Some interviewees you can’t meet too often. One of these to me is Jukka Pelkonen from Omnium Gatherum. This time I intended to focus on him as a lyricist and soon I found us discussing rather philosophical approaches of his linguistic style, the aggression in metal music on the background of the peaceful metal community and some even more difficult questions as the responsibility of lyricists for their messages and limits of comprehension if you’re stuck in immortality.
We met actually already sometime back when Omnium Gatherum just set off for the first part of the Arctic Circle Alliance tour. It is our second interview and this time I would focus on him as a lyricist. He mentioned in our first interview that it was natural to him as the band’s vocalist to come up with the lyrics as well and he also gave some insights on how in the end the lyrics would find their way to fit into the structure of the instrumentals of the song. But what about the parts up to there?
The perfect setting
We meet on the venue and enjoy one of the last days warm enough to sit outside in the sun for a coffee. It is a busy place in the heart of the shopping mile of Frankfurt, surely not the setting it takes to get into writing mood? – “Ahm well, I need some solitude, of course”, he begins, “to be able to get into the mood. But I think it has more to do with the mind-set in general. Firstly, if you have, you can to go into a cabin alone or so or spend time at home alone and so on. There is a tendency that the mind starts wandering and then you have some logic for example where wandering would be good to come up with the lyrics for a new song. When it starts I think it just follows itself naturally. Or of course one can bump into some situation when the creative energies just don’t flow so vividly all the time. But I think it’s one of these things that feeds itself to my firm working state of mind within the creative boundaries that one has.”
“How important is it to you to express yourself in the lyrics but keep a degree of encryption. I remember Adalbjörn from Solstafir saying to me lately like ‘If I was writing everything that I think – openly – they would lock me up.’ And perhaps also some topics are too private to share yet might still make a good song. So which degree of encryption you prefer? Or where is your priority between expression and encryption?” – “Well I think it is somewhere in the middle because expression is always important and to have something, something meaningful to encrypt in the first place. Because for my opinion it cannot be only like – if you compare to art – it cannot only be like Dada (referring to Dadaism in arts) reflect the music in a way … so there has to be some kind of logical path to follow. But for me it cannot be just straightforward because I like to give people a chance to interpret the lyrics the way they want. But of course in a way that’s like I give suggestions here and there, like hints of what it can mean or could mean but it’s always up to the listener like to interpret the message.”
“Yah, that’s what I thought” and I admit “because if I read your lyrics it feels to me like watching a Kandinsky.” – “Yah.” – “It is a beautiful, elegant piece of work neatly composed, I love the colours and forms and yet it will always remain abstract, never make the non-abstract image I long to find looking at it.” – “Yah” – “It does not make a whole image like a mosaic would make or a puzzle” – “Yeah, exactly”, Jukka agrees happily
What does it take to impress you?
“What does it take to impress you enough so you will use it for the lyrics of a song, like a person, an incident, an encounter or whatever?” – “Hm”, he utters thinking. “How hard is it to impress you?” After a few seconds Jukka begins: “Well sometimes it is harder than another. For example, there was this series called, ‘Penny Dreadful’.” – “Yeah, amazing”, slips my tongue. “Yeah, really good one”, Jukka agrees. “There was this situation about the old woman living in the moor, doing abortions illegally and they just burned her.” He gulps. “One of the lyrics for the upcoming album I am gonna use these for the themes. Well that kind of thing. Or maybe not so much what happens in the real world. Because I don’t wanna be moving into something political or on a wider sense. … But there are also … things like in a personal level. I am not, like I said, political.” – “And it seems not the actual main story line that attracts your attention but also the side kicks and event in the background story.” – “Yeah.”
“Those can be very impressive, too”, I say more to finish the thought for me and prepare to move on but Jukka replies: “It’s like I see at least three or four different sides of the theme in question for whatever I write. Because I also write poetry but just like …” Markus (Vanhala) informs him where to meet the others for dinner after the interview. “Where was I? I do it more for myself to have some variety and not just writing lyrics. And I’m just too lazy to write a book.” I am laughing as the idea of Jukka being lazy is somehow not fitting my impression of him. But then again he didn’t mean in general, of course. “It’s too much hard work to keep all strings in balance, so I leave it to the others who love the challenge.”
