Let us take you into the future, all the way to the year 2000. It´s late September in Helsinki and at the suitably named Last Hope Bar a young artist is grieving over a lost love. "There is no future", the 21-year old guitarist/singer/songwriter is thinking as the phone rings. The caller is a man he´s never heard of, but whose sister he has met and evidently charmed with song at a party a year and a half earlier. "Oh shit", he´s first reaction is, " I´m sure this is an over-protective big brother wanting to kill me!" He´s paranoia turns into doubt, however, when the polite voice in the receiver explains itself to be that of a drummer looking for a guitarist and a singer. This is an extremely awkward situation, because up to now, for fourteen musically active years, the drummers he´s worked with has been much like his girlfriends: few and incooperative. And this one is actually initiating a project!
A few days later, still depressed and doubtful, the young guitarist and his most priced possession, a Gibson Les Paul, take the tram to the West Pyöli Youth Activity Centre, where the audition is to take place at 3pm. Were it not for one of the wonders of the future, the "mobile phone" (A cordless telephone invented in Mobile, Alabama) the Velvet Desperados might never become what they eventually will in the dawning millenium. The guitarist and the drummer find each other outside a nearby hotel and at the latter´s guidance they walk to their destination.
A number of hippies gather in the 15m2 rehearsal room and start jamming. They play rock `n´ roll and they play the blues. A good time is had by all. Then something remarkable happens: the guitarist shouts in the microphone: "Hey, hey, mama, said the way you move, gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove!" And thus the drummer, being Porvoo´s fastest, catches on and the two of them deliver a complete and energetic - if somewhat ascetic - version of Led Zeppelin´s classic. Neither of them have prior to this accomplished a full version of this rocker. Both are equally impressed by the other´s sound - they have both met their match.
The miracles of the day, however, do not end here. The intended bassist of this band-to-be failed to show up for the session, so around halfway of `Black Dog´ one of the percussionists pick up an awfully ugly and equally ill-sounding four- stringed piece of wood - the bass of the house - and starts thumping along. Oh Boy, what a groove!
Now we´ve reached the heart of the matter: a good, thight rock`n´roll trio: Tonza Karttunen, Antti Pesonen and Fredrik Löf go home after an important afternoon - at least the latter far less depressed than at arrival.
And it´s a long way to Alikerava, too. From any point known to the civilized man, really. Unfortunately, their friends aren´t civilized men - they have their rehearsal space in this godforsaken industrial wasteland, at the comfortable distance of 30 kilometres from Helsinki. As the boys soon find it necessairy to practice more than the one Wednesday afternoon a week between 3 and 6 reserved for them in West Pyöli, they find it their duty to travel hundreds of kilometres a week in order to keep the music tight.
The line-up is within a few weeks shrunk down from the average hippy-commune to the trio mentioned above. A keyboard player hangs on for a while, playing a horrid plastic synthesizer, but gets sacked because he doesn´t participate in rehearsals.
On a cold and rainy evening, Friday 13th of October 2000, the boys head out on a mission. Tonza´s father Risto, a keyboard player, is in the possession of a Hammond organ, an instrument perfectly suited to the music in question. It´s been stored in a friend´s garage in the middle of nowhere since the early eighties, and now its time has come to shine again. The same goes for Risto, who has promised to jam with the youngsters. Löf borrows what must be the world´s smallest van, and having already filled up the ridiculous vehicle with Tonza, Tonza´s friend and a copious amount of liquor, they hit the road to hunt organ.
The organ survives the the trip to Alikerava intact - with the exceptoin of one missing key and the fact that the van due to the dark rainstorm doesn´t actually make it to Alikerava, but to Helsinki. Therefore the 100 kg instrument has to be carried through a rainy back- yard and up the stairs to Löf´s flat by the three lads, two of whom are stonedrunk and none of whom has any notable athletic talent. That poor organ! On the other hand, something is bound to happen to someone or something - it´s Friday 13th.
This trip is only one example of the logistic challenges the struggling musician will be confronted with on a regular basis, to demonstrate that great art demands great suffering. Indeed, is not the greatness of art equal to the greatness of the artist´s pain? Vita brevis, ars longa. [Life is brief, art is chief.(transl.F.L.)]
