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Freshly arrived from Finland, the new quartet Rantama came to present their new eponymous album!
DARIALYS - 27.05.2020 -
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Time has passed for the Finnish formation, born as an instrumental jazz fusion trio. Four years after a promising debut album and a deal signed with Eclipse Musical Record Label, a new singer joins the adventure and the band releases its second album, soberly named "Rantama". Guitarist Timo Rantama, who gives his name to the project, talks with us about this second opus.

You recently released your second album, "Rantama". Usually, the eponymous albums are more often the first of a discography, but you, you waited until the release of your second album to call it that. Why did you call it that? Is it because you think you have found your own sound and true identity?

Timo Rantama : Yes, it's true! Originally, I expected Rantama to be a very different band from Rantama Trio, because our music ventured into a slightly heavier style and there was the arrival of Tavi (Kiiskinen, ed. note) on vocals. So the album "Rantama" was a kind of restart for us. In a way, we consider it as our first album (whereas the band has already released an album in 2016, as a trio, editor's note), hence the eponymous album. That doesn't mean we should put our first album aside for all that. I like its content, there's a certain warmth and positive vibe coming out of it. That's what came to mind when I hadn't listened to it for a while. I even think it's pretty cool to have released an instrumental album as a first album. Not many bands do that.

Rantama Trio was an instrumental jazz-rock project at its beginning, so... You released an album under this line-up in 2016, before being joined by a singer for the second album. Why did you choose to change the recipe and continue the adventure with a singer?

Timo: From the beginning, there was a project to have vocals in this band, but we didn't have a singer who suited us to interpret the songs as we wanted. While I was looking for a singer, the concept and the songs for the first instrumental album were ready. We had a few gigs in Finland planned with the trio, in festivals and small venues. People seemed to really like our songs that were planned for the first album, so the idea to release the first album as it was, without vocals, came naturally. I think we really took advantage of the fact that we played in a trio for the first few years. So it was natural to come and complete the whole thing with a singer. As a songwriter, it really excited me to use a new tool in our songs. There's a certain form of minimalism in an instrumental trio after all, and I like that for certain reasons, but then I wanted to develop stories with more detail in our songs, which was made possible by the appearance of the vocals. Also, we've always been big fans of the lyrical progressive rock heritage, so we were thrilled to be able to move in that direction, after the jazz fusion orientation of the first album.

And Taavi Kiiskinen has a pretty exceptional presence on this album. How did you recruit him?

Timo: Taavi and I studied together for a while at the conservatory in Joensuu, which is a two-hour drive east of our town Kuopio. I was about to graduate when Taavi started school, so we bumped into each other more than we really knew each other at the time.  But from the very beginning I recognized his talent, even though at the time he was what you might call a "rough diamond". When he moved to Kuopio in 2015, the idea of working with him started to germinate in my head, little by little. And then when we finished with the first album, it was time to start all over again. Dying Star' was the first song we jammed as a trio on the new album. The song was supposed to be instrumental at the beginning, but I thought that telling a dystopian story would be better with vocals and lyrics, and also with a great singer! (Laughs). And I had written some lyrics for this song in a notebook. That's where the theme of the song came from. So I called Taavi and asked him to join the band, and luckily he said yes right away! Before we recruited him, I'd tried to sing the songs myself, but I found it distracted me too much from my guitar playing. And there's also a lot of improvisation in our songs, nuances here and there, and when I tried to sing the songs, I couldn't be 100% in my playing. And also, I didn't really have the vocal amplitude or the range that was appropriate for this kind of music. Singing like Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth's lead singer, editor's note) isn't something everyone can do! I realised that when I was trying to get there! (Laughs).

Now that you're 4 in the band, did it change something in the writing process of this second album ? Who composed the album, by the way?

Timo : As for the first album, I wrote all the songs and all the lyrics. But as far as the arrangements are concerned, that's another story. When we rehearse, I make sure we have the right riffs, melody, and bass line, and then everyone adapts their interpretation to their own way and according to their playing. Tatu is an excellent bass player, so right from the start, he raises the level of the bass lines that I had written in the demos. For Liro, I don't really write drums, I mostly write the passages where we play in unison. He has a very good technique that I wouldn't know how to reproduce myself. For example, the intro of 'Dying Star' was his idea. I prefer the guys to play with their hearts rather than forcing them to respect certain limits. Also, I wrote the chorus at a fast tempo until Iiro slowed it down by half by playing this kind of jazzy beat over it. That's the kind of thing other musicians can contribute. That's what the best jazz bands have always done! I guess that's where our jazz fusion tinged music and dynamism comes from. In general, we never play the songs the same way twice. We're always looking for a new way to play. Surprisingly, it's the vocals that seem to be the most stable on the album. That's what cements the songs together. There's maybe a little something borrowed from The Who, where the guitar is the most stable instrument, while the bass and drums are wild. Taavi, on the other hand, has made a few changes to the vocals I originally suggested and to the lyrics to adapt them to his own style. So the composition process hasn't changed much since the first album, even if the music has become a bit heavier and a bit darker. 

 Your music may seem paradoxical because it has that old school feel to it. It may sound a bit retro at times, but at the same time, a lot of tracks like 'Roaring Rapids' and 'Dying Stars' have a real freshness to them. Was it your goal to reconcile old and recent influences in your music?

Timo : Yes, we're all big music fans. Iiro and I used to play heavy metal, Tatu draws its influence from the blues, and Taavi started by singing the Beatles. We also listened a lot to the disco albums we had back home, and that's where we get our influences from old progressive rock and jazz from the 70s and 80s. There's so much music that we've listened to, and we don't hide from it! The old school side comes from those influences, but there's no nostalgia in us. I don't think there are enough new original progressive rock bands that dare to come out of the shadow of the giants of the past. Progressive metal is another story. There's a lot more innovation in this style year after year. That being said, I must admit I have a certain nostalgia in me when I hear the warmth of the synthesizers of the 70s, even if I also like to go forward and look for what's behind every new thing!

