Spreading anthemic music is the Finnish way, if you ask this mighty band of indie rockers.
Words and Interview by Shirine Saad.
Finnish rockers Rubik play big, anthemic songs with lots of strange instruments and large choruses. As one of the leading bands of the local indie scene in the region, the eight-member sometimes ten-member band tours extensively with their unfiltered, unapologetic prog music. In a somewhat rare interview, the boys of Rubik parlay their love affair with music into a conversation about their creative process, performing for drunk people and saunas. Go figure.
What are you working on right now?
We’re writing new stuff, rehearsing, cooking, mixing, making sounds in the cottage. As a band, we are constantly writing music and constantly recording. We try to be creative all the time instead of being creative for a year and touring for a year. I don’t know exactly what we’re doing, we’re just writing songs and recording songs in our own studio. That’s pretty natural for us. If you spend too much time in the studio you start thinking that everything you do is good, it alienates you from your audience. When you’re on tour you’re missing the studio, and when you’re in the studio you miss touring. That’s the dilemma of playing music and wanting to play live. In the studio we focus on creating something that you can dwell on, but at the same time we recognize the importance of a proper live show. That’s also why we have eight people in the band. We have lights and effects and a lot of people on stage. You can also enjoy our music in private, but I really believe in the old-fashioned illusion of a good show where you’re in a bubble and really connecting with the band. I really like to be lost in my bubble, disconnected from the outside world. That can really be magical and it can’t happen if you’re on an Mp3 at home.
With so many band members, how does the recording process work?
We write the songs in the studio, so that frees us from band roles. We don’t have to be there at the same time; it might just be the four core members of the band and we come up with something – a sound, a horn sample, and then we just build it from there. And we collectively come up with the idea, so that we don’t have to be restricted. The bass player can also come up with a horn part or a piano part. It’s more like people creating things and bringing in their influences. That’s why it takes lot of time to finish the songs. I really enjoy the fact that a song takes a really surprising turn. But we don’t use outside producers, so it takes a lot of time to make sure our head is not too deep into the music. It’s also part of the magic of the creative process. Something happens and then suddenly you have a song. That’s what inspires me. That’s where magic happens.
Your fans love that your music has so much texture. How do you create that?
You have to respect the song for what it is and not be too arty or textural. It has something to do with the fact that a lot of people in the band are into prog rock, jazz, electronic music and classical music. We’re interested in the texture, without blowing the idea of a good song. We’re into traditional songwriting but we’re also really interested in making it experimental – making sounds that people can’t recognize. We fade it, distort it… When I was young I listened to a lot of electronic music, and I was outdoors with my headphones on a level that the noise from outside could leap in. You can combine so many worlds. Mix them a bit so that they go on each others’ territory. We want to make pop songs that people can relate to, that are beautiful, and make people laugh and hug their friends, and run outside naked.
You are known as the Finnish Radiohead, but you don’t really sound like them…
Five years ago in Finland, if you made music outside of the mainstream with a little texture, and you had a male singer in a higher register, you were identified with Radiohead. They’re a great band and definitely have their own style. But we also love the Beatles, David Bowie, Talk Talk, nineties alt rock, jazz, prog rock, psychedelic rock. I was playing sax for 20 years and listening to jazz. There are so many people in the band. We’ve never tried to be too contemporary; we intentionally try to avoid listening to the latest contemporary bands just to avoid the subconscious danger of stealing something from a contemporary band. We don’t want to fit into any category. We want to be in our bubble.
How has your music evolved?
First we were four members and then six, and now we have a circle of about ten people. First we were a bit more guitar oriented. But even though we used a lot of keyboards for the first EP, we didn’t really know how to incorporate all that sound. It’s important to play really loud music to the drunk Finnish audience. We were really interested in incorporating a lot of layers into the music. We started thinking more where the songs could go. That’s where the second album came from. We thought, “Let’s not think about live performances – let’s see where the songs take us, let’s be inventive and experimental arrangement wise.” We incorporated a lot of acoustics and really enjoyed making it. When we made Dada Bandits, that’s when we realized what our band was about. We used the studio as an instrument and making music in a dynamic way that everyone could participate in without being tied to our live band roles. And then we took it live and realized it was really working.
Tell me about your latest album, Solar….
We were locked into the studio for way too many months and decided to make a real album, 45 minutes of pure music. The idea of an album as it was in the ’70s. We had 18 songs and we were discussing which nine we were going to include, and that lead to where we are right now. It’s definitely more accessible than Dada Bandits, which we really wanted to be chaotic. We wanted to make sparser arrangement and give more room for every single piece of arrangement to have dignity in our sound. It’s really anthemic.
What are the lyrics about?
There are no common themes… I really love to write songs about the moments when you realize something is happening and you feel connected, you have moments of clarity and it’s really valuable. On Solar there are some really mournful lyrics, and then happy lyrics. There are really sad stories for people that I miss a lot. There’s a balance between hopelessness and hope, optimism and pessimism. They’re really open to interpretation. It has my life in it, but they’re not autobiographical, they’re about those moments that you can take out of context.
Is there such a thing as Finnishness in music?
We’ve been talking about that a lot. I guess the open space and country with very little people inspire that upbeat and anthemic and spacy and ethereal and textural side. It’s grandiose and it inspires you to stand up in front of the void and shout from the bottom of your lungs. And the sauna, it’s part of our identity because it makes you feel good.
For more bands like Rubik, check out our special report on Finland’s indie rock scene, here.