The first leg of this project is Federsel, which is the artistic moniker of Tomáš Procházka, leader of B4 – the only krautrock band in Czech Republic – and member of the post-industrial duo Radio Royal, of the experimental theatrical group Handa Gote and of the project Gurun Gurun (I’ve recently reviewed their release on the Japanese/British label Home Normal). The the second leg is Pasi Mäkelä, leader of Laski – described as “one of the strangest Finnish experimental rock bands” – and singer of the Czech-based international band The Spermbankers.
The bizarre creative flair and congeniality of this newborn Czech-Finnish duo managed to infect Czech music press, which normally jibs at more experimental projects. Their funnily weird melting-pot of freak-out stuff, no-wave, psychedelic (sometimes tinged with that bluesy vein) is made up of recorded sketches of guitars, basses, saxophones, clarinet, scratched old Czechoslovakian records, home-made instruments (including the weird Pivofon), other amplified objects, keyboards and machines belonging to Federsel’s collection of Eastern block instruments, effects and studio equipment. Most of this stuff was recorded in Federsel’s kitchen and might remind the listener of a wise crossbreed between Captain Beefheart, Felix Kubin and some Eastern folk.
On the occasion of their debut release, “An Evening With Federsel & Mäkelä“, released by the small Czech label Poli5, we had a chat with them.
Chain D.L.K.: Hi there. First of all how are you?
Federsel: Hello! We are fine. Working on the new album, which is almost finished. Now we wait for the best moment to do some final touch. We are looking for the appropriate label, too.
Chain D.L.K.: Congratulations on your recent release. It’s really funny. Before talking about it in detail, tell us something about your meeting in the Prague experimental theatre and the genesis of this collaborative project?
Federsel: Thank you! I knew Pasi a little bit from Prague’s theatre circles. One day I got the idea for Finnish singing in one of the songs on my band B4’s album “Didaktik Nation Legendary Rock”. Pasi came to my house to sing it and meanwhile he was checking out some of my guitar boxes. I liked his guitar playing a lot and we agreed to jam together later. It was great fun, so we continued meeting and suddenly material for the album appeared out of blue.
Chain D.L.K.: You’re currently based in Prague. I remember many interesting small clubs there, particularly in the Zizkov distict. What does this lovely city offer for experimental arts in general?
Federsel: Yes, I live in Zizkov actually. Thank god, some small clubs still exist there. The experimental scene has a very small audience, but I feel it’s getting somehow more compact recently. I try to help organizing monthly meetings of free-improv musicians, called Wakushoppu, but there aren’t many active people. I am always happy to have more and more opportunities to hear interesting music and to play with interesting people, too.
Chain D.L.K.: A question about the Pivofon was inevitable… How does it work? If beer is somewhat involved in sound generation, does the sound change based on the kind of beer?!?!?
Federsel: I bought this small device on flea market. It was built at home following instructions on some Amateur Radio magazine from the ’80s. Although I was probably using it with different kinds of beer, I didn’t notice any remarkable change in sound. I had this sacrilegious idea that it would actually also work with water, since it works by sticking copper sticks in the liquid (read “beer”) and detecting the depth of the liquid to cause a change in pitch.
Chain D.L.K.: A plenty of bizarre instruments have been used for your recent release and some of them belong to your personal collection of Eastern block instruments. Is there any particular one you’re proud of?
Federsel: I really like a pair of Soviet guitar multi effect boxes from the ’80s. They are huge and terribly heavy, they feedback easily, one must be keen on weird stuff to like them. Another great thing is an East German keybord-keytar from the ’50s. I guess it’s the very first keytar. It’s mechanic and has a nice deep bass sound. But it needs restoration. And my small collection of old drum machines, Vermona, Dr.Boehm, Axe and some no names…
Chain D.L.K.: Another “instrument” is Pasi’s throat. Liner notes speak of special techniques of throat singing… does he swallow sea monkeys or what?
Federsel: I guess you know about that Tuvan throat singing with overtones… Well Pasi uses that technique a lot when playing with his band Laski. It does sounds like a sea lion or something, as a matter of fact.
Mäkelä: Swallowing a sea monkey sounds great! I have to probably try that. I’m very critical of my throat sounds…
Chain D.L.K.: The artistic meeting between a Finnish and a Czech is quite unusual… are there any funny anecdotes or misconstructions due to the different languages?
Federsel: We use this difference to our advantage sometimes by translating the lyrics from one language to another in search for the best sounding version. We took some fragments from Czech country and western songs and translated them to Finnish to make them sound really properly stupid.
Mäkelä: I think Finnish and Czech languages are as far from each other as almost any two languages can be, but both work well for singing. Especially for bad singing.
Chain D.L.K.: Who’s singing like a drunk showering on Cat Opera?
Federsel: Pasi sings, I’m taking a shower.
Chain D.L.K.: The title of your album reminds me of TV or cabaret shows, but there’s many cinematic hooks… what’s the story there?
Federsel: Yes, I bought a record by Czech comedian Vladimir Menšík, which has a very beautiful cover. We were thinking of reusing the whole cover, but in the end we just kept the title. Although I think there are some samples of Vladimir and scratching of that record, too.
Chain D.L.K.: I have some problems understanding Finnish and Czech but I’m working on it! What does “Tartu Mun Kinkkuun” and “Mustat ratsastajat” refer to? What about the Czechoslovakian records you sampled on “An Evening with…”?
Federsel: Mustat ratsastajat means “Black Riders”. It’s a story taken from Czech children comics from ’30s. “Black Riders” was racing with “Fast Arrows”, but couldn’t stand the defeat and tried to play dirty tricks.
Mäkelä: Tartu mun kinkkuun means; grab my ham ( Kinkku means also ass in colloquial language). I usually sample (or scratch) vinyls with spoken word. Guys like Vladimír Menšík or Jan Werich are still highly adored here. It’s probably sacrilegious to treat their albums the way we do. But it served well as a sound spice.
Chain D.L.K.: You recorded it in your kitchen studio… any complaints from neighbors?
Federsel: I’m quite lucky because my neighbours are away most of the time. They only sleep in the flat twice a week. And we try to make the most noise in the morning. No complaints yet, so we keep on rolling.
Chain D.L.K.: What’s the worst compliment you received after a performance?
Federsel: Hard to say. Many years ago I kept hearing: “We never heard something like this before”. Sometimes people ask if we take drugs. We really don’t.
Chain D.L.K.: I’ve read you took part in a project I recently had the chance to appreciate, called Gurun Gurun. Any work in progress?
Federsel: Yes, we are working on a new album. I think everything except some voices is already recorded. Now we are in the long process of mixing. Meanwhile we are about to release GG’s side project – Wabi Experience -, in October, on Nomadic Kids Republic. It’s deconstruction of Czech country music.