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Black Lizard interview with Joni Seppänen, Lauri Lyytinen, Onni Nieminen and Paltsa-Kai Salama

I don’t actually do a lot of shopping or listening to bands when it comes to the merits of being on a certain label.  I mean there are a handful of them out there that I will give most of their stuff a listen but most of them just have to much stuff that falls outside of my tastes or don’t live up to my expectations.  Fuzz Club records are batting about a thousand these days with me though.  I got turned on to them a few months ago and I haven’t heard anything that they’ve released that I didn’t like.  Black Lizard is no exception!  Quickly conjuring images of the Brian Jonestown Massacre for me it was funny to hear that Anton Newcombe had been involved in the production of their latest release and debut self-titled album.  But while they might have a lot in common with Brian Jonestown Massacre there’s nothing derivative or boring about Black Lizard, who bring their own unique take on the more classical and traditional side of psychedelic music to the table.  Powered with towers of tambourines, (Joel Gione would be proud I’m sure) distortion, fuzz, reverb, echo and a devastatingly tight rhythm section Black Lizard carries on a sacred tradition passed down since the sixties.  They do it proudly and they do it well.  Enjoying the success of the debut album I caught up with the Black Lizards to talk some shop and see just what they were going to be up to.  It took a while but we got everyone in one place and now you can learn everything you ever wanted, or needed, to know about this bad ass band!  Anyone who’s into psychedelic music, or even thinks they might be, should give these guys a chance, because god damn is it some good stuff…
Listen while you read at:

What is the band’s lineup?  Is this your original lineup?

Joni:  At first it was just Paltsa and I doing songs with a 4-track tape recorder.  After that we had six-piece band for a while.  It didn't work out so we changed the lineup to what it is now.

Paltsa-Kai Salama: vocals, guitar.
Joni Seppänen: lead guitar, synths.
Onni Nieminen: drums, percussions.
Lauri Lyytinen: bass.

Are any of you in any other bands right now?  Have you released any material with any other bands?  If so can you tell us a little bit about it?

Lauri:  It seems that almost every musician in Helsinki plays at least in two different bands.  We all have, or had, projects besides Black Lizard but now the main focus is on this band.  Joni plays in Octopus Syng which is a long-time psych rock band from Finland though.

Onni:  I played in some stoner rock bands a few years ago but we didn't release anything.  Now Black Lizard is my only band.

How and when did you all meet?

Lauri:  Joni and Paltsa have known each other forever, Onni and I came along in early 2011.  Can't really remember when or how everybody met... 

Joni:  Paltsa knew Onni from somewhere, and I had met Lauri maybe once before I asked him if he wanted to join the band!

Onni:  I’ve known Paltsa since I moved to Helsinki.  I saw a couple of "pre-Black Lizard's" gigs before I joined the band.

Paltsa:  Yeah, Joni and I have known each other for over twenty-years.  We started our first band when we were five and six years old!

What led you to start Black Lizard and when was that?

Joni:  It was just supposed to be a project to do the 60's psych stuff we loved.  Then we thought it would be cool to play few gigs, somehow it’s grown in to this...

Paltsa:  We started the band in late 2008 but it was very different than it is now.  It's hard to even call it the same band.

What does the name Black Lizard mean or refer to?  Does it have anything to do with the Japanese cult-film or underground San Francisco publisher who shares the same name?

Lauri:  The band's name doesn't have anything to do with either of the things you mentioned.  We had a different and longer name for a while, but as the lineup changed to the current lineup the name changed along with it.  The name itself doesn't mean or refer to anything special, it's just sort of a label or heading that suits our music.

Joni:  Yeah the original name was Black Lizard and the Liquid Plastic Castles.  The last part of the name was taken from a 13th Floor Elevators’ song.

Where are you originally from?

Lauri:  Joni, Paltsa and I are from Helsinki.  Onni is from Jyväskylä.

Where is the band currently located?  How would you describe the local music scene there?

Joni:  Plenty of bands, most of them shit.

Onni:  We’re from Helsinki which is the capital city of Finland.  The music scene is lively here but there’s quite a small audience for any kind of alternative music.  There are enough record stores where you can order whatever you want to hear and there have been a ton of great hardcore bands in last six years.

Are you very involved with the local scene?

Lauri:  The active music scene in Helsinki isn't that big, almost everybody knows each other.  We’ve played lots of gigs in Helsinki with different bands and that's how you meet new people and make new friends.

