When you acquaint yourself with Finnish rabble-rousers Have You Ever See The Jane Fonda Aerobic VHS?, two things immediately come to mind. One, why didn’t I bring a beer?, and two, why didn’t I read up on Jane Fonda? You wouldn’t suspect that a working knowledge of the latter would be required in a modest band interview, given the trio’s absurdist tendencies in their carnival-ready, synth-powered garage rock. With a new album called Jazzbelle 1984-1988 that entails grandmas fighting He-Man and folks donning “magic swimming pants”, the term “Jane Fonda aerobic VHS” reads like just another surreal nugget in Have You Ever’s bottomless swag bag. And indeed, whenever asked about certain phrases or passages from the album, songwriter Ekku Lintunen merely shrugs. “Why the hell not?” seems to be his philosophy on nearly everything – writing, talking, drinking.
However, for all their devil-may-care attitude, the band harbor’s tenacious devotions to the matters that concern them most. Lintunen and his stoic drummer Janne-Petteri Pitkälä built their unswerving love for rock and roll together since they were 11-year-olds; bassist and singer Susse Stemma-Sihvola switched nimbly from guitar to bass to complete the mighty power trio. And while their collective adoration for the American underground flares in abundance on Jazzbelle, our 45-minute conversation reveals other surprising passions, such as local politics, Scottish accents, and – you guessed it! – Jane Fonda.
I meet Have You Ever on their couch, in their tiny but storied hometown of Kouvala, from my usual card table HQ in Atlanta. After a few stiff and uninspired questions on my part, and a few choice chugs of their favorite cheap beer on their end, our chat really takes off once Lintunen starts asking me about my adopted city. We break often into fits of giggles – perhaps because we’re both hacking through each other’s English and Skype’s mangled sound quality, but also because Have You Ever enjoy a good hang as much as anyone. By the end, we’ve sworn silly promises to each other – a) that the band will share their fine alcohol with me if they should ever fly to the States, and b) that, if I do ever encounter the mythical Fonda, I’ll certainly pass their heartfelt greetings on.
DIS: Tell me more about your hometown of Kouvala – it’s described as a small town, but one that has a very communal vibe. Plenty of small towns don’t have a scene at all!
Ekku Lintunen: There are two things [about Kouvala]: lots of great rock and roll bands, and athletes. We have an ice hockey team, a basketball team, and this Finnish baseball, called pesäpallo. We’re in the major leagues. Those are the two things that Janne and I used to play: we played ice hockey, and at the same time we liked rock music. So that’s two things that Kouvalian people are keen on.
Ah. Gotcha. That explains the cover of Teenage Sweetheart [their debut album].
EL: Yes. That was also our first release, so we’re all dressed up with our NHL jerseys and hockey sticks and everything.
Right, so obviously I wanted to talk about the new album – it’s still fun and exciting like the last one, but there’s lots of sweetness and bitterness, too. I’m thinking especially of songs like ‘Corazone’.
EL: Yeah, that was a love letter to Janne. Susse and me were in our rehearsal space, making demos of our new songs, and Janne at that time was in Spain.
Susse Stemma-Sihvola: Four weeks. He spent four weeks in Spain, and we missed him! It was a song for him.
Tell me how this artwork came about – it’s this very surreal image, that looks like a pastiche of your songs. There’s the teeth, and Bambi…
EL: There’s this artist from Kouvala. He’s a friend of ours, and we just thought he should make an album cover for us because why not? He’s a great artist, and also an actor and musician – he’s kind of a Renaissance guy. So we sent him the songs, and just said, “Whatever you come up with, [we’ll use]. Just go ahead.” And that’s what he did! I think it’s great.
And then I definitely wanted to talk about ‘Sheep’ – because it’s the longest song you’ve ever written, and takes this turn into a very uplifting [a cappella] part, which is like nothing you’ve ever done before.
EL: Well, [the first part] was from another song that we wrote five years ago – we just wanted to added it. And then this second part, the a cappella part, that was actually from the same song – it was just a build-up, it got out of our hands.
SS-S: Yeah, REALLY got out of our hands.
EL: I was playing the organ for 8 minutes when we were recording…
SS-S: I think it was like 14 minutes!
EL: But it was something new, that we hadn’t done before. We stole it from one song, but I’m not going to say which one it is.
SS-S: We don’t want to get sued!
