One of the best albums of 2012 has been the eponymous debut by SIN COS TAN, “a synthesized duo of great promise, broken dreams, and long nights”.
This brooding, electronic meisterwerk is the creation of Juho Paalosmaa and Jori Hulkkonen, both highly regarded figures within the Finnish music scene. Paalosmaa is the singer and songwriter from VILLA NAH who released the crystalline genius of ‘Origin’, one of the best synthpop albums of 2010.
They consolidated that success by supporting OMD that same year. Hulkkonen meanwhile is the highly regarded producer who released his first album ‘Selkäsaari Tracks’ in 1996. He came to the world’s wider attention though as ZYNTHERIUS with TIGA on their 2001 electroclash cover of COREY HART’s ‘Sunglasses At Night’ which was a UK Top30 hit.
He has since also worked with JOHN FOXX and PET SHOP BOYS as well as remixing THE PRESETS, CLIENT and best of all, the late BILLY MACKENZIE on his cover of RANDY NEWMAN’s ‘Boltimore’. His PROCESSORY project with the reclusive vocalist Jerry Valuri delivered an album ‘Change Is Gradual’ in 2011 which was an ambitious Sci-Fi concept album about seeking new life and new civilisations.
With a rich filmic quality permeating amongst all the synths and drum machines, the album is possibly varied than either has attempted previously. However, ‘Sin Cos Tan’ still maintains a continuity that is both immediate and thoughtful.
With songs such as ‘Trust’, ‘In Binary’ and ‘Book Of Love’, it is a contemporary electronic soundtrack which is ideal for that drive home on a rainy night…
Functionally, SIN COS TAN are a classic synth duo; Paalosmaa is intense and committed while Hulkkonen is more laid back and unassuming. Their contrasts compliment each other perfectly. Following their impressive debut UK performance at Nordic music night ‘Ja Ja Ja’ and with a new single ‘Bittersweet’ on the way, Juho Paalosmaa and Jori Hulkkonen kindly talked to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about their album’s trigonometrical solutions…
How was SIN COS TAN conceived?
Juho: Me and Jori wanted to try and work on something new together, as we’d previously co-operated on each other’s own projects. We soon discovered that recording material together was very effortless – in just a few days we squeezed out 15-20 tracks.
Jori: Yeah, basically the idea was first just to try to write music together and see how it works; “is there chemistry in the studio” and “are the results something that’s more than the sum of its parts?” I was quite surprised how effortlessly the whole thing came together.
The project appears perhaps darker than VILLA NAH and more dance influenced than PROCESSORY. In your opinion, what are the differences?
Juho: VILLA NAH’s sound is somewhat an ode to the music of my childhood, hence the naivety and nostalgia that surrounds it. SIN COS TAN is sonically more modern and mature, so perhaps that explains the darker texture. I’d say SIN COS TAN is more emphasised on straightforward pop than PROCESSORY, but Jori is a better judge on that…
Jori: …with PROCESSORY, we wanted to experiment with the pop formula very intentionally, and although a lot of the songs were quite poppy, the arrangements were not, which made it maybe not so accessible; but in a way that was the whole idea of that record. With SIN COS TAN, we really wanted to focus on strong songs, and have a production and arrangement that supports the song, rather than distracting from it. And as opposed to VILLA NAH, I guess the keyword is “mature”.
How is the dynamic between you both in SIN COS TAN compared with the other occasions you’ve worked together?
Juho: With VILLA NAH, I’ve been solely responsible for the songwriting, so I knew that would be different with SIN COS TAN. With Jori, we both bring our ideas to the table and let them mix together…for me, that is the key ingredient of SIN COS TAN.
Jori: Yeah exactly. We had an idea what we might sound like, but when we actually got in the studio and started writing songs from scratch, that was the most rewarding thing for the whole process, as the end result took a slightly surprising direction; there’s a bit of R’n’B influence and it’s quite soulful at times.
Saxophones and guitars feature on several songs…was this willingness to use some conventional instrumentation a key part of your sonic exploration?
Juho: I try not to put any rules on instrumentations – I find that very limiting. So I’m not a synth purist, nor any purist, for that matter. My philosophy in music is simple: if it sounds good, just use it.
Jori: A lot of my favourite pop records are not limited to strictly electronics, and when I put my producer hat on, I’m always interested in expanding the sonic palette. I like the tension a tight drum machine and organic guitar can have. I love the idea of programming and creating the basic groove, but then colouring it with a bit more organic touch; on a lot my productions there are acoustic percussions, and little things played live and left a bit loose, just to add a bit of extra spice.
What about the types of synth textures you wanted?
