By Wif Stenger, September 2011
“Amiably berserk Vikings with a boatful of instruments” – that’s how our reporter describes Helsinki band Rubik’s ever-shifting carnival of sound. In autumn 2011 they set off on a tour that takes them through Europe, Mexico and the US.
Singer and lyricist Artturi Taira turns 30 just as the tour begins, but his musical roots lie in the decades before he was born. Before discovering Nirvana as an adolescent, he dug his father’s 1970s prog albums by Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Pink Floyd and Queen. And, having played saxophone since childhood, he says, “Jazz has been really important, especially John Coltrane and Miles Davis’s classic quintet from the ’60s.”
Echoes of the ’70s lurk behind the band’s third album, Solar. Released last spring, it was recorded in Helsinki’s House of Culture, designed by Alvar Aalto and built by leftist volunteers. Back in the ’70s, it hosted shows by the likes of Queen, Led Zeppelin and Frank Zappa.
“In the basement of the House of Culture, there was an old studio where they made Finnish prog records back in the ’70s,” explains Taira. “A few years ago we took over the place with our friends and rebuilt the studio.”
Having their own studio allowed the band a rare freedom to experiment. Its seven members frequently switch instruments – from trombones to exotic percussion – and sounds, from art-rock to power pop.
“We write all the songs in the studio,” says Taira. “Whoever comes up with an idea can put it on tape. That makes it more ego-free. It’s complicated and it takes a hell of a lot of time, but we love doing it.” The result is a shape-shifting blend of catchy pop hooks and long-form soundscapes of horns, strings and electronics.
“With Solar, we were trying to make it half singles and half prog rock. But when we talk about a single it’s obviously not the same as when pop bands talk about singles. The album before that, Dada Bandits, was more about experimenting with textures. I guess it had some singles, too, but we ruined them by adding all that weird stuff,” he says with a grin.
Above all that weird stuff floats Taira’s sensitive croon.
“I sing a lot of falsetto and use the higher register a lot; that’s just what’s natural for me,” he explains. “I just let it come out openly, as if I’m playing the sax,” he says.
The modest Taira speaks, sings and writes in fluent, unaccented English though he’s never lived outside Finland. He and his bandmates have toured the US twice, and Europe frequently. Last spring they became the first Finns to play Barcelona’s Primavera, the continent’s top indie-rock festival.
Like the other core members of the group, keyboardist/guitarist Samuli Pöyhönen and drummer Sampsa Väätäinen, Taira grew up in the eastern Finnish town of Kuopio, where he attended music high school. They began playing together in the late ’90s, becoming Rubik in 2003. By then Taira was studying political history at the University of Helsinki. His studies are now on the back burner as Rubik’s career reaches the boiling point.
At a recent semi-acoustic gig at Helsinki University’s Old Student Union, the bearded men of Rubik worked up a sweat, like amiably berserk Vikings with a boatful of instruments. Their collegiate fans – a slight majority of them women – perspired too, bouncing to singles like “Laws of Gravity,” “World around You” and “Wasteland.”
Rubik played a sold-out double bill with Von Hertzen Brothers at Helsinki Festival’s Huvila Tent on September 4 – culminating in a 13-man Queen tribute. On September 16, 2011, Rubik begins a month-long European tour in Bergen, Norway, winding through the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France before wrapping up in Spain. In October and November the band tours Mexico and the US.
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