An Interview with Jobst of Avantgarde (Nov 2008)

Aarni is one of the most unique bands in the metal scene, even in the avant-garde circles; throughout heavy psychedelic tunes, entwined with prog and doom, exposed a solely rich and special world of varieties. Aarni makes you wonder, encourage you to use the sun wheels of the mind, using the musical mélange and the set of themes: pieces of tales from the outer mind, pearls of Lovecraftian stories, emblems of Finnish folklore and so on. The universe offers endlessly vast grounds to explore. On their second album "Tohcoth", Aarni continues to navigate through the comets. In order to catch a panoramic glimpse of the Aarnian journey, I had a lovely conversation with the mastermind behind the project, Markus Warjomaa.

For the benefit of the readers unfamiliar with Aarni, can you please give a brief history, spotted with luscious details?

MW: My current incarnation started Aarni in autumn 1998 e.v. after quitting a local dead-end metal group, which played in a somewhat similar style to Paradise Lost in their heyday. I had written a few songs and amassed a heap of riffs and melodies since the late 80's, but only began putting those together in earnest after starting Aarni. After auditioning a number of materially manifested side personalities I enrolled a couple of the least/most dysfunctional, hit the Doominvalley Studios and finished (or so we thought) our first demo CDR sometime in 2001 e.v., sending it to various labels in our outdated and ignorant belief that signing a record deal is good for you.
With our second demo the following year we got a contract with Firebox Records and released a split album with Umbra Nihil. By exploiting hidden weaknesses in listeners we received enough positive feedback to release our debut full-length 'Bathos' in late 2004 e.v. followed due to laziness by 'Tohcoth' in 2008 e.v. plus a few tribute albums and many compilation appearances. Since the release of 'Tohcoth' we have also put out a CDR EP called ‘Omnimantia’.
Currently we work on our third full-length CD, a Lovecraftian theme album. For more detailed disinformation we encourage the interested reader to idly visit our website.

Aarni is a band with the word "Avantgarde" engraved on its forehead with neon letters. How do you define that elusive term, regarding the universe and regarding Aarni?

MW: I usually try not to. I can only offer the cliché that I started Aarni simply to realize my musical ideas and perversions for the pleasure and pain of it and not to be part of some genre. Not even such a spacious and nebulous one as 'avantgarde', although I can partially see why people would apply that moniker to us. Yet I think there are bands more deserving of the term, for example Maudlin Of The Well and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum.
However, to me 'avantgarde' means 'leading edge'; a human or non-human nervous system exploring and presenting new conceptual territories to oneself and preferably to others as well.

Can you reveal who are the fleeting people on "Tohcoth"'s cover and why are they running for their lives?

MW: The people in the foreground enjoy posing against a delightful scene of universal awakening... only the startled robotic masses behind them panic as it seems suspiciously like the end of the world from their viewpoint. Apparently you can't save the world without pushing a few grannies down the stairs.
Anyway, those charming posers represent some of our past/present/future sponsors. I believe most of them are quite famous the world over (especially in these avantgarde intelligentsia circles) and so should need no introduction.
Yep, in Aarni I try to minimize catering to the lowest common human denominators of the listeners. Elitism good, petting zoo bad. Pro-crazy, anti-stupid. I like to demand a moderate level of intelligence, knowledge, sophistication and experience from my possible audience. Doesn't it feel nice to be overestimated for a change? And if you don't get something you come across in Aarni, simply go look it up. After all most of the stuff hasn't just been made up...
We wanted to use a different album cover artwork style than with 'Bathos'. This time mostly cut-and-paste photographs and imagery was employed, as on the inlay and CD booklet pages as well.

It seems that the varied aesthetics, from semi-religious to comics, play an important role in delivering Aarni into our mortal spheres. Can you share with us their ideas, hopes and dreams?

MW: You can find allusions to popular (and not-so-popular) culture and general intertextuality in Aarni's song titles, lyrics and imagery, because of the things impacting me personally in some way. I point to various genres of exoteric and esoteric literature, phenomenon and thought pretty often in the Aarni material... not necessarily meaning that I agree with all or any of them.

Maybe it comes as a bit of a surprise, but I think much of Aarni reflects a fluctuating disillusionment with the current state of things, or at least disgust with "general humanity" and escapistic perverse ways to deal with that feeling for a more positive, transhumanist future. Call it pathological rebelliousness... I guess it can be seen in the whole of Aarni: insisting to do nearly everything by myself and actively disregarding the "conventional wisdom" on how music should be composed, arranged, played, produced and processed. I usually prefer to adhere to my intuition stemming from my most cherished psychoses, loved phobias and favourite obsessions - however bizarre. I guess the end result inevitably reflects this. I myself obviously cannot really know how others look at Aarni, but maybe they interpret it as a more or less honest and lifelike musical mixture of some of the ugly, beautiful, indifferent, boring, healthy, interesting and twisted things in the human psyche aka existence. I hope (?).

