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Sami Sarhamaa (Lighthouse Sparrows, LiquidWolf...)

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Matti View Drop Down
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Joined: April 15 2005
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    Posted: January 24 2022 at 23:50
Sami Sarhamaa has played in numerous Finnish prog bands and has also worked, often as an engineer, on other artists' albums. The most recent of his acts is LIGHTHOUSE SPARROWS which just released the first full-length album Aerials.

THE INTERVIEW BECAME SO LENGTHY THAT I DIVIDE IT IN PARTS.

1) Sami Sarhamaa, tell us about your history as a musician. What bands or solo projects there have been, and what other prog-related projects have you been involved in?

I began playing earnestly at the tender age of 13 (1976). I've always been a guitarist first and foremost. First bands are best forgotten, I think. My musical upbringing got a true kickstart when I was accepted at Sibelius-Lukio (Gymnasium) in 1981. I was fortunate to have Anssi Tikanmäki as one of my teachers. At that time Anssi was composing his masterpiece Maisemakuvia Suomesta and our school band, guided by Anssi, had in its repertoire quite a few songs from that still unreleased album, my personal favourite was "Aamu Lakeuksilla". We also played King Crimson's "Epitaph" and "In the Court....", Pink Floyd's "Pigs" and other songs in the prog vein.

Chapter One (1983-1985) was my first band that felt "real". Chapter One was not prog as such but sort of "prog lite", lots of influences; Saga and U2 mainly, later on Peter Hammill was a huge influence. Our vocalist Hannu Leidén had a wonderful Paul Rodgers-like voice but luckily he wanted to do more than just Bad Company- or Free-covers or soundalikes. Hannu also had already then a remarkable sense of melody and was an ace sculpting melodies. Jouni Ullakko was the prodigy; he played bass and keyboards, wrote lions share of the songs and sang backing vocals beutifully. As I had studied piano at Sibelius-Lukio, it was obvious I should play keys (another reason was that Jukka Tikander, the lead guitarist in C1 was stunningly good). Chapter One never released albums, but I managed to rescue the tapes with Hannu in the 90's and later released One (2015) and Two (2022). One is basically the album we made back then and Two has seven songs recorded in the 80's by the second version of the band and four old songs made in recent years as a sort of a homage.

After Chapter One few bands came and went, next one worth mentioning is PS. with my friend from our band at Sibelius-Lukio, Pale Päiviö. We begun to compose together and learning music technology while doing it. I worked at a music retailer, Pro Center in Helsinki, so I had access to all kinds of cutting edge music technology, first MIDI-synths, first sequencers, first music computers, you name it. It took us quite a few years to make Ajan Virrassa (1995). By then I was working at Musicmakers Studio in Helsinki with Leri Leskinen and Kalle Chydenius and learning and breathing studio. While working there I also learned to mix and mixed for Kauko Röyhkä, Maarit and Aikakone among others. Valuable lessons in so many ways. 

I also did some original soundtracks for a few movies at that time, but that didn't stick. The first one was for Tomas featuring Arttu Kapulainen. Then I did one with Leri Leskinen called Yöjuna and finally a really interesting piece, a mockumentary of the Bonk Business called The Cosmic Sucker.

PS. released two other albums, Onni (2002) and Oma Maailma (2005). Not that close to prog (with a few exceptions), but great time developing my skills on so many levels. My friend and co-conspirator from Chapter One, Hannu Leidén (Havana Black, Wolf Larsen) was instrumental in PS. as well, he did most lead vocals on the first two albums, the third was sung by the sweet voiced Satu Wilkman.

After PS. it was time for some solo stuff under one of my aliases, Sam Marsala. I've been an avid composer from Chapter One onwards. During and after PS. I was dabbling with my idea of ambient music and for one reason or another, Sam Marsala felt an apt moniker for that. Scapes and Tracks (composed 2005-2008, released 2009) was a hoot to make, it's a true solo effort, I did basically everything on it. Still love it. Sam Marsala released another album Trails of Mist (2013) with an Enoesque title track clocking at 37+ minutes.

Intermingled with Sam Marsala was Kataya. Kataya was a trio of myself, Matti Kervinen and Teijo Tikkanen. Matti and Teijo were in Wolf Larsen with Hannu Leidén and Petri Majuri. For one reason or another, Wolf Larsen disbanded and guys were left with quite a few songs in a half done-state. I had been working with Teijo on PS. albums and was a huge fan of his musicianship, the man could and did play everything amazingly well and with such groove!

