A Space Apart

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When I first read about Kauan, there was something strange about it. A young fellow from Chelyabinsk, Russia doing neo-folk/ambient/post-rock in Finnish. He was no doubt inspired by Tenhi. My prejudice was proved wrong as the band’s latest output, ‘Aava Tuulen Maa’, became THE album of 2009 for me. After spinning it more times than I or iTunes could count in 2010, I decided to check up on Anton Belov ― the primus motor behind the music ― to see if I could become any wiser about what lies behind Kauan and Belov. Aside from the fact that Kauan’s upcoming album ‘Kuu’ is coming out soon on Italy’s Avantgarde Music.

Thanks for taking the time to chat up with us, Anton. Let’s get right down to business. Could you give a rundown of your musical history? How did you get involved with music and what directed you towards metal?

How I got involved? It’s a long, but usual story that you can read in every Kauan interview.

What directed me to metal? Friends, time, age and a desire to stop doing things the same way as everybody else. I was about 13-years old, in a normal Chelyabinsk school, no interests, nothing special in life. Sometime after signing a deal with hard music, my life changed a lot. For good, mentally and for bad in physical way.

Years after, with the latest Kauan album Aava tuulen maa, I’ve stepped away from metal and hard music. I’m not playing it and I almost don’t listen to it. More and more I’m slowly understanding the deep sense of music and the real sense of its genres. The thing is that there are no genres! They are in the mind only. For me, all these genres are just different colors in a single palette now. And I can use every color to explain what I want to show to the listener.

In my opinion, it’s much better when your music goes beyond genres, and the metal part, that comes in one song, is not just a typical part anymore, but a real accent; a highlight because there are no metal parts on the album except that one.

You mentioned that you don’t listen to metal as much as you once perhaps did. What’s currently rotating in your CD player?

Maybe you’ll be surprised now. My loudspeakers are often playing psy ambient like Solar Fields, H.U.V.A. Network, Aes Dana, Asura and others from label Ultimae. Also, I’m slowly understanding and becoming a fan of abstract ambient and abstract acoustic projects, like Richard Skelton, Rameses IIII, Solo Andata, etc.

From the more popular music, I’m listen to side projects of Jonsi from Sigur Ros. Both of them, but Jonsi & Alex more. Good Brit pop is always welcomed as well. Band such as Coldplay, Keane, Barcelona and Aaron.

From electronic styles, I’m really in love with high quality production dubstep and drum’n’bass, such as Noisia, Eksmo, Skrillex, Spor and others. From light electronic music, I like Bonobo, Cicada, Bent, Helios, Hammock…if we can call that electronic.

My last great discovery was the Take That album Progress. Unbelievable work with sound, voices and so forth! That’s a really good example. When young boys with music for girls become real monsters with a wonderful sound and start making solid, mature music – that’s great!

Okay, I forgot Sunn O)))

Are you able to support yourself purely on music or are you doing something on the side?

I think 95 percent of indie scene musicians do something on the side. Especially musicians who have no gigs, or their gigs are free. Everyone knows this terrible situation in which indie and even some of major labels are. They are dying because of mp3 piracy. Sure, we all respect modern technologies and we all download some music. But some of us are doing this to preview [bands]. Some do it because they have no money to buy a real CD, and some are doing it to kill a scene. I saw a topic on some metal forum, which was called “Never buy CDs” and there were posts like: “I’ll never buy a CD again, fuck musicians, fuck their labels, fuck all scenes. Even if all these bands die! Fuck off! I don’t care”.

Yeah, this stupid boy thinks like that only now, but what will happen if everything he said will come true? First of all, his favorite bands will start to share their albums for free on the Internet and he will be happy, but the quality of these releases will not be as good as they could be.

All other bands will go the same way. Next, they, at least 90 percent of bands, will stop releasing any music because they will be one of a million bands in this condition. There will be just no sense to do all that!

