art of 20th century progressive jazz-rock fusion has its roots in
both North America and Europe and no Euro country has contributed
more to its musical development than Finland. In the 1970s, the late,
great jazz-rock icon Pekka Pohjola brought forth a new jazz-rock instrumental
sound from Finland and carrying forth the Pohjola-esque spirit in
2018, multi-instrumentalist and composer Jukka Iisakkila offers his
solo rock debut in the form of Clocks And Clouds. Released
in Finland on the Eclipse label, the seven track CD is filled with
wonderful instrumental rock fusion instrumentals that would find a
home with any fan of Pohjola. Not surprisingly, in his bio Jukka tips
his hat to both Frank Zappa and Pekka Pohjola. In fact, it was Zappa
who flew to Finland and met with Pekka and asked him in front of Jim
Pembroke to join his band. Of course Pekka didnt do that although
he went on to work with Mike Oldfield and released some of the most
influential instrumental rock albums of the 20th century. It all seems
like a lifetime ago, yet Jukka Iisakkila puts his own stamp on the
time-honored Finnish instrumental sound with the rewarding sonic vibe
of Clocks And Clouds. Both as a composer and guitarist / keyboardist,
Jukka covers all the bases with the aid of drummer Ilkka Saarikoski,
and gives the album a fine fusion stamp. Although hes best known
as a conductor of symphony orchestras as well as working on crossover
productions with many arists, including the band Goldfrappe as well
as his guitar hero Steve Vai, guitarist / composer Jukka Iisakkila
strikes instrumental jazz rock fusion gold with the entertaining sounds
of Clocks And Clouds. www.eclipse-music.net
mwe3.com presents an interview with
Can you tell the readers something about you, where and when you were
born, where you grew up and how you became interested in both classical
and rock music? I know thats a lot of ground to cover! I think
you are 45. Were you born in 1974 or 75? What were you listening to
when you were 9, 17 and 27?
Jukka Iisakkila: I was born in a quite small town called Valkeakoski,
near Tampere in the southern part of Finland. Even though the town
was a bit smaller, it still had a very active cultural life, especially
in both classical and rock. Born in 1975, my roots are embedded in
folk music. Many of my relatives on my dads side performed with
the Pirkanmaan Pelimannit or the Sahalahden pelimannit,
the two fiddler music ensembles carrying the tradition of folk songs
from my native Tavastia region.
My mom's side is from Russia so I have a bit of that Tolstoi-Dostojevski
blood in me too. Music was always a part my surroundings, we had a
lot of recordings, we played together a lot. My sister played the
piano and I started playing it already at the age of four at the music
school. Soon I was invited to join my uncles, aunts and cousins as
they traveled the countryside with the tunes of the land in their
hearts. But obviously, I needed to something to balance the scales.
When I felt overwhelmed by either classical music or folk tunes I
turned to my fathers record collection. We had a lot of classical
music and my favorites were Beethoven, Bruckner, Stravinsky and Mahler
and then the huge amount of folk music records.
But three albums that fascinated me were: Lumpy Gravy (1968)
by Frank Zappa, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (1974) by Genesis
and Flex-Able (1984) by Steve Vai. I listened to them all a
lot and Vais otherworldly debut disc haunted me. The seeds for
a logical progression were sewn and I still continued with the piano
but started playing also playing percussion and then the electric
guitar. Percussion was my ticket to the music schools orchestra
which I loved a lot and guitar was just a fascinating instrument which
I felt a magnetic pull towards. I continued with all these instruments
in music college and then to music academy/university and also studied
music theory at the university and have master degree in all.
played in orchestras, bands, ensembles etc. But I was and still am
very interested in music in general and therefore I also shifted towards
conducting. And eventually I graduated from Royal Swedish Academy
of Music as a conductor taught by the living legend in the field of
conducting Prof. Jorma Panula. I won a competition, which led to more
conducting jobs and now I also have an international career in conducting
As I said, I listened to classical and folk when I was young, then
came the three holy triangle (Zappa-Genesis-Vai) and lots
of other stuff too. I went thru a jazz phase, liked Eric Clapton,
progressive music, chamber music and all that. And I also liked the
Finnish artist Pekka Pohjola very much.
mwe3: One of your main musical influences emanates from the
era of the late Finnish artist Pekka Pohjola. When did you become
interested and influenced by Pekka Pohjola and what was the first
album you heard from him?Do you have an anecdote or favorite memory
of any experiences of being with him? He seemed to always create a
memorable impression anytime and anywhere he went. Pekka wasted no
time or note!
