Posted on Aug 9th 2009 10:20 pm
Finnish artist Sasu Ripatti returns with his latest album as Vladislav Delay, his most emblematic project, and this time, it is a primarily acoustic record. Recorded with British composer Craig Armstrong and Argentinean musician Lucio Capece, Tummaa is opening up a new chapter in Ripatti’s work. We take this opportunity to ask the man about the new direction with this project, his return to drumming and his other projects, including working with Jake Shears on his last Luomo album and his part in the Moritz Von Oswald Trio project.
It’s been a very busy couple of years for you, with no less than four albums released in a year. How do you find the time to work on all these different projects?
It doesn’t seem to be too much at least. Usually these things get worked on within a longer time frame and they just get released sometimes in shorter amount of time. Maybe these releases were done within eighteen to twenty-four months and they get released in twelve months. Then again, I like to work on music and different kinds of music. I don’t find it difficult to make this amount of music, but to make four Luomo or Delay albums within the same time frame would be impossible.
They are all pretty different projects too, especially your own. How do you split your time between them? Do you focus on one project at a time, or is it much more of an organic process, composing depending on your mood?
Usually it’s always one project at a time, at least most of the tine. I don’t like to jump back and forth between different trains. Usually the projects dictate what the mood will be during the process; I can’t afford to wait for the perfect mood for the most suitable production.
How has the relocation to Finland been? Does it feel like a relief to be away from Berlin? How do you think moving back ‘home’ has affected your work?
The relocation has been great, thanks. It’s quite a big relief actually to be away from Berlin. As nice a city as it is I didn’t appreciate living there anymore and wanted to get to somewhere with calmer surroundings and differently inspiration, as well as to balance the city lifestyle with something a bit closer to nature. The only thing I’m still missing is the actual music making, which is something I haven’t been able to do yet. In about a month’s time, the new studio should be finished. Then we’re talking…
You have released music on quite a number of labels, from Chain Reaction to Mille Plateaux and Staubgold to your own Huume. Tummaa is coming out on Leaf. How did this happen?
I was recently forced to review my situation with the label, location, music making, etc., and I realised there was too much going on, while not enough coming in maybe. I enjoyed the label aspect for some years but recently the music market has turned out to become such a mess it’s no fun or creative work anymore, the mood has gotten quite sour all around. Basically it means you really have to work hard and sell, sell, sell, which is not what I’m good at. So I chose to spend more time making music and let someone else do the label part, the marketing, etc. I’ve know Tony a bit for years and I thought his label suited very well the new direction of the Delay album.
Why did you decide to start Huume back in 1996, and why did it lay dormant for almost eight years after that?
I started it just to have a label to release my music; I didn’t know any labels back then. And then came Mille Plateaux and Chain Reaction, great labels that offered to release more or less everything I did so I went that route for a while until some not-so-nice incidents happened with one label which forced me to review the situation. Doing it again on my own label seemed to make more sense at that time. Funny that a few years later, it doesn’t seem like the best option anymore again.
Do you think you will ever release music by other people through Huume?
Really not. I might keep on doing something of my own stuff via Huume but definitely not other artists.
You’ve recorded your latest album as Vladislav Delay with renowned composer Craig Armstrong and Argentinean musician Lucio Capece. How did you get to work with them, and did working as a trio change things a lot for you?
I have been working with Craig here and there over the years and wanted to have him join the new album, I could see very well how his playing would fit in. I’ve only known Lucio for a few years, he’s in the quartet I have been putting together and I got to know his playing from there. We were rehearsing at my place in Berlin for the Quartet and I asked him to join in for some recordings for the Delay album as well. It’s quite a bit different to work with other people of course, but that’s what I wanted to do for the new Delay album, and as I wanted to change the direction quite radically, it all quite served the purpose.
The album is quite different from your previous Vladislav Delay records, with perhaps a bigger emphasis on moods. Was that a conscious effort on your part, or is it more the result of working with Craig and Lucio?
