Interview by Miriam C.
I have been following Johanna Kurkela‘s career since I’ve discovered her in Sonata Arctica‘s “Days of Grays” album which featured her incredible vocals on the songs “Deathaura” and “No Dream Can Heal a Broken Heart” back in 2009. Personally, I consider her Christmas album “Joulun Lauluja” which was released via Kaiku Recordings in 2013, one of my favorite seasonal album ever (you can read more about it here in our review) but when I heard the news that she was joining this amazing project, I was beyond psyched. When I listen to her albums and voice, it’s like entering a magical and a fairytale-ish world. So, when I had the chance to interview her, it was a dream coming true. Besides focusing on AURI, this heartfelt conversation offers you an overall overview of her career and her upcoming project and if you still not familiar with AURI, we recommend to check out our review too here.
Terve Johanna, welcome to Femme Metal Webzine. It’s real pleasure to host you here after so many years that I follow your solo career. How is life treating you?
Thank you Miriam. Life is wonderful! Been checking off islands from my Treasure Map ( I make a map of my dreams every year to focus my heading in life), AURI is being one of the massive continents, now that I’ve finally conquered. Also, I’m super happy with all the heartfelt feedback from people who have found this music speaking to their hearts.
Today, we’re here to speak about your new musical project AURI, what you can tell us about its inception? How did you happen to get involved in it?
I think the three of us became involved in AURI the very day we met and our friendship sparked. It truly was like finding a piece of home, not only in social sense, but also artistically. It’s like Troy said in one interview: “We all have the same song playing inside of us”. So, from very early on the desire to share music together was there, and throughout the years we’ve been testing out the waters in different forms of collaborations. For instance, Tuomas wrote a song on one of my solo albums, I invited Troy to play the pipes for a song, then there was Tuomas‘s solo project “The Life and Times of Scrooge”, where the two of us helped out. These were all wonderful things, but it still didn’t quite satisfy the hunger to let completely loose and come up with a whole new world of music, the sort only the three of us could dream alive.
Out of this collaboration, AURI was born: the press release lineally states that AURI might be defined “a magical kind of sound to be heard whilst falling down Alice‘s rabbit hole” but how you would contextualize these words if related to the album?
I think the legendary “rabbit hole” from Lewis Carrol‘s books is a wonderful analogy for this music. Just like Alice freefalling down the rabbit hole, we entered the sound of AURI, in a childlike state of mind, utterly free to “believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast”. I like to think of it like a bridge between the real world and the dream world, challenging the existing beliefs of which is which and creating a dimension for self discovery and inspiration.
For what I’ve learned you have recorded “Auri” along with the sound engineer Tim Oliver at the iconic Peter Gabriel‘s Real World Studios. What sorts of recollection do you hold dear about that experience?
I’m so glad you asked this question, because the experience we had with Tim Oliver at the legendary Real World was truly one of the greatest highlights of this journey. I still have a hard time believing we were actually there. That place is so magical, the atmosphere like music itself aRe so serene and inviting, they are like tucked away in nature’s pocket. To get into the studio each morning we had to cross this little bridge over water, like a portal to another universe, where we would find Tim‘s welcoming and infectious grin and his brilliant ears, ideas and skills for take these songs to the next level. Also, the staff played a huge role in making us feel at home. Hopefully, we can do it all again with our next AURI album together!
Lyrically wise, what you can share about its contents? Do the songs present in “Auri” have to consider some stand-alone songs or they partake a lyrical thread?
Not so much a lyrical thread, but rather an emotional journey. The order of the songs was very carefully thought through. We really strived to provide the listener a ride into the depths of imagination. Of course, the songs are infused with different themes and details that both me, Tuomas and Troy hold close to our hearts, but that is all secondary. To appreciate any music, we only needs a pair of ears and an avid heart. I’ve always thought of it as a colouring book. Whoever makes the music sketches out the outlines, but it is always up to the listener to add the colours. There is no right or wrong in interpreting music, if it evokes something profound and beautiful inside of you. It’s a very personal thing. Like looking into a mirror of sorts. Sometimes, when the mirror is clear and you can find your entire self in a song, sometimes you find just bits and pieces, and sometimes nothing at all. Nevertheless, there they are, these fascinating portals of music, scattered all across the world, ready to be discovered and entered through for a moment of reprieve and empowerment.