Jukka Iisakkila: I became interested and influenced by Pekka
Pohjola when I was in high school. I think the first album I heard
was Kätkävaaran Lohikäärme, some of my
relatives had it. And I loved it. Then I started to collect his recordings
and yes I did have a chance to meet him couple of times. I did a thesis
on his Symphony no. 1 and via that I got in contact with
him, I did a sort of like an interview but mostly I listened his wise
words of wisdom. He later came to visit to the town where I studied
at the university, we had chance to jam at the local jazz club and
years later I also conducted his Symphony no. 1. An anecdote
well he did say that you can compose what kind of music you want but
parallel triads are his! Although we have a lot of great musicians
in Finland you eventually will find yourself working / knowing / meeting
them if you are a musician too. Like for example in Pekka Pohjola's
case, his guitarist Peter Lerche is a good friend of mine and also
my guitar teacher and I share a rehearsal studio with Pekkas
latest guitar player Markku Kanerva.
mwe3: Do you find that Pekka Pohjola influenced a whole generation
of progressive rock artists and instrumental jazz fusion composers,
especially from Finland? I remember hearing the first Anssi Tikanmaki
album which, I thought was Pohjola-esque way back then. Also, you
lead The Breed, which is actually a Pekka Pohjola tribute band. Tell
us about The Breed, when it started, what are its goals and who else
plays in the band with you. Funny how Pekkas musical style ran
from Zappa and Miles and The Beatles to Sibelius but, as far as having
his music heard in 1975 England, he was the first to create an authentic,
international Finnish jazz-rock fusion presence.
Iisakkila: I think he did and still does. His roots were in classical
music and he had a good knowledge of theory and a fantastic ear. Earlier
I thought he was a kind of Sibelius with a twist. There
are few great Finnish jazz-fusion composers like Arttu Takalo, Juha
Kujanpää who is more into folk-prog, and like you mentioned
Anssi Tikanmäki who do have that similar musical landscape.
The Breed ensemble has been around for about two years. We have performed
widely at selected clubs and festival in Finland and we are continuing
so and also abroad a bit. It is a Pekka Pohjola tribute band but again
with a twist. And the musicians are amazing. We started it with the
percussionist/drummer Niko Ronimus. He is a sought-after percussionist
in Finland and we met many times
he was playing and I was conducting.
Since we knew each others background, we liked the idea of starting
to play the music of Pekka Pohjola.
Niko knew the bass player Jaan Wessman who has played with nearly
everyone and played with Mike Keneally among others. He was interested
and then we invited a keyboard player Aki Lääkkölä,
who is also a great guitar player and is a songwriter-musician in
a famous Finnish band Absoluuttinen Nollapiste. Then we wanted a twist
and that was to ask my friend Ville Ojanen who plays violin and viola.
He is one the most known modern folk-musician and composer there is
in Finland and has an international career too.
And then I play the guitar and piano too and I do most of the transcriptions
and Aki does them too. There are only few transcriptions that Pekka
did but they are arrangements for big band so basically Pekka never
wrote anything down. So I listen to the recordings and transcribe
everything. I usually make a full score to Sibelius and extract the
parts for the players. Lots of work but nice. We have about 30 works
in our list.
Indeed he was the first one to create that authentic Finnish jazz-rock
fusion music. And his elements are so solid and personal.
mwe3: You also mention Frank Zappa as an influence. Like Zappa,
you are also a guitarist and work with orchestras too. From Zappa
Steve Vai, who you have done some shows with too right?
Iisakkila: I met Steve Vai for the first time a few years ago
at his academy in Colorado. I went there to study and learn more,
applied and got in. Since I was also doing artistic doctorate on absurdity
in the music of Frank Zappa, György Ligeti and Luciano Berio
we started to talk with Steve about that too. And since I am also
conductor, who also plays guitar, percussion and piano and is a composer
too, we started to talk about doing things together.
So after some hard work for about two years we did a concert at the
Helsinki Festival, which is the most prestigious festival in Finland.