Has it played a large role in the history or evolution of Black Lizard?

Joni:  No, not really.

Can you tell us about who your major musical influences are?  What about the band as a whole rather than just personally?

Onni:  We all have our own favorites but we listen to lots of the same bands.

Joni:  We all like bands like Spacemen 3, Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Stooges, Jesus and Mary Chain, The 13th Floor Elevators, Velvets, Dead Skeletons, Singapore Sling.  Stuff like that.

Paltsa:  I think as songwriters the main influences for Joni and I, along with the bands he mentioned earlier, are our old favorites, bands like The Beatles, early Stones lots of sixties garage and psychedelic rock.  Besides that we like lots of different stuff, from old 30’s blues to acid-house.

I am absolutely loathe to assign labels and classify music, how would you describe your sound to our readers that might not have heard you yet?

Joni:  Psych and punk, lots of fuzz, tremolo and reverb.

Can you tell us a little bit about your songwriting process?  Is there someone who comes to the rest of the band with a fairly finished product to work out or is there a lot of exploratory jamming?

Joni:  We don't really like to jam.  Paltsa and I usually have ideas we try to turn into songs with the rest of the guys.

Paltsa:  Sometimes Joni and I will record demos together to try out different ideas before bringing songs into the band.  Then we all get together to see what we can make out of them.  Sometimes it takes a long time to work out songs the way we want, we try out different tempos and moods to see what works best.

Onni:  Searching for the right rhythm and mood for each particular song takes time but that’s the biggest part of songwriting for me.

Your EP on Fuzz Club Records has been extremely well received.  Can we talk a little bit about the recording of that album?  Where was it recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?

Lauri:  We pretty much recorded the EP by ourselves.  It was mainly recorded in our rehearsal room by Paltsa.  We didn't use any special equipment, just a laptop, a few mics and our instruments.  Paltsa also mixed the EP.

Paltsa:  Yeah, we recorded basic tracks at this small studio in Theater School of Helsinki.  Our friend is studying there so we just snuck in for the weekend.  We did most of the overdubs at our rehearsal space.  Recording and mixing was done with Logic.  

A lot of the Fuzz Club Records releases are extremely limited, is your 10” EP limited?  Is it still in print?

Lauri:  There are 300 copies of that EP, 100 transparent red vinyl copies which are sold out from the Fuzz Club web-shop, and 200 on classic black wax.

Anton Newcombe produced the recent self-titled album; can you tell us how he came to be involved with the project?  What was the extent of his involvement with the new album?  Did you enjoy working with him?  Are any of you Brian Jonestown Massacre fans?

Joni:  Yeah, we’re big fans.  We met him when we were opening for Brian Jonestown Massacre in Helsinki June of last year and apparently he dug us, ‘cause he invited us to his studio in Berlin.

Lauri:  Brian Jonestown Massacre is a really important band to all of us.  Anton was more like a mentor than a producer.  He was gave us some really good ideas and advice and made us feel welcome in his studio.

Let’s talk about the recording of the self-titled album.  Where was it recorded, who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?

Onni:  We started to record our first album autumn of last year.  We have simple recording equipment, a lap-top, a few microphones, wires, etcetera, in our rehearsal space.  Paltsa, who also mixed the album, did all the recordings in Helsinki.  The other half of the album we did in Berlin, Germany at Anton's studio.  We rented his cozy studio and lived there for three days.  We also had studio engineer Fabien Leseure who was the best guy to set all the mics with his sharp ear and clever mind.

Joni:  We were able to use all of Anton's cool equipment he has there like a Mellotron, some 60's vox guitars, a sitar and these analog synthesizers.

Paltsa:  Anton's studio was a very inspiring place.  He gave us some good ideas, he has some really wonderful instruments and we had a really great time there overall.  

Who released the self-titled album?

Onni:  The album was released by Soliti.  We’ve got the best indie label in Finland.

Are there plans for any other releases this year?

Onni:  We are thinking about releasing a single later this year.

Lauri:  We have one track that's not on the album.  It appears on the Soliti label's two-year birthday compilation.

Recording drives some bands completely insane!  Do you enjoy getting into the studio and recording?

Lauri:  It's always exciting to get into studio to record some new songs.  That's how the songs get their final form and sound for us.  It's interesting how a song that has been played live for a long time might sound totally different in studio.