Was there any particular reason you were playing on the organ for 14 minutes?
EL: Oh, it was just something for these guys to sing to.
Who were “these guys”? Did you recruit more people outside of the band?
SS-S: Yeah, friends of ours. We just asked, “you want to come and sing?”
EL: Yeah, it was a nice Saturday evening. We had two guys from the Finnish band Varvara, they drove from their hometown, Kotka. They were very excited about it.
Has seeing other countries given you a new perspective on your own country?
EL: Of course it’s different. We were in England – and everyone used to say that in England the bands hate each other, and that the competition is so bad, but – the people were all nice there. I don’t have anything bad to say about any of the bands we played with. The driving there is horrible, because…
SS-S: He can’t drive, though. I did the driving.
EL: Well, I get road rage, so it’s much safer when I’m not on the wheel.
[After I wrap up my prepared questions, I ask the band if they want to add anything else. Ekku then inquires if he could ask me something:]
EL: You live in Atlanta, right?
Yes, that’s correct.
EL: You know that Jane Fonda used to live there? I don’t know if she lives there anymore, but did you know that?
I don’t know if she lives here anymore, but I’m sure she used to.
EL: Well, if you meet her, could you send our greetings to her?
Wow, I had no idea you guys were so committed to Jane Fonda.
EL: Well, yeah! Her autobiography is one of the greatest autobiographies. It’s an amazing book. And another thing – my uncle lives with her family, in Atlanta. Lintunan is his name. He has a Mexican wife, they’ve been together for – but ah, I don’t want to get into my family history! But if you see Timo, my uncle…
I’ll be sure to send him my warmest greetings! Have you ever been to Atlanta or the States?
EL: No! That’s why we want to do it. All the movies and music we like – the good side of America.
Any particular part of the States you’re most fond of? We’re a huge country.
EL: The scene in New York, all the music from the 70s and 80s is great – and of course, Seattle in the 80s and 90, and California…
Janne-Petteri Pitkälä: Detroit.
EL: Yeah. The Stooges, MC5 and all that. We’re really into the West Coast, and Motown.
California is still a hoppin’ place, especially in San Francisco and Oakland.
EL: Yes, California. Always thought they were more free-minded there.
Yes, they definitely are. That’s why they’re bucking against Trump right now.
EL: Fuck Trump. Are you worried that he is in charge?
Yeah – we are, obviously. But with this new Fire And Fury book…we’ve kinda known, but it’s made it even more obvious, that everyone in the White House doesn’t know what they’re doing, and have been making it up all along. That, and just really hoping these Mueller investigations speed up and lead to impeachment. Fingers crossed, impeachment could be in the stars, but – I don’t know when that will be [if at all].
EL: Yeah, we’re worried, too – we’re neighbors with Russia. So if anything happens, like with Dr. Strangelove, we’re here. Also, the same thing is happening in Finland. There are not good things happening here. Ah – politics! Always fun!
They’re engrossing. Speaking of politics – I imagine travelling to the UK might become more difficult as Brexit unravels. Are you concerned about that at all?
EL: Mmmm, not really. We haven’t actually given a thought to it at all, actually. But it’ll be true one day, when they leave the European Union. We’ll see what happens.
I think everyone’s still in a “we’ll see what happens” mood.
EL: Yeah, but we hope Trump gets fired. He won’t quit, that’s for sure.
That makes me curious, though. You mentioned that things were also bad in Finland – are there any corrupt politicians over there that you’re concerned about? Apart from Putin, obviously.
EL: Well, there’s not much corruption, but the guys making decisions – they don’t know what they’re doing. There will be more poor people [after they pass a certain law] than there are now. We’re a really wealthy country, but it’s gone downhill. They want unemployed people to die. Well, they won’t say that, but – me and Janne, we’re unemployed, if you don’t consider playing rock and roll [a job]. So it doesn’t look good. But there are people who are against this, and soon cars will burn, or something like that. We’re not like France. We rebel too little. We should do it more often.
OK – all this is going in? Well. OK. I don’t mind. Last thing I said, we’re not a political band. Sure, we have political points we have opinions about, but we are not in any way a political band, like Manic Street Preachers or U2 or anything like that.
Was there anything else you wanted to add about the album?
[General genuflection noises among the band.]
EL: No, I don’t think so. Just listen to the album and make your own assumptions.