The autumn evenings are spent jamming, sometimes as a trio, sometimes with keyboard master Risto Karttunen, sometimes with daughter/sister, vocalist Susan. They are learning songs by their favourite bands; Pink Floyd, Santana, Wigwam, Zeppelin etc; and they sow the seeds of what will become Midnight Sun, Trippin´ With Jesus and Reggae On The Moon?. Fredrik Löf, Antti Pesonen and Toni Karttunen, the nucleus of the group now called Outpost, are getting tighterand tighter, and everyone is putting in all of their energy. It is a wonderful time of creativity. Outpost plays three shows during this infantile period:
In January 2001, Alikerava is no longer at Outpost´s disposal. They can still use the room in W. Pyöli, but the acoustics and the equipment are not up to their standards anymore, and 3-6pm once a week just doesn't cut it. Plus, Löf has since December 2000 been employed guitarist in The Kristian Meurman Experience (later Agathon's Legacy) - a rock band that don´t rehearse, only play gigs and drink. The others also seem to occupy themselves elsewhere, so during the spring of `01 Outpost exists only in theory.
In May a lucky wind blows, however, because once again Löf recieves a call from the happy drummer informing him that a gig is coming up and a rehearsal space is found. They go with Tonza´s friend, who invited them to share the place, to check it out. It´s the biggest place of its kind they have ever seen, and it is located perfectly, at the Cable Factory. The gear is good - a Premier drumkit (thank you, Tomi!) and a vintage PA with tall speakers - and the acoustics are ok, could maybe use a little padding. So the trio starts playing like crazy right away, full of energy after the long break.
At the coffee break Tonza worriedly explains that the band name Outpost has been used for a long time by an American group, that a new name is needed. Löf half-joking suggests the surname given to him by Kristian Meurman when joining his band - Leeves. No objections. At the end of May, Leeves play an open air concert in W. Pyöli. After that the boys drift apart again. Too many women, too much booze.
The following year Löf spends perfecting a funky vision he has been possessed by since 1996, but hasn´t had the material and pesonnel for until now. I´m talkin´ `bout a band called Sexual Kenny & His Marvellous Pets. He laid his eyes on and old Fender Rhodes electric piano the minute he first set foot in the Cable. He found out that the owner was jazz piano virtuoso Seppo Kantonen, whom he called up to ask for permission to play it and got a positive answer. So Sexual Kenny sits night and day down in that cellar composing, polishing and recording old and new funk & soul. A healthy contrast to the rock`n´roll life with the KM Experience. The Marvellous Pets get their act together in November `01 and start playing regularly at Night Club Mocambo in Helsinki, a nice place with red velvet, golden walls and a big stage - a musicians wet dream.
A few months later Löf recieves a phone call, this time not from a drummer, but from a girl. She has seen the Marvellous Pets live and she wants to make a music video with the band. He asks if he can call her back, he has to consider the offer. He is welcome to. The deal includes filming the band playing in Mocambo and of course, recording a suitable song to play along to. He doesn´t want to do it with the Pets, since he would have specific visual demands on that point. Instead, he sees it as an opportunity to record some shelved material with a good band - free of charge. So, what does he have? The director has requested a ballad. He´s got one not yet recorded that has haunted him for a long time, i.e. the haunting ballad Midnight Sun from the Outpost days in Alikerava. He has in the past year learned to know more able musicians than in his preceeding 22 years. Since moving in at the Cable factory he has worked closely with the multitalented Joonatan Kotila, who has played both bass, keyboards and drums with the Pets. In February `02 the Pets employed a horn section,"The Horny Section", including trumpetist Mikko Kangas and alto/barytone saxophonist Joonas Outakoski, two best friends of undisputed ability, taste and synergy. In December 2001 Fredrik Löf made one of the most important musical discoveries of his career. He walked into the rehearsal space for no particular reason - he thought. He found his friend Joonatan there (not quite surprisingly, he spends 80% of his time here). Joonatan was playing chord progressions on his sunburst Fender Stratocaster, his main instrument, which, useless to add, he plays as well or better than bass or piano or drums. More surprising, however, was to discover a tiny fellow with Ray Manzarek-like hair and a cool green velvet jacket sitting on a stool playing the same chord progressions and soloing occationally on a small, smooth- sounding apparatus. Fucking brilliant! Full of exitement, Fred rushed to the drums and started to play along, disregarding the fact that he couldn´t actually play the drums. The situation was just so immediate and spontaneous. After the jam Joonatan introduced the great little man as Heikki. When Fred asked about the keyboard instrument the methaphysical question: "is it real?", Heikki explained with a quiet voice that it was a pianet made by Hohner, with similar mechanics as on a Rhodes, but not as good, and that he´d purchased it that day. It will later be revealed that Heikki also, besides his astonishing skills, owns both a Rhodes and a Hammond organ. In other words, a guy to be taken seriously.
