Interview: Pasi Nissinen on Finnish americana and Jack’s Basket Room

As our regular readers know, Americana UK is always on the lookout for interesting music and musical backstories. Pasi Nissinen is the leader of the Finnish americana band Jack’s Basket Room and he met up with our own Martin Johnson to discuss the challenges of gaining access to the Finnish media, the local Helsinki music scene and his love of americana, even before he knew it was americana. It is always interesting to see how music is viewed by different cultures and how ultimately it is also so universal.  Playing americana in Finland is not the easiest way to try and make a living from music which is evidence of how much Jack’s Basket Room love the genre. Like many bands, they had to make a call on whether to release a new album during COVID and they chose to release ‘Wrong Turn’ on multiple media formats because they felt the music warranted it. Brexit may nearly be upon us, but Americana UK will continue to keep an eye out for americana developments in our European neighbours.

How are you, I hope you and your family and friends are all OK and coping with the challenges of coronavirus?
We are fine really. No issues with our family and friends but COVID is on the increase at the moment but it is not critical yet.

Finnish Americana, is there such a scene, or are Jack’s Basket Room the first such band?
There is much more of an americana scene in Sweden, where we also play, and I know quite a few musicians over there but there aren’t many Finnish americana bands. I have a radio show and I think I am the only DJ that plays what would be called americana.

Finland, by and large, is a bit of a mystery to most people in the UK. How would you describe the Finnish culture, is it Scandinavian or is it something separate?
We do have our own culture. I was thinking of the time when rock music first came to Finland in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s  and everybody wanted to be part of that culture. The English band The Shadows had a massive impact on Finnish music. The track ‘Stray Bird’ from ‘Wrong Turn’ has echoes of that time in the guitar and is in the Finnish musical tradition.

Your americana influences are clear but have you brought any Finnish folk music influences to your music as well?
The Finnish element is the guitar sound and that is from the Shadows’ influence on Finnish music. It is very hard to explain how important that type of music is here in Finland, but when Finnish people hear it they know it immediately.

Why call yourself after heavy weight world boxing champion Jack Johnson’s ‘40s and ‘50s Jazz Club?
It came about by accident when we were writing a blues song for our first album called ‘Jack’s Basket Room’. We had a gig while we were recording the album and we needed a name for the new band so we just used Jack’s Basket Room as it was the song we were writing. It then seemed to just stick but in a way, it is quite good because when we play live we have the core band but also other musicians who join us on stage so I like to think we are like the house band at Jack’s original Basket Room with other players getting up.

How long has the band been together?
Five years but we are semi-professional because it is very hard to be a full-time professional musician in Finland.

I think it is hard to be a full-time professional musician anywhere at the moment.
Some of our band members have been full-time professional musicians over the years but we only work part of the week at the moment.

You are based in Helsinki. What is the nightlife like there, is there a good club scene?
It is good in Helsinki apart from COVID. Lots of clubs have been closing unfortunately and it is not clear whether they will open again, but before it was very good but it is not so good in other parts of Finland.

Where else do you play other than Finland?
We have played in Sweden but most of our shows are in Finland. It was hard in the early days because we didn’t really have a reputation at the time of our first album but with our new album ‘Wrong Turn’ hopefully, things will be better. We can play outside of Finland if we want but we will get paid more for our Finnish shows.

Is ‘Wrong Turn’ self-funded?
Yes, it is. A couple of labels were interested in working with us but then COVID came and they lost interest. We discussed the situation amongst ourselves and we decided just to do it and take the loss. Maybe the next album will be with one of these labels that were interested in us. We have a new album in prep at the moment so hopefully it will be the next released album.

Who produced the current album?
The producer was Espe Haverinen from 22-Pistepirkko who are quite famous in Finland and Europe. In the ‘90s they had a huge hit and they mix the blues with country influences and you could say they were the first americana type band in Finland. Their music is a bit weird, that is probably the easiest way to explain it but they have played all over the world including America and even Hong Kong I think.