I had also mixed Teijo's and Tero Mikkonen's group's (Corey & Maple) first album Dialogue so I was Teijo's go-to-guy when he hit a wall. Matti had a long history as a record label owner and sort of a all around music guy. He had helped us with PS. releases and was a super nice guy in every way. So Kataya: I was given 5-7 rough songs, some of them more ready than others and a license to play with them anyway I saw fit. The songs were instrumentals and felt very interesting from the start. I managed to help them along so much that at some point during 2007 we found out we had an albums worth of songs almost ready to mix. Canto Obscura was released in 2008. Along the songs that Matti and Teijo had at the start, we made some songs by the three of us and I composed two songs, "On a Moose" and "Putkivaara" on which I also played drums. We also had few guests on that one, Johanna and Mikko Iivanainen (voc & gtr) who were on "Lento" and "Valaistu" plus Linda Fredriksson, who played sax on "Valaistu". Now we're talking prog, for sure! The next Kataya album was at the time super exhilarating experience which unfortunately had some dire consequences as well. We (or I) decided that the album should be done from the scratch as a sort of a group improvisation. No ready made ideas, just dive in to the deep end! It turned out that the method was fruitful for me and Teijo, not so much for Matti who felt left out. The album Voyager (2010) is in retrospect a bit disjointed but still one of my favorites of my recording career. Pretty soon Matti decided to leave the group. As a sort of an epitaph we released Kataya Lives, a live compilation from two different liveshows in 2014.

During the making of Voyager I found a new love: Opeth. Both Watershed and Ghost Reveries had made a deep impression. Having always loved low distorted guitars I was instantly wooed by the varied compositions and Mikael's lovely clean vocals. Being old school I was not too enamored with the growls but they were easily digested along the great playing and interesting compositions. So as a sort of a homage/fan fiction, I began to compose in the vein of Mikael Åkerfelt and Opeth. Pretty soon the project took a life of its own and after composing a few of these songs I sent them to Teijo to see what he thought. He was enthusiastic from the get go I'm happy to say! Needless to say we're talking of Liquid Wolf, my main project during 2011-2017. First Light (2012) had the same group of musicians from the start: Me on guitars etc, Teijo on lead vocals and main keys, Samu Wuori (Kataya Live, GG Caravan) on bass, Sami Kuoppamäki (Kingston Wall, studio, etc.) on drums and Pepa Päivinen on saxes and flutes. Second album turned out to be a double, so it was named Second Wind Part 1 (2016) and Second Wind Part 2 (2017). The group had one member more on these; Pekka Nyman plays marimba and vibes. Hannu Leidén lent a hand once more and mixed them with me. The last release was last year's "Plight", a single with a different drummer, Miri Miettinen. We are in the process of compiling material for the next release with Teijo, so this saga continues.

Meanwhile I was also stretching my vocal chords. I had sung in my first bands and at Sibelius-Lukio but gave up after school for the longest time. Somehow it still nagged me, so the itch had to be scratched and a new alias was born: SSTB. I've been nicknamed Samsara from Kataya on and it sort of stuck, Matti called me the "Mystical Samsara" in Kataya. SSTB translates as "Samsara Sings The Blues". It's certainly not blues, but yes it's me singing anyway. I've done two albums so far, Blacks and Blues (2014) and Misplaced (2020). This is me in rock/pop mode, no prog in sight ;-). Once again it's me on guitar and bass plus vocals and Teijo, of course, on drums, bass and keys.

In between Kataya and Liquid Wolf there was the instrumental group Kudos with the guys from Kataya Live; Tomi Laaksonen on drums, Pale Päiviö on keys, Samu Wuori on bass plus Jaakko Kiikeri, my old friend from various bands on guitar. I naturally played guitar as well. We did a gig at the local cinema theater and released that as Kudos - Live at Rekolan Kino (2013).

Before we get to my main gig after 2019, Lighthouse Sparrows, there's two groups worth mentioning: Flipside with Tipi Pulkkinen (vocals, bass) and Inertia with Tipi, Tomi Laaksonen on drums and my fellow sound designer Janne Laine on guitar.

Flipside had two different drummers, Ari Hujanen and Topi Kurki on the two ep's we did. On the first ep (ep#1, 2014) with Ari, we managed to make a few quite nice prog rockers. The second one, Dead Light, is probably even progger, it's quite a bit darker, in retrospect there's probably too many elements per song, it would have needed outside help to prune the songs into their final shape. It definately has its moments though, it quite clearly foreshadows things in my musical horizon.

Inertia (2017-2019) released one album, New Obstacles. The music is mainly mine with a strong contribution from Janne Laine. The group was a breath of fresh air as I had worked mainly with different single partners (Pale, Teijo, Tipi...) for most of my career since Chapter One. This was a real band that actively arranged my raw songs into their final shape. As I was the lead singer as well, I had to actively try to develop my skill in that area as well.

