Proof (EP) (2009, synth-pop) !8.3
Długo broniłem się przed realnym impaktem tego niepozornego z początku mini-manifestu, ale w końcu dałem za wygraną. Niczym Junior Boys, Lisa Shaw czy Sally Shapiro przed nim, kolega Fin znalazł idealną chyba formułę dla wyrażenia uczuciowego osamotnienia w dobie internetu, kiedy niby świat się skurczył, ale ludzie są jakby dalej od siebie. Tytułowe nagranie to równo skrojony, jedyny tu skierowany do masowego odbiorcy, wzorcowy hit z katalogu "80s wracają", który równie dobrze może być najsłabszy w zestawie. Prawdziwe czary zaczynają się od drugiego "Placid Mind" o środkowo-Kraftwerkowej motoryce. Zależność obsesyjnie powtarzanej mantry synth-basu od kolejnych padów i wyskakujących "z głupia frant" pacnięć klawiszy rozpoczyna nowy sposób narracji w popowej piosence: trochę linearnej, trochę zapętlonej, trochę zagubionej i nagle się odnajdującej, a wszystko na konstant bicie. Obezwładnia "Slope", doszlifowując boską metodę "zmrożone E=MC2 ze szczyptą Cerrone", ale flirtując też z dramaturgią: wejście wokalu, poprzedzone totalnie inteligentnym przygotowaniem przedpola (3:12-3:30), zawsze przyprawia mnie o ciarki. Gdyby tego było mało, na deser dostajemy wyciskacza łez budzącego uprawnione skojarzenia z "When I'm Not Around", ale sensacyjnie dryfującego w middle section (1:27-2:30) ku iście paranoidalnym, szczerze przerażającym, katastroficznym wizjom. Jeśli rozpoczyna się swoją przygodę z dyskografią od naznaczonych autorskim zmysłem konstrukcyjnym, perfekcyjnie funkcjonujących mechanizmów, generujących plastyczną melancholię według szalenie skomplikowanych równań matematycznych, gdzie w finale lewa strona równa się jednak prawej, to potem można już tylko wszystko doszczętnie spierdolić, czego Willy'emu nie życzę tak bardzo z całego serca, jak tylko umiem.
Tak. Ville Alajuuman pochodzi z Finlandii, mało ludzi go kojarzy, gra sensacyjnie melodyjny post-JuniorBoysowy synth-pop suto zakrapiany disco i specjalizuje się w pedantycznie dokładnych, matematycznych mikro-aranżacjach oraz krystalicznie czystej, starannej, klawiszowej produkcji. Słyszeliście to wcześniej i wszystko prawda (muszę być w porządku), ale co mnie obecnie – po wielu miesiącach nałogowego katowania – głównie fascynuje w tym materiale, to rzadko spotykany zmysł narracyjny kolesia. I nie chodzi mi tutaj o brak schematu zwrotka-refren, żeś sobie anty-piosenki bez kolegów nagrał. Jasne, też (ach te mostki, które okazują się być outrem albo kolejną odsłoną linearnej układanki), ale mówię o czymś więcej. Wielokrotnie w trakcie tych czterech fantastycznych tracków trafiają się chwile, w których autentycznie gubię się – nie umiem określić dokąd zmierzamy, jakie emocje nam towarzyszą, czy dominuje nastrój tęsknoty, a może strachu, a może pragnienia, a może ciepła i spokoju? Lecz mój zachwyt wynika z przekonania, że sam artysta właśnie doskonale wiedział, co robi. Bo Willy, zanim jeszcze na serio zaczął karierę, zgłębił tajemnicę destylowania tych najbardziej złożonych uczuć, które często targają nami, choć sami nawet nie wiemy, jak je nazwać. On przetłumaczył je na język kompozycji. Owe czułe (choć zimne wyrazowo) niuanse, nagłe objawienia, ocierające się o ideał, sprawiają, że omawiana EP-ka to dziwny, chyba już niepowtarzalny (sorry, In Between) zbieg okoliczności (trochę jungowska synchroniczność się wkrada), mały cud – więc i prawdziwy fonograficzny skarb minionej dekady. A najśmieszniejsze w całej sytuacji jest to, że nie można go nawet dotknąć.
