This is not your regular band story. It starts back in 1962 with American band Mike & The Ravens. Like many talented bands of that era, Mike & The Ravens did not make it and they just released a couple of singles. More than 40 years, upstate New York based American producer Will Shade tracked down the band all the way to Vermont and while producing their first album, he introduced songwriters Mike Brassard and Steve Blodgett to Finnish singer and former Branded Women keyboard player Salla Day. It was love at first sight and Salla took a bunch of songs written over forty years, put Them Bird Things together and record a timeless album with twelve songs that delightfully blend the traditional sounds of pop, folk, psychedelia, country and rock and roll. Fly, Them Bird Things, Fly! is one this year’s best albums, and I am not talking only about Finnish music. It will cheer you up any day of the week.
How come does a Finnish singer come to record the songs of some old songwriters from Vermont?
Will Shade tracked down their band Mike and the Ravens and he put them back together more than 40 years after their heyday. He produced and recorded an album, but at that I was playing keyboards in Branded Women. Will thought that I would really like their music so Steve started sending me demos that he had recorded over the years, from the early sixties to 2000s. I just fell in love with the music. The first thing I thought was why these guys are not famous. They were supposed to be famous like Dylan or Neil Young or other people. Next summer, in 2006, I went to the States while they were recording their first album in 45 years and Will introduced me to Steve and Mike. There Steve kept telling me if it came a time when I did not have anything to do, I should think about doing their songs. I went back home with this idea on my head so when Branded Women was put to rest, I started thinking more and more about the idea of singing some of Steve and Mike’s songs. We finally put a band together and now we have an album.
What was Steve’s reaction to the project?
I don’t know. He has never really told me how he took it. He was really flattered and excited, of course, and came to Finland to do gigs with us. But I think he was a bit skeptical at first. He wanted this thing to happen and kept sending me songs, but I don’t think he really expected that we would be here in such a short period of time.
When did you record the album?
We started in late 2008 and we recorded all the basic tracks in seven days, then we continued in other studio will all the vocals and some guitars. That was already this year, in January and February. We did it very fast because it was so clear what we wanted to do.
I suppose there was a few trips between Helsinki and Vermont.
I went there three time and Steve came to Helsinki twice and of course, there was a constant flow of emails, calls, mp3. It is easy do it these days.
How was the process of going through all the songs?
It was not easy, but I wanted this first album to have all the sides of the band. Like a Fire for example, has a surf vibe, Pockets of Rain is folk rock psychedelia, other songs have a bit of country or rock. Those are my favourite genres and I wanted to combine them. That’s the only thing I wanted to do. I did not want to think about a rock and album and ditch anything that it is not rock. I did not want to play with those rules. Steve has a very wide range of songs and I wanted to take advantage of that. As a matter of fact, he has never written an album because he grew up in an era where bands recorded singles. He always focuses on that, on one song, and not on a whole album.
Did Steve and Mike write song during all these decades?
Steve has always written songs and Mike was working as a manager and producer in the eighties. The rest of the of the Ravens dropped music. Steve was a lawyer and worked in the morning and when he was driving back he always thought about songs that later he put on tape in the basement.
Are you planning to record more songs?
Yeah! Steve is on fire now. He had a break in the nineties when he did not write much. Sometimes you just give up. Now that the Ravens album has happened and Them Bird Things has happened, he is a full time songwriter again. It is really nice to see how much he is enjoying. He is 65 but acting like a 16 year old.
In this project, you shifted from having a side role in Branded Women to be the band leader, how did you handle this change?
It took a lot of courage and I had to talk myself into doing it. I had to have these sessions with myself to convince myself that I could do it. It was a bit safe place to be on stage behind the keyboards. I could dance and have fun without anyone reaching me. Now it is more challenging, but I’m learning.
What is the story about the band’s name?
You could say that there are some clues in the name. It was Will who came with it. He used to write poems and stuff and he said that he had this sentence, Them Bird Things. I started thinking about it and I realized there are these bands Them, Yardbirds, Pretty Things… It is a nice name.
Some might say that this is retro music.
Maybe it is, but I wanted to make an album that sounds like something that I want to listen to. When you listen to music done in the eighties, nineties or eighties, you can always notice that it sounds so eighties or so nineties. There are always these new tools that people use. It can be synthesizers or digital equipment but It always changes the sound, so I wanted to use only those elements that time has proven to be timeless. I did not wanted to put elements that are dated. This album should not sound like 2009 and I thought that the only safe way to do was to avoid modern sensibilities. Maybe it’s retro then but that’s the kind of music I like. I just wanted to be honest.
What are your favourite artists of that era?
The Byrds. Simple as that. Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde is definitively one of my favourites albums. I don’t go far away without that album.
What do you think about the success of new bands like Fleet Foxes?
It’s great. After so many years of listening to