Listening to ‘Yin Yang Theatre’, its spirit reflects the mood of his current home with the added street smart coolness of New York City. A mutant hybrid of house and funk, with elements of dub and kraut mixed in to good effect, surprisingly, the release isn’t a response to his time in Berlin, though Kalevi must have had the bohemian spirit of Berlin and New York in mind when writing it. “One song I wrote in Athens, but it was mainly written and recorded when I lived in Helsinki,” he says. “It has songs from different times, made during different sessions.”
Kalevi has been operating like this for a while now: his ‘Dreamzone’ EP followed debut album ‘Töölö Labyrinth’ from 2011, a concept album that is due a second part in the near future. Knowing that he’s always a couple of steps ahead of his current plans, Kalevi talks about his new work in glowing terms. “The latest songs that I have written are a little more dancey, a lot more like disco. I want and plan to make a sequel to ‘Labyrinth’ and release it on my own label [JEKS].” There’s a sense of restlessness attached to the way Kalevi works: trying to pin him down is futile.
If the two recent EPs sought to create a means of escapism and music for the dancefloor, then ‘Jaakko Eino Kalevi’ fits somewhere between the mind and feet, and more specifically tailored to the heart. Frustration and monotony used to drive Jaakko Eino Kalevi to do something meaningful, but now other factors appear to be inspiring him. Given the opportunity to describe the album, Kalevi says that the upcoming LP can be ranked as “experimental pop, but compared to my previous albums, I’d say that it’s much more emotional in some way, and much more romantic.” At the same time, though, ‘Jaakko Eino Kalevi’ is layered with so many textures and grooves that Kalevi’s romantic nature could go unnoticed.
Ahead of releasing the album, Kalevi is looking forward to hitting the road again, with one eye on Los Angeles and San Francisco, the two places he is most excited to play (regrettably, he won’t be visiting Portugal or Japan, where he wants to visit the most). Kalevi isn’t daunted by translating the album live, though with the amount of sounds and textures coming from another place and time, it’s a wonder whether he can fit it all in a live performance. “I’ve been playing these songs for quite a long time, so I know how to translate it live now,” he responds. “My live set up is just with a drummer, though sometimes with a saxophonist and another singer. I’ve planned to switch the performances between two and four other people during the tour,” he explains.
Before the end of the year, Kalevi says he hopes to release more records on his label. As well as time, JEK Viihde has regrettably been sidestepped for the founder’s own creative pursuits, but there is another problem too. “I’m planning on releasing more, but I need to get some more money. I have some plans to release other artists, like my friends from Helsinki, but I just need a little more time and money,” he laughs. It’s all about the small steps.
Photos: Harley Weir. Jaakko Eino Kalevi's self-titled LP is out now on Weird World.