KEPA HÄRKÖNEN
Spicy Tales & Spacey Tones
(Ramasound Records)

 

The distant but musically influential country of Finland continues to impress guitar fans and case in point is a way cool 2018 musical release by Kepa Härkönen called Spicy Tales & Spacey Tones. The twelve track CD features ten originals and a pair of covers by Freddie King and surf-rock legends The Bel-Airs. The album is tastefully packaged and overall, it’s a fitting display of Kepa’s guitar influences that run the gamut from Mickey Baker and Freddie King to Ry Cooder, Shadows’ icon Hank B. Marvin and jazzers like Kenny Burrell and flamenco king Paco De Lucia. Musically, the original fare encompasses surf, blues and even Cuban-Mexican rhythms that will intrigue guitar fans. Speaking about his many guitar influences, Kepa tells mwe3, "The Shadows were my first big influence of guitar instrumentals… Hank Marvin is just brilliant! Then I found all American surf guitarists and countless bands. I see myself as a blues guitarist, but I always loved and played all 1960s guitar instrumentals, too. My style is mix of The Shadows, American surf, blues, and Finnish “Rautalanka” with Cuban influences. When I started to think my own release, I had some kind of movie soundtrack album in my mind. I already decided that it should be all instrumental with my original music." A number of excellent musicians back-up Kepa’s rockin’ guitar vision, including Daniel Hjerppe (drums), Robban Hagnäs (bass) and more. With the success of Finnish surf-rockers Laika & The Cosmonauts and the recently acclaimed guitar based Southpaw Steel & Twang, Kepa Härkönen now carries the musical torch forward for classic Finnish instrumental guitar rock. www.spotify.com / www.facebook.com / www.youtube.com





mwe3.com presents an interview with
KEPA HÄRKÖNEN


mwe3
: You were born near the Arctic Circle. What was that like and how cold is it or was it? Is it still as cold in the age of global warming? Tell us about growing up in Rovaniemi and how that town compares to other towns in Finland?

Kepa Härkönen: I was born in Rovaniemi, near the Arctic Circle. It’s a very popular destination for the tourists, who want to see and feel Lapland’s nature, snow and Northern lights in the sky. I’m used to living there four seasons of a year and a cold winter is just a great part of that. Don’t know if it’s global warming or not, but last summer was really hot in Finland, even in the north. It was a perfect summer to release my surf album! Rovaniemi is a quiet, small town, with very nice and friendly people. I moved to Oulu in the early 1990s, just about three hours drive to the south, but I still visit Rovaniemi
often.

mwe3: Your new album Spicy Tales & Spacey Tones is a masterpiece of instrumental guitar tracks. Why did it take so long to have a solo CD from you? The cover art is great and quite funny too.

Kepa Härkönen: Thank you! I’ve been writing songs and instrumentals as long as I can remember, so I had a lot of tunes in my pocket waiting to get recorded. During the past ten years, I just happened to be so busy working with three to five bands, that I always pushed my solo release plans far into the future. Finally, in late summer 2017 I decided to make it and booked my friend, Daniel Hjerppe’s studio in Vaasa. We started recordings on December 7th, 2017, the day after Finland celebrated 100 years of independence. The last title we recorded, I put together in the studio is this “peace-not-war” instrumental called “The Last Independence Day”. Besides being a studio owner, Daniel plays drums and percussion on the album and recorded and mixed it. About cover art, I asked Daniel, if we could make just a little, short you tube video to promote this album? He said, ok, he would make it. Great! And that video art was perfect and I asked him next if we could make album cover with this same idea? He said, okay. And he did it! What a talented guy! I love the cover art. There’s a lot of funny things going on.

mwe3: When I think of Finland I think of the legendary symphonic jazz fusion masters like Pekka Pohjola and progressive 1970s bands like Wigwam and Tasevaallan Presidente but it seems like the guitar instrumental sound has made a big comeback in Finland these past 25 years. Was the guitar instrumental sound always big in Finland and what are some of your favorite Finnish bands, guitarists and composers from the past 50 years? I saw you’re friends with Janne Haavisto too, who comes from a very great music family.

Kepa Härkönen: Besides of that all fusion music, we also have a long guitar instrumental music history. The Sounds started it all in 1963, when they recorded their big hit “Emma”. In the early 1970s, one of my Finnish guitar heroes, Albert Järvinen, of The Hurriganes, used to play a lot of Ventures with kind of blues twist. So, I got it also from there. Jukka Tolonen was big influence on me, too. Not surf or blues, but beautiful guitar instrumentals all the way. Piirpauke, the band, was also one my favorites. I think I picked up some “world music” inspiration from them. Guitarist and band-leader Esa Pulliainen with his Agents band, has done wonderful job keeping that “Rautalanka” sound alive in Finland. My friend Janne Haavisto with Laika & The Cosmonauts had a big influence for every surf music lover, all over the world, including me. All those Laika & The Cosmonouts guys are still working and making great music.

mwe3: Was Hank Marvin and The Shadows a big influence or were you more influenced by American instrumental bands like The Ventures, Duane Eddy or even Dick Dale? The album also has a subtle Finnish influence on it or were you trying to avoid a clear Finnish sound? For those outside of Finland, they call it “Rautalanka”, which is a kind of Finnish instrumental guitar genre in its own right.