It’s a mixture of both. As I said I wanted to take a new direction for this album, and I wanted to engage with a few guests who I knew would enhance the vision. I didn’t want to continue searching the same plateau, where I had been in the last few years, musically speaking. I wanted to explore different instrumentation, to use as little electronics as possible, to get the source more raw and live and real.
What led you to the acoustic approach heard on Tummaa?
I guess it has been a long time coming and now it just culminated, at least temporarily. I have been playing more and more drums over the last years. But it has been a vision I have had for some time now that I should really try to use more real instruments and avoid electronic gimmicks you hear everywhere nowadays, to fight for something a bit different and personal.
Do you think you’ll continue with this acoustic direction and if so, what chance of live performances?
Well the next step is definitely the Quartet, with Lucio on horns and myself on drums, as well as Derek Shirley in double bass and Mika Vainio on electronics and processing. That group with record late autumn and will do some shows as well. There has been some talk about doing duo shows with Craig Armstrong as well.
Will you continue with the digital version of Vladislav Delay as well?
This will remain to be seen, but I assume I can’t keep my hands off of that stuff altogether…
Do you see anyone else as a fellow traveller exploring similar musical territories to you?
I’m sure there are tons of guys and girls doing their things in parallel to mine, there are so many people doing music nowadays it’s enormous…
On your last Luomo album, you had quite a few different vocal contributors, including Jake Shears from Scissor Sisters, which probably surprised quite a few of your fans. How did this collaboration come about?
I got to know Jake when I did a remix for his band, and it turned out they were all quite big Luomo fans. So when I began making the album, I naturally asked Jake to join in, as I really like his style of singing and performing. And it was also nice to have something a little bit surprising as well.
How do you work with vocalists? Do you give them complete freedom with vocals and lyrics, or do you like to keep some level of control on these aspects?
I used to be a total control freak, writing lines and lyrics and melodies but nowadays I’m not so much so anymore. Actually on the last Luomo album I gave quite a bit of freedom to vocalists to write their own stuff.
You are a member of the Moritz Von Oswald Trio, and you were recently quoted saying that this was for you an opportunity to get back into drumming. Haven’t you considered using this in your work more?
Moritz’s trio had a big impact in me getting back to drumming. I had already begun sketching the possibilities with the Quartet, but the trio really got things going in a nice way. I did most of the sounds for Tummaa with microphone and all kinds of semi-percussive instruments, and then there’s the Moritz’s thing and the Quartet coming. I don’t plan to do any more percussive/drum work, but will try to keep some electronics active…
In an interview with The Wire last year, you said that, when you were a teenager, you wanted to be the greatest jazz musician in the world but that you realised it wasn’t possible anymore when you went to live in New York. How did you get into jazz in the first place, and do you think you have definitely turned your back to jazz?
I began studying jazz drumming at around fourteen years old. Until then I heard jazz from my father’s collection and drum teachers and it just at some point locked in big time. I maybe turned my back to jazz for a while and am still quite critical to what’s going on nowadays in the scene and how healthy it is but I’m still a big fan, also playing more and more myself. The Quartet is some proto jazz itself.
Dub is a tremendously over-used word, but your work as Vladislav Delay has successfully taken the form in new and original directions. Are you an active listener to Jamaican dub?
I do listen to quite a bit of Jamaican stuff, mostly new dancehall stuff. Dub is something I try to avoid copying or intentionally borrowing from or being inspired from. There has been so much of that new dub thing going on it really put me off wanting to use any of that trademark stuff in my music. So I rather listen to dub and enjoy it than try to reproduce it.
What or who would you say are your biggest influences in your work?
All the movies and books I’ve read and seen. The travels I have taken. Problems I have solved. The few drummers that I had teaching me. Warhol. Miles. Coltrane. Food.
If you had to choose five records, films, books or works of art, which ones would they be?
Five items I haven’t yet seen/heard/read.
What’s next in your diary?
Off to Caceres, Spain, with my family for a brief visit to make a concert, then back home to build the damn studio…
Tummaa is out on 24 August on The Leaf Label
Email interview July 2009. Thank you to Colin Buttimer for additional questions