“Oh yeah”, I say frowning thinking of a friend of mine being author of series of fantasy novels and come to a very abstract perspective on his lyrics: …”Anyway, stylistically spoken I found that you use a lot of contrasting terms in your lyrics. In a more general approach and in my very visual understanding of the world a pair of contrasting terms in an endless space of any contexts is no more than the definition of the line between the terms while the position of the pair of terms itself in the room remains open. Is that the reason to use those contrasts?” – “It’s one of the reasons. I think it is the human condition that is the vague thing around maybe for like opposite points of views that connect each other, like you said, like almost forcefully because they are opposite things and the rest is just, like you said, … ” He takes a few seconds. “A reflection of the viewer’s point of view or the one who experiences it in a way or another. So it has to be because it’s another … it’s not a construct in a way. Do a bloc and do another one and do another one. It’s more like a vapour or mist to have something that begins somewhere and it ends somewhere. But otherwise it spreads freely around. And it gives a sense of non-continuity of things. And things are not just like from A to B to C to D. But they are, like I said, just all around and free to be interpreted the way one wants to.”
“And usually you have like more than one of these pairs of contrasting terms so that they are kind of free-floating yet not firmly interconnected but depending on the perspective from which you look at them not totally independent either.” – “Yeah, yeah, exactly. I try to remain vague in these contradicting feelings in myself and in people in general because they are free to read in the internet by everyone who wants to do this. So I try to think firstly about my own situation and my perspective on existence and then there are so many connections that I might fail to see in when I keep telling the opportunity to tell the people to be able to find and get myself more inspired by this. Because I get a lot of emails from people who tell me: This and this got me thinking on this and these things. And there are some that I myself did not think at all. And that’s the best way. Because they are free in a sense and not just the content that is found in one particular song.”
Aggression in music but peaceful community
Getting back to more social aspects of lyrics and music, “there is one big contrast in the metal world: There is a somewhat omnipresent aggression in the metal music but then the community is quite the opposite: welcoming, friendly, relaxed, peaceful – very respectful mostly in the terms of interaction. Do you have an explanation for this?” – “I’ve been thinking about this thing myself because I felt the same things. At one hand it is really heavy because metal has to be heavy, you know”, he says smiling, “in a way. But still the music itself is an outlet for people like subconsciously to process their aggression and turn it into something that can be seen as positive. Positive in a sense that we are here to experience the music and not to be driven mad by it. If you know what I mean?” – “Yeah, indeed. The reputation metal often has, is rather driving people mad and turn them into aggressive monsters while in my personal experience it is the other way round. It seems to relax.” – “Yeah. And of course it is not the only genre that does it but the contrast, like you said, is the interesting part in it. Like 15 or 20 years ago it was a bit different. For example, the Tuska festival is one of the most non-aggressive festivals in Finland, I mean, whilst they get intoxicated drinking beer and stuff like that. But fighting and stuff like that, that are related to negative to alcohol they are almost non-existent in metal parties or happenings in general like from my experience.” – “I totally agree.” – “We’ve been touring for many, many years. And I have never seen many fights. A couple of times ahead of stage. But I think it is unrelated to the happening in question. It is something else that triggers it. Not the music or not the atmosphere.”
Fitting the topic, I am reminded to a situation on a festival in which the crowd of metal actually extremely peacefully and acting together in a most determined way actually prevented a situation becoming really aggressive. A bullying girl trying to pick a fight was simply stopped by consciously no one reacting on her. “Yeah, that’s the best way it can happen. Because otherwise they would be injured and the gig would maybe be cancelled and you have to call the police and all that stuff that nobody really wants. But some people when they’re too drunk or for any other reason just want to provoke, but I think in metal community it’s a good thing that it is not tolerated. But on the same time they do not crush the opposing force. Everything can just continue, just like you said, and people again are able to have a good time.”
