With the latest Life during quarantine playlist, Nick Triani celebrates the return of Janne Lehtinen and his musical project Mummypowder
This week saw the return of Mummypowder, Janne Lehtinen‘s vehicle for delivering his passionate and melodic music. For me, Janne is as good as songwriting gets, at least as far as ‘man with a guitar and a bunch of other instruments’ go. On this week’s playlist you’ll find ‘Sara’s Song’, typical of all the attributes that set Janne apart from the rest.
My musical relationship with Janne runs deep. He’s played with me in various projects I’ve concocted over the years, his versatility apparent with him playing drums in one project and bass in another, whilst always adding angelic backing vocals on any given tune. Mummypowder’s debut album, The Heavyweight Champions, was the first record I produced in Finland in 1998. Janne was in fact the first person (not counting my then partner) I met on arriving in Finland. He watched me unpack. I quickly got the Mummypowder album gig after that meeting.
A sawmill at -25 celcius
I think it’s been recounted on a few occasions how I met Aleksi Pahkala in Austin Texas at the South By Southwest festival in 1998, six months before I moved to Finland. It was a chance meeting, I’d missed my plane from Houston to Austin and arrived by Greyhound bus many hours later. It was nighttime and I was walking down a crowded Sixth Street. This person who I didn’t know was filming me and said he was from a Swedish TV channel. He told me to check his band Mummypowder playing the following night. I did. Aleksi was that cameraman.
Due to the chance encounter, a Mummypowder CD was unpacked six months later in an apartment in Helsinki and a few months after that I decamped with the band to a recording studio in Jokela. Or that’s what I was told it was. In fact, it was a space with a few rooms off it in a warehouse building. There was a mixing desk, some mikes and other random recording paraphernalia. The biggest problem was that the neighbouring space was a sawmill. The ‘control room’ (I use the term loosely), was separated from said sawmill with black bin bags as the dividing wall. That high pitched sound of saw cutting through timbre is audible on the album.
That winter was the coldest I’ve experienced in my many years living in Finland, temperatures going as low as -25 or -30 celcius. I’d just moved to Finland, and although extremely cold weather was a novel experience, I hadn’t quite expected the atmospheric pressure to induce pain. There was no central heating in the concrete space where we were recording. You could see your breath as you spoke, hanging like vapour clouds in the studio. The fingers of the band members quickly became frozen icicles as they tried to play their instruments. We did try playing guitars with gloves on, but it wasn’t happening.
The sight of me sitting at the mixing desk in a sleeping bag, wooly hat and gloves on was regular. It was an ice cave. I was told by the label guy it was “the best studio in Finland”. I was worried. If this was the best studio in Finland, I’d hate to think what the worst was. I’d have to seriously reconsider what I was going to do if these were the kinds of environments for making recorded music in my new home.
Somehow we persevered. It went on for a few months. Me and Janne mixed the record together in the same freezing space. Microwave pizzas were the diet and cold coffee the beverages. Everything was freezing. We listened to Elliott Smith‘s Either/Or, Love‘s Forever Changes, REM‘s Monster for reference. We only had a soundcraft desk, a quadraverb and a compressor as our mixing tools (some would say what else do you need?). The snare drum had serious hi-hat spill that caused consternation. I blamed the open hi-hat used heavily on The Posies Frosting On The Beater album (another reference.) Still, we survived.
Don’t let me be misunderstood
When the album was released in 1999, it was relatively well received. Some people didn’t get the fucked up sound, extreme panning, low vocal mix, a plethora of distorted sounds and liberal use of the most extreme quadraverb soundscapes. What people did get was Janne’s undeniably great songwriting. However much we experimented with sound, the songs were tough enough to take it. I loved the relaxed and loose playing performance from the band (my favourite Mummypowder lineup), incredible considering the recording conditions. I still remain fond and proud of that record, and listening to the songs as I write this, I can attest to it still sounding fresh in 2020.
Aleksi became my best buddy. Janne too. Those first relationships have endured. Both Janne and Aleksi have been there for me on so many levels and so many times. Personally, it adds extra importance to what we did when we made that album together. Those were special times that created special bonds. Aleksi is now releasing Mummypowder on his new label All That Plazz. Full circle.
Nick Triani is an editor and contributor to One Quart Magazine.