Tracking down Aarni's musical influences can be a vivid game, and the name-dropping contains Prog and Krautrock and Stoner and other yummy things, yet I'd like to delve into the specific metalic influences, from the quite-obvious Black Sabbath to my humble guess of Reverend Bizarre. Can you shed some light upon everything lies in the middle of this scale?

MW: I don't admit to having any conscious influences from Stoner rock or Reverend Bizarre, as neither of them interests me very much.
As a child I was firstly exposed to folk music and via my flute/orchestra training to classical. I began to listen to rock/metal around 1982 e.v. with bands like Iron Maiden, Kiss (!), Judas Priest and all the rest that were en vogue then. By the end of that decade I mostly listened to Metallica and Black Sabbath as well as to various thrash and speed metal bands. After that in chronological order: Death, Pantera, Paradise Lost, Anathema, My Dying Bride, Candlemass, Cathedral, King Diamond, Opeth and Camel may have had the greatest influences on me. Nowadays I still listen to some of the above, plus try to find interesting new music... not just metal anymore. In recent years my playlist has indeed included various prog, kraut, jazz, avant, ambient etc. artists. Having the guitar as my main instrument since the late 80's also brings as inspiration players like Satriani, Malmsteen, Friedman and Iommi.

But naturally what music you enjoy listening to and what you make yourself can be two quite different things... I don't listen to Aarni much; beneath my standards, you know.

If to continue your saying about the high demands from the listeners, can you phrase Aarni's music basic principles? When you started to create music, have you set some goals and if so, do you feel that you achieved them?

MW: I don't believe that any basic principles consciously exist. Rather I make music as therapy to myself and trauma to others. You know, for the fun and hell of it plus because I feel compelled to realise the obsessive-compulsive ideas in my brain. And to show my wit to like-minded listeners... maybe.

When I started Aarni more or less exactly ten years ago I followed those same ideas. In my naïveté I did have the goal of making a demo and offering it to various record labels. In hindsight it seems like an extreme stroke of luck (?) that I got the first deal with Firebox, so I did achieve at least my initial goal. I also wanted to make more interesting music than what I considered as mediocre and regressive run-of-the-mill stuff present in many subgenres of metal then (the situation appears even worse now). In my opinion I've achieved the goal of "interesting" at least occasionally. I also knew next to nothing about computer-based recording or audio processing, mixing and mastering in general... I felt very much the music engineering newbie. Since then I've painstakingly and slowly learned some things about those forbidding subjects. I almost feel like I've achieved something, mostly by trial and error. Is there any other way?

Besides all that I'll recap by saying that just making and trying to enjoy the music I've got in my psyche probably was and is the only conscious goal I have, but I could be wrong. Generally I tend to avoid setting any goals for myself as the concept feels very foreign to me... that goes for all areas of life. Tends to kill the mindset needed for being creative and at ease. Goal-oriented thinking seems to be just another destructive meme from the perverse "culture" of America :)
But I think it best not to explain things overmuch. One ought to resist the human tendency to always find a reason. Let's leave the analyzing to those who should know better.

Moreover, I'd like to wonder about the Aarnian universe; it's composed of little worlds and complex than ever, as seen through "Tohcoth". How do you make the connections between the Lovecraftian tales and psychology, the Kabbala and the Kalevala, anti-religion and Paganism - All into a holistic and thematic creation? Can you share with us your point of view on these themes?

MW: I don't aim to make them into a holistic entity. Like you say, I see the "Aarni universe" as being composed of little worlds isolated from each other... islands of ignorance flaunting their desolation, if you will.
Hence the various themes in Aarni's music: certain lyrical subjects fit certain music styles better than others. In Aarni's material I usually try to avoid mixing the thematic concepts with each other, although our website has short rambling essays on stuff like the Lovecraftian Kabbala and the Aarni arrangement of Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot upon the Tree Of Life fnord.

My current attitude towards these subjects and others can be described as being agnostic at best. I believe there's no connections, no plan, nothing but relative truths, the blindness of subjectivity, health from sickness, anything goes, the castle on the horizon is only a model, nothing matters in the end, the beginning of the world is nigh, dada rules supreme and magic works.

It is hard to find a band with a healthy sense of humor, which enables its audience to enjoy both manners, humoristic and serious. What's your perspective towards it and what's your opinion about people's comprehension of Aarni in these manners?

MW: In my opinion a purely joke band tends to quickly become boring... but many people who call themselves serious artists seem to be very touchy about their work, hence in music especially you can see a wide lack and even fear of humour at least when it comes to self-irony. This appears to be very much the norm in the metal genre. But if you don't laugh at yourself, sooner or later others will. Everybody knows many metal bands that have become objects of general ridicule and scorn due to their childish displays of self-importance and assholism.

