Wentus Blues Band in Woodstock. On the back Kim Vikman, Niko Riippa, Clas Yngstrom
(producer), Pekka Grohn. In front Robban Hagnas, Juho Kinaret, Mikael Axelqvist.
14 September 2010   Photo gallery
Wentus Blues Band Recorded in Woodstock
A well-known fact: the USA is not the easiest of places to conquer for
European artists and bands. Even if there were demand for gigs, the
paperwork with employment authorization and all, often turn out too big an
obstacle. But why not travel there and cut a record? That is what was done by
Wentus Blues Band, a group from small-town mid-western Finland.

The six-man band, together with their Swedish producer Clas Yngstrom, arrived
in New York City in late August. Before long they took the 110-mile trip up north,
to Woodstock, which is home to a popular place to record songs -- legendary
musician
Levon Helm's studios.

The Wentus Blues Band spent nearly two weeks in upstate New York. For four
days they played as a band, and on the fifth,
Juho Kinaret recorded some vocals
and percussion. The producer and some members of the band stayed for a
couple of days more to mix the newly-canned tracks.

The band agreed on the fact that the earthy atmosphere and excellent personnel
of Levon Helm Studios are surely going to have an effect on the final outcome of
the sessions. Rural environment, natural building materials, the immeasurable
traditions of American music -- the combination should inspire any musician.

Organic

A whole bunch of new songs were created in these picturesque surroundings.
The new material represents a wide spectrum of styles.

- Traveling is one of the main themes. Our lives are all about traveling and
touring. The intention is to make music with an open mind, singer-percussionist
Juho Kinaret points out.

He added that some lyrics are somewhat historical: a song or two tell stories
about Finland's mid-western women of the years past, who moved abroad and
left their men home, licking their wounds. In addition to local history, even social
networks are covered. One of the new tracks is called "Facebook Blues"!

The album will contain exclusively new, original material. The songs are composed
by
Niko Riippa, Robert "Robban" Hagnas, Pekka Grohn, and Kinaret. Plus,
Yngstrom wrote one.

- Variety of styles has always been our thing. This time also, our music varies
from clear-cut blues to something completely different. Certainly you could play
an album full of blues; but those kind of records have been so many times made
and heard, drummer
Mikael Axelqvist says.

- Furthermore, our songs are very organic. Sometimes the final version of a song
differs completely from the original idea.

Pete Brown's input brings another interesting aspect to Wentus Blues Band's
new repertoire. Brown, an old friend of Yngstrom's, wrote several lyrics for the
new album. And he is not any old lyricist: he is the man behind the words to
Cream's immortal songs such as "Sunshine of Your Love" and "White Room".
Guitarist Niko Riippa (above) emphasizes, despite new quality material, that
everything cannot be fitted on the forthcoming album.

- There is more than an album's worth of songs. The important thing to do now is
to select a batch of songs that best suits the big picture, he says.

More Than Recording

A number of Finnish bands have made records at Levon Helm Studios. For
keyboardist Pekka Grohn, the Woodstock trip was the second one, as he played
there with
Eero Raittinen's and Ninni Poijarvi's bands three years ago.

- Last time our schedule was even tighter. We cut two albums in four days. This
time the studio was even more ideal for a keyboard player: I got to play the
Hammond B3 and also a very rare model of the Wurlitzer piano.
Pekka Grohn and Juho Kinaret playing at Levon Helm Studios.
Woodstock was not only about playing music. It was much more. The Wentus
Blues Band, or some members of the group, visited the Woodstock Festival site in
Bethel,
Albert Grossman's music center in Bearsville, and The Band's old home,
the Big Pink. Some of the guys also attended a service in a Baptist church.

Last but not least, the whole group was present at Saturday night's Midnight
Ramble session at the studio, starring
The Levon Helm Band. The band played
an excellent concert, although, after last year's vocal cord operation, Levon's
voice is far from its best.

Man in a Bathrobe

The Wentus Blues Band were obviously impressed by their days in Woodstock.
The musicians understood and respected the importance of the studio as well as
the town and its surroundings.

But it was not all fun and games. Hot and humid weather combined with
aggressively air-conditioned indoor spaces was too much for some: runny noses
and sore throats were all around.

On the other hand, the overall sound at Levon Helm Studios was different from
what some of the guys were used to. Moreover, only one of Niko Riippa's two
guitars arrived in the USA in time.

- I did not exactly get the guitar sound I wanted, as a matter of fact. In America,
they have their own idea about how a guitar should sound. Maybe my guitar
sounds something like that on the new album, Niko said.

In addition to the Midnight Ramble, the Wentus Blues Band had a brief contact
with Levon Helm. One day the guys heard loud noises from the stairs (Helm lives
in the same house). It was the drummer legend's dogs, Muddy and Lucy, making
their way back to the house. And there he was himself, too – dressed in a
bathrobe.

- Hi guys! Welcome to Woodstock, he said in a kind and gravely voice, complete
with a wide, all-American smile.

PASI TUOMINEN
Woodstock

Photo Gallery


Links: Wentus Blues Band website and MySpace, Levon Helm Studios

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WENTUS BLUES BAND

Formed in Kokkola, Finland in 1986

Released seven studio albums and two live albums

Recorded and toured with e.g. Louisiana Red, Eddie Kirkland, Mick Taylor
(The Rolling Stones), Kim Wilson (The Fabulous Thunderbirds), Sven
Zetterberg, Lazy Lester, and Eric Bibb

European tour with Duke Robillard in 2010

Celebrated 20th Anniversary with a three-night concert series "Family
Meeting" in 2006; documentary film by the same name, directed by Heikki
Kossi, premiered in 2007.

Wentus Blues Band website / MySpace
Long Time Coming
Studio time is pretty pricy back in Finland. That was one of the aspects that
made Wentus Blues Band's American trip such a natural choice.

- In fact, the Woodstock project will not become more costly than cutting a
record in Finland. If you organize everything well and especially if you get
outside financial support, even flights and hotel accommodation will be
covered, the group's bassist Robban Hagnas (pictured above) calculates. He
runs the band's business side of things.

Robban had met Levon before. A few years ago, he and Juho Kinaret traveled
to Woodstock in order to get inspiration for their movie "Family Meeting",
which eventually premiered in 2007.

- We had a chat with Levon that time. Making a record at his studio was also
discussed.

Ruf Records, label from Germany, released the "Family Meeting" soundtrack.
According to Hagnas, the very same label is interested in releasing the
Woodstock album, too. The deal would guarantee a healthy distribution in
Finland and elsewhere in Europe. The new Wentus album might come out in
early 2011.

Natural building materials are the speciality of Levon Helm Studios. The giant
logs are put together by thick wooden pegs, and no actual nails have been
used. Walls made of local bluestone, additionally, contribute to fine acoustics.

- I have seen a lot of studios. But this one is the best of them all, says
keyboard man Pekka Grohn, himself a big fan of Levon's legendary group The
Band.
A Respected Producer
Yngstorm, Kinaret and Justin Guip discussing vocal tracks.
The producer, Clas Yngstrom, is a long-time friend of the band. He
remembers meeting Robban Hagnas for the first time in the late 90's. Clas
produced an album for them in 2001 ("No Beginner"), so one could say the
Woodstock project is something of a 10th anniversary.

- The Wentus guys have a really strong work ethic. Seventeen songs in four
days, wonders Yngstrom, a producer who prefers recording live.

- Recording at Levon Helm Studios was a fantastic experience. Production
Manager, Chief Engineer
Justin Guip was an ideal co-worker as well. In
addition to top-notch equipment, we used an old tape recorder for a certain
effect: there has to be some lo-fi, too!

Guip was also impressed by the group's hard-working attitude. Moreover, he
has good memories from his trip to Finland: invited by Finnish musicians in
the winter of 2008, he traveled to the northern province of Lapland and
enjoyed, for example, an extensive snowmobile safari -- and a blues festival
called Tunturiblues.

Getting lyrics from Pete Brown was made possible by Yngstom. Brown
produced the Swede's 1996 album "Fat Guitar", which was recorded in New
Jersey. Clas and his band
Sky High are still active.

- We, too, have plans to cut some new material. Possibly a new album will
come out next year, Yngstrom says of his band project of 25 years and more.

The Wentus Blues Band were very happy to have Clas as the producer of their
Woodstock project.

- It is very good to have someone in the studio. If everybody just recorded the
way they wish, the outcome would not be good, guitarist
Kim Vikman notes.

- Clas is a very nice man and he has seemed satisfied with our playing. But if
he thinks something is not working, he is ready to show his temper.

Yngstrom is an excellent guitarist and singer himself. Singer Juho Kinaret
was pleased for the support he got from the producer.

- He helped me a lot in vocal lines. It was the first time in my life that I had
such a producer with me in the studio.