Mikko Joensuu’s music is both a mix of uplifting and empowering, whilst containing elements of vulnerability and self-refection. He masterfully combines a lexicon of Armenian and American folk songs with modern expressions and instrumentation, re-contextualising a previously schematic form of music.
Locking himself away from the world within the Finnish woodlands, and writing a trilogy of albums (beginning with ‘Amen 1’), Mikko returns humbled and aspirational about his creations, releasing ‘Promised Land’ and ‘Warning Sign’ to overwhelming acclaim and recognition. His dynamic music sets himself apart from the standard folk musician, and creates a new experience for the listener. GIGsoup’s John Gittins managed to have a talk with Mikko about his averred isolation, songwriting process and why he is releasing three albums in quick concession.
Your music is based around Armenian and American folk songs, with a modern twist. Is your aesthetic to re-contextualise traditional music and make it new, or are you bringing back a forgotten trend in a hope to make it relevant again?
I don’t think too much of whether the songs I write are folk, traditional, ambient or pop or what purpose they serve. I just try to write music that express my thoughts in the best way possible.
You fronted the Joensuu 1685, with your relative Markus Joensuu and friend Risto Joensuu, where you played harder and heavier riff based rock. What made you want to lead in to a completely different genre in your solo venture?
I was writing other music for myself already when we played with Joensuu 1685. I’ve always enjoyed making music in different forms and for a long time there’s been songs that have automatically been more stripped down or folk. Sound-wise, Amen 2 and 3 are perhaps a bit closer to what we did with Joensuu, at least on some level.
You recorded ‘Amen 1’ in isolation in the Finnish woodlands. Do you think all artists should completely isolate themselves to complete their record? And how did you transition from leaving the busy cities for a desolate and tranquil setting?
The isolation helps if you want to give all your energy and time for any form of art. In the end I think the crucial thing is just to give energy and time, however or where ever you find this to be possible. The silence and the nature works for me, always has. I had amazing surroundings to sit down and concentrate only on music.
‘Amen 1’ is the first of a trilogy of albums that will be released later this year and early 2017. What’s the thought process behind this trilogy and if you have all the material what’s stopping you from releasing them all together?
I wrote songs for about ten years, and I didn’t plan what kind of music I would or should eventually release. After some time I realized that I had made three albums, all different but definitely part of the same process. The feeling in all three albums is evolving and every album is a record of thoughts and sounds from one period of time. It’s good to give a little space between them to understand that they are different albums but eventually part of a larger set of ideas and music.
When your music is played, the listener is taken to a new world, lost in the music like on ‘Promised Land’ and ‘Warning Sign’. What is your writing process that helps create such immersive music?
I sense the songs I make quite strongly, and try to be honest to the thought and feeling where a song is coming from.
This Mikko Joensuu article was written by John Gittins, a GIGsoup contributor