Paavoharju & Joose Keskitalo © Ville Erkki Tarke

We were never ascetic born-again Christians

After nine years, a new Paavoharju album has been released. Reason enough to talk to the head of the group, Lauri Ainala, about the new album »Happiness«, a collaboration with Folk-Singer Joose Keskitalo, and to seek some answers about that ever-mysterious thing from the cold north.

A few years ago, the Finnish label Svart released the complete works of the band Paavoharju in two stages. Since then, it had been quiet for a long time, until the release of the live album »Kastoin sulkaa kuulla« in 2021, which was somehow considered to be the band’s last ever concert. Hopefully not – and happily it wasn’t. Together with Joose Keskitalo, who also »happily« releases extremely melancholic folk albums of the highest quality almost every year under his own name, Paavoharju have just released new music – although now officially as a co-production with Keskitalo. While this is overall a bit cryptic, it will soon be cleared up. The music is heavenly as always. For the first time on a Paavoharju album, English is sung, nevertheless it remains mysterious until the end.

skug: After your last live-LP »Kastoin sulkaa kuulla« I thought the band was finally history. How come you found your way back together?

Lauri Ainala: The live band has always been a totally different thing. Our albums haven’t been made by any »band«. And this new album has been ready for nearly two years. Its release was delayed because of Covid and other issues. We are making new music all the time and basically only the project name changes, depending on what the outcome sounds like. We don’t plan it, like »hey, let’s make a new Paavoharju album«. And this material sounded like Paavoharju and not like Harmaa Getto or something else. And there is a slightly different group of people behind every Paavoharju album. For example, my brother Olli hasn’t done anything on this new album.

Paavoharju & Joose Keskitalo © Ville Erkki Tarke

I approached it as a pandemic album quite automatically. So, the whole Covid lockdown didn’t have any influence on the final outcome?

We made the whole album before Covid. Only minor changes were made during the pandemic. And mastering, etc., of course. I had a working grant from Kone Foundation for 2019 and 2020. And the album was mostly made during 2019.

Do you remember what 2019 was like for you? It already feels like 20 years ago…

Do you mean because of Covid? Covid hasn’t been a big issue for me. It didn’t change my daily life much. Only at the time when the schools were closed for a short period of time was it somewhat different because my kids were home. But they liked it. (Laughs.)

Now the lyrics are in English. Was it a conscious decision? Or was it Joose’s idea?

It is Paavoharju and Keskitalo for a reason. Joose made all the decisions regarding the lyrics and vocals. Paavoharju haven’t made any material in English; Joose has. There might be a misconception about Joose’s role on the Paavoharju albums because he hasn’t made much stuff for us – only those songs where he sings. Except for »Tyttö tanssii«, a song sung by Ville Leinonen. Joose has been more like a visitor on »Yhä hämärää« and »Laulu laakson kukista«. Toni Kähkönen, too. For example, »Yhä hämärää was mostly made by me, Olli, Jenni and Ragnar Rock. You could say that all the other musicians were more or less visitors on that album.

Paavoharju & Joose Keskitalo © Ville Erkki Tarke

But was this obscurity around the band also somehow planned from the beginning?

We were Christian believers at the time and didn’t want to take credit – that’s why we didn’t say clearly who did what. We were very young and naive. That was almost 20 years ago. That’s why all kinds of absurd rumors and misconceptions about Paavoharju were formed. We were never ascetic born-again Christians. (Laughs.) Or a collective, or a band, or new age hippies. But it is true that some of us lived in an abandoned dairy processing plant, especially me. And as I said, this new album is Paavoharju and Keskitalo, not Paavoharju – there is a difference. Paavoharju have not made a comeback. Paavoharju and Keskitalo means that the key people behind this album are me and Joose Keskitalo. Kauri-Martti Junnila played a big part, but he is a fictional character.

What about Harmaa Getto, your other project involving Joose Keskitalo?

Basically, Harmaa Getto is also Paavoharju and Keskitalo, if you want to see it that way. It just sounds a bit different: it’s more hip hop and more humoristic. But it’s not a joke project or anything like that.

All the obscurity added a lot to the atmosphere: very dreamy, peaceful, wild, and sometimes a bit depressing, but always very sweet, sensitive, and with a spark of hope. Perhaps this is also the common thread that runs through Paavoharju?

You are right. Harmaa Getto’s »Se et ole sinä« could also be a Paavoharju song, but because of a different approach it’s not. We decided to do an album based on samples. And with a hip hop / trip hop approach. And that’s how the album »Ovenvartija« came to be. As you can hear, we just make music and try different things.

The part with the samples is mainly yours, isn’t it? Where do you get your inspiration?

Yes, it is. I just listen to sounds and try out all kinds of things. I am always thinking about larger concepts, and they can include visual arts, music, videos or even architecture.

Paavoharju & Joose Keskitalo © Ville Erkki Tarke

Your projects are always very specifically Finnish to me and seem quite hermetic, like you guys really live like a cult in the forest without any contact to the outer world. Now, I know that isn’t really true. What else inspires you as an artist?

Now I’m trying to do my best to prevent the destruction of two old houses here in Savonlinna. But I really live in the forest. (Laughs.) Just in a house. And it’s a small town so also the isolation-part in the story is somewhat true. I don’t have a smartphone, I don’t use Spotify and I don’t watch TV.

What is the response to Paavoharju like in general and to the new album in Finland?

There was a review in Finland’s largest newspaper »Helsingin Sanomat« for the new album, but nothing else yet. Finnish media haven’t ever been very interested. There is only one physical music magazine in Finland nowadays and we’ve had no contact from them.

And how do you assess the international interest?

There was a lot interest over ten years ago, but not anymore. There was big hype around Fonal Records 2004–2008. But not in Finland.

Now that there is a new album, can we hope for live concerts again? And if so: would one have to travel to the Finnish pampas for that, or could you be drawn back into the world again?

I don’t know if Joose is gathering the live band again. He has talked about it. So it’s not totally impossible. But I’ve never been into that so much. I don’t like band rehearsals. And even less so now because I quit drinking over a year ago. Now it’s not even an excuse for drinking.

Paavoharju & Joose Keskitalo: »Happiness« (Helmi Levyt)