Tero Ahonen – Tuomo and Markus
Tuomo Prattala and Markus Nordenstreng have known each other for more than a decade back in their native Finland. But it was in America where the two musicians formed a partnership that’s led to the upcoming album Dead Circles, whose first single, “Don’t Shut Down Your Radio,” premieres exclusively below.
The impetus was to perform a special show a few years ago — a Fin Fest for Finnish expatriates in the U.S. — in Arizona. Nordenstreng’s band the Latebirds was slated to play but when the rest of the group couldn’t make it he recruited some friends in Calexico along with Prattala to perform. “We had a lot of time off while we were in Tucson,” Nordenstreng tells Billboard. “We got a hold of an engineer/producer guy who has a really good studio downtown and ended up spending our off time in the studio, and that’s where this whole project started. That was a good while ago, but we kept going back there and wrote more and more songs and suddenly realized this is kind of a cool thing we’ve got and we should somehow get it out there, and here we are now.”
Due out Sept. 7, Dead Circles does represent a bit of collision of styles between the two musicians, Prattala coming from a soul and jazz direction and Nordenstreng from rock, with some folk and country thrown in. “There’s a sort of middle ground where we meet — The Band is a really good example of something between rock ‘n’ roll and soul and country,” Prattala says. “So we sort of me halfway, ‘Where’s the stuff both of us like?’ and worked around that.”
Nordenstreng adds that, “We both have an appreciation for cosmic American music, as Gram Parsons would call it. Tuomo’s done his homework regarding jazz, mostly American jazz, and I grew up listening to the Replacements, Husker Du, Uncle Tupelo, all that stuff. It was all centered around America; There was a lot of American music around us when we grew up, and I’m sure people can hear a lot of that influence on the record.”
Dead Circles was recorded back at Wavelab Studios in Tucson, and in addition to the Calexico corps it features appearances by the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris and Wilco’s Pat Sansone and John Stirratt. “It’s got chemistry,” Nordenstreng says of the project. “In the Latebirds we never got this kind of chemistry, as much as we rehearsed. Tuomo has a great sense of harmony and somehow it all works. When you listen to us separately you don’t necessarily think that it would work, but somehow it does. I think it works really well.”
“Don’t Shut Down Your Radio” was inspired by a radio station in Finland that was about to close, but the song has taken on a broader meaning since its inception. “It’s also just about communication,” Prattala explains. “It’s more about having a good communication with people and keeping your frequency open to whatever is coming and going.” Nojdenstreng adds that, “The idea is that communication shouldn’t be distorted — which is very topical right now, I think.”
Tuomo & Markus have plans to tour behind Dead Circles, hopefully during the fall in the U.S. and also during 2019. “It works great when we play as a duo,” Nordenstreng says, “but we also have a really cool six-piece band that sounds really marvelous. Flying a six-piece band from Finland to play a lot of shows on the other side of the globe is not always going to be possible, but we’re flexible. It’s good to have options. The important thing is for people to hear (the music).”