Born 1965 in Lahti, is a Finnish musician. His artist name is a combination of the first name of his youth idol Jimmy Osmond and the tenor saxophone. His band Jimi Tenor & His Shamans released its first album in 1988, whilst Tenor’s first solo album appeared in 1994. “Take Me Baby” became his first hit in 1994. He has released albums on Sähkö Recordings, Warp Records and Kitty-Yo record labels. Tenor has performed several times with the avant-garde big band Flat Earth Society. In 2009, he contributed a cover of an Elektroids song to the Warp20 (Recreated) compilation album, as well as having his song “Paint the Stars” covered by Hudson Mohawke. Eyeplug caught up with him recently for a friendly chat.
01 You were born in Finland in the 1960s, what was your childhood like there?
I lived in a small town called Lahti. I was a very shy child, but I was very active. I played piano and flute at the local conservatory. I was also very interested in theory of music. But I was also into sports and was playing all kinds of sports. Street hockey was a big thing for us.
02 At what stage did you veer towards music as a career direction?
That was quite early. I transferred to a music school and we had a good choir there. There were regular performances with the choir and I always enjoyed performing. Then later when I was 14 I started to play in various bands and that was kind of it. I really loved everything that had to do with bands. The music, hanging out. That’s what I wanted to do.
03 What were your early musical inspirations?
Finland in those days was a special place. The radio was really old school and wouldn’t play much the kind of music that I was interested in. But I remember from early childhood big radio hits like Sergio Mendez’ “Mas Que Nada”, some Beatles hits, Harry Belafonte. But at home we would listed to The Rolling Stones, Iggy and the Stooges. OK these are things that people know internationally, but what I would really hear everywhere in Finland was Finnish music. Mostly it wasn’t anything I was interested in until Punk Rock happened. Finnish Punk Rock was quite brutal, very lo-fi. I loved that.
04 How did you develop as an Artist and a Creative outlook?
I have always been interested in repetition. I don’t have a “golden ear” or perfect pitch so sometimes it’s a bit hard for me to hear very complicated chords. Maybe that’s why I naturally have been drawn into repetition and music that doesn’t have too many changes. I saw a TV series about minimal music and that was important. I got into the idea of shamanism, on order to try to get to another mental state via repetitious music. I formed a band called the Shamans. To be honest we weren’t anywhere near repetitious enough to get to another level! Later on I found an article about Futurism and Luigi Russolo. I wanted to make my own noise machines and make music, without keys or chords.
05 How did you find the dynamic of forming bands and working with others?
I like playing in bands and hanging out, but I don’t like to organize rehearsals, equipment, transport. Also calling people and making sure everybody is going to come to rehearsal space is a drag. So at some point I got into drum machines and found electronic music. It was interesting technically, but also socially. I enjoy being alone and with drum machines I could do cool stuff. I noticed that with a machine making repetitious music is much easier. In fact it’s really hard to make any changes. The old drum machines were not so sophisticated when it came to changing patterns, so you needed to work to get things out of them. And that’s exactly what I liked. I enjoy the struggle.
06 What challenges have you encountered and how have things changed over the years?
One of the biggest challenges was to get out of Finland. Finland was mentally far away and I wanted to do stuff. So we started to play in Berlin in mid-80’s and got some ideas how things are done. But one of the biggest challenges has always been the language. I like music with vocals and I like to sing a little bit. I tried to find an angle where I could sing in English and make some kind of sense. Make simple lyrics. Of course I could sing in Finnish, but the way the world is it’s hard to to get gigs outside Finland if you sing in that language. Like Japanese people also most Finnish people listen to English language music as instrumental music. What I mean for us the language is mostly sounds, different syllables. The lyrical content doesn’t mean much to us, the main thing is the sound and the feeling. Maybe I’m simplifying a bit, but that’s more or less the case. Of course these days I do understand quite a bit, but still if I go to sing English language songs in karaoke, I will definitely need the lyrics underneath.
OK now the world is very different from 80’s. It’s easy to get contacts wherever in the world. I think the new challenge is to try to keep a certain amount of mystery about oneself. If you expose all your secrets in social media, you become a local guy so to speak. And you can’t be a messiah in your own country. Your place in the social media is your new country in a way.
I guess one challenge is to make enough money to survive. For me things have been quite similar always. You play gigs and sell records after the shows. That is still very much valid. Sure, some big names made plenty of money in the 70s, 80s , 90s from record sales. I never really experienced that lifestyle. Maybe briefly in the 90s but that money went into all kinds of nonsense like video clips.
