Finnish Jazz. Interview. Hanne Pulli

Foto: Niina Stolt.

Interview with Hanne Pulli

Review to Space Machine

Hanne Pulli belongs to a new generation of finnish musicians that is catching attention for its inspired and creative ideas. Involved in many projects, this young drummer has now reached the necessary maturity to release her debut album as a leader, entitled “Space Machine”. A collection of original compositions featuring her personality and musical aptitudes.

Jazz Convention: What’s your first memory about music?

Hanne Pulli: I remember dancing and singing some Finnish nursery rhymes with my older sister in our living room when I was 5 years old. Our dad videotaped it.

JC: According to your biography you started playing violin. Were your first musical studies focused principally on classical music?

HP: Yes. I had seen how my older sister playing violin and wanted to imitate her. I was 5 years old when the classes started. I ended up playing for over ten years. During that time I played in different ensembles and studied both classical theory and history. I knew very early that I’d never been a classical musician, but the theory knowledge and a sharp ear, gotten from playing violin, helped me a lot in my later studies.

JC: It doesn’t happen so often to see a girl behind a drum. What led you to switch from violin to drum and how did it affect your approach to music?

HP: I remember the day when my dad brought a drum set into our home. I was 6 years old and very excited. They say that I had been asking for a drum set quite a while, but I can’t remember that. But I remember how incredibly natural it felt behind the set. All those different rhythms and rhythm mixes just felt so fascinating. It was almost like speaking and understanding a different language all of a sudden. It was never like that with violin. I never felt like a real violinist, I just went to the classes just because my sister went too. Now when I think of it, the biggest difference between those instruments was the intensity. I quickly developed a special and passionate relation to drums and I wanted to learn everything and test my boundaries all the time. There was also the emotional response that I got from playing with my school friends in the early ages. I always had some band or group going on when I was in school. I just never had that feeling with violin. Playing drums in a band with friends was way more enjoyable than rehearsing violin alone in a small room trying to remember all the norms and rules of classical music. At the age of sixteen I was lucky enough to be accepted in Sibelius Academy Youth Department and I knew that I would be teached by the best jazz musicians of our country. It was then when I decided to let violin go. I was already intensely devoted into jazz music so it was pretty easy to make that decision. However, violin has had an important affect for my ability to feel music. Due to violin, I have a sharp ear and an altered perspective alongside with a rhythmic view. I think that’s why I love exquisite melodies and harmonic structures. I feel that different melodies and harmonies have some mystic connection with people’s feelings. I’m trying to be honest and listen to my inner voice when it comes to my own music. I’m a very sensitive and moody person. When I’m making music, I use a specific mood or feeling often as a starting point and think over how to present that.

JC: Listening to your compositions it’s possible to hear your predilection for early jazz rock forms. What’s the music you’ve grown with?

HP: My dad is a guitar player and because of his enthusiasm towards certain artists, I grew up listening to 70’s progressive music and 80’s fusion. Camel and Gentle Giant were constantly on our vinyl player. There was also bunch of Billy Cobham’s LP’s in our house due to my dad’s interest. I also became familiar with the Chick Corea’s 80’s repertory, since it often played in our car on road trips etc. My first two cassettes that I ever got were Simply Red’s “A New Flame” and Phil Collins’ “Hello I Must Be Going”. I was very fascinated by those.

JC: Trumpet player Kalevi Louhivuori played an important role in this album as the main “singer” of the themes you wrote for your compositions. Do you write your pieces thinking about the musical skills of your partners?

HP: Certainly not. Composing is not exactly “a duck soup” for me. It has taken a while to find my own way to make music. The sound and a motive are usually the main focus in my writings, not the actual players. In fact my computer is full of ideas and incomplete tunes that have been abandoned for different reasons. Either way, I can easily say that I’m very lucky to have such a great musicians in my band. It feels great when you can trust each and their skills. Yeah, Kalevi is one of the best trumpet players I’ve ever heard and a good friend of mine. He’s a soloist by nature and I wouldn’t want it in any other way. I’m very thankful for playing with him.

JC: Let’s talk about the other musicians that joined you in this debut album as a leader.

HP: Besides Kalevi there are guitarist Petri Kautto, pianist Antti Kujanpää and bassist Jori Huhtala playing in the band. I’ve met Antti and Jori ages ago during my studies. We’ve played together in a communal jazz ensemble, Kvalda, for ten years now. During this time we’ve developed a deep musical bond that combines us. When I first started organizing this group together, it felt only natural to ask them to join. We’ve learned to speak the same language musically and they really know best what I’m thinking. I love Petri’s guitar style and his remarkable ability to be always present. His musical ears are probably the biggest I’ve ever seen.

JC: Despite your being a drummer, your compositions are not always rhythm-centered. What’s the central ideas around which you wrote your compositions?

HP: The main idea often seems to be an atmosphere of some kind. One composition might be suitable for rhythmic touch whereas other is focusing completely somewhere else. At some point in my studies I was really into free expression and in some of the tunes you can hear it. I try to be as open as possible for different styles and approaches. I want each tune to have their personal character and division.

JC: Are you inspired by other drummer composer?

HP: I’m always inspired by good music. It doesn’t matter to me who made it. I listen lots of different music, styles and sounds.

JC: There’s an old Duke Ellington composition entitled “Drum is a Woman”, telling about an African Goddess of rhythm. What’s for you the most feminine side of drums?

HP: Probably my Tama drum key. It has a little heart shaped figure in it. It really suits me, I think!

JC: Some of your music is filled with airy, open melodic lines that seems to evoke the outer space you used to name your band. Do you believe in the existence of other life forms in our universe?

HP: Of course, I do.

JC: In the past, some American scientist choose some of the best expressions of human race, among which musical samples, to put it in a shuttle and send it to the space, hoping it could be intercepted by other extra terrestrials life forms. Which music would have you put it in?

HP: Wow, there would be millions of good possibilities; but if I had to choose it right now, it would probably be something from Björk. I think she’s one of the most fearless, experimental, interesting and charismatic artist I can think of right now. She’s creative and managed to touch millions of people with her music. It would be even better if we could put Björk herself in the shuttle so she could sing some of her stuff to the aliens. And if John Coltrane would be alive, he could join Björk and they could do a duet together. That would be neat.

JC: You’re involved in many other projects and bands. Can you tell us about them?

HP: I consider Space Machine and Kvalda as my main groups. It means that those are the projects I try to put most of my energy in. In addition I do other projects regularly, such as studio sessions or small performances here and there. In Finland the music scene is pretty small, so basically everybody knows everybody. Lately I joined a jazz ensemble ESA Jazz Orchestra to support the jazz scene in the province of South Savo, my home province. I try to do some educational stuff, as well, whenever I have the time.

JC: What are you working on in your next future?

HP: Well, this summer Space Machine will be doing concerts in jazz festivals in Finland and Kvalda is going to release its third album hopefully in the early fall. I’m just going to do gigs and enjoy lots of good music with good friends.