Love Between No Seas
The band of many basses and no guitars at all - Plan E. Where to begin, really? So many issues to bring up here. Most of which will never be brought up as they are not about concrete matters. The world of anti-matter is much more interesting but in this place you can read about the other side. Listen to the music of Plan E, read the lyrics of theirs, and you shall reach the land of abstract.
“The land of the free?” asks Jani Lehtosaari, the mastermind behind Plan E. “Tomorrow everything could be better…” he continues, in all hope and wishes, as he should, and gets one thinking for a moment.
This theme is in regards to the lines “Some day I’ll leave all this behind / A brand new continent I’m gonna find / Tomorrow-land with all its hundred seasons / Where smile or cry need no specific reason” on the song When Wings Drag on the Ground from the debut album of Plan E, Songs for a Rainy Day, that was released in 1998.
Not much nectar is visible in this land. The nectar streams in the mind of the listener; if he just dares to sip from it he will have his health again. Plan E redeemed my health for an occasion or two when I heard Found and Lost for the first time. When Songs for a Rainy Day stained my ears and heart for evermore a few years ago, I was yet not in an overall cheerless state of mind and did not notice what a cure Plan E can be for the injured mind. Now that I do, I feel like asking Jani if he is often in a disheartened mood. And how is he doing at the moment? Baking cookies? Eating cookies? Throwing cookies in the bin?!
“Actually getting very drunk. After a couple of beers I finally decided to grab on this interview and go through it, what ever it might take. Now some three hours later I still keep finding new questions between the lines. Now it’s 4 AM and I really would like to get some sleep.”
Sleep, my friend, sleep like the harmless lamb in the womb of sanity! It is two in the afternoon of a bright winter day as I am editing this text, so what does that tell you, readers… Not much, I guess. There is good music to be found in the player and things seem like an authentic bliss. In general, this might just be the ideal moment for editing an interview. Or then it might not.
To get into business: there were some difficulties and delayrium in the process of making Found and Lost, am I right? Perhaps you, Jani, can share a detail or two about these problems. I see that the recordings span back to January 2000, and the album will be finally released in February 2001, so that is not little time lost…
Jani explains: “The ‘additional recordings’ took place in January 2nd, 2000, and were basically just some rehearsal recordings. The first actual studio session was in February at Tico Tico Studio and that weekend was very uncomplicated with a total of 15 tracks done (all drums and a bunch of basses). Then it took some six months to write the keyboard lines, and then there was some touring hassle with Impaled Nazarene. The keyboards were recorded in July or August at Soundmix Studio - where we recorded and finished the album - and around that time I also did about 10-12 bass guitars on each song. At that time I already had all the lyrics written but then I started freaking out and realised that everything had to be thrown in the trash bin.”
If there are any upstart band members reading this, pay attention, for Christ’s sake. We keep seeing all these lyrics of bands still scratching their head thinking where to approach with their music next, and the lyrics are just complete shit for the most part in those cases. It is almost like an identity is some sort of prohibition for these bands, a boundary that should not be exceeded or else something irreplaceably bad will happen. Ah hell, the rock stars. Never know what is going on in their minds.
Meanwhile my ponderings, Jani continues informing us of the agonising process:
“It took another two months working with the vocals while rewriting all the texts. When we started to mix the album, the reality struck once again. I learned that it was impossible to mix that amount of basses and make it sound reasonable. The album was - quite a many times actually - mixed, remixed, mastered, and finally remastered on December 4th, 2000. Two months later, on February 15th, 2001, the thing should be available for everyone.”
The advance tape arrived here about a week after the remastering, so thank you very much to Jani for that. Fast action and attention attracts always as talking about the underground, the land of the idle.
To go on, keeping in mind the troubles dealt above, and also the fact that you had some frustration and disappointment occurring with the split MCD with Climb to Zalem, do you feel that you are doomed in some ways in your doings, as the best bands often are? Have these incidents produced some particular moments of discouragement when you have thought that ‘hell, this is never going to work, we might just as well kill the whole band’?
“It’s been a long road and that is something no one can deny. I’ve always been wondering why bands do indeed split up and I have no idea of how much I’m going to take of this, but at least I know that I’m not going to stop this band anywhere in the near future. This band doesn’t have any pressure of selling figures or anything like that, so we may have longer breaks and still not play live as no one’s expecting us to do so, and therefore people don’t even notice if we do something else in the meanwhile. The split record with Climb to Zalem was a kind of a frustrating process because the third part that was supposed to finance the damn thing never did so. After we decided to do it on Solardisk everything moved along very smoothly. Climb to Zalem were easy to work with, and they have a very positive do-it-yourself attitude.”