Later there will be real competition between all musicians about who is making the best recordings at home. But guys! Musicians don’t have to do this! The only real task for them is composing and playing music for people. Even from my own experience, I know only few musicians who are trying to watch all the new technologies and try to be [in line] with them.

All others will start to search for money for studio time from their own family budget. And that’s only for the first time. Later, they will stop this because there will be no sense in good sound. Fuckers like this young boy who lives on the salary of his mother and pension of his grandmother don’t know anything about money and production of the music that he has in his mp3 player.

Speaking of musicians, you do pretty much everything on your own? Are good musicians hard to find and connect with, even in the Internet age or does it stem out from a personal preference?

[Pauses] I’ve done the music and vocals on the three albums that Kauan has done thus far. Also the music and male vocal parts on the new Helengard album are made by me as well.

On the second album of Kauan there was guy who played some keyboard parts. When we played live with him, he had some good ideas, so we recorded those melodies.

On the new Kauan album, there will be a few session musicians because I decided to have a lot of live instruments. Before, we used to program drum machines as well as the synths and bass.

How has it been having new people on-board?

It isn’t a fresh experience for me. I’ve been a session musician in a few bands and I’ve also had projects [of my own] where I’ve worked with live musicians. But, it’s great a experience.

Every person becomes two instruments. First one is the musician him/herself and the second one is the actual instrument, be it drums, violin or whatever.

And you have both of them in your arms, and your main mission, is tune both of them to make them fit to your music, and if you’ve done it, it will be success, for sure.

You mentioned the new Helengard self-titled, full-length album. How’d that come about?

Helengard was waiting for its turn for about five years. Maybe it was waiting for the right mood, the right time or the right people who’d be part of it.

How much of the stuff carried over from the demo days?

Basically, it’s music that I wrote when I was 15-years old and was influenced by some folk metal bands. Then, in the beginning of 2010 I found all these notes and decided to record an album. In fact, I sent a promo tape to Firebox Records and they said they wanted to release it.

On one hand, it was a kind of a tribute to my old project. [Some] songs were almost dead, but I resurrected them in order to preserve all of them in real history, on a real CD, via proper distro. On the other hand, I recorded it with Alina Roberts, who came to Helengard as an invited singer but she ended up becoming a real part of the band.

There’s something quite Belov-like about it, even if it’s still quite different from what you’ve done with Kauan. The problem I’m having, is categorizing the album. That’s what we ‘musical journalists’ do. There’s quite a few music styles in play on the album. How would you explain Helengard’s music and where did it stem out from?

Don’t ask me about that! [Laughs]

Our task [as musicians] is to record an album. Your task is to listen to it. To like or dislike it and, as you said, to categorize the album. I mean, it’s not necessary to know the history of an album, but it’s very important to hear it in the music. And I can say, this album is not without history.

Maybe if you want to understand more, you can search the promo of Helengard that was released in 2005, then you’ll hear a total difference between the old and new Helengard.

You mentioned the folk metal influence earlier and I did get sort of a Moonsorrow-vibe out of it, even though the two bands don’t sound anything alike.

Well, I’m big fan of Moonsorrow, from Voimasta ja Kunniasta till the new teaser from their upcoming album, so of course, it’s possible to hear some influences from Moonsorrow in Helengard, but I’m not copying. It’s just that at the time I wrote the melodies I was listening a lot of this type of music. Whereas now, the music I’m composing and the music I’m listening to, are totally different. Maybe it’s one of the ways to be independent and have your own sound?

Totally. Can we expect any continuation to the album?

Well, possibly. And it won’t be like the old Helengard. The new album will be totally different. If it will ever happen that is, but I have some new melodies in my head already.

Shifting the focus back to your main band…when I first heard about Kauan and the premise of a Russian guy singing in Finnish, I was slightly skeptical but once I got to know the band properly through Aava Tuulen Maa, I was glad to be dead wrong. Aava Tuulen Maa is slightly different from the first two albums. There’s no growling and the metal riffing is kept to a minimum. How did the album turn out like that?

