The Finnish musician welcomes us into his home, full of the antique gear that gives his synth jams their unique, layered sound
Someone is hawking fruit through a megaphone on the street outside Jaakko Eino Kalevi’s flat. It’s a hot day in Athens, but the Finnish musician closes the window with an apology. We need a little more quiet to talk about his new album, Chaos Magic, and the home studio where it was born.
Kalevi is Finland’s finest pop auteur, a veteran musician and David Byrne collaborator who writes freaky ditties and synth jams reminiscent of Ariel Pink. Chaos Magic is his seventh record, and his first created in his adopted home of Athens. He first visited the city a decade ago to visit a friend, then made annual trips until he moved there full-time from Berlin at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The weather was nicer, the people were friendly, and, most importantly, he would be close to Mutual Sound Studios, an arts workshop and recording space run by his friend Teemu Takatalo.
Kalevi recorded the album at Mutual Sound, but he wrote most of it at home, where he keeps an array of instruments and equipment for playing around and sketching out ideas. When he moved in he had to repaint and pick through the furniture of the last tenant. He transformed the space into his private synth temple. He likes to encircle himself with instruments and try out different sounds and filters, layering them on top of each other until he finds the perfect tone. It can be a long process. “With the synthesizers, I feel like I need to take my own time. It would be too annoying for someone to sit in the studio and press REC,” Kalevi says with a laugh.
Chaos Magic is Kalevi’s most collaborative album to date, with contributions from old friends and new. There are stalwarts from his time in Berlin, acclaimed Finnish jazz musicians, even the actress Alma Jodorowsky, granddaughter of the legendary director Alejandro. Kalevi met her when he was DJing at a bar in Athens one night, and she ended up singing on three tracks. The resulting record is Kalevi’s most expansive record yet, one that slips between languages and genres with ease.
That eclecticism may have informed the album, which Kalevi plucked from a fantasy television show that he can barely remember at this point. “The TV show was not so special,” he says. (If I had to guess, it was probably Netflix’s troubled Witcher series). Chaos magic is a concept from modern occultism with roots that go back to Aleister Crowley. None of that really matters to Kalevi, though, who just liked the vibe of the phrase: “It spoke to me, the combination of words.”
He welcomed us to his home in Athens to check out his gear, tour souvenirs he picked up from around the world and a unique pair of snakeskin shoes. It makes for a motley mood board of music and new age ephemera befitting the freakiest Finn in pop.
This is a fabric I bought from a flea market in Egypt. It’s a black haired lady drinking wine and then the white cat is watching, like “What are you doing?”
I’ve played in Egypt twice, once in Cairo and once on the coast, a festival at Almaza Beach [Shorelines Festival]. The flea market was in Cairo. It’s an impressive city. The traffic is crazy, even crossing the street is mad. It’s kind of apocalyptic.
02. TOUR SOUVENIRS
There’s an owl and Eiffel tower. The owl was a birthday present from my manager, it’s a craft from Poland. The Eiffel Tower is just a souvenir from Paris. Then on the right side, I have some maracas –I don’t know where from – and a skull from Mexico and a sphinx from Egypt.
03. REVOX REEL-TO-REEL MACHINE
This is for my home production unit. It isn’t actually on the new record – we mixed all of that in the studio. I heard about it from my friend Dennis, who makes music as CV Vision, and I found it when I was living in Berlin. The eBay classified, that’s the best for used gear in Germany. I drove to the border of Belgium to get this from one guy, it was like 1000 kilometres.
I usually record directly to a computer, then I use this for re-amping. It’s the best for drums, but sometimes I just do everything. It adds tape compression and warmth. It’s nice that it’s a physical process. Like with a picture, you might print it out and scan it again to add texture, or just the way a film camera adds some grain – this does the same, but for sound.
04. KORG POLYSIX
I use this a lot. It’s my favorite synth and the one I use the most on the new album. I use it for everything, for bass, for strings. And I like to layer – you find one nice sound, then you play the same thing on top of it with a different sound to create an effect. I’ll set everything in my living room and tweak the sounds for hours. It’s on every song, but on ‘Dino’s Deo’, the solo is crazy and it’s very synthy. I wrote the solo in Midi, but then I played it with different sounds and filters [on the Polysix].