Most of your fellow Finns know you for your successful career whose the first official appearance dates back in 2004 with the duet “Tahdon Tanssia Kanssasi” along with Tomi Metsäketo. Since then you have released already 7 albums and artistically, you appear to be unstoppable. If you should take stock of 10 years long career, what would be the overall outcome and in hindsight, what goals did you accomplish so far?
The biggest feeling I fell is immense gratitude. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have stumbled upon music. It has tremendously helped me in finding my inner voice and what I want to do in life. Now looking back on this over a decade long journey of albums, in a sense I feel like I’m looking back on a most insightful apprenticeship training period. I know people have come to know me as a solo artist, but in reality, so far, I’ve merely enjoyed being a piece in a puzzle. So far, my career has been the result of a massive joint collaboration of a myriad of superb songwriters, producers and musicians. It is a paradox which always makes me smile and humbly appreciate the complex beauty of life. Things are rarely what they seem. And yet, now that I am, for the first time ever in a real band as AURI I feel like this is the closest I’ve ever come to expressing my deepest self thoroughly through music. But getting a glimpse of what it might actually means to be a solo artist in a sense that there are no compromises to be made, compromises which naturally occur working alongside people with different goals, ambitions and preferences. Despite the fact there are three people creating music together, in AURI is as if we all share one heart and one mind. It’s the most strangest and wonderful connection also it’s something I’ve never experienced before. Thanks to this uniquely close friendship, this wordless understanding and spirit that we share I’ve finally also managed to finally discover my own creative streak in music. Needless to say, this album has definitely begun a whole new chapter for me as an artist. As if I’ve just woken up.
On top of this, did you ever consider the option to publish your albums more widely, even outside Finland? Because, I’m really sure that, during the years, you have gained a lot of international fans which have discovered your music via Spotify…
Well, here we are, opening and spreading our hearts wide with AURI! There is a right time and place for things. And this is definitely it.
Your last full-length was released via Kaiku Entertainment in 2015 and it was called “Ingrid” [read the review here]. Do you mind recall us more about its early creative process?
For me, that album resembles the closing of a beautiful circle, the ultimate album to be made. The themes are very personal. I worked very closely with the songwriters and I’ve literally poured myself on the songs. Still, it also sparked the realisation that this was sort of it. We had done all that could be done with the tools at our disposal. To tell you the truth, until the soft beckoning breeze of AURI, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever make another album again, it was quite the exhaustive and culminating experience . With “Ingrid”, I discovered the joy of recording and editing my own vocals. It really opened up a whole new world for me, not having to sing for anyone else but yourself. I’m sure we can all relate to the feeling of singing one’s heart out when there’s nobody listening, nobody to make you feel self-conscious. There is something very liberating and empowering in that sort of boundless environment. You can really experiment and toy around with things, even at the risk of sounding completely horrendous. For me, it enabled even deeper emotional involvement and input in the songs. This method was also used in recording vocals for AURI.
Recently on your official Facebook, you have announced a tour together along with the Finnish singer Johanna Iivanainen. First of all, do you mind to introduce her to our readers and secondly, how this collaboration born?
Johanna is one of the few singers out there whose voice can make me dissolve completely. I’ve been a huge fan of her for years and when we finally met back in 2009 at a concert which we were both booked for, we just started talking and since then we never stopped. Just like in AURI, there is something very special in sharing music with a kindred spirit. When we sang together we realised we could intuitively harmonise and follow each other’s melodies. There are times when we singing together which you cannot even notice the difference between our voices. We’re also close friends on our free time we’ve been talking for ages about doing something together. Finally, this fall – the time is ripe for a tour where we’ll perform numbers from our own repertoires, as well as our favourite songs from other bands and artists, combined with songs from our previous collaborations. Needless to say, we’re super excited!
Going back to AURI, do you think there’ll be any chance to see you performing live or AURI has to take into account strictly as a studio project?
We’re definitely hoping to! The goal is to release an another AURI album somewhere in 2022 and have a small tour with it. It would be amazing to take this music to ancient surroundings, such as castles and cathedrals for instance. Luckily, we’re not in a hurry and we have plenty of time to cook up ideas for the perfect next move.
We’re almost at the end and with this please be free to say hi to your fans and our readers. Thank you so much for this interview!
Thank you! It was lovely chatting with you. For this brief journey we all have here to live, laugh and love, may music bring you joy, inspiration and peace of mind!