Like I mentioned earlier, I got another vision of music and sound. I started to speak by the music, maybe.

So, if we associate metal riffs to aggression, who will want to hear pure aggressive story? It’s only an emotion, a kind of splash, an accent. So I’m using growls, metal riffs and all other stuff like that only in moments when it’s really needed.

I think you agree that certain melodies sound more tragic, sorrowful and mournful without any hard guitars, blast beats and screaming, just a violin and a slow piano. Am I right? [Laughs]

You got me there. I’ve had a few debates about what kind of images the album evokes and it seems to differ from listener to listener. There’s at least a hint of nostalgia around it, for me anyway, and quite a few picture either winter landscapes or the end of summer when listening to the album. What’s your own view of the album’s themes and concepts?

Aava Tuulen Maa is very emotional album. Here is a land of steppes, perhaps you know this. So, I tried to describe all the emotions that an ordinary person feels when he comes to a steppe.

But generally, it depends on the album. For example, the first one, Lumikuuro, was composed before Kauan existed. There are songs there which were written in different times and one day we decided to put all these songs together and try to release it somewhere. That was our first label signing experience.

As for Tietäjän laulu, that was an experiment. It consists of moods from three worlds that we created with my visual artist and lyric writer.

Looking back, where do the first two albums (Lumikuuro, Tietäjän Laulu) stand today? How do you view Kauan’s development throughout its existence?

As I see it, people who listen to Kauan now could be divided in three different categories.

The first one listens to the first two albums only, as they are more harder than the latest release. The second group listens to only our latest stuff and finally, there’s the third one that listens to both, old and new. I respect and love them all.

When I’m reading some interview or just short feedback from someone on Facebook or last.fm, I’m really happy because my music found its listener. I think that’s the main goal of it all. Otherwise this long process of production of an album has no sense.

Generally speaking, what does Kauan mean for you personally?

There are two sides.

First, I see Kauan as a place, a room or a hall, or a plate, whatever, where I can do any musical experiments and where I can implement all my artistic ideas. It’s a place where I can think, wait, miss, scream and do everything and anything, but only in musical language.

Secondly, Kauan is a successful band that has a good record deal and wide distribution. It’s all about self realization. All my thoughts that I keep in this room called Kauan go to the next stage. I’m arranging them, cutting, changing, making them longer or shorter and then they’re taken to the studio, where they later become songs that I will compile to an album.

I will give names to all of them, I will write the lyrics to them and an artist will draw the pictures, I’ll scan them and a designer will do a layout, while the label will do the promotion.

All of that will be printed on CDs and the album will be released. Isn’t that the greatest process in which you could be [involved in]? Not only as a member, but even a conductor!

About your writing process, you said that you edit the songs quite a bit before it all is compiled into an album. What feels natural to you now, picturing the whole album from beginning to end or selecting a starting point and going from there?

It all depends on the situation, of course. But more often, there’s a single starting point and when I’ve done one song, it goes from there and slowly I begin to see the whole picture of an album.

On the other hand, Tietajan Laulu was different as from the first moment, I saw the whole picture.

Visuals seem to play a grand role in Kauan’s music. Both with album packaging and in the images that the music evokes. Can you further explain the collaboration between you and the artists? How much in control are you of the final product?

Totally. I see the exact picture. I’m building it with session musicians and painters. Sometimes, especially with painters, if they get an idea and if I like it, we add that to the album.

But I have to say big thanks to all musicians and painters who are working with me, especially on the new album. ’Cause they’ve ideally done their work.

For example, [with the] bass guitar, as you can hear, there are some pretty simple parts with the always slow puuuum-puuum and nothing else [Laughs]  and I know thousands of musicians who would say, “Hey! Let’s do it like this!” and then start writing some professional and hard parts. But I don’t need that. I’m doing an atmosphere, so yes, sometimes one note is enough for four or even eight tacts…if it’s needed. The session musicians who are working with me understand this perfectly.

