We like our metal radical, dirty, and so obscure that you (almost) can’t find anything on the www. Pymathon came to our ears on a beer soaked tape, released through a label that we never heard of. Their sound is harsh, wild and satanic, bringing the best of noise, trash and black metal together in an old school Finnish tradition. The members are well known figures in Scandinavian noise, free improv and experimental scenes. We had a nice chat with Topias Tiheäsalo.
NL: How did pymathon started out?
TT: Pymathon was initially a duo of me Topias, guitar, and Jaakko, drums. Our background – and current activities as well – are in free-jazz and improvised music. One summer night we were playing some free music at a friend’s party – this was in 2005 as I had returned to Finland after having spent couple of years abroad. At the party we had few beers and we started to play improvised music, but somehow we turned into metal-riffing while we were playing. We decided to start a band, although Pymathon has never really been a “band” as such: we don’t rehearse and we only play gigs and the music is wholly improvised. The thrash/death sound is the only constant: something we know where to start from. And continue, and finish.
So we played as a duo, some gigs and festivals here and there, then the inevitable was going to happen: we started to play together with Tommi, maybe around 2007. And from around 2009 we started to play with Atte, our singer. First time we played together as a quartet was in late 2012. Nowadays we practically don’t play as a duo anymore, but sometimes it could be a trio with Atte, next time a trio with Tommi. But the quartet is the most ideal formation, I love it.
NL: Are you a metal head, or have became interested as an experimental musician in it by the pretty radical stuff soundwise that happened in metal?
TT: Yes, as we all all Finnish guys who were born in late 70’s/early 80’s, it is HIGHLY likely that we have some sort of background in metal. Everyone has. I guess me and Jaakko, we had a more basic, fairly mild Metal upbringing, mostly thrash stuff of the 80’s and early 90’s from Metallica to Slayer and Sepultura. But Tommi and Atte have been soaked in the various forms of Metal neck down. Tommi is from up north: the more north you go, the more likely it gets that you were into the most extreme Metal. And yes, Tommi was into the extreme stuff, all the early grind, black and death of the mid-/early 80’s. Tommi is a walking Metal encyclopedia and – I would say – the best company while a bit tipsy and discussing Metal.
Atte, on the other hand, comes from a small city form South-East Finland, not too far away from Russian border. Again: small city, distant location and declining social structures equal a wide interest in extreme Metal among the youth of the community. This was true with Atte as well: first he heard Sepultura when 10 years old, then later he got interested Black metal and was part of those social circles in his town. Later he got interested in hardcore punk and he still is.
As far as I go, around early 2000’s I had got back listening into Metal, basically after having developed an interest in free-jazz and noise. I guess what we all share, is an affection of the sound of extreme bands in their very early stages. Well, needless to say, the bands always sounded best when the players were around 16 years old, didn’t really know how to play or how achieve what they were looking for; when they tried to do too complicated riffs and too fast rhythms and only hardly managed to keep the whole thing together. This is evident in all sub-genres of Metal. So it wasn’t like “forgive them, for they didn’t know what they were doing”, but more like “raise your hat to them, for they didn’t know what they were doing”. So there was this kind of lovely, jinxed balance with the goals and the reality and then the sound it produced was equally lovely. We could be talking about early Carcass or definitely early Brazilian bands like Holocausto. Or we could be talking about early Kreator or even early Exodus, surely and easily we could talk about early Sepultura or Nihilist or Possessed. Or Carcass, especially Carcass and of course – Autopsy.
So, by early 2000’s – or this had happened way before already – nearly literally all Metal had moved into the phase of “achieved goals”: the players had turned “better”, the playing techniques had gotten “better”, the producers knew how to produce it “better”. Well, again needless to say, it all had gotten worse, in all respects. The strangest and saddest part of this history could be the early German thrash band Destruction. They recorded simply exhilarating thrash stuff in early-mid 80’s, their debut LP ‘Infernal Overkill’ is such a joy. So, one time I bumped into a compilation CD of theirs. What they had done was beyond words: they had re-recorded their early stuff, after 20 years or so. So, naturally, now they knew how to play “better”, you know, the drummer was more able to keep time, the guitar solos were note-perfect etc, but they had simply just let the air out of the music – they killed their own music.
So, our simple and humble aim has been the opposite of all that control: to improvise, to not to rehearse, to not to plan anything. In my opinion, this is the only way to ensure we will always sound like a Thrash metal band stuck to their demo-phase, struggling to keep it together. But just because of this – and only because of this – we might be able to create a hilarious, joyful noise, a texture of chaotic riffs and noise. So it’s kind of like a Rauschenberg collage, the texture I mean: you can see the paint, but you can also see the found pieces of text glued underneath the paint or the pictures from the magazine, you know, this sense of transparency in the texture: sometimes a nearly sensible riff emerges, then it drowns in to the texture again. Kind of “riff trouvé”. So yes, think of Rauschenberg, if you like. Or Brakhage for that matter: maybe it could be The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes placed on top the Dante Quartet.