I have noticed my own compulsive tendency of using humour when communicating about Aarni online... most people seem to be able to understand and separate my goofy parlance from Aarni's music itself. Naturally there are the ignorant who think Aarni "is a joke band". The pithecoids we will always have among us, unfortunately - maybe until humankind's general intelligence evolves enough... but who cares about the music polizei anyway. "Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke".

Heh, I'm the weeping clown of Aarni it seems! It's the old cliché: I like to communicate of my work in a jocular manner, because I guess I take my music quite seriously. Bipolar with this thing...wallowing in feelings of hate, delight, depression, hopefulness, paranormal awe, loving misanthropy and beauty when I compose and plan Aarni material, but joking about it afterwards trying to balance myself. Retard pride! Hail Eris!

What can you reveal about the enigmatic Aarni members?

MW: Almost everything as there isn't much to tell: when the dolphin elders of Sirius B contacted me in 1998 e.v. giving instructions to revive the aarni aural technology on the planet we mistakenly call Earth, they also told me to evoke some of my side personalities/discarnate spirits to visible appearance to use as fall guys if things go wrong. Yet Doomintroll may not be one of them as it is the larval result of our apparently unsuccessful ritual to resurrect Moominpapa. I have a hunch that Mrs. Palm isn't either... perhaps she is some kind of egregore of my past and present (hopefully not future) personal computers. Luckily her negative (?) influence has been diminishing all the time!

What kind of responses do you get from your audience, the Finnish metal scene, the world scene, etc.?

MW: Naturally a positive response from the people who like Aarni... I've befriended a number of them and have also come into contact with musicians and bands to collaborate with. I don't know about any scenes as I try not to be part of any. Most music journalists and such apparently don't dislike Aarni, but I find their occasional impression that "Aarni is a drug band" amusing, baffling and a little sad. Maybe they got that idea from the artwork of 'Bathos'; the fly agaric mushroom on the album cover and the hemp plant in the illustration for the song 'Kesäyö'.

Sorry to burst anyone's bubble, but I wanted the mushroom on the cover simply because of its colorful appearance and also as an allusion to the band Lake Of Tears, whose early albums I like very much. As for the hemp plant which the elemental daughters dance around, it's inspired by the Kalevala's apparently Stone Age (no pun intended) poem 'Origin of Fire'. It features the main characters that happen to be nature spirits/gods fashioning a net from hemp rope to catch a fish that has swallowed the spark of fire which fell through the heavens. And also because we endorse the responsible use of pot.

But all in all those graphics weren't meant to imply that members of Aarni champion the use of psychotropic substances... otherwise we might have used a magic mushroom on the cover instead. Being the liberal intellectuals that we are, we're naturally not against their use either, but no chemical agents take part in the composition, recording or mixing of Aarni's music. Apart from the occasional use of alcohol.
I find it sad that some people assume that I must have shot LSD up my ass with a bazooka to have come up with Aarni's music, as it just shows their lack of imaginative capabilities. I think you are most effective and creative when you are sober. But I recommend the listener to be high when listening to Aarni as it makes the music sound that much better. Apart from the songs that may cause a freak-out.

A trick question: what's your favorite Aarni release so far, and why?

MW: A tricky question indeed as I listen to my own releases very rarely. I cannot help but mostly hear errors and things I would like to improve...charmingly neurotic. But perhaps my current favorite is 'Bathos' for being the first full length Aarni album with all its flaws and in retrospect I also feel pleasantly surprised by many of its songs... didn't remember I made some of those :)

Have you ever thought of performing live, going on tours etc., or you rather leave Aarni to the vast spaces of the studio recordings only? If so, why?

MW: Aarni has chosen not to play live because its members have little interest in either giving concerts or attending them. Consider this parallel: when a movie gets released, its director, actors etc. usually do not get requests to embark on a tour of live performances or stage adaptations of the film. Neither do painters, writers or most other artists. Yet with musicians this seems taken for granted. Just why this should be the case has always been somewhat of a mystery to us. The demands of convention and base "entertainment" do not make much sense in most instances, as you probably have already noticed if you happen to live anywhere on planet Earth. I think music is best enjoyed via painstakingly prepared recordings. especially if the music aims at creating certain unreal atmospheres. I think a live setting by its very nature undermines this.

Can you shed some light upon the earthly life of the man behind the name?

MW: Forgive me, I have tried for nearly 35 years now and unfortunately (?) still cannot fnord.

We've reached the final step of this fun and long interview and my final question, rather statement request, is some final words for our avantgarde readers, some Aarnian words of wisdom for a better life, etc.

MW: Let your freak flag fly. Become what you won’t. Trust your instincts. Seek to know thyself. Buy Aarni’s recordings. Repress nothing. Question authority. Use the Farce. Don’t watch TV. Transcend humanity. Reach Azathoth. Don’t believe in karma. Don’t fuss about being in tune. Don’t forget that music is the oldest and most important form of Art. Unless you want to.