07 What types themes do you embrace within your compositions?
Lyrically I try to use plenty of metaphors. But the basic themes are always pretty much the same: Love and our place in the universe. That’s about it for me. I do a lot of pseudo scientific lyrics, titles like “Selfish Gene” and “Black Hole”, but they are love and sex in the end. Having said all this about lyrics I have to point out that most of my music is instrumental. 90%. I think it’s easier to talk about lyrics than music. I would really love to do long interviews about theory of music and what I try to go for in terms of composition, but I find it hard to explain anything in short interviews. But when I start writing a new piece, I try to go for something fresh. Not always start with piano, or drum machine. I one always starts with piano, like many do, then you end up having music that is good for piano. For example when I write music for afrobeat band, I would try to get a rhythm going that is natural for that specific band. I think about the players and what they can do. In this sense I agree with John Cage: you need to know the musicians you’re writing for. You need to know the band, and then when I do horn lines, I play them with horns on the demo. I don’t play them with keyboard because keyboard is not a horn. I don’t want to play keyboard lines with my saxophone! Even when I do big band music, I try to play the parts myself. Get into the feeling how playable a part is and how musical it is.
08 How do you technically prepare for the studio side of your work?
That depends. When I’m in my own studio I use drum machines, sequencer, a couple of synths, flute and sax. That’s my normal thing, but I use a lot of percussion, DIY instruments. I try to have a mike always ready to go right next to my chair. I work really fast. I get an idea and I will play it with my flute or sax. I don’t know it’s it’s a technical aspect, but I try to get something down right after my first morning coffee. If I have hard time figuring out a melody I would wait until next morning and try to do it after one cup of coffee. It usually works out. I’m talking about rough ideas here. But I don’t necessarily make a difference between demos and final recordings. I would say about 40% of my releases were originally recorded as demos. You never know when the right feeling is there. So I record everything with a good mike and good sound. My studio is a horrible mess, but I’m very strict about the signal that goes to the recording device. Everything high quality and no extra nonsense in the signal path. No buzz, hum, or noise. Unless it’s required of course. When I record horns I try to get a little bit of feeling of the room where it was recorded at. I don’t enjoy really dry saxophone or vocals sound. I want there to be a bit of life in the recording.
09 How do you find playing live these days, what stands out and why?
I enjoy it very much. Those are the moments I feel alive. I haven’t noticed any big changes of how I feel on stage. Maybe a bit more relaxed these days. I ‘ve noticed that I’m more comfortable playing saxophone these days. Experience helps. Flute playing is the most natural thing for me and I feel wonderful when I play solos. It just flows.
10 What is your typical productive or creative day like, what shape does it take? What would make it a succesful day?
Like I said it starts with coffee and then I have immediately a writing session for about one hour, sometimes more if I have a deadline. I start really early, you know 8am or 9am. Most of my ideas are gone by 11 o’clock and then I start doing the arrangements and the less intuitive things. Then I go to get some food and afternoons I run errands, take my kids to hobbies. In the evenings I tend to do more music. Might get more ideas, but that happens seldom. When we go to studio with a band then of course those days are full on creative rush. We don’t go to studio that often and the time there is always very restricted. So once you’re in there you have to go for it! But those days are special. Normally I do my music in a disciplined way. Everyday, but not too much. I don’t want to ruin the fun side of it.
11 How do you feel the wider Music Industry relates to artists such as yourself? Do you have strong thoughts on how it works today?
I don’t exists for them. I don’t think I have any role in the mainstream music industry. And I guess that’s fine. They can keep their “idols” TV-shows and all that. I don’t want to have anything to do with Live Nation and that kind of bullying music business. Having said that, it’s kind of hard to avoid Live Nation. They’re everywhere. I’m happy that there is an underground scene and I belong there. I don’t need to talk to A&R people, I don’t need to do show-case gigs.
I like the idea of digital releases, but I’ve noticed people don’t take releases seriously if they have only been released in digital format. That might change quite soon. LPs are back and that’s fun but I don’t care about the formats that much, as long as I hear the music I’m fine.
12 Being from Finland, yet living and working in various other Cities and places, do you retain a spirit or deep flavour of your homeland, how does that manifest itself?
I don’t try to sound Finnish on purpose, but I think my music still sounds Finnish. That’s fine with me because that’s who I am and I’m thankful that I have that special flavor. I have worked and I still work from people around the world. It’s easy to get lost in the multitudes of sounds and styles that I’m exposed to. I want to embrace different cultures but same time I want to be myself.
13 Please tell us about your recent work?
Well, I did a single for Philophon calld ‘Tropical Eel, Order of Nothingness.’ That came out in March 2016. I released a big band album on Herakles Records called ‘Mysterium Magnum’ in Sept 2015. At the moments we’re working on an “Itetune” album. Itetune is a band that uses only DIY instruments. We actually finished the mixing last night and it’ll be out on Sähkö Recordings. We’re also working ona new album with Jimi Tenor & Kabukabu.
