By Jerry Kranitz
From Aural Innovations #7 (July 1999)
Last issue, as part of our profile of bands from Finland, we reviewed some recent Circle releases as well as offshoot bands Ektroverde and Lehtisalofamily. I consider Circle to be one of the most exciting and interesting bands I've heard in recent years. They have a unique sound and my interest grew even greater after hearing the music of their various side projects. Through the magic of email I was able to throw a few questions about this little known band at guitarist Teemu Elo.
AI: How do you describe your music? In an earlier review, I described Circle as, "plays a unique blend of spacerock, psychedelia, and avant garde progressive." Does that sound accurate?
TE: It's hard to describe something when you're in the middle of it. You described Circle's music as "a unique blend of space rock, psychedelia and avant garde progressive". We ourselves as individual human beings have never felt home in Finland's spacerock and psychedelia scene. Our music is hypnotic, but I feel it's a more down-to-earth type of hypnosis compared to bands like Hawkwind, Ozric Tentacles and Dark Sun, for example. Nowadays the band's (and Ektroverde's, even more) thing is related strongly to Krautrock (Can and Neu being maybe the strongest influences) and to black groove and dub in some strange way, at least in my opinion.
AI: It looks like Circle was originally a 3-piece band. Tell me about your evolution to the 6-piece lineup. The early music on Kollekt surprised me as being very aggressive. In some ways hardcore/punk... but still containing elements of the Circle sound heard in later recordings. Did the band's interests change as time went on or was the music heard on Hissi, Fraten, and Pori a natural evolution from the earlier more aggressive style?
TE: Maybe I should explain you the situation we're in these days and how we came here. Circle started in 1991 as a three-member band. The only one left now is Jussi Lehtisalo, who is the main actor here. Originally he sang and played guitar. He has also founded Ektroverde and Lehtisalofamily and releases on his own Ektro label. The band's earliest influences were Spacemen 3 and (not surprisingly) Loop along with some grunge acts. So, the band's sound with screeching and buzzing guitars didn't originate from punk (punk in the narrow sense of the word, one can argue that Loop sounded like Loop because The Stooges and MC5 showed the way to punk in the late sixties). Jussi had been singing in the church-choir as a kid, and he managed to rip off his past quite efficiently, as is heard in the vocal parts on the first two singles (DNA/Independence and Point/Fone/Depoint) and on the Meronia-album. The first line-up change was replacing the bass-player Marko Taipale with a new guy Mauri Päivistö after DNA. I came along on the second guitar a year after that. The first thing I played on was four-song EP Silver (released before Meronia) and it's Circle's punkiest thing. First two singles were showing the way to hypnotic screech-groove, but Silver (songs: Crawatt, Circus, Silver and Polka, on American VHF-release Silver was replaced with Armond) showed the band's tendency to be a bunch of irritating assholes. We started using makeup and freaky outfits (or no outfits at all) soon after Silver. The stage act got wilder and wilder all the time, blood was not an uncommon sight on stage. When Meronia was made and published the thing was at its craziest. The band was now six members. Taking the keyboard-player Petri Hagner along made the music slower, gloomier and in some ways a bit suicidal. His influence is best heard on some songs on Meronia and Zopalki (just check out Warszawa). On drums had been from the beginning Juha Ahtiainen (he left after Hissi) and the preaching lightsman was called Juha-Pekka Hietaniemi. Our shows were sometimes very much like psychedelic black masses, with Juha-Pekka Hietaniemi serving the mock-last-supper to musicians on stage. We had our bodies painted with glowing fluorescent colors and had strobes and police-car emergency lights all over the stage. No wonder some people still refer to that phase as the legendary line-up ("you should have seen them THEN").
At the times of Zopalki some of the band members (Lehtisalo mainly) developed a growing interest towards krautrock. When I came along it was my dream to make the music less heavy (my all-time favorites are from the sixties), so now the turn of things seemed natural. Hissi was recorded and mixed in two days, when Zopalki took maybe fifty. Those days we started doing gigs with two drummers and the act got much cleaner, we had to and wanted to concentrate now just on the music. On Hissi there are still two drummers (recorded at the same time with only four microphones) but soon after the original drummer Juha Ahtiainen left. After some turmoil (we're all still friends) we found that Circle had nearly wholly a new line-up (the one on Fraten and Pori). All the members just didn't share the new vision about music anymore, so they had to go and chase their dreams elsewhere. Ahtiainen, Hagner and our former soundman Jussi Saivo are nowadays releasing music under the name Ovalki on the label Bad Vugum (that released the early Circle albums and EP's) but they are not doing gigs. The new Circle soon got together to form a new kind of sound.