Kepa Härkönen: The Shadows were my first big influence of guitar instrumentals. Hank Marvin is just brilliant! Then I found all American surf guitarists and countless bands. I see myself as a blues guitarist, but I always loved and played all 1960s guitar instrumentals, too. My style is mix of The Shadows, American surf, blues, and Finnish “Rautalanka” with Cuban influences.

mwe3: You won a kind of blues award in Finland in 2017 for work in Afro-American roots music. How did that come about? Spicy Tales & Spacey Tones doesn’t have an overt blues sound to it but I can see a blues fan liking it just the same. What blues bands or artists were you most influenced by and how about influences from blues guitarists?

Kepa Härkönen: I was honored to receive the Ou´Blues Mojo Award for my long time work as a roots musician here in Finland. As you said, lots of blues fans like my album, too. I have my blues background too and I love blues, surf, groove, jazz, Cuban, Spanish, Indian music, and I’ve gone surfin´ on my own release.

Fabulous Thunderbirds and Jimmie Vaughan showed me the way back to Freddie King... I surfed his “Fish Fare”, Albert and B.B. King, Lightning Hopkins, Johnny Guitar Watson, Earl King, Guitar Slim, Ike Turner and many more. I really dig the reverb blues guitar sound of Kid Ramos and Junior Watson… Junior can surf too! Mickey Baker always sounded good to me, Manuel Galban, Ry Cooder and Mark Ribot too.

mwe3: Were you influenced by movie soundtracks too so who are some of your favorite film score composers and how did they influence your sound preferences?

Kepa Härkönen: Yes, I love Ennio Morricone's movie soundtracks, spaghetti western movies, all the James Bond themes, Ry Cooder´s movie soundtracks and many more. When I started to think my own release, I had this kind of movie soundtrack album in my mind. I already decided that it should be all instrumental with my original music. As long as I can remember, I’ve always been writing lots of melodic compositions, besides straight blues tunes. I also like to tell short, spicy tales for all the titles I write. My idea of making a soundtrack album seems to gone through and I receive lots of messages and notes that I should send my CD to movie industry people too.

mwe3: Tell us about your guitars. I see the pictures on your Facebook page and the guitars are brilliant looking. Do you collect guitars? I saw that orange Spacerocket guitar which is excellent and then of course there’s the guitar on the cover of your CD. How many guitars are you playing on the Spicy Tales & Spacey Tones album?

Kepa Härkönen: I guess I’m more of a Fender guy than Gibson oriented, single coil pickups seem to have that twangy sound I’m after. I’m not really into collecting guitars. I just own guitars I really use or need. The last I bought, an orange Danelectro Dead On ‘67 is a cheap guitar that sounds great and looks cool. It only needed some help with the bridge and I just ordered a better one. I call it “Spacerocket”. Another cool guitar, the Eastwood Tuxedo, loaded with ‘50s underwounded Lollar P-90s and 12-52 flatwound strings, is my favorite. I used that guitar on four titles. It’s not any kind of typical surf guitar, but it sounds great to me. I also used the Danelectro baritone on “The Last Independence Day” and ”Fish Fare”. I used my old Fender/Warmoth Strat on “Slow Surf” and “Mr. Moto”. The rest includes a Mexican-made Fender Jazzmaster '60s reissue, pictured on the CD cover art, with an updated bridge and Mastery vibrato unit. It’s been my trusty “crap and go” axe for the last 3 years. I also was loaned my friend’s old Yamaha nylon string guitar, which I used here and there on the album. My Ibanez 12-string acoustic is one you can hear also, giving some Cuban feel on a few titles.

mwe3: Who is in your band and can you add something about the band’s chemistry on the CD and in a live setting. They sound totally in-sync with your vision and style.

Kepa Härkönen: My band, Kepa Härkönen & Surfin' Reindeers includes my long time friends Robban Hagnäs (bass), Daniel Hjerppe (drums) and Pekka Gröhn (keyboards). Those guys are from The Wentus Blues Band. We also worked together as The Kathmandu Blues Band, touring in Scandinavia, India and Nepal with Sean Carney and Shaun Booker from Ohio, in the USA. So, we knew each other very well and we had the same kinds of ideas about what we wanted. I first recorded demo versions of my tunes in my home studio and sent them to the guys to listen to before we recorded. With these guys, it was just a perfect combination and chemistry in the studio, and everything worked absolutely perfect. We do live gigs now, too. I’m so grateful to my friends!

mwe3: You just traveled from Finland for a vacation to the country of Vietnam. What was that like?

Kepa Härkönen: Talking about the world of music, I just had a 2 week vacation in Hoi An and Hanoi, Vietnam, a place far away from Finland. I really enjoyed this trip and I heard some really interesting local music. I liked those melodic lines, and maybe I will use a couple ideas from there for my new instrumentals.

mwe3: Now with the release of Spicy Tales & Spacey Tones what's coming up next for you? Have you gotten some acclaim in the other European countries and how about in England and Australia? Seems like the timeless instrumental guitar sound has a strong, devoted fan base worldwide.

Kepa Härkönen: I’m really humbled, thankful and surprised from all the positive feedback and reviews this album is getting around the world, from Australia, England, the USA, Sweden and Finland. Instrumental guitar music seems to have lot of friends all over… It’s great! Now I’m gigging around with my band and play my music. We have some special gigs coming up this summer. And I already have some new titles, I’m just waiting on making the recordings… I hope I can start making my next album maybe in a year or two.



 

 
   
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