Yes, thank you for that information, although I am not sure if I asked for that! One can never be too sure of what one has inquired about in an interview…
You told me earlier that you quite dislike the vocals on Found and Lost and find them rather ‘weak’ (munaton was the word in Finnish) - how so? What could have been done better, generally thinking? Any ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’ about the recording sessions of the new album?
“Everything could have been done better. Or nothing could have been. Before this album we’ve used very strong effects on vocals but for this release I wanted to keep a natural sound to my voice, and that sounds just so unfamiliar to me. I know it was a good move to ‘normalise’ my vocal sound. Now I just have to learn to sing and not hide behind a wall of effects. Afterwards I’ve noticed so many dead moments on the album that I’d like to redo them - and so many melody lines and vocal harmonies are also missing - but we can do better for our next album, that’s for sure.”
Do not be too harsh on yourself, Jani. It is a magnificent album, that Found and Lost platter… So good, in fact, that further description in detail is surely valid. See the review for that, as we are to venture the lyrics next (always an interesting topic).
Found and Lost begins with a short introduction (North State) which is followed by Overseas Love. The first lines to this song are “We - that’s supposed to be you and me / Daydream - fast escape from reality / Heels - I can sometimes hear you walking down the street / So sweet - sweet dreams of anxiety”. Brilliant. The continuation to these lines indicates that we are talking of a love song here. Are we? Is Overseas Love a love song?
Jani begins at the outskirts of the birth of the song: “These were the first written words for the album. At first it was a song about how much I’m missing my favourite country, Mexico (6,122 miles is the exact distance between Helsinki and Mexico City), but after a couple of days in the studio I decided to rewrite everything and it was just a thought that man should be able to write a love song at my age, and so I did. So yes, it is a love song. A song about unhappy, desperate love that can never be fulfilled.”
To me all Plan E lyrics seem utterly personal and synonymous for being very empathetic, with an undertone that is more merry than worried. Several sharp and clever notations are struck in the whole, making it more than a thrilling journey of words. To read Jani’s inherent stream of conscious is a most warm experience; and not only for the fact that the lyrics stand strong on their own but that they make such a perfect pair with the liquid-like music as well. Very charming. Before going any further, I would like to ask you if you are comfortable with speaking about lyrics today? Hopefully you are, for there are quite many questions concerning this matter ahead…
First of all, are there any songs on Found and Lost, lyrically speaking, that you think would deserve a particular mention? Some that were perhaps exceptional or plainly different to write from the rest of the bunch?
“Perhaps the title track Found and Lost. It’s not just a song about losing a thing; it’s about loss that’s fixed and lost once again. About something that you couldn’t keep even when you got it back once. I’m very happy with the album title because it makes me a bit sad every time I think of it.”
The title and the album cover tend to remind of the suspicious postmen and the entire postal handling in the area… Packages do not arrive, damnit! Ahem…
The song Death’s Waiting Room on the new album had an amusing reference point in the lyrics, I remember it was something like “Crystal clear turns to a mystery / It makes us think it’s a tragedy / A tragedy is that it makes us think / Worst kind of parody like bad poetry”. Especially the bad poetry part greatly interested me. Do you often meet ways with bad poetry? How loathsome bad poetry actually is, can you draw any concise comparisons? What kind of literature do you read in general?
“I don’t know anything about poetry, really. That song is about fear of death, but that particular poetry part is to mock my own lyrics and the fact how stupidly they came up with all the lines ending in rhymes. Usually if I have time to read anything, it’s always illustrated books. If not comics or erotic publications, then some pre-Columbic history books or Elvis Presley related novels, biographies, etc.”
Very cool. People should put more thought into what they are reading, in any case. Reading should have style and coherence first and foremost before any other faction. It is so annoying with people who read just for the sake of reading, like the immense horde of Nietzsche fans for instance. One should be fully prepared before cutting into that kind of material, or at the very least be equipped with the sharpest of one’s mind for the reading experience. So that is why light reading can be very cool - effortless as it may be, at least it beats pseudo-intelligence any given day of the year!
Could you perhaps make up a little poem akin to the magnificent lyrics that you write to show our readers a glimpse of the potential that lies in your writing? It would be highly appreciated and - I believe - meaningful to all parties (you, me, not to forget our two or three readers). A swim in the sea of madness, if you like. Now you can (ab-)use that too big mouth of yours, with my permission!
Jani hesitates: “I write the sharpest lyrics always under a big pressure right before the final deadline, and to tell the truth I’ve read this interview so many times that pushing something out would be just faking it. So sorry, no free poetry today.”
Well, you cannot say that I did not try my darnedest. Guess your poor editor has to manage strictly with quotes then.