Juho: Jori probably has a more detailed answer…I think we generally wanted SIN COS TAN to be sonically very clear and clean – stripped of any excessive production, relying more on the dynamic between just the vocals and the bass.
Jori: Again, it wasn’t really that planned. When we were writing songs, it soon became clear that we wanted to keep the production kind of minimal and leave space for the vocals to breathe. I think one of the strengths of the album is that the soundscape is also very honest; we didn’t go after any specific direction but worked on each song on its own terms, rather than trying to make the song fit a certain formula we might’ve wanted to have. It was only afterwards when we started going through the songs we’d done, we kind of noticed a certain “sound” emerging, and then tried to tie the album together by picking the songs that fitted together.
‘Book Of Love’ is a pleasant surprise with its sub-R’n’B beat template?
Juho: That’s very much Jori’s input. I found it a refreshing angle when compared to anything I’ve done before…vocally, it opens a completely different approach as well.
Jori: One of the key elements that came with co-writing was that I could point Juho towards certain directions as a vocalist he might not have tried himself; ‘Book Of Love’ is a prime example of that. I think it also is a great example of that “maturity” we mentioned earlier.
I understand ‘Trust’ started off more downtempo…how did it evolve into the final track?
Juho: ‘Trust’ was actually initially a demo track that I’d played around with my Yamaha organ; it was a bit more uptempo then. But as we took it to Jori’s studio, it transformed into a moody downtempo piece. Afterwards Jori offered a more uptempo mix, which we both agreed upon.
Jori: Yeah, the original version we recorded was very moody, in a way reminiscent of VILLA NAH’s ‘Emerald Hills’, but at the back of my head I felt it might need a different approach. So after trying a few things, it ended up being my favourite style of music: Disco You Can Cry To.
The extended live version of ‘Trust’ is something very special, any plans to release that?
Juho: So far no plans. But anything’s possible, of course…
Juho: It’s fun and relatively smooth; Jori devised us a rather ingenious set of equipment which we’re able to grab along across the globe fairly easily.
Our live shows also feature visuals, which is a great asset to the music – it brings out an entirely different side of the band.
Jori: For me, it’s quite exciting as I’ve never really played live in a band, and sharing the stage where someone else takes the limelight is quite refreshing. Also, my solo gigs have always been very much based on improvisation, something you can’t really do as a duo doing pop.
‘All I Ever Dream Of’ is quite a bizarre track as it starts with this offbeat before building to a percussive crescendo?
Juho: It’s probably my favourite on the album, it has a nice off-kilter menace to it. I’m quite pleased with the lyrics and vocals on it too. The song actually came about extremely quickly – I think Jori can share how he came up with that tasty rhythm…
Jori: …it’s a very cool track; great example of our co-writing where I had this idea of the relentless rhythm and bassline, and Juho came up with this quite menacing tone to his voice which is a great combo. There’s many ways to approaching writing a song, sometimes interesting ideas come from programming a simple rhythm that has a character of its own and the song just manifests itself. It’s the closest to magic that I know of.
What is ‘History’ about?
Juho: ‘History’ was one of my initial home demos which we recorded for SIN COS TAN. Lyrically I think it deals with discommunication, resignation and the eternal repetition of the former two. Who says I’m not an optimist?
Juho: Yes ‘Calendar’ has the most summery vibe on the album. Like a ray of sunshine on a cold winter day…
Jori: …I had a basic idea for a track with that bassline and chord progression which felt very, very poppy and I sent it to Juho who loved it. We felt it was our summer hit.
What is your favourite song on the album?
Juho: As mentioned earlier; ‘All I Ever Dream Of’.
Jori: Tough, but I’d have say ‘Not Over’. If a future me had gone back in time one year from today and played me the song before we even started working on anything, and told me what Juho and I would sound like, I probably wouldn’t have believed him/me. That’s the beauty of this collaboration, it’s a bit unexpected.
What are your future plans, with regards both SIN COS TAN and your own projects?
Juho: More stuff with SIN COS TAN – we have plenty of ideas and tracks to work on from just our previous sessions alone. I’m also working on more VILLA NAH, whenever possible.
Jori: SIN COS TAN is definitely the priority as it has so many facets to the whole thing; more studio work, videos, touring. Apart from SIN COS TAN, I’m putting together some stuff both on solo fronts and collaborations.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to SIN COS TAN
Special thanks to Tom Riski at Solina Records
‘Sin Cos Tan’ is released on CD, vinyl and download by Solina Records in Europe and Sugarcane Records for the rest of the world.
Their cover of ‘My Blue Heaven’, a song from the 1929 musical film ‘Glorifying The American Girl’ not included on the album, is available as a free download
Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
22nd January 2013