Why did the band decide to play americana?
I knew you were going to ask that but it doesn’t make the answer any easier. I have always liked country music and I was playing in a band some time ago and we had some banjo in the music and since then I have been interested in mixing the roots of the music. A bit of rock’n’roll with other styles of music such as country, blues and even a bit of R&B. It just felt natural to me but it would have been easier if there had already been an established americana scene to join. When we started it wasn’t obvious to us we were playing americana, we just played what we enjoyed. It was later we realised it fit with the americana genre.

I assume with the internet music in various formats is easy to get in Finland now?
Nowadays it is very easy with record shops and the internet.

How big is Finland?
The population is 6 million but the area is quite big.

I think you said earlier that you are one of the prime songwriters is that correct?
That’s true to a point but everyone writes a little bit and contributes to everything.

How did the songs for the latest album come about? Were they written specifically for the album or were some written earlier?
Some were lying around, I wrote some specifically for the album and other band members contributed. ‘Treasure Of The Miner Man’ was the first song written by our singer Minna Kilpinen. The songs on the album are deliberately varied.

Some bands have held releases back due to COVID, some bands have released product because that is one way of them filling their time. What was your view on the timing of the album’s release?
We held it back a little bit. There was this one label that was going to release it but didn’t with COVID so we decided just to release it because we think it is really good so why sit on it.

How are the band keeping themselves occupied with the current restrictions?
We have been practicing and focusing on the next album. We have one show coming up because you can still play shows in Finland. It is really difficult because everything has to be controlled.

Do you have live streaming in Finland?
There is live streaming and we have done some. There was a lot of live streaming at the start of COVID with every band doing it but it has now reduced.

How is the streaming of recorded music viewed in Finland? Is it what the mainstream music industry is going to become?
Nobody really does physical albums anymore, except older bands and us maybe. The market is much more downloads now. I have been a bit surprised just how well CDs can sell in Finland. The volumes are small but steady. When you play a concert people will buy a CD. Most record shops are now vinyl and they won’t stock CDS.

You can make money if you sell 500 vinyl copies of an album. How popular is vinyl in Finland?
It is very popular with music lovers. Most people I know only buy vinyl but as I said when we were still playing live we did sell a lot of CDs at our concerts.

At AUK, we like to share music with our readers, so can you tell us who you are currently listening to?
The Black Crows are one, I am also listening to Crosby, Stills and Nash’s debut album from so long ago and also the Swedish band The Cardigans.

Is there an indie music scene in Finland?
It is quite big. There are quite a few bands playing the music but there isn’t that much media outlet on the radio or other effective media outlets. The record labels tend to be part of media conglomerates who also own TV and radio stations and therefore if you are not on a corporate label you struggle to get your music heard. Also, the corporate labels favour artists who sing in Finnish which restricts the international audience. This is beginning to change. There is an independent station in Finland that plays a variety of music but its audience figures are low so they are always struggling for money. There is lots of good music in Finland.

I’m not very aware of Finnish politics but is there a view in Finland on Brexit?
It doesn’t really matter much here in Finland. I thought you might ask about the American Presidential election.

That is the next question.
Trump is not liked in Finland. What is the view in the UK?

It is split. There are some people in a minority on the Brexit side of the argument who do love him but the general view is that he is quite dangerous given his influence on world economics and politics. A bit like in America the views on Trump are very black and white. Once COVID is over, are there any plans for Jack’s Basket Room to come over to play in the UK?
Our drummer also plays in a punk type band and he has played in the UK before COVID. When we have been promoting the album, we have been getting interest from Ireland and other parts of Europe so we would love to tour once it becomes possible.

Just before we finish, I’d like to say your singer Minna Kilpinen has a very good voice and she even managed to bring some twang to her vocals. I wouldn’t have guessed she was Finnish.
Minna will be pleased with that. I think if you are a really good singer, you can hide your accent and she is a good singer. She has a bit of an accent in her normal voice.

Jack’s Basket Room’s ‘Wrong Turn’ is out now distributed by Clear Spot International

About Martin Johnson 359 Articles
I've been a music obsessive for more years than I care to admit to. Part of my enjoyment from music comes from discovering new sounds and artists while continuing to explore the roots of American 20th century music that has impacted the whole of world culture.
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