The Finnish electronic music scene has a new player on the field: PIHKA IS MY NAME. The band revolves around the animated character Pihka, an imaginary robot friend who is no longer needed and discarded in the snowy woods. She goes on an adventure of her own and discovers the world through new perspectives. We had the opportunity to talk to the brains behind the operation: Lasse Turunen and Henna Helasvuo about the concept, their music, and their future. Read the entire interview below…
Hi there! Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. How are you guys doing?
Lasse: Well hello! We’re doing pretty good, despite the pandemic situation. Thank you for talking to us.
You started out as the pop band PIHKA JA MYRSKY, which you made three albums with. Why did you decide to switch things up and start PIHKA IS MY NAME?
Lasse: PIHKA JA MYRSKY was indeed our first collaboration. There were five people in the band, but we were the main songwriters and sound designers. I’m highlighting the sound design part here because we really started getting excited about that aspect around 2016. The influence of that can already be heard on the third PIHKA JA MYRSKY album “Kuuleeko maa,” which was more experimental than the previous two. By 2017, we had started acquiring gear more suited for experimental sound design and started a new band centered around that.
Some of the electronic elements you use in PIHKA IS MY NAME were already present in the soundscapes of PIHKA JA MYRSKY. Why did you decide to evolve more towards this style of music?
Henna: We started feeling uninspired with the idea of a traditionally structured pop song. We had done so many of those that it was time to look for something different. I have always loved minimalism and that is something I want to explore more in the music of PIHKA IS MY NAME. We might get back to making pop music at a later point but for now, we’re more into free flow.
Lasse: Also, I noticed that if you’ve always got vocals and lyrics in a song, people tend to listen to only those. Those aspects are important of course, but I always listened more keenly to the way songs were produced. For example, since I was a teenager, I’ve been fascinated by how Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois produced U2. A huge part of it is the beautiful sound design. They’ve got great songs but most of all they’ve got great, emotion-tingling sounds.
PIHKA IS MY NAME, of course, evolves around your animated character Pihka, a robot, and an imaginary friend who is no longer needed and discarded in the snowy woods. Pihka goes on an adventure in the city and observes human beings with their stress and their problems. How did you come up with the backstory?
Lasse: We needed a front figure for our new band.
Henna: Lasse came up with the idea of an imaginary friend and I loved it right away! We’ve both often felt like outsiders in society. Pihka is a nice, playful way of mirroring those emotions.
I also have to ask whether you had any imaginary friends yourselves as a kid and if you could tell us a little bit more about them?
Henna: I had many! The most memorable of them was a girl called Silo-Sofia. She had long brown hair that she always wore in a braid and was very smart.
Lasse: I made up my own adventures with imaginary friends too. I was a happy kid until elementary school. I was bullied badly and got very unsocial. There were days when I just decided to be silent and not say a word to anyone at school. That’s a pretty fertile ground for imagining yourself some friends.
I think this might be one of the only projects in music that I know of that deals with magical thinking during child development. Children are naturally imaginative and exercising their imaginations is good for their emotional and mental health. Of course, we outgrow this because, in a later stage in life, this is not seen as normal. How important for you is to give these psychological themes a positive spin?
Henna: I think it’s extremely important! As I was growing up, I had many imaginary worlds that gave me a place to go when I needed one. But I also was ashamed of it because it felt childish and something you should just let go, and that is really sad and unnecessary. Of course, the way we see the creations of our imaginations changes as we grow but it’s a shame if we forget them.
Are there any other things that Pihka goes through that are relevant to our current society?
Lasse: We’ve been thinking that Pihka should notice the climate emergency we’re facing. Our graphic designer Elli Maanpää said that a snow-covered forest could be a really exotic sight in the future. We’re looking into implementing this idea in a future music video.
Henna: It would also be very interesting to see Pihka get to know some other imaginary friends. And robots.
I feel that an important part of interpreting the story behind the lyrics are the visuals of the music video and the character design. How did you come up with the character and who helped you with working out Pihka?
Henna: We both are big fans of Miyazaki and Pixar movies and we imagined the graphic style to be a combination of those two. The graphic design is made by Elli Maanpää. We had worked with Elli before and knew that her style is just perfect for this project.
Lasse: Also the RÖYSKOPP video “Poor Leno” and DAFT PUNK’s work have been major influences.
One clear proof of that is the music video for “Binaries”; it helped me visualize the story. So far there is only one video released, but is every song going to have a complimentary music video or just a couple of songs?
Lasse: We’re not going to have a video for each and every song. We also want a chance for the music to stand out on its own. The next single will not have a video, but the one after that will. A third video will come in sync with the album.
Henna: By the way, the “Binaries” video was animated by Lasse’s brother Jussi Turunen. He’s amazingly talented at motion graphic design.
“Binaries” gives us a little hint of what we can expect from PIHKA IS MY NAME in the future. Are all the tracks on your debut album going to be in that line, or is there anything different about the sound?
Henna: We’re thinking of “Binaries” as a prologue, as a teaser trailer to the whole. That’s what we’d like the music video to feel like too.
Lasse: I’m getting better at using the modular synth all the time. It’s pretty amazing what you can do with that instrument. Future PIHKA IS MY NAME tracks are going to benefit from that more and more. Also Henna has been getting pretty experimental with the piano. I’m excited to see where that’ll lead.
Electronic music is usually a little bit more abstract than any other genre. How is it that you guys come up with ideas and how do you put them together? What is the process behind each song? Do you start with a melody and build up from there?
Lasse: Pretty often it’s a melody. I start doodling with it on a drum machine or the modular and make up a 4 bar loop. Then Henna comes and builds her emotional chords around it. At that point, the loop is usually extended to 8 bars or more. Then we’re able to “jam” with the song. We do these jams on our PihkaSound YouTube channel every Monday, you should check it out!
Henna: We work out final arrangements inside a software called Ableton Live. I also do the orchestrations there and we overdub some synths, percussion, live strings, and vocal effects too. The arrangement is a big part of the songwriting process here.
Lasse: The jamming might take 4 hours, but the arrangement and mix could take 2-10 days.
Even though we’re living in times where the future is a bit uncertain, you must have some kind of plan with the band. What can we expect from PIHKA IS MY NAME in the rest of 2020?
Henna: The next song will be out at the end of May and the third one with a video in September. We are dreaming of releasing an album in early 2021 so maybe one more single before that at the end of this year.
That’s it for my questions. Do you have any last thoughts you want to share with our readers or anything else you’d like to mention that I didn’t ask?
This is a very independent project, and it really helps if you give us a hand by sharing it on the socials. You can also easily keep up with us by subscribing to the Pihka newsletter. That being said, thank you so much for just checking out our music!