What’s Chelyabinsk like? It’s a pretty big city in the south Urals.

Yes, Wikipedia and Google will tell you more about it. Maybe I can take you on a little tour around Chelyabinsk, when you come, but it’s a waste of time to explain what it all looks like. It’s a big city, one-third of the [entire] Finnish population. 1.2 million people are citizens and about 300,000 are immigrants from southern countries and republics of Russia.

Do you feel somehow disconnected with your own surroundings and heritage? Is there a longing for something different?

Only in a musical way. There’s a totally different music culture here. You could even say it’s a lyrical culture only with a soundtrack, you know? Russians were always good poets and writers and it’s the same thing now. A lot of bands have very powerful lyrics but poor and not interesting… [pauses], music. No, can’t say music. It’s just some background with some melody!

Sure, there are a lot of metal bands here that are playing very well, but they are not in my circle of interests. Show business is killing everything: talent, culture and even some people. Who needs songs that are 13-15 minutes long? Who cares that young bands—who want to play—will never have a place for rehearsals because the director of the school, where they study, simply rented all free space away and sold parts of the football field to a construction company? Every young Russian band that wants to play something unusual is like a flower growing through asphalt. It’s very hard, and in 99 percent of the cases, a useless process.

As I remember, in every school there was a man who was responsible for the music. He had a few children who sang stupid old songs and he accompanied them with a synthesizer. It was the same from year to year. Just to report “I’m doing my job!”.

Once I came to him and asked about one hour in a week for rehearsals for my first band. All the members were from that school. And he said me “No way! You’ll kill all my amplifiers with your electric guitars. “Remember, Anton, you are not musician, listen to me, drop all this and try to start studying.”

So, now I’m saying,“Fuck off!”, because he’s a 60-year-old grouchy bastard who kills any amateur performance when kids show some attraction for real art. And I’m a 22-year-old bastard who didn’t take the advice of an old, smart man. Now, I’m releasing my fourth album. You decide who was right.

Touching the themes discussed before. Russia and Soviet Union have quite a long and rich history behind them. Some of it good, some of it bad — as it is with all nations. Being from Chelyabinsk yourself, however, does the Mayak disaster still shadow the region?

No comments [Laughs]

Alright. Going back to Kauan, how do the lyrics come about? Do you create the music first and then figure out the message or?

Not every time but usually, yes, music comes first. For me, the lyrics and vocals are something that if you could turn them off and the song would still preserve all of its beauty.

Since you’re quite familiar with both languages, how would you compare Finnish and Russian languages when it comes down to writing and then singing the lyrics?

I’m always writing in Russian. My skills in Finnish are not enough to write proper lyrics, especially with old rare words. I have one big friend in Finland, Juha Kuusela, who is always helping me with translatng all the texts on the albums. His support for Kauan is simply invaluable!

As for comparing the two languages, Russian and Finnish are totally different. They’re in different language groups.Finnish has a lot of sounds which are not typical for Russian tongue [Laughs]. [editors note: language = kieli, in Finnish, but kieli also means tongue.]

Guys in the studio are always laughing when I start singing [Finnish]. We’re finding words that sound funny in Russian all the time. [Laughs] Well, I love it! One of [my] main ideas was to show everyone [how to use] voice as an instrument. Not using real words, but sounds. [editors note: see glossolalia]

Has it been hard for you to adapt to a new language?

I’m still studying it. In fact, Finnish is one of the most hardest of languages [to learn]. For me, studying is simple but sure, one of the hardest things is pronounciation. I’ve learned all the basics by listening to Finnish songs and conversations when I was in Finland. On the last two albums, when the lyrics were done, I’ve always worked on it with Juha. He told me about the right pronounciation and then corrected when I’ve repeated them wrong. You, as a Finn, should understand me as these words, like hengittää [editors note: breathe]… the ‘ng’-part in it is almost impossible to say. [Laughs]

How easy has it been to have the two languages work together seamlessly?