05. MOOMIN SUMMER MADNESS POSTER
I got this from a Moomin store in Helsinki. Moomin is an old Finnish cartoon by Tove Jansson – maybe the most famous franchise from it is this anime TV show. That’s the most familiar for me. I like Moominsummer Madness. In Greece there’s more summer than in Finland, but in Finland the summer is so short that everyone goes crazy. Whenever there’s sun, you have to go out and do all the crazy stuff at once.
I watched it as a child – everyone does – but it’s not only for kids. Sometimes it’s good comfort material, good for hangovers. The Moomin world is very understanding. In every episode some crazy stuff is happening, but they sort it out in a very gentle way. They don’t leave anyone out and everyone in the Moomin valley is welcome [laughs].
06. URALKIT PREAMP
This is a preamp that I also used on almost everything on the album. Before this album I didn’t really believe in preamps, but now I’ve woken up. Because of the studio, I could do A/B tests [to hear the difference]. The tube drive thing on this makes a fuller sound and lets you find the sweet spot.
This preamp was inspired by the ’60s Abbey Road console. My friend in Finland has this company, Uraltone, for music gear, mostly guitar pedals and amps. I suggested to him that it would be cool to have a preamp based on Abbey Road. It has the sound and the schematics from the console, which are now open for everyone to see.
He designed it as a kit, so I had to solder it together – I studied to be an electrician when I was young, and so simple stuff I can do. Now it’s a commercial product that you can buy from the site. I was impressed that he took the inspiration from me and now it’s a real product.
07. CE N’EST Q’UN DEBUT – ALEXANDER ROBOTNICK
I love Alexander Robotnik. I randomly bought a record by him years ago in Finland. The guy in the record shop recommended him for me. It’s kind of electro. He’s an Italian guy and I heard he lives in Tuscany. Last time I was in Italy I was in Tuscany, and I wrote to him, but he never got back to me.
08. GRAVITY BOOTS
Gravity boots are like a medical thing. Agent Cooper uses them in Twin Peaks. My friend in Berlin had them and we were trying them at an afterparty. You hang free with them from a bar, it’s good for your back. Your spine straightens naturally from the gravity, it’s good for your posture and everything. You can’t hang for so long because the blood rushes to your head, but you hang for a few minutes, maybe five or ten.
09. SNAKESKIN SHOES
These are from a shoe shop in Berlin. They were so funny to me, because, what even is that? Some kind of snakeskin? But with the coloring of a Dalmatian or a zebra? Zebra snake? They’re genuine zebra snake leather!
This is from Mexico, actually. It’s a real scorpion. There’s a chaotic flea market in Mexico City. I went alone and had a hard time finding it. It’s one of those markets where people just put stuff on the ground. Someone told me, “You can find anything, even like the skull of a baby crocodile.” Then I saw the skull of a baby crocodile! I didn’t buy it.
Because I had a hard time finding the place, I started to drink. I’d stop in a place, thinking maybe it’s there, and when I finally got there, I was a little bit drunk. It was great, because I ended up buying so much
11. BRACO THE GAZER PORTRAIT
Braco is a Croatian healer. He has a kind of church in Zagreb. I can’t remember where I heard about him the first time, but he’s a funny character. He heals people by looking at them – he’s “Braco the Gazer.” He has sessions online where he looks at you with his compassionate face through the screen, and you feel better. I once went to his session in Finland at a new age fair. They showed a 20-minute documentary about how great he is, and some guys on stage talked about how great he is. He never speaks publicly. There was some cheesy classical music and then he walked to the stage and scanned people for five minutes and left. To be honest, I didn’t feel such a difference, but it was a nice experience.
I just printed this picture from online. It doesn’t have to be such a strong effect, but it’s warm, enjoyable, compassionate, like, “It’s okay.”
I heard from a Croatian friend of mine that there’s a rumor that he killed his master, who was the other Gazer before him, in Africa, apparently. The master only did one-to-one gazing, but Braco does entire audiences. Maybe there was some kind of fight between the two schools.
I enjoy looking at maps. I’ve travelled quite a lot, so it’s nice to see where you’ve been. The names are pretty funny, like, “Europe Political Map.” These are pretty old, so the borders and places aren’t so accurate. Like the Soviet Union is still there. The big map is “World Map with Physical Relief.” I don’t know what physical relief means, but it has it. And the small one is a Greek railroad map. I think it’s accurate because they haven’t built much more. But the southern ones aren’t in use so much because they’re not maintained.
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