And so, four months later, when confronted with the question whom to choose to play on Midnight Sun, Fredrik doesn´t hesitate to ask Heikki to play keys. For drummer, Tonza is the obvious choice since he already knows the tune. Joonatan is invited to play bass, partly because of his all-around studio production skills. Joonas and Mikko are requested to blow their horns. They all kindly accept the invitation, and there you have yourself a band custom disigned to play in the red velvet Chamber of Mocambo - The Velvet Desperados Orchestra!
'Midnight Sun ' takes two full days to record, beginning April 25th 2002 at 9:00am an finished the next day at 7:00pm. The lyrics are finished on the train in the morning before the session. Stanley Lönnqvist is recording. Drums, bass, piano and rhythm guitar are recorded live. This is the only painful part of the process. After four or five takes in the morning the band decide that pizza and beer is needed. They return an hour later, feeling better, and cut the piece in one go. Then the organ, percussion and the vocals are recorded. Joonatan adds an analogue synthesizer very tastefully, then another one, this is getting good! Day two is concentrated on guitars, horns and backing vocals. The soundtrack exeeds everyone's expectations, but nobody knows what happened to the video, the main product! Midnight Sun can be heard on the Velvet's website and will be the closing track on their first Cowabunga release, 'Northern Lights', nearly two years later. But until then, there will be much more booze, women and children.
In August 2002 Fredrik, Tonza and Antti get together to jam. Heikki has also been invited, but can't attend. It's been over a year, but it sounds as good as ever. The heavier rock'n'roll songs work just fine in this setting, but when it comes to 'Midnight Sun' it sounds a bit hollow. A few days later, however, they gather again, and this time Heikki is with them. There is nothing more to add. The Velvet Desperados have arrived as a fully functional live act. The sound is rich and colourful, as Heikki contributes with not one instrument, but with three; the Hammond organ ( played with left hand), the Rhodes electric piano (played with right hand) and a Korg synthesizer (played with middle hand).
They spend the autumn of 2002 dusting off and developing old songs like Trippin' With Jesus and Reggae On The Moon?, as well as writing new material. Heikki has a interesting piano theme of un- usual chord progressions (as usual), which he calls Northern Lights. To this, Fredrik will add two more traditional parts, and a long, hard multi-phased arranging process, reminicent of that of Midnight Sun, awaits them. And they believe that hard work will pay off. The road to success is not without its obstacles, though. In November 2002 the band will face one of the worst threats to its carreer. They have been asked to play at a charity ball, and they accept the offer. Big mistake. Everyone in the group is not so keen on playing at all that night, the ambience is all wrong and worst of all; they have set their standards too high. So high, that when it comes to writing the setlist, all their own songs are disqualified in fear of making a mistake, and are replaced by Elvis songs. As they haven't rehearsed any Elvis songs together, the gig is naturally a cathastrophy. Is this the end of the Velvet Desperados? For two weeks they won't talk to each other, but being good friends, they decide the event never occurred, and carry on forward. Has this band taken enough shit by now? Is it time for the ultimate breakthrough, the conquering of the world? Of course not. In January 2003 bassist Antti Pesonen leaves the Velvet Desperados for another band.