[Pauses] I haven’t thought about that at all. I just got an idea to put both languages on one album, ’cause the lyrics on this album were written by one young poet from St. Petersburg and as respect to her, I decide to make songs in both languages.

Any similarities between Finnish and Russian, Finns and Russians?

Nothing. Different worlds, indeed. Someone can say, “Hey, Russia is not so bad as you say!”. Well, I’m not saying that Russia is so bad, but we are totally different. And all of this is because of mentality, nature and school of life.

Mmm-hm. You’re in the process of writing a new Kauan album. What can we expect from it, other than new session musicians?

Just as always, it’s going to be a fresh album, different from the older works. But like you said before, there will be Belov-like notes! [Laughs] But it’s going to be a hard album, Mikko. Hard, not by sound but by feelings. Also, there will be real drums, real bass, new great synths, live female voice. Four songs.

What has the recording process been like?

[Laughs] I think, I should mention the drum recording process. It was not in studio, and we spent a lot of time, nerves and health on it as we decided to record drums in big old hall of one Soviet Union-era building, the Kolushenko’s House of Culture. Strange, perhaps, but there’s a unique reverb at the place.

Naturally, we had to do this at night time, ’cause kids were exercising there till 9 p.m. So, we had two sessions. Each session began with taking all the equipment from the sound engineer’s place, then stuff it inside a car and go to the House of Culture and set it all up. A bit later, the drummer came with the drums, slowly moving them to the hall while we were installing microphones, tuning sounds and all that took few hours. We’d start the soundcheck at like 1 or 2 a.m. and our sessions ended in the morning at 7 or 8. You can imagine our happiness when we were done!

Now, we just need to make sure that the huge sacrifice isn’t lost in the mixing process [Laughs]

Thus far Kauan’s music has been quite esoteric, personal and to a point, naturalistic. Humane, should I say. Can we expect a more urban, oppressive and intrusive soundscape from you at some point?

It will be soon, Mikko. Next album has more urban landscapes and space, but I should say that it’s not the space that you can see when you listen to Jean Michel Jarre. His space is coming from the eyes of person who has discovered it [space]. My space is coming from the eyes of a person, whose watching the skies from ground of the Earth. Silent pictures of the moon and the stars, metro stations, little bench in a garden between houses… That sort of stuff.

I guess it’s proper to say ‘holy shit’. Can’t wait! With that in mind, can you envision yourself doing any soundtrack work?

Yes, I’m doing that already. I can’t tell what for yet. But one of those projects is for a big TV channel and the second one is for a big video game company.

Oh yeah, when was the new album, Kuu, coming out, again?

I guess that’s a question for Avantgarde Music. Anyway, we’re basically not recording anything anymore. We’ll be mixing it until March, I think. All the pictures are done as well. So, basically as soon as the label will give us the green light!

Also, with new musicians on-board, can we expect to see Kauan in a live situation anytime soon?

Not soon, but you could. Can’t say nothing more yet, but it’s being planned for sure.

All right. I think that pretty much sums it up for now. Going out with a bang, any parting words?

Thanks for questions. Best wishes to your magazine and a big bow to all listeners of music.

Comments

  1. Commented by: Timmy

    Excellent job, Mikko! Very informative and lots of super questions!


  2. Commented by: Adam.L

    Great interview, man. Checking these guys out now; I’m liking what I hear quite a bit.


  3. Commented by: stiffy

    Their last record was amazing. It’s like the best parts of Katatonia mixed with Agalloch mixed with folk beauty. I must own this on vinyl.


  4. Commented by: Apollyon

    > I must own this on vinyl.

    I do and it’s delicious. Comes with a bonus track as well.


  5. Commented by: stiffy

    Give it to me, you Finnish bastard!


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