I noticed that in the presser you’re more concerned with painting pictures. Is that just your creative mantra – to create vague pictures, rather than impose meanings?
EL: Yeah, because when I think about lyrics, if you have a poetic line, it’s much more interesting than just telling a straightforward story. It’s just lyrics, it’s not like a novel or short story. They’re out there. You can just pick up something and see what happens. Like the cut-up technique, from William S. Burroughs. He just wrote some shit, cut it up, and threw it together and looked at it and said, “OK”. It doesn’t have to make sense or anything like that, it’s more like moods.
Gotcha. So a phrase like “magic swimming pants”, for instance, comes up perfectly randomly.
EL: That was actually way more than ten years ago – we had this theatre group, or whatever. So we just had fun with this phrase – what would you do with magic swimming pants? I always imagined them yellow…I don’t know why.
OK, I think that’s a good interview. It was a bit rocky, but we got through it in the end.
EL: Maybe it was the last beer that did it.
Yeah! Beer always helps [no, it doesn’t].
EL: Do you want one, too?
I wish! All I have is light ginger beer.
EL: What time is it over there?
It is 12:37pm. What time is it over there?
EL: It is 7:38 [pm].
SS-S: Beer time here.
EL: It’s dark as hell during this time of year, so it’s basically always beer time. Yeah, from 9am to 4am, it’s fucking dark. We’re out of vitamins all the time.
I see. So you need beer.
EL: Yes, we compensate with beer.
What kind of beers are you all drinking at the moment?
[Susse holds up a tall, orange can.]
SS-S: It’s “beer”, in Finnish.
EL: Yeah, it’s really good. It’s one of the cheapest beers you can find here, but it’s really good. A good lager. If you come to Finland, you should drink this beer.
Well, if I ever get the chance to go to Finland, I’ll know what to drink.
EL: If we could get one of these [on the] plane to Atlanta, we would share lots with you.
Aww, man. That would be great. I hardly know what to drink in Atlanta, even though I’ve lived here two years.
EL: Where are you from, originally?
From Madison, which is just an hour east. It’s still Georgia, basically. I’ve lived in Georgia most of my life, save for briefly in Wales.
EL: Ah. Wales was fun, actually. We played there a year ago.
Oh, OK! In Cardiff?
EL: There were castles everywhere. They didn’t want us in them, but we saw them.
Yes! There are castles everywhere! There’s some in the countryside, and you can just walk all over them. No one’s watching you. It’s the best.
EL: Ah. That was a venue night, so we don’t remember anything after 5pm.
Because it was beer time! OK, cool. I’m glad we have that connection. I was there for six months, and I spent most my time in Wales. Mainly because I’m a homebody, even when I’m abroad.
EL: It’s funny – everybody told us in Finland that you’re not going to understand anything that the Welsh are saying. But actually, they spoke much more English that we understood than in the last town we were in, which I don’t remember now…
EL: Yeah, Reading. We didn’t have as much difficulty understanding Welsh. Now, the Scottish have the best accent. [cribs Scottish accent] We’ve never been to Scotland, but – [everyone laughs, Ekku stops] I like their accent. They say, [rolls hard r’s], and in Finland we have [rolls r’s on Finnish words – which are softer, but similar], while [the Welsh] are more [lollygags on a few made-up Welsh words].
SS-S: Everyone speaks like Willy from the Simpsons.
I’m glad you all are seasoned in English accents. I’m only able to do that through radio shows. Speaking of that, there was another question I had – how do you guys come across new music from around the world?
EL: Oh, I’ve been using Spotify, or YouTube, because you can very much find new music to listen to that way. [Janne is shaking his head.] I’m not a hipster like Janne, who listens only to vinyl. But if you can find good music through the internet, then why the hell not?
SS-S: Whenever we’re travelling abroad, Janne will go to a record store and buy records, if he’s got any money.
EL: He usually doesn’t.
Huh. I’ve come across a divided opinion in the band.
EL: Well, I like the sound of vinyl, of course. But it’s still music. So if the song is great, and it pops up from a pack of cigarettes, or if you open up a children’s book and the song is great – it doesn’t matter where it comes from.
Jazzbelle 1984/1988 is out on 19 January via VILD records. For more information on the band, including forthcoming tour dates, please visit their Facebook page.
Photo Credit: Heidi Kero