Byłoby wyżej, gdyby nie to, że tylko cztery kawałki. Ale może właśnie dlatego ani sekunda nie została tu zmarnowana. Hiciarski "Proof", house-popowy "Placid Mind" (Metro Area + śpiew), kłaniający się korzennemu disco "Slope" (Giorgio Moroder byłby dumny) i nostalgiczna, miejska ballada "Sleepwalker" (odwieczne porównania z Junior Boys jak najbardziej uprawnione) – wszystkie tną równo i bezlitośnie. Miałem parę dni temu zaszczyt rozmawiać z Ville i wnioskuję, że Fin najlepsze ma dopiero przed sobą.
(T-Mobile Music, 2011)
In Between (2009, prog/synth-pop) !6.5
No i wykrakałem. Jeśli LP wypada jak zbiór odrzutów z poprzedzającej go EP, to 6.5 to najlepsze co można powiedzieć. Edit: okazuje się, że mimo późniejszej publikacji to są numery starsze, niż te z Proof, co pozwala naiwnie wierzyć w świetlaną przyszłość typa.
Skyscraping (EP) (2012, synth-pop) 7.0
Wywiad z Baxterem
z dnia 10 grudnia 2011
Z artystą ukrywającym się pod pseudonimem Baxter rozmawiałem dzień po jego koncercie podczas imprezy 10.0 w klubie Urban Garden, na której świętowaliśmy dziesięciolecie Porcys. Fin poprosił o publikację wywiadu po angielsku, więc postanowiłem nie tłumaczyć już poniższego tekstu na polski. Język jest na tyle prosty, że raczej każdy czytelnik bez problemu zrozumie.
* * *
I'd like to start with a question about your beginnings with music. Various musicians have various backgrounds before they actually start making their own stuff. How did you become interested with music in the first place? And when was it?
My father was a musician. Actually he still is a musician. So I started playing classical piano when I was like 3 years old [laughs]. So I've been into music all my life. Music has always been the thing for me.
Did you actually listen to classical music as a child?
Not very much, it's just that if you start playing piano, you start with classical music. And when I was, maybe, 11, maybe 12 years old, I started playing more pop stuff on piano. Like learning Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody"...
You can play the whole song, right?
Is it a tough one to play?
It's not that hard, but I remember that when I learned how to play it, it was such a great feeling.
And when did you decide to compose your own stuff?
I've played different instruments in various bands. My brother is also a musician and all our lives we played in the same bands. When I was 7, we had our first band. It was a heavy metal 80s band [laughs]. But in these early bands there was always someone else who did all the songwriting. I remember writing my own piano songs when I was a little so I have been composing all the time. But it was only later when I started to feel more confident about writing my own songs.
Heavy metal is big in Finland, as I recall correctly?
Yeah, it's the most popular rock style in our country. Actually the most popular kind of music is Finnish schlager music. And then maybe heavy metal.
And you still enjoy some of the heavy metal music of the 80s?
Well, I like some heavy stuff, but I don't really listen to heavy metal that much these days...
You played keyboard in these bands?
Keyboard in the first band. And then for many years I played drums in another band, where my brother played guitar. He was the main songwriter. I made some rock songs as a teenager, but I was a bit shy to give my songs to the band. Because my brother was very good at writing songs... We also had a cover band later with my other friends where I was singing.
We're talking 'bout your older brother, right?
Yes, 2 years older.
Is it hard to learn playing drums?
Not really. When I was very little I just started playing drums. I learned it by myself.
Was your dad a musician in the popular music field? Or classical maybe?
No, he played Finnish schlager music mostly and some rock also. He played guitar with many famous Finnish artists.
When and why did you decide to start your own solo project?
Actually I was a very rock-oriented guy for a long time. And then at the beginning of the millennium I started to listen to more electronic music and that´s when I started to write music with my computer.