When I listened to your album for the first time I was impressed by the way it all sounded and the way the tracks are arranged. I thought Rantama were a group of people in their forties! (Laughs). Because it's a mature and very balanced music. How did you achieve this result by being such a young band?

Timo: Thank you! We recorded the basic rhythms live in trio, and throughout the year we developed a pretty clear and natural balance. Everyone had their own acoustic field, and everyone respects the others'. I recorded the keyboards, a few additional solos and a few extra layers, before we moved on to the vocals. I also salute the recording and mixing work of our sound engineer Matias Kiivery, who is one of the most promising sound engineers in Finland. Despite his young age, he has already worked with international artists such as Jonathan Wilson. We have to keep an eye on this guy! (Laughs).

And I imagine it was the search for this perfect balance that made this album take a long time to come out (4 years, editor's note)?

Timo: Yes, one of the reasons was that we wanted to do the best work possible. Also, each of us has been very busy with other projects. Tatu and Iiro, for their part, played in the Finnish blues band Erja Lyytinen, with whom they've toured all over the world in the last few years. They played 200 concerts in the year! And also, we took some time to release the album because we chose to release 5 singles before the album itself. We started in June 2019 with the release of 'A Small Blink Of Light'. So the whole album was ready last summer, but we wanted to create a kind of momentum. So we used as much time as we could get, hence these 4 years! (Laughs).

Even though you now have a singer in your ranks, that hasn't stopped you from putting two instrumental tracks on the album, as was the case on the first album. 'Ground Frost Forger' is an excellent song. It reminds me of Gungfly or Beardfish. Are they an influence for you?

Timo : Thanks for the suggestion! I've heard about both, but not much. The main influence of 'Ground Frost Forger' comes from the cold Nordic winter. We've done our best to try to recreate that atmosphere that Nordic people all know by heart, that long wait for summer in a cold and dark environment. Musically, these two tracks draw their influence from bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra or Miles Davis. Someone once told us that 'Ground Frost Forger' reminded him of Guthrie Govan's work with The Aristocrats, a band I listened to a lot. I'll take that as a compliment! 'Spendid Sun' is an intro to the next song, 'We Are', but we decided to do two separate songs. I have to say that it wouldn't have made people listen to the song in question if it had had a two-minute psychedelic instrumental intro! (Laughs).

As you were telling us, you chose to release a number of singles before the album was released in its entirety. Was the choice of which tracks to feature on the album complicated? Well, sometimes I think that the choice of bands can seem surprising, but in your case, I think that you were able to highlight the album's main tracks, like 'Small Blink Of Light' and 'Roaring Rapids', which are two catchy and complex songs at the same time.

Timo: Thank you! It's mainly for the reasons you mention that we chose them. The vocal melodies are quite memorable in those songs, and there's a lot of little details and complexity in the rhythm section that we liked. On the verses of 'Roaring Rapids', the drums are played like nobody else in the world but Iiro could play them. So yes, these songs reconcile two different aspects of our personality: a catchy side, and a certain complexity. That's why these songs were such an obvious choice of singles. They were also the shortest songs on the album, even though they are 6 minutes long! (Laughs). On 'Roaring Rapids', we also wanted to offer a video clip shot in a beautiful natural setting in Finland. We waited to find the perfect timing. The waterfall was completely dry when we went there for the first time in the summer.

Since we're talking about 'Roaring Rapids', we find keyboards on this track that give a real added value to the track. Have you thought about recruiting a fifth member to officiate on piano or synthesizer? This would also allow you to explore new tracks and add extra layers to your music.

Timo: That's a good question! I've had this idea in my head for quite some time now, actually. We played a few gigs in February to promote the album, and even though I tried to fill the gap left by the keyboards with my guitar and effects, we realized that our music might need to be enriched by the presence of a real keyboard player. Taavi is an excellent pianist by the way, so we thought about him playing keyboards on stage, like Einar Solberg from Leprous. But we want to make sure that it won't disturb his singing and his approach to the stage, because we want him to be able to jump around like a Finnish Freddy Mercury! (Laughs). So we'll see! 

You're always a new group in a way. So this album plays an important role in your rise to the heart of the music industry. What do you expect from this record?

Timo: We're hoping to get a number of reviews, and we're going to make sure people know we exist! (Laughs). Things have started in that direction, and we've gained new fans from all over the world. We are very grateful for that. The rest will be bonuses that we'll welcome with open arms if he comes to us!

You signed with Eclipse Musical Record Label. How did it happen, and what did it bring you?

Timo : Yes, we signed with them in 2016. We released our first album independently, but shortly afterwards they contacted us and offered to release and distribute it themselves. So the first album had two release dates, actually! The first one in March 2016, and the second one in May 2016. So it was natural to release the second album with them. They distribute the album in different parts of the world, although I'm not quite sure about the list of countries. I hope France is one of them! (Laughs).

I imagine you plan to continue promoting this album when the coronavirus episode is over. Do you have plans for a tour maybe?

Timo: Yes, but we'll see how things evolve. It may be that we won't be able to play live shows for a while, so maybe we'll start working on the next album soon. There are already some very good ideas on the table! We talked about the idea of playing gigs with the French progressive rock band Bend The Future. It would be great to play with them, or even in France! We'll see when all this is possible.

Any last words?

Timo : Thank you for this interview, take care and keep on proggin'!

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RANTAMA: Rantama (2020)

Between fusion, progressive and jazz rock, "Rantama" is a very rich album and a beautiful and unexpected discovery.
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