In the lyrics for Blindhouse on the debut album people were advised to “Never ask ‘cos the answer’s gonna be “No””. Perhaps I should not be doing this interview then, or at least not asking all these questions about lyrics, eh… But seriously, have you done lots of interviews regarding Plan E, or have people generally speaking ‘left you alone’ in your privacy? At least I have not seen that many Plan E interviews around… Why might this possible lack of interviews or promotion be? For a one-man machine, though, you are doing your job at Solardisk rather well.
“Finland’s best kept secret is what this band is. No, we haven’t done too much promotion or too many interviews in our six-year history. I’m the person who’s responsible for all the promotion as well as everything else regarding the label or Plan E, and I feel that begging on my knees for some interviews is so unpleasant that I’ll rather not do it. So, just like this intie, you have to send a cab to pick me up at my home if you want see me at your party.”
A great analogy. Would that be a yellow cab, by any chance?
Prior to releasing the debut album Songs for a Rainy Day as SOLD-001 on your own label, the mentioned Solardisk, Plan E had jammed through three smaller releases, the EP’s E for Your Ears and E for Your Eyes in 1995 and 1996, and the E Spelled Backwards mini-LP in 1997. How do you view at those records now that some time has already passed since releasing them and now that you have perhaps learned more about the core essence of Plan E? Do you still see those releases as something as good as the day they were released? I enjoy them, but I suppose my vote does not count.
“Actually I’ve just recently listened to everything we’ve done in the past years a few times over because one European record company (let’s keep the name a secret as the deal is as of yet unsigned) is willing to license a bunch of Plan E material for a collection album. So, I’ve not only gone through the albums and EP’s but also tons of compilation and bonus tracks, demos, remixes, unfinished songs and so on, and realised that putting up a good compilation is quite a complex process. Most of our songs suck big time and I’m not sure if I should try to do a ‘best of’ kind of thing (which would probably be only two or three songs) or a fully mastered disc with also some rare and not so good material. As a fan I’d prefer to buy an album full of weird and rare recordings, but do we have any fans? Sounds like a real dilemma here.”
It does, truly. It is like the dilemma about whether one should mention his previous publications in the new issue to get the back issues sold or stick to godlike total authority and try to push the envelope further time and time again, with new idioms, styles, views and everything. Personally I would prefer the aforementioned option. I reckon many people are pondering upon these kind of problems these days. Whether your band, label or zine is unique enough to be irreplaceable or not is a difficult matter.
Listening to all these musical exports of Plan E, one cannot but be astounded by the seemingly simple yet marvellously efficient composing technique they appear to have been crafted in. What kind of feelings does composing a song for your band bring forth in you? Is there a standard technique behind it all?
“I don’t have a recipe for a song. They just happen. Most of our songs are given birth by jamming with bass and drums. We just try to improvise some cool rhythms and bass lines and at this point we usually record them in a studio. Completely raw and unfinished. After having a bunch of drums and basses recorded, the actual writing process starts so that I perform at home with keyboards or piano. Lyrics always come just before the final deadline, and the vocal melodies are mostly improvised in the recording session.”
Plan E is quite a unique creation, which leads me to ask about your aims at the time you started this band. There must have been some primary influences that have been looked up to in order to make Plan E ensue them, if even in the vaguest way… (Influential names that came to my mind were the likes of Xysma, Radiopuhelimet, Laika & the Cosmonauts, Larry and the Lefthanded; like a weird, weird hybrid of all these…).
“Our prior aim was to create something new or if not new, some very original sounding music. We already had the unique sound with the drums, distorted bass and keyboards. Then we just started to play, first instrumental songs only and later added some stupid heavily affected vocals. Basically we’re still doing the same. I can’t help it if some bands or songs that have been recently listened to reflect in our sound, but as said, we want it to sound as original as possible.”
To change the subject entirely: of how high an importance is the Aztec imagery to Plan E? On the inlay of the first album as well as on the Solardisk logo this nuance plays a dominant role… Are you going to make use of it in the future too? I gather that you were largely influenced and caught upon by the Aztec culture when you were on a touring trek in Mehiko with Impaled Nazarene a few years back. Could you please tell something about how this powerful experience impacted you…? I suppose that it was not just that you saw some ancient ruins and then decided that ‘these look so utterly cool!; these I want to put on the cover of my record!’ etc.
“Those Teotihuacan images were used only for one record. We had just arrived from our - Impaled Nazarene’s that is - first Mexican tour, which left a deep impact on me, and even before developing the photos I knew that I’m going to use some of them for our debut album cover because that place was just something so special. It was the time I was about to start my own record label and, simply said, didn’t have to think of how I wanted my logo to look like anymore. I just picked up the centre (Tonatiuh, the Aztec sun god) from the Aztec calendar, and that was it. We had already practised most of the material for the album while we entered the country and started to record it almost immediately after arriving back home. Lyrics were naturally highly influenced by the trip and the ancient city of gods, Teotihuacan, near to Mexico City, which still remains a mystery as no one knows whom built it or lived there. I’ve visited that old city now twice and I’m going back there next summer.”