Which artists, precisely?
Air, Daft Punk, Royksopp, Metro Area and all this chillout genre like Four Tet and Boards of Canada. At the time our rock band broke up, because me and the bass player started feeling the electronic stuff so much. We wanted to change the direction of the band, but others didn't want that.
So let me guess – you started a new project with this bassist, right?
Yeah, it was called The Millioners.
That's a hell of a great name...
We made one album three years ago.
Really, a regular album?
Yes, it was released on CD in Finland.
How's it called?
"Most Sexiest Music" [laughs].
Even better album title [laughs]. Funny, cause Baxter was your first project I actually stumbled upon. Gotta check this one out, then.
It's very disco, more like Italo actually. It's like my recent stuff, but more dancefloor-oriented. We made songs together... It came out like 2007 or something. But this band doesn't exist anymore. Other guys are busy with other things than music right now... At some point they simply said "we don't have time".
Would you say that it was the Internet technology that eventually allowed you to go completely solo? In the 90s it was very hard to make music just by yourself. Now it's much easier.
Yes, that's a very big thing for me... My father had this early version of Cubase software. I was always into that. I started toying with these things. My first computer was a PC – I installed Logic there and started learning how to use it. So this was actually a turning point in my songwriting. Somehow I feel more comfortable to compose pop songs with a computer. When I compose Baxter stuff, I never sit down at piano and write one note after another. I want to play with sounds and the demo has to be already close to the finished product. I get the inspiration from synthesizers and different sounds. I put together some different sounds, because I want to hear the whole picture.
Do you think that Mac is much better than PC?
Definitely, I'm using the Mac.
Ok so let's get back to the music. The thing that strikes me when listening to Baxter recordings is that it’s very hard to name the exact emotions of these songs. I don't know if they're sad or happy, nostalgic or full of hope, warm or cold... As I'm sick of music which is emotionally obvious, it was a welcome change for me... What are your actual emotional intentions when you're making a song?
That's very interesting to hear... The whole process looks like that – first I'm making experimental, instrumental music, with many samples on it. And then I'm adding a bit of a pop and disco touch to that and it becomes more conventional. So it kinda developed into this pop direction. Suddenly I started doing lyrics, which I've never done before. The songs progressed and I've never thought about the intentions. All the lyrics are some of my own thoughts and I'm not really a storyteller. More important to me is if they sound good with the music. I believe that the listener can make his own adjustments about what I'm singing...
Sure, but lyrics is one thing and the music is another. What I'm asking about is actually the mood of the music itself. The atmosphere.
Well, there's definitely a melancholic side to it. I think that's because I'm Finnish. Finnish people are very melancholic and quiet.
Polish people are very romantic and sometimes melancholic too. Maybe it's something both nations have in common.
Maybe it's all about the weather. Anyway, I think it comes quite naturally. I always tend to keep the background quite dancey and upbeat – it's not that much downtempo. But then I want to add some mystery to it. Many electronic pop acts behave like "ok, this is very 80s sounding... so we're doing it 80s style". And I've never wanted to sound very 80s. The vibe is just coming from the synths I use. I want to create spacey atmosphere. And I want to use different sounds, good melodies, I try to compose good songs.
Your music often reminds me of Junior Boys. Like with your stuff – it's hard to say if they make sad or happy, warm or cold music...
I've heard people compare my music to them many times....
...and also there's the same thing – they don't want to sound very 80s, but they do, quite effortlessly.
I'm not really like "I was born in the 80s, so my music reminds you of that era". It's all about the sounds – some of it is 80s, and some of it not really. I also want to sound modern, not too nostalgic.
Can you imagine yourself, like 2-3 years from now, making a totally different style of music?
Yeah, I can easily imagine this, because I like different kinds of music and I also run different musical projects at the moment. We have this very experimental rock band with my brother right now. We've done one album with this also.
The name of the band?
It's called KAP KAP.
Wow, I had no idea how rich your discography was...