We finally have reached my present day with Lighthouse Sparrows with Olli Huhtanen. I've worked with Olli for over a decade mixing as a rerecording mixer movies he was a sound designer for both for cinema and TV. Quite early on we noticed that our musical preferences were quite similar, we both liked the modern side of prog. Olli has an affinity for jazz that I don't share and my taste is strongly rooted in the prog and rock of the 70's and 80's, which he is not that familiar with but there’s a solid common ground and that's the place we started from. It was late 2018/early 2019 that we switched from words into action and started to compose and arrange songs together. So far we've made one ep (The Deep End, 2019), two singles (Safe and Sound, 2020 and Elephant, 2021) and finally two weeks ago we released out first full length album AERIALS. It has 11 songs and is available as online digital thru the normal services, CD and double vinyl (my first vinyl release!). We've had Miri Miettinen as our drummer on all the songs and Olli's daughter Ella Eriksson sings background vocals on few songs. We both sing, Olli takes care of most of the keys while I handle guitar and bass.

The other prog related projects I've been involved in were mostly when I ran the Presence Records with Matti Kervinen, we did quite a few albums which I either engineered, mixed or mastered, they are: Kurkirku: The Mesh (2007); Jeavestone: Spices, Species & Poetry Petrol (2008), 1+1 = OK (2010); Pax Romana: Trace of Light (2008), And the Dance Begins Again (2010); Corey & Maple: Dialogue (2003), Home in the Universe (2007); Pepa Päivinen: North Pipe (2009); Esa Kotilainen: Turqoise Planet (2010). Then some later date projects: Nauticus: A Wave to Carry Us Out (2009), The Wait (2012); Lakewood Experiment: 1 (2014); Oddtomatic: Cryptic Messages (2020).




Edited by Matti - January 25 2022 at 03:45
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Matti Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 24 2022 at 23:56

2) What about your musical influences?

Musical influences as a composer? You tell me...:-). I can't/don’t want to separate songs from sounds so I can't really say if these have influenced me as a composer or as a mixer or both:

My top 3 records of all time are Genesis: Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here and Rush: Moving Pictures. These give a pretty good picture what has moved me; the voice of Peter Gabriel + the unbelievably interesting and varied styles of Tony Banks, Steve Hackett and Phil Collins. The chills-down-my-spine guitar playing of David Gilmour and the sense of style of Rick Wright. And the unbelievably great sound and playing of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and particularly Neil Peart.

I have always been an enthusiastic drummer-wannabe so I've idolised Phil Collins, Neil Peart and Gavin Harrison above and beyond any guitarist, OK maybe David Gilmour and Robert Fripp are an exception to that. 

The most consistent and admirable of the above must be Peter Gabriel whose III and IV albums were a transformative experience that deeply affected me.

Electronic music and ambient have also been a constant companion to me and must have had an impact on my writing and mixing. Tangerine Dream, Orbital, Brian Eno, Klaus Schulze, The Dead Texan, Stars of the Lid... Of course Steven Wilson. Particularly the Porcupine Tree-era albums In Absentia, Deadwing and Fear of a Blank Planet were definitely an influence as was the before mentioned Opeth; albums Watershed and Ghost Reveries opened up a new world. Plus their collaboration Storm Corrosion which I adore!

3) How exactly Lighthouse Sparrows came to be? Tell us more about your and Olli's mutual background in music.

We have worked together in sound post for various movies for cinemas and TV for over 10 years. I knew Olli played keys and sung and knew of his band Dim Cargo. I had an idea of a prog cover band and asked if Olli would like to play keys in it and he did. We practised a few times but that didn't work out. We continued talking of music and mutual interests at work and one day while working on the movie Baby Jane I asked Olli if he would be interested in making music together. Olli had some song ideas lying around and he sent them to me. I worked on them at my studio and found the song seeds quite interesting, fleshed out the ideas, added my own and before we noticed, we had two songs that sounded very good! The songs were "Gravest Danger" and "Shallow End". I had a song lying around that I thought would fit into this modern day prog sound of ours, introduced "Gravity" to Olli and he liked it. Bit by bit we made progress and began to think about a release. An ep felt right at the moment, we wanted to get first release out before we had to start working on our next big sound post project. So we needed a drummer. I knew Miri from my days at the music retailer and had bumped into him again recently. We talked about him playing for us as he had a ready setup at his home studio and skills to match. Olli and I decided to try Miri out and did not regret that decision!

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Matti Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 25 2022 at 00:04

4) How would you describe this new album and its making process?