We had one the finest orchestras, the Tapiola Sinfonietta, and since
his music requires not only symphony orchestra but a rock band and
big band too, we had the best players you can find. It was a total,
huge success. Steve played as a soloist in about ten of his works,
including works like Taurus Bulba, For The Love
Of God, Velorum, Salamander In T, Kill
The Guy With A Ball, Murder, Liberty,
"Lotus Feet, Crying Machine, Racing The
World, Whispering A Prayer and we also did three
of his orchestral pieces; Frangelica 1 and 2 and then
Oil of Smoke.
I think he is absolutely brilliant composer and musician. His music
is both demanding and rewarding to conduct and to perform. I really
appreciate him deeply
he is a true genius and a wonderful person.
I am so grateful to have him as a friend and there will be some great
things coming up. They will become reality within near future, latest
2020 but I think that is all I am allowed to say at the moment.
mwe3: When did you write and record the music on your Clocks
And Clouds album and why did you decide to record all the music
on your own? Of course, Ilkka Saarikoski plays some excellent drums
on it and is that your daughter on a spoken word track on the CD?
Tell us about working with Ilkka and also your label Eclipse.
Iisakkila: Well the Eclipse Music label is a Finnish record label
owned by Tapio Ylinen. It is not a mainstream label but a label with
good music! I am very lucky and happy that Tapio and Eclipse took
the Clocks And Clouds and to my surprise it is doing very well.
I think it took something like two years to write the music. There
were some periods when I did not have time write 24/7 due of the other
duties, but I always worked on it, wrote some music in various places
whenever I had time. And I always changed, added and took something
away and replaced so it really did not fit to my idea to hire a studio
and go there for a long period of time. And I also wanted to work
whenever I was in my home studio. And that sort of experimenting idea
that Vai has and Zappa had effected on me too. Yes, that is my daughter
telling a joke about how a Finnish person, a Swedish person and a
Norwegian person who wound up to a deserted island. I studied with
Ilkka , who plays the drums and is my dear friend at the university
so our friendship goes back a long way. I just liked the idea of doing
something with him and he delivered everything very well. Hes
a very musical player indeed and he is always a big help to me.
mwe3: How does Clocks And Clouds contrast to your work
in the orchestral field of music conducting symphony orchestras? Is
classical music more acceptable in Finland than Pohjola-stye rock
instrumentals? I remember arriving in Finland in summer 1979 and playing
Pohjolas music on tape, must have been from The Group album
to people I met in the hotel disco. While they were playing it, some
guy in the disco walked up to me and uttered in a scary way, 'funeral
music'. I never forgot that insulting comment.
Jukka Iisakkila: Not very nice comment, I have to agree on
that. But 1979 in a Finnish hotel disco
that must have been
an exotic place! There are not really that many artists in Finland
who do that kind of Pohjola-style rock instrumental. If
it is instrumental rock then it is geared towards the heavy music
style and that is not really my thing at all, not at all. But classical
music is appreciated in Finland and so is jazz-rock style. So to answer
your question Id say that both are acceptable.
So is the Clocks And Clouds style going to be further explored
on future albums? So this is your first true rock instrumental album?
What are some of your other recordings?
Jukka Iisakkila: Yep, the Clocks And Clouds style is
going to be further explored on future albums. I already have a vision
for it and I have been writing new material. I have done recordings
with orchestras and to other people and labels like ECM, Dacapo, Alba,
Pilfink, ApartRecord etc. There is contemporary music, symphonic music,
concertos, symphonic jazz.
mwe3: Clocks And Clouds starts off with Freefall.
Is that more of a straight-ahead fusion track with a slight funk edge?
But it also has a Pohjola edge to it. Did you want a very upbeat track
to start the album and is there a vocal track on it towards the end
of, or is it a sample?
Jukka Iisakkila: The vocal alike track is both vocal and sample.
I used a few sounds to beef the vocals. It just eventually became
that kind of straight-ahead piece. I recall I had the arpeggios for
the so-called chorus first and the rhythmic figures with the chords.
Then I started working with a melody. The chorus is intentionally
a kind of opera chorus, a bit of Puccini in it. And the melody then
is a more solistic vocal line. So these longer lines had to have some
contrasting material i.e. short values against long values.
mwe3: All the tracks are great. The title track, Clocks
And Clouds is a masterpiece. Is that the most Pohjola-esque
track on the album? How many guitar tracks are on that song and what
key is it in?
Jukka Iisakkila: Oh, thank you very much! And it could be that
you are right about that Pohjola-esque but it was not intentional.
