Name: Jori Hulkkonen
Projects/Bands: Bobby Forester, Eternal Boyman, Jori Hulkkonen, Kebacid, Sin Cos Tan, Step Time Orchestra, Third Culture
Labels: F Communications, My Favorite Robot, Placktown Sounds, Plumphouse, Sugarcane, Turbo
Current Release: Oh But I Am, out September 28th on My Favorite Robot
Musical Recommendations: Melting Hearts. Long Sam.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
1988. I’d been interested in synth-pop and the electronic music since I can remember and by ’88 I’d become familiar with house, acid, and electro and realized it was something new also in terms of how it was done. As I had no traditional musical training or background with any instrument, I’d never ventured out into making music before as I had no interest in being in any bands. The idea of doing something all by yourself in a homestudio, just with some drummachines and synths felt exactly what I’d been waiting for. So I spent all the money from a summerjob to get some gear.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I started making music in ’88, did my first releases in ’93, but I think it was only around ’95 that I kinda found my own style – which lead into a signing with the French label F communications.
The line between taking influences and copying is a very fine one, especially in electronic music which is kind of functional music. Also, when sampling is around it’s easy to end up sounding not like yourself. The first things I did were all very heavily influenced by the stuff I was listening to at the time; whether the more poppy stuff I did, which was all very much in the style of Pet Shop Boys/New Order/Depeche Mode, or the more dancefloor oriented stuff, which at the time was early Detroit techno and the more commercial house from the UK.
And yes, that’s a very natural way of doing things, hearing records, analyzing them, trying to figure out how they did it, and how it could be duplicated. And 25 years later I still do it. If I hear a record with some production or sound I try to reverse engineer how it was all done. But especially in those pre-Internet times, there really was no choice in terms of learning except listening to as much music as you could. Obviously then as you progress and learn things, and become more confident, you start developing your own methods and eventually a sound, obviously also dictated by the limits of the technology.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I think it was really just the lack of any information in terms of the actual technology. I lived in a small town in northern Finland, and I had no idea what gear I’d need, and music magazines at the time offered little help. So it was a bit of trial and error when buying equipment and seeing what actually suited to what I wanted to make.
Tell us about your studio, please. What were criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process? How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptics and technology for you?
My studio these days is pretty amazing, actually. I have gear I’ve been collecting for some 25 years, and I still use the same sequencer software I did back then; Cubase. I can’t actually think of many other instances where you can get by with the same software for quarter of a century. Naturally the current version is light years from that first Atari–run version, but it still has that same workflow and familiar UI.
I use a lot of hardware, mainly vintage, but also a lot of new modularsynths. It’s all about finding the right balance of using hardware and having that hands-on feel without the need to stare at the screen, but then having all the advantages of a modern DAW. The studio itself I feel needs to feel cozy, it has to have that living-room-vibe. If you spend 6-10 hours there every day it can’t be a sterile engine room.
What are currently some of the most important tools and instruments you're using?
Everything is set up around Cubase, which is controlling everything. Apart from that, it really does change what I feel is an “important tool”, depending on the project or my vibe. Nothing is irreplaceable.
Many contemporary production tools already take over significant parts of what would formerly have constituted compositional work. In which way do certain production tools suggest certain approaches, in which way do they limit and/or expand your own creativity? Are there any promising solutions or set-ups capable of triggering new ideas inside of you as a composer?
I think I’m pretty traditional in the sense that I don’t really use these tools. Cubase, for example, offers a lot of really amazing little tools for writing beats, or arranging chord structures, but I’m really not into that kind of stuff at all. I like to do things the hard way in a sense, and use as little “automation” and presets as possible; I want to program everything manually, do all the little edits by hand etc. I think that adds a feel of personality to the music as well.
I’ve never had a writer’s block, so I’ve never felt I needed “tools” to help starting up with the creative process either. But I’m sure they’re very handy for some.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where do ideas come from, what do you start with and how do you go about shaping these ideas?
I try to find different ways to get inspired. There are certain creative games I use to get started, but sometimes it’s all about just sitting down by the piano and start playing. It really changes a lot. With my synth-pop band Sin Cos Tan, for example, we had the idea of doing an album with a storyline. Our latest album Blown Away was a fictional tale of a recently divorced American guy who ends up working as a drug courier between the Americas. We basically wrote a script for the storyline, came up with 10 “scenes”, almost like a movie script, and then just started writing songs to fit each scene.
With more and more musicians creating than ever and more and more of these creations being released, what does this mean for you as an artist in terms of originality? What are some of the areas where you currently see the greatest potential for originality and who are some of the artists and communities that you find inspiring in this regard?
That’s a tough question; especially because as a DJ I do follow quite a bit what everyone else is doing, and try to find music that would fit into my aesthethics. But I guess as a musician you have to take a bit of a different approach and try to create your own little bubble and just focus on your own thing, rather than trying to fit in, or deliberately stand out. I think the key to a long career is the ability to not becoming too involved in any certain scene or sound. It’s about finding the balance between ignoring what everyone else is doing, but also constantly reinventing yourself.