NL: I always found it very interesting that the pretty strict conventions and rules of genre music seems to be a good way to create new sorts of music, like in metal, but also in reggae and hip hop. What do you think of that?
TT: Yes, that could be true, but in reggae and hip hop the inventions of the sound were more producer-based actions. Well, to certain extent in Metal as well, but as I explained, we enthuse about the stuff before it got to the hands of a skillful producer. For us the frame of “metal” is very flexible here. I know of nobody so interested in strict (sub)genre boundaries and the “rules” more than the Metal people. The cultivated “attitude” is a simple action of pigeon-holing, not very far from collecting stamps or something like that.
Funny thing happened when we released a noise split around 10 years ago. The disc was reviewed in a couple of “official” Metal magazines in Finland and naturally we got the worst reviews. In one of the reviews the guy was complaining about this “awful noise”! So, in a Metal magazine in around 2007 a writer is complaining about… noise. We laughed our asses off while reading the reviews. The best was when one reviewer promised “to buy these guys a six-pack of beer if they only promise not to set their foot inside a studio ever again.” In one of the reviews the cover of the split LP was upside down and they only reviewed the other band on side B.
NL: What is your favorite band?
TT: My favourite band is either Cecil Taylor Unit with Jimmy Lyons and Andrew Cyrille or even the bigger groups of late 70’s after Cyrille had gone – or then it could be The Agents. They were the backing band for Finnish singer Rauli Badding Somerjoki on early to mid 80’s. Depending on the mood, either of these.
NL: Are you interested in the occult symbolism conducted by the artwork of many metalbands? If so, are you interested in a structuralist Barthes-like way, or more in a pagan, religious way?
TT: No I am not. I guess all of us are more or less secular/non-religion/atheism-orientated guys: music, people and beer. And either wine or pear cider for Tommi as he can’t drink beer anymore. Well, the unintentional upside-down cover I was referring to in the earlier answer does feel quite symbolic. Quite many layers of possible meanings there.
NL: A friend of mine told me he is in metal band that is pretty much about obscuring their own past. They used to be part of experimental psych en free folk outfits, but now their new project is all about being a ‘real’ and ‘serious’ metal band. How do you feel about this?
TT: Well, I don’t know naturally know who you are referring to, but it’s kind of hard for me to relate to that. All these tags “real”, “serious” and “true” – or “trve” to be more exact – are kind of funny considering the music was created by teenagers doing some LARP before they got to bed.
NL: Jonna of Kuupuu told me you don’t play that often, but you should. How come that you aren’t playing that much?
TT: Nobody asked. If someone asks, we always play. We are an easy-going band. But we also never were that active in pushing ourselves (maybe this is the “trve” side of us…an anti-capitalist trve stance). Also recording stuff… I was never that interested in it, live-playing is kind of my bag. But we do have released some obscure cassettes in Russia and in Norway. We also did this quite nice cassette last summer. It has been the only time we went to a studio (of sorts), the first time we played out of live-context. No, the second: the first time was when we recorded the split LP long time ago. But otherwise it’s just life that’s there in between: kids, other music we play, Tommi has a cat nowadays, the steady day-jobs or not-so-steady freelance work I’m doing as a musician, radio journalist and teacher…But we are planning to put together an LP of the other material from the last summer’s sessions (that were not on the cassette, I mean). Who knows we might even get that far. It does sound quite good.
NL: How is it to make music in Scandinavia? There is a good scene in Finland, with a lot of connection to Belgium – antwerp in concrete. How do feel about this Belgium-Finnish connection?
TT: Not wanting to sound like a know-it-all, but Finland is not strictly speaking part of Scandinavia. So we can use the word Nordic countries. Finland is kind of outsider in here: geographically a bit isolated, we don’t share the language roots of Swedish, Norwegian and Danish, culturally we’re mixed half and half with Swedish and Russian influence etc etc. But that aside, yes, there has been quite nice and fertile “experimental” music scene in Finland for past 15 years or so. Me personally, I haven’t been part of this Belgian-Finnish axis, but very many of my friends have. I don’t know where that came from: maybe in the beginning there was a comic art related thing going on? Many people in here and Belgium were doing kind of similar-minded comics and drawings and quite often their music making matched as well: these free-form, often electronic groups and solos. Maybe beer enthusiasm has something to do it as well? At least I know that my friend Roope from Helsinki goes along these lines: comics, self-made electronic music and beer – and he’s been over to Belgium a lot.
Actually Roope got the name for us. We were travelling together in a train, around 2004, maybe. He was a bit ill and he was complaining this painful blister he had inside his mouth. He was looking for a word for it, but instead of “aphtae” he said “pymathon”. I don’t know why, the words have hardly anything in common. And “pymathon” is not a word, it’s something he invented there. But naturally it sounded like a great band’s name.