As it was hinted at, you also play your fingers to the bone in the nuclear (waste) metal band Impaled Nazarene. Which one of these creations, Plan E or Impaled Nazarene, is more important to you personally? Earlier it seemed as though it was Impaled Nazarene, unfortunately, but things may have changed. Which one of these bands reflects more of the wide space that is your soul? They are quite different beasts in many aspects…
“Or I used to play in Impaled Nazarene, as I left the Nazarenes last summer after playing four and a half years in the band. Lack of time was the reason for my quitting. I already have a full time job with the Solardisk label, plus I do a part time job for a local record store, and then I played in these two bands. I had to make a decision, either quit the label or quit touring.”
And touring was the one to go. Quite an artistically forceful choice, I must say. You do not get to see many do it this way, usually it is just ‘more, more, more!’ to most people in relation with the music scene.
A video was shot of a track off Songs for a Rainy Day (Shape Shift it was). An excellent video, though not perhaps something very close to the entity of that album. Why a video? Are not videos entirely useless for a band of your kind? Have many instances been willing to air that video, do you know?
“The video script had nothing to do with the lyrics, but in a weird way it made sense. The song was about a higher power from the outer space and the video script was about making a fake UFO movie. Both were somehow spaceship related. I wouldn’t say that videos are useless as they’re quite an economic way to promote the music in case you a) get the video cheaply produced and b) get it televised a few times. Basically it’s been showed only in Finland.”
Yeh. Bless that Never Trust a Hippie show, it keeps you alive with its supreme unpretentious style. And Jani Valpio is a fitting lead character for such a program. That easily makes enough excitement for one of the reasons that the television is still on occasionally.
You have done at least one cover before, of a Joy Division song. What do you think of this band, one of your favourites? Do you think, like he of Opeth does, that covers are not necessarily important or even relevant?
“That cover was a choice of our drummer’s who’s been into Joy Division for quite a long time. I had never even heard of them three years ago. Actually I didn’t even like what I heard, but their lyrics were so fascinating that I got more interested and then we did the song. Thinking about it, the song (Decades) is still my favourite Joy Division song. Cover songs are definitely not necessarily important but they’re fun to do. As always, they do suck big time, but they’re still some fun. I don’t know many covers that sound better or more interesting than the originals though. Go figure. From this last studio session we still have two unreleased cover songs that are planned to be released as B-sides of the Overseas Love EP. They’re Death… In It’s Arms by Samhain (Glenn Danzig’s band between The Misfits and his solo career) and Wax and Wane by the Cocteau Twins (great old British pop band).”
The depictions are there for the morons who are not aware of these bands.
As to end this interview, do you think that the sun will rise once more? Will the warm glow of summer once again soften our hollow bones, stretch our tired flesh, flash blindness upon our brain, causing mental dysfunctions and overall silliness of the human mechanism? Are we to greet this alteration with joy and exhilaration?
“Who would know? Really?”
A couple of reviews:
Have my prayers been answered to?
The Climb to Zalem / Plan E split MCD arrived into the middle of the darkest seasons and instantly saved my month. Once outside, its music painted the skies with bright colours; broadened, inherent views in phase it did offer. Anyone who knows me knows that I was sold on that very same minute.
It supplies so much positive energy and general restfulness that you would think the guys in both these bands are on a permanent, never-ending leave, when I know for sure that this is not how it is. Everything in and on this MCD just gives and gives and gives and gives. It gives so much, actually, that I would truly want to give something in return. Everybody can write the occasional review that contains some overt wash of praise that is hardly important but should be eloquent and adequate in the given frames. Well, sometimes it feels that that review is not adequate. That it is not even nearly adequate.
Climb to Zalem / Plan E split MCD (Solardisk 2000).
Found and Lost is a record of unrivalled mystery throughout the whole 37 minutes it takes of your time. It sports a combination of indescribably heavy bass lines, drifting gloomy keyboards, intense compositions and vocals of a very stylish fashion. It has got the groove that drills through your every sore and downbeaten bone and welds together a new impenetrable machine. It speaks in a tongue that for a long time has besought to be noticed, but which really has not been noticed.
Well yeah, bad descriptions are not to get you run down to the record store on this second, but I insist that you do give this album the chance that it deserves. I am listening to Russian Recession at the moment, and it is so very heart-stoppingly beautiful, eschewing all presumptuous ego tripping that you see on the cover of rock magazines.
Plan E Found and Lost (Solardisk 2001).