It's because I'm doing songs all the time – each project operates in a different field. I've also done some folk songs actually [laughs]. And with one of my friends in Finland we make very mainstream pop stuff. We're trying to sell them to record labels.
That's the challenge – how to sell that stuff to a wider audience.
Yes, you really have to think about the big chorus. And you have to watch out – what you can do, what you can't do... And when I'm doing Baxter songs I feel so much relief, because I can do what I want. It's nice to have different projects. They're all like supporting each other.
* * *
Yesterday you made a big impression on some people with your costume. To me it was a very fairytale-like experience. Like, there's a guy who wants to become a pop star and when he puts the costume on, it actually happens. There was something very magical to it. What was the original idea behind it?
That's a great thing to hear, because that's exactly what I wanted to express with it. When I started doing gigs, I wasn't using any image. There was no costume and no sunglasses at all. And then very quickly I decided to change it. Because I'm really bored watching these electronic acts just clicking on their laptops, you know... Ok, I sing as well, but still I wanted to give people some visual side to it. And this costume gives me new opportunities. You can behave differently on stage with the costume on. It's like a role. It's a role costume, actually.
And suddenly it's a different world. It's not real anymore.
Exactly. I have a picture in this costume on Facebook. And one of my friends wrote – "wow, you have just landed from Mars, or what?" [laughs]. Such a great comment.
You have a musician's profile on FB?
Yeah, I do.
Funny because I tried to find it and I had like millions of Baxters but not you. By the way – what's the story behind your nickname?
First I started with that "Willy Baxter" name. "Willy" comes from "Ville" and "Baxter" was just a name I picked up from some movie and it sounded good. Many friends told me that "Willy Baxter" is a really good name. But then when I released this "Proof" EP, my record label suggested I shortened the name to just "Baxter". I said ok, why not, I don't care, but now I regret it a bit, because there's too many Baxters out there [laughs]. So it's possible I get back to the "Willy Baxter" name anytime soon. There's a guy from Tesla Boy... You recognize them?
Yeah I do, they're Russian, right? You remixed them?
Yes. I've been talking to their manager and he said that "Willy Baxter" sounds cool because it reminds him of some forgotten Italo disco artist. They had these English nicknames. There's an Italo vibe to it.
That's true. So you should get back to the "Willy Baxter" nickname. And where would you like to release your next record?
Well I have four new songs that are ready now and I'm working lots of new songs at the moment. There's going to be a new EP soon, probably on April and it will be released on a Swedish label called Substream. These new tracks aren't so much dancefloor-oriented, except maybe one. But they're more like regular pop songs with a disco vibe. That's the direction. I wanna make the next album more varied, with a couple of killer dancefloor tracks, some good pop songs but also a couple of slower ones and more experimental.
Will you ever play Baxter songs with other musicians on stage? Or maybe you just want to play solo.
I've been thinking about it. It would be nice to have some other players on stage. Maybe a guitarist and another keyboard player. I could focus more on singing.
I like your singing style. It's very effortless. Have you had any singing lessons?
No, never. Actually I've been thinking of taking some...
No, why? Don't do that. It's ok the way it is [laughs].
It's true that it all came very natural to me. I started singing when I was little. My father had a studio and often all of us, three brothers, sang. Christmas songs and stuff.
Which reminds me of the Beach Boys. The legend has it that young Wilson brothers sang Christmas carols with full harmonizing when they were little...
We had lots of these, too [laughs].
How do you like Poland? I'm not only asking about the show. How did you enjoy Warsaw for that matter?
To tell you the truth, we haven’t got that much time, but we get back on Monday, so we're going to visit the Old Town for sure. And maybe some museums.
I know it's a stupid question, but what's your favorite album ever?
[long pause] It may be a surprise, but I would have to say Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited.
Really? I would never guess.
I've been a Bob Dylan fan when I was like twelve years old. I learned to play his songs on the acoustic guitar. It's one of the few artists that I listened when i was a kid and i still love it.
So that would be it, thank you.