14 What plans have you got for 2016 and beyond?
2016 I will play gigs here and there. Jori Hulkkonen and I will perform our film “Nuntius” in Vilnius on June 17th. Nuntius is a special project. It’s a silent film that will not be released. It can only be seen when Jori and I perform it live. I mean we do the music live. Sometimes our actor Mr Normall also appears on stage as himself, so the project has a bit of theatre in the mix.
15 Can you tell us a short, funny story please?
I asked my North Korean friend “how’s it going”. He said “Can’t complain!”
Jimi Tenor and his Shamans
Total Capacity of 216,5 Litres; LP (1988, Euros)
Diktafon; CD/LP (1989, Poko Records)
Mekanoid; CD/LP (1990, Poko Records)
Fear of a Black Jesus; CD/LP (1992, Bad Vugum)
Sähkömies; Digital/CD/LP (1994, Sähkö Recordings)
Europa; Digital/CD/LP (1995, Sähkö Recordings)
Intervision; Digital/CD/LP (1997, Warp)
Venera; EP/CD, (1998, Warp)
Organism; Digital/CD/LP (1999 Warp/Sire Records)
Out Of Nowhere; Digital/CD/LP (2000, Warp)
Cosmic Relief; Digital/EP, (2001, Sähkö Recordings)
Utopian Dream; Digital/CD/LP (2001, Sähkö Recordings)
Higher Planes; Digital/CD/LP (2003, Kitty-Yo)
Beyond The Stars; Digital/CD/LP (2004, Kitty-Yo)
ReComposed by Jimi Tenor; Digital/CD/LP (2006, Deutsche Grammophon)
Live in Berlin; Digital (2007, Kitty-Yo)
With Abdissa Assefa
Itetune; LP (2011, Temmikongi)
With Kabu Kabu
Sunrise; EP/CD (2006, Sähkö Recordings)
Joystone; Digital/CD/LP (2007, Sähkö Recordings)
Mystery Spot; 7″ (2008, Sahco Records)
4th Dimension; Digital/CD/LP (2009, Sähkö Recordings)
Mystery of Aether; Digital/CD/LP (2012, Kindred Spirits)
With Tony Allen
Inspiration Information Volume 4; Digital/CD/LP (2009, Strut Records)
With Lary 7, Mia Teodoratus; Soft Focus
Soft Focus; Digital/LP (2013, Sähkö Recordings)
With Nicole Willis; Cola & Jimmu
Enigmatic; Digital/CD/LP (2013, Herakles Records)
I Give To You My Love And Devotion; Digital/CD/LP (2014, Herakles Records)
With Nicole Willis & The Soul Investigators (As also Jimmy Tenor)
You Better Change/Raw Steaks; 7″ (2003, Sahco Records)
If This Ain’t Love (Don’t Know What Is)/Instrumental; 7″/Maxi/WL/CD (2005/2007, Timmion Records/Above The Clouds/Differ-Ant)
Keep Reachin’ Up; Digital/CD/LP/Cass (2005/2006/2007/2008, Timmion Records/Mit-Wit Records/P-Vine Records/Light In The Attic/Above The Clouds/Differ-Ant)
My Four Leaf Clover/Holdin’ On; 7″ (2006, Timmion Records)
Feeling Free/Instrumental; 7″ (2006/2007, Timmion Records/Above The Clouds)
Tell Me When/It’s All Because Of You; 7″ (2013, Timmion Records)
Tortured Soul; Digital/CD/LP (2013, Timmion Records/P-Vine Records)
Paint Me In A Corner/Where Are You Now; 7″ (2015, Timmion Records)
Happiness In Every Style; Digital/CD/LP (2015, Timmion Records)
One In A Million/Instrumental; Digital/7″ (2015, Timmion Records)
Let’s Communicate/Instrumental; 7″ (2015, Timmion Records)
With Nicole Willis featuring Tony Allen
All For You/Touching; 7″ (2015, Sahco Records)
With Myron & E with The Soul Investigators
Broadway; Digital/CD/LP (2013, Timmion Records)
With Willie West & The High Society Brothers
Lost Soul; Digital/CD/LP (2014, Timmion Records)
With The Soul Investigators
Vulture’s Prayer/Bad Viberations; 7″ (2015, Timmion Records)
Soul Groove; Digital/CD/LP (2015, Timmion Records)
With UMO Jazz Orchestra
Mysterium Magnum; Digital/CD/LP (2015, Herakles Records)