After the ep and some "real" work we started discussing new songs. We wanted to avoid composing anything too far separately, so we just sketched ideas and saved them to our shared Dropbox. A few words of the tools we use: everything ends up in Pro Tools which we both use as our every day main tool at work. We use Macs. We decided to start this project in Logic Pro just for the fun of it, I used Ableton Live as well for some stuff. Both have a home studio where the preparatory work is done. Olli's place is centered around his keyboards, mine is more of a junkyard of studio gear; guitars, basses, keys, synths, mics, preamps etc.

After enough of the ideas/seeds of the songs were there, we then started to work on them together at my studio by going through them one after another. Olli would normally sit at his piano while I operated the computer and the other way around when I had an idea for guitar or bass. The majority of ideas proved to be solid, some were left by the wayside but most made themselves into songs. We first tried to find a mood and a tempo based on the idea. After the song seemed to be viable the one that felt the urge would write lyrics and vocal melodies and bit by bit the songs took shape. We used drum patterns and loops as compositional tools, but as soon as the song was ready tempo- and structurewise, we sent it to Miri who would then record his part and send it back to us. Then we would finalise the vocals, rerecord some of the parts and move on to the next song. When all the songs were ready, I mixed them at my mix room. As we do the post work mainly at Finnvox Studios, we were able to use the wonderful control room of Studio F to finalise the results. And of course Pauli Saastamoinen, the mastering engineer at Finnvox did the final tweaks. For the vinyl version we did one bonus track, "Premonition" that has different track fragments from the songs of the album and new melodies and orchestrations on top of them. The end result is AERIALS which we’re immensely proud of.

5) Do the lyrics have a lot of weight in the individual songs? Do you and Olli co-write songs together, or is it more like both of you write your 'own' songs?

The lyrics have weight, they aren't just some words for the singer to sing. We write lyrics after the music has taken shape. For me the lyrics are mandatory for the melody, I need the timing and the feel of the lyrics to make the melody. Olli, I think, feels the same. We write lyrics by agreement; the one that feels the need to do it more will write them. We of course adjust the lyrics together if needs be. Usually the one that writes the lyrics sings them as well. Our styles of writing lyrics is quite different we've noticed, Olli tends to write more allegorically and uses metaphors, I on the other hand tend to write from observations and usually more of the emotions of the observer. I seem to write bluesy lyrics that have very little to do with my life as such.

Our songs are very much an amalgam of our ideas, of course the initial idea is from either of us, but the end result is almost always more or less 50/50. I tend to do more arranging, Olli's focus is more on the melodies and harmonies. As rhythm is mostly my department, my focus is very much on the groove and tempo at the beginning.

6) What is your relationship with progressive rock, past and present?

It might be a cliché, but prog has been my main interest and passion from my teens onward. I was lucky to date a girl who was into everything interesting, be it the Beatles or Barclay James Harvest or Klaus Schulze. She taught me in her kind way to be open to anything and prog seemed to fit the bill perfectly. This is not to say that I wouldn't love all kinds of music as my history shows. The Beatles is as important to me as is Genesis, Pink Floyd or Opeth. In the tender years from 16 to 18 I was very much exposed to Genesis and Peter Gabriel. My first mind blowing experience was The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway after which I had to have all Genesis records I could find. From Nursery Cryme up until A Trick of the Tail I loved them unreservedly, Wind and Wuthering and ...And Then There Were Three were quite ok still but that was more or less it. Newer Genesis was a different band, still enjoyable but my head was already elsewhere. Peter Gabriel's III and IV, King Crimson's trio of Discipline, Beat and Three of a Perfect Pair (plus their earlier works except Lizard which I really don't like...), Kate Bush's Hounds of Love and The Dreaming, Pink Floyd's whole catalogue but especially Meddle and Wish You Were Here, Todd Rundgren's Utopia (the first album!) and of course the staples, Yes' Fragile, Close to the Edge and Yessongs, Gentle Giant's Three Friends, Octopus and The Power and the Glory, Wigwam's Lucky Golden Stripes and Starpose and Dark Album, VdGG, Peter Hammill, Camel, Manfred Mann's Earth Band, David Sylvian and so on.

I've never been a believer that the best prog is the old prog so I've kept my ears pricked for everything interesting. And what is prog anyway? To my mind Tears for Fears or Talk Talk or Frank Zappa or Kansas is as prog as the other ones or at least the kind of interesting and challenging music that I want to listen to and learn from. The newer discoveries include such varied acts as Porcupine Tree, Oceansize (love them!), Radiohead, Amplifier, Mogwai, Opeth, Pure Reason Revolution, Leprous, The Pineapple Thief, Cloudkicker and Pain of Salvation. This is still just a partial list. Every day there's something interesting!

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Rivertree Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 25 2022 at 02:27
very interesting, Matti! Clap Comprehensive, informative ... thanks
btw, new album Aerials turned out really well




Edited by Rivertree - January 25 2022 at 02:34


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