Having lost its bassist and therein an important creative force, the band is once again put on ice. For the remaining group, the break means engagements with other projects; for Fredrik and Heikki projects like The Lucky Losers, boozing and working. Tonza has his work cut out in raising his firstborn daughter, who has come to the world just before New Year.
Then, one sunny April morning, the unemployed guitarist once again recieves a call from the backbone of the band. The happy drummer proclaims: "It looks like we've found a bass player!"
After their first get-together it is clear that Tonza's former draft dodging peer Dimmu Ylönen is fit to join the group. Not only is he an accomplished player, he also likes the music and learns the songs in no-time. And he seems a nice enough person to get along with. Another positive person is introduced by to the band at this time, Pujoparta-Pasi Halonen. He has a '77 Volkswagen Kleinbus in which he will drive the band to success, and he will form record label Cowabunga Recordings, with the Velvets as its main act.
The summer of 2003 sees the Velvets play two live shows, both in the countryside; one in June in an idyllic red house full of hippies out in the plains of Sipoo, and one in August at a crayfish party in a mansion near Loviisa. In between, Fredrik suffers a bad mononucleosis with a throat swollen almost not allowing air to pass to the lungs, and with a fever of 40C in the hottest summer in years.
While slowly recovering, Fredrik's liver will be overloaded with infections for another month, disabling him from drinking. Thus, his brain works better than usually, so he takes advantage of this abundace of synaptic actions by writing lyrics to the songs he has so far only improvised with temporary words. These songs, Trippin' With Jesus, Reggae On The Moon? and Northern Lights, the band have decided to record as soon as possible. The soonest possible time appears to be the 1st of September. They pack two cars full of gear; a Fender Rhodes, drums, bass, four guitars, a synthesizer, amps and wine; and drive up north to the studio of music veteran Mika Sundqvist, where they spend a fewrelaxed but ever so productive days, entertained by Sundqvist's endless repertoire of scandalous stories of the great Finnish acts from the past three decades (see photo album 1).
The three songs are recorded onto two-inch tape on Sundquist's 24-track tape machine. On the fourth day, just as all three songs are recorded, the mixing board starts showing serious signs of malfunction. The faders are dead. Fredrik and Heikki, the remaining half of the band, therefore have serious problems getting the balances right for the preliminairy mix, having to use the microscopic monitor volume knobs. The basic sound is good, though, and that's most important. The recording is intended to be mixed properly later anyway.
Back in Helsinki, Fredrik starts looking around for a studio to mix in. It has to have a 2"/24 track machine, or nothing will happen. It soon becomes apparent that the only place near with such a ma- chine is Finnvox, and that would be too expensive. So he faces the fact that, sadly, what must be done in order to get this mixed is to convert the material into digital form.With help from his friend Fredrik Pelin and a Finnvox executive the Velvet's music find a new home on a hard disc. Then Pelin suggests his engeneering collegue Svante Lönngren to mix it. Svante spends two months patiently and accurately perfecting the recording to the bands taste. Hats off to a job well done.
Horns are arranged for Trippin and Northern Lights by Fred's buddy from the Pets, trumpet player Mikko Kangas. Fredrik has ideas for strings for Reggae". In December a horn section con- sisting of Mikko, Joonas and trombone player Jussi Kosonen; a string section with violinist Mikko Rajala and cellist Antti Hyvärinen; Svante and a lot of expensive microphones gather at the Cable Factory. Svante fits the new parts into the mix, and we are ready to hit the Christmas market with a 50 copy pre-issue of "Northern Lights". The reaction from friends and relatives is positively sur- prised and overwhelming. In January 2004 some minor adjustments are made to the mix, and it's time to master. Long time musical guru, composer and former Chief Executive of Love Records Otto Donner is requested to do the job, and he will. He has taken a liking to the Velvet Desperados even at the stage of the raw mix.
On January 22nd Donner masters the three songs plus Midnight Sun and thus, "Northern Lights" is finished.
Now the prophet is weary and needs to rest his eyes for some time, but one day he will see further into the future of these promising young men, so if you want to know more about their fate, just open your glowing book and look into the future.
- The Prophet Of The Past