It just might be that these longer melodic lines create that kind
of Pohjola-esque style. I mean when you attach long melodic lines
with a curve, in a classical style, to a different musical landscape
with a hint of Finnish style in it too. The title track is probably
one of the first ones I wrote.
up with these couple of chords - Cmaj7 with G on lowest note and D6/9
with C on lowest note. And then it goes thru a myriad of modulations
in different keys with big and wide chords, which are almost never
in their basic form. I think there are more than plenty guitar tracks
on that piece. I think the melody that evolved on top of that was
vague memory of Scene dAmour from Hitchcocks
Vertigo composed track, by Bernard Herrmann.
mwe3: Whats the secret to writing a brilliant melody
and then cloaking it in high tech finesse? Seems like you put quite
a good deal of attention on all aspects of composing and recording
in that Finnish orchestral rock style. What computer programs do you
prefer when writing and recording music?
Jukka Iisakkila: If I only would know the answer! I compose
on an instrument, piano and guitar, and on paper. So I simply write
notes with or without an instrument. Then I use Sibelius and usually
eventually Logic. Those four, instrument paper Sibelius
Logic, work best for me. I usually have pretty much everything
written down but then I add many various things and sounds and plug-ins
afterwards. Yes, I think I do put a quite a good deal of attention
on all aspects.
mwe3: Tell us about your favorite guitars and keyboards that
you play on Clocks And Clouds. Can you remember your first
instrument? Were you a piano virtuoso at age 4? lol I know Pekka Pohjola
studied violin early on and he was good too but you didnt want
to pursue violin?
Jukka Iisakkila: My first instrument was a piano but perhaps
I was not a piano virtuoso at age 4. But I did proceed quite rapidly,
I practiced a lot and I liked it. I have always liked practicing and
I still do. By the time I got my first guitar in my early teens at
the tender age of 11-12, I was a good pianist and I played percussion
a lot too so they were going fine. My first guitar was a black Kramer
and worked at the strawberry farm for the summer to be able to buy
that instrument. During my teenage years I worked every summer and
by the end of the summer I would spend all my earnings buying instruments,
sheet music and records. And no, I did not want to pursue violin since
most of my relatives already played the violin. And I wanted something
My favorite guitars and keyboards that I play on Clocks and Clouds
well there is a custom made green Strat, a 1950-Strat anniversary,
a sticker-heavily modded Charvel-Fender Strat, Ibanez contemporary
archtop, a modded Ibanez Jem seafoam green and a few Ibanez Jem 7V
white guitars which I really like a lot. Keyboards were many too,
at least there was Keystation 88 used with various types of plugins,
Nord piano, Yamaha digital grand piano. Lots of different kinds of
effects, pedals and plugins
Little bit of the Mike Keneally
idealism that whatever makes the job done will do.
Speaking about 21st century artists and music, what artists are you
listening to these days? You did a great job with the CD start to
finish (lol) And tell me about the cover art with the title above
the duck? Lol So what is coming next or now that were actually
in the year of 2019? Heres hoping more people get to hear your
music in the new year.
Jukka Iisakkila: The cover is a rubber duck dressed up in tails
and a top silk hat. I got it from my wife as a souvenir when she came
back from a concert tour from Germany. Two sides
as is clocks
and clouds; scheduled world and free-spirited world.
What artists am I listening to? Well I still like the same ones I
always have; Zappa, Vai, old Genesis, Kate Bush, Pekka Pohjola...
But I listen to and follow various contemporary classical composers
like Magnus Lindberg, Uljas Pulkkis, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner
To the other side there is Imee Ooi, Esperanza Spalding, St. Vincent,
Jacob Collier, Lisa Nilsson and I am very interested of the Norwegian
contemporary jazz scene. There are really great musicians. Like Eivind
Aarset, who is a really interesting guitarist and the mighty great
Trygve Seim, saxophonist and a composer. But all this varies from
month to month. I like music and music that wakes you up in new ways.
The year 2019 is happily busy and I am glad that I get to do things
that I enjoy the most. My calendar holds a quite a bit of arranging
and composing and a lot of conducting and playing. I will be conducting
not only in Finland, Denmark, Norway but also widely in Europe and
doing some recordings as well. We will do a couple of tours with the
Breed playing Pekka Pohjola and I have my own music festival and hopefully
I will find time to write music for my next album. Then there are
projects with Steve Vai
and other nice things too.