AI: There are several related projects involving members of Circle. Tell me about these various projects. Is Circle the "main" band?
TE: At the same time Ektroverde started, based on Jussi's idea of a band that could and would do anything, it was like a kind of research laboratory for sound. On Ektroverde releases have been playing many musicians, but the main characters are Jussi Lehtisalo and Mika Rintala, who is a true sound wizard on his own right. He builds his own instruments (analogue synth built in a bookshelf with fifteen oscillators called Ruma which means Ugly, light-responding analogue synth inside a vacuum cleaner and all kinds of theremins for example), which can be heard most clearly on Ektroverde's Futuro an on Lehtisalofamily. Lehtisalofamily are Jussi, Mika and Jussi's parents, that had never before touched an instrument.
Ektroverde is in fact more active nowadays than Circle, which is like a mammoth: hard to get to move. After Pori, Circle has recorded nearly two albums, one will be released this summer, I think. Ektroverde is doing something nearly every week, gigs or recording sessions. We just play and play. I think there are at least five hours of Ektroverde (and related) material in the vaults waiting to be released.
The Ektroverde gigs are nearly wholly improvised acts nowadays. We have been playing with two basses live (Jussi and Markku Peltola from a band performance group Motelli Skronkle) and two guitars (me and Circle's new guitarist Jyrki Laiho) and Mika Rintala on all kinds of electronics and the Finland's freakiest-out talent Mika Rättö on keyboards and vocals, sometimes (his own band is called Moon Fog Prophet, which is worth checking out) and a drummer Tomi Leppänen from Aavikko (Finland's instruMental groove-act number one. The result is a web of sounds and rhythms, softer and more easy-going than Circle. I hope a couple of live shows from this line-up will be released in the future. In fact the live sequence on Pingvin is played with a very similar line-up, but with only one bass guitar. I think the live shows are now even better.
So, I consider you find this whole thing quite a mess. But that's how the things have been developing nowadays: playing with different people in the search of new rhythms and motions. But behind all, I think is Jussi's vision about music and his eagerness to arrange new kinds of situations for himself and others. Of course anyone just can't jump in. Playing in Ektroverde is constant "tuning in", and that's very interesting and sometimes hard. Circle has always been much more rigid band: not too much improvisation, like a train that has developed its own consciousness on the way somewhere.
AI: Any performances/tours outside Finland?
TE: Yep, we haven't been touring much abroad, two gigs in Germany, one in Denmark and one in Sweden with Circle and one gig in Belgium with Ektroverde (ten days holiday). I think there is constantly some plans about touring Europe or the States with Circle but, but nothing is sure yet.
AI: Are the bonus tracks on Kollekt previously unreleased?
TE: I think there are two songs on Kollekt wholly unheard before: Superb and Aspirites from Meronia sessions. Some of the versions are different from the original releases (Ed-Visio is from the Point sessions, it was recorded anew for Meronia and Point is an alternate mix with different vocals).
AI: I also noticed that vocals are more prominent on the early Kollekt material, and now Circle is primarily an instrumental band. Did you decide that vocals didn't fit the music? Any plans to re-introduce vocals in the future?
TE: Vocals will be heard on Ektroverde and Circle releases in the future, too, but I think they won't be as integral part of the music as they were on those early days. Singing just doesn't seem to have same kind of place in our music anymore. But who knows, maybe we'll start to experiment with human voice too.
AI: Any final news or future events you would like to share with our readers?
TE: Circle's line-up has changed after Pori. Jussi plays now bass guitar, me and Jyrki Laiho are on guitars, Teemu Niemelä on keyboards and Janne Peltomäki on drums, so we're five members now.
Click here to visit the very informative web page covering both Circle and related band Ektroverde. Click here to visit the more official page run by band leader Jussi Lehtisalo.