Paltsa:  Some of our best songs have taken their final form, the way we play them live these days, from in the studio.  We love to try out loads of different things when we are recording.  Usually it's a fun experience.  But sometimes, of course, it gets on our nerves, especially if we have a deadline coming up fast.  I usually spend lots of time recording my vocal tracks.  I think my personal record is fifty-seven vocal takes for one song!

Can you tell us about your recording process in general?  How did it change between the recording of the EP and the full-length? 

Joni:  I don't think there was really a difference.  We just record some basic tracks.  After that we start to add layers of other instrument and whatever else comes in mind.

With the recent postal rate increases where is the best place for our US readers to buy copies of your albums?  What about international and overseas readers?

Joni:  For now I think our label's web shop is the easiest way.  The album will be released in UK and Germany in the fall and some other countries as well hopefully.

What do you have planned as far as touring goes for the rest of the year? 

Joni:  We have some gigs here in Finland coming up.  In the fall we're going to play some shows in the middle of Europe.

© Joona Rajatie
© Joona Rajatie
© Matias Haataja

Do you have any funny or interesting stories from live shows that you’d like to share with our readers?

Joni:  Nothing special comes to mind.

Paltsa:  Sometimes it's pretty Spinal Tap, but that's the way things go for most of the bands I think.  Things happen when you are touring, too embarrassing and too boring to mention.

Do you enjoy touring?  Do you spend a lot of time on the road? 

Joni:  We haven't had any major tours yet, for now it has been really great.

Paltsa:  We had a tour in Finland when our record came out here in April.  It was really great.  We enjoyed it a lot.  It was wonderful to meet new people and see new places.  I'm really looking forward touring in Europe.  And elsewhere too!

© Pawel Walkowicz

I really do like digital music.  I enjoy the freedom to listen to music wherever and however I want, but there’s something irreplaceable about physical releases for me.  Having something to hold, artwork to look at, liner notes to read.  It makes the listening experience more complete, at least for me.  Do you have any such connection with physical releases?

Joni:  Yeah, if I dig the album I want the physical copy for sure.

Onni:  I like to collect vinyl and cassettes.

Do you have a music collection?  If so can you tell us about it?

Joni:  I own quite a good collection of LP's, 7" and some cassettes, but I only have a few CDs.

Lauri:  I wouldn't call it a collection yet, but if I have any extra money, I'll probably spend it on new vinyl.

Onni:  When I have too much money I will always buy records.  I have lot of vinyl.  Finnish prog, Finnish tangos and 60s folk, hardcore punk, heavy and doom classics...

There are always upsides and downsides to everything, and while digital music might be undermining decades of ground work in the music industry it’s also exposing a lot of bands that might otherwise never receive any exposure.  What is your opinion on digital music and distribution?

Joni:  It’s always a good thing to get to know new bands.

Paltsa:  It's really easy to get lost in the digital music jungle.  But I still think that if you make music with your heart you’ll be noticed one way or another.

In the hopes of keeping up with all the amazing bands out there right now I ask everyone I talk to this question so please feel free to list as many or as few as you’d like but, who should I be listening to from your local area or scene that I might not have heard of before?

Joni:  Joensuu 1685, Octopus Syng, 23:23, Black Twig, KXP, Siinai, Ghost of Jack Nance.  That's all that comes to mind at the moment.

Paltsa:  I think 22-Pistepirkko is one of the best bands in Finland ever.  Also there’s a band called Merries who are really good.

Onni:  My favorite Finnish band right now is 23:23, beautiful songs with a really nice lo-fi sound.  Black Twig is also really good!

© Arielle Carroll

What about nationally and internationally?

Joni:  You probably know all of these; Lucid Dream, The Wands, Dead Rabbits, Dead Skeletons, Singapore Sling, Electric Eye, Spacegazer, Temples, Sonic Jesus, Underground Youth.

Onni:  Lucid Dream, The Underground Youth, White Fence, and Blue Angel Lounge.

Is there anything that I missed or you’d just like to talk about? 

Joni:  Hah, can't really add anything to this.  Thanks for the interview!

Paltsa:  Thank you!

(2012)  Black Lizard – EP – digital, CD, 10” – Self-Released/Fuzz Club Records
(2013)  Black Lizard – Black Lizard – digital, CD, 12” – Soliti Records

© Jussi Nygren

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2013
© Copyright

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