Responsibility and lyrics is a difficult matter
I agree and shift to my next topic which is no less a difficult one. It is about the sender’s responsibility for the reception of a message. It is actually a marketing matter that declares those who send a message responsible for how it is understood. But how to cope with this in music? What if incidents suddenly cast a totally new light on the lyrics of a song? On the other hand, how can musicians come up with stories glorifying war and violence? “Well, it’s always a challenge because you take a conscious decision every time you write something down and publish it. That’s a fact we all go for who are dealing with this kind of work and have to be aware of. So it is a risk one has to take. And it’s also a fact that we cannot restrain like people’s opinion about that or how they react on specific lyrics out there. Ok, I can understand if you have those kinds of lyrics that are pummelling into one specific, for example, that metal band Bloodbath did this song about this cannibal guy who murdered people and ate them and stuff like that. Mentally ill individual. And of course everyone who understands that it’s something that has happened and some artist wants to express that or put it into their music, has to understand in general that they are doing that kind of lyrical content for various reasons. First of all, to get more publicity, maybe. Ok that is understandable. Then to provoke people to think consciously about of such situations. And sometimes in situations that are in my opinion not so good to provoke people wrongly. This is the hard thing to condemn. Lyrical content should be free in a sense and it is one of the hardest things to look like objectively on it because one’s own opinions and values they immediately attack. And they come from subconsciously and you have like, you have emotional reactions of different kinds of contents. So I don’t have a straight answer for it how one would relate to it or about my personal opinion. I am myself, I am not too keen on bands who deliberately use, for example, violent content as a way to arouse people. But it is supposed to be a free world. So if it doesn’t necessarily lead to violence then who am I to say no to it? Or to condemn it?” He says silently and deeply in thought.
“Yeah, I see. But I think it is not about condemning. I think the difficult point is how to deal with it? Condemning is not working!” – “Yeah, it’s really hard. It is really hard as there are always so many angles from which to look at it. But it is kind of really super hard question”, he explains laughing. I am laughing, too, being aware of the difficulties myself as I have thought often about it in these past months. “Really. No worries”, he calms down. “These are the best ones”, he adds to his statement.
Thinking of my last question and knowing the rest of the band went to take dinner already I am afraid the question might not really be the easiest one, too. Although it is “my odd question. And it is about Dorian Grey.” “Aha.” And I see him smile. “What would you do with the painting? Would you destroy it?” Jukka has apparently no difficulties here: “I would destroy it immediately”, he says laughing. “You know there are a lot of good things about being youthful. Or as in this case stay in youth as in his physical form. But it fights everything that I try to understand in this world. Aging is a natural process. And it kind of gets you stuck; stuck in a place where you think you are free. But actually you are not because it limits your perspective of understanding the world if you’re physically or mentally stuck in like one mind-set or in this instance of being young or being like fertile in a sense. And I think the question that people have been asking always in a sense in different cultures because it has to do with the physicality of our being first of all and then the mind-set that is procreation and stuff like that. It is about mental health and physical health because we see people aging, and we see ourselves aging. So it immediately raises those questions of our own mortality and our ability to cope with it and this natural phenomen. And it’s surprising and I’d like to say that it is a hard thing for each and every one of us. Because if you first look at it, it seems to be the perfect thing to acquire. But there is this cliché of you yourself: You stand in this point and no one else can stop you like in this sense getting older and more experienced and stuff like that. Ok, you can have more experience if you are stuck in one age but still I think there is limits and limits that people don’t necessarily think about so much. I would burn it”, Jukka ends laughing. “Let it burn!”
“I find it quite tempting to keep it for a certain time but then be strong enough to destroy it.” – “Yeah.”
Thank you for your time and the again very inspiring conversation! Jukka leaves for dinner. And I remain at the table for some time thinking. Inspiring. Really. And I am already looking forward for the next time. Good to know they started working on the next album already!