Finland’s Cats Of Transnistria are vocalist Henna Emilia Hietamäki, guitarist and sound designer Tuomas Alatalo and violinist Sanna Kom. In February they released their landmark second LP “Opium” (Soliti), a dark, hypnotic heartworm. We have featured the cats on a number of occasions and were delighted to catch up with them in this week’s Super World Interview Time. Check it out, it’s purrfe…[NO CAT PUNS! Ed.]
Do you believe in independence for Transnistria?
Tuomas: I believe in the independence of an individual. Fuck borders.
When did your musical journey begin?
Henna: I had a classic girls music education: I played classical piano and sang in a choir. Later I got into rock’n’roll and have been in different bands since I was a teenager. But I think becoming a musician has to do more with personality than the musical education: my life experiences and genes are the biggest reason I have to do this. I need a way to exhale the emotional storms inside.
How did you meet and what did you think of each other when you when you first met?
Tuomas: We met about 8 years ago with Henna when auditioning for a new singer for our band called The Caravaners. She was good! I think we had instant chemistry. We became good friends and made music with this band about four years before founding COT. Nowadays we’re like siblings.
We became a trio in summer 2016 when our violin player Sanna came along and it felt just right. It was very exciting and fresh to have a violin player with us. When we recorded the violin parts for our new album, the thing finally clicked and now it’s hard to think about not having the violin in our music.
Are all cats grey?
Henna: Tuomas lives with an orange cat and I live with a cat that’s black and white. So due to our research, I have to answer ‘no’.
T: All Cats Are Beautiful.
Are you excited/nervous about the release of the new Album? Are you happy with the reception so far?
T: Releasing an album is an exciting thing to do but it feels good to have it out, finally. The record itself has been ready since October, that’s where the fun part ends. For me the rest feels mostly just extra work, where to press, the promotion, trying to conjure some money to pay the people who are helping you etc. The reception has been mostly positive. I hope it turns out to be a slow burner. I’m feeling really happy with the record, I think it sounds just the way it should.
What was the first piece of music you loved, and why?
H: I remember how as a child I felt this weird sensation of belonging and relief when I heard some melancholic old blues and jazz standards like “Cry Me A River” or “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”. I was a sad, weird kid.
What is your favourite song that you’ve written and why?
T: “Let It Happen This Way”. It’s like the theme song of the band. Ominous, stripped down, kind of primitive. You can feel the storm approaching.
H: Most of our songs are based on Tuomas’s guitar chords. On this album, ‘October’ and ‘Opium’ are originally my songs. I’m happy with both of them. They are a bit more straightforward than Tuomas’s songs but I think they fit in well. ‘Opium’ is a big ballad and I love those.
What artist(s) has been your biggest influence and in what way?
H: Thinking about Cats of Transnistria I think our mutual influences have been, for example, Low and Philip Glass. They have shown that repetition and slow building can be a beautiful thing and that intensity doesn’t have to always mean loudness. We both have been big Sonic Youth fans and I think that has made us think of music also as sound art where you can break boundaries and have experimental noise and whatever, there are no rules you have to obey in music.
Do you argue much about songs, musical direction etc.?
T: We don’t really argue about our music. Sometimes we dump each others song ideas but usually, it works out very naturally. We sit down with Henna and have a new song by the time we exit the door. Then we call Sanna to do the violin parts.
H: I think we have so similar tastes that there has been no reason to argue. I’m happy with what Tuomas does and it seems it’s the same another way around. It amazes me that we have had so little problems with each other ever as close relationships tend to have hard times too. For some reason, we just work really well together.
What song by another artist do you wish you had written and why?
T: Gimme Danger. I wish I could write hotter riffs.
H: I’m happy with the songs I write and happy that other people make lovely songs too. Could not have done theirs and they could not have done ours. No need for envy!
What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened to you recently?
H: Falling in love is super weird as a practicing nihilist. Don’t know what to think of it.
What’s exciting you about the Finnish music scene?
H: I really appreciate Lau Nau who has done experimental, dreamy music for a long time. She has gotten some long-awaited praise in media about it just now. There is also a new interesting rise of Finnish garage rock happening. Also, there are more female musicians than before which is great.
What’s the best phrase you’ve picked up in another language?
H: Would be great to throw some deep French poetry here but I really can’t think of anything. Well, I find the expression “La petite mort” (little death) for an orgasm beautiful.
What’s your idea of success?
H: I really don’t need my picture on magazines or to see myself on TV. I feel we’ve succeeded when we are playing our music to an audience who seem to enjoy it a lot. Someone crying at our show is the best thing, it feels like a gift that someone lets you in and under their skin. I feel very good every time someone says something nice about our band. Sometimes it feels like we are against the world as what we do is not very trendy or mainstream appropriate. We are very happy to play in London this spring and would love to do more shows outside of Finland too. That would be a very nice type of success.
Which of these activities are you most likely to be found doing: (a) baking a cake, (b) tinkering with a motorbike, (c) visiting a museum or (d) drinking whiskey?
T: I’m trying to change my habits, trying to bake more cake and drink less whiskey.
H: I’d love to ride a motorcycle and bake cakes but consuming art and drinks is always more likely for me.
What question would you like to be asked that you never are and what would your answer be?
H: Q: Would you want more financial support to help you focus on making music? A: Yes.
Does the path of excess lead to the palace of wisdom?
T: Walk the path and you might find out. Life is short.
H: Not really a fan of excess. I think the palace of wisdom is more likely to be found by meditation, art, and nature – and by making mistakes. Failure and hurt makes us wiser.
Photos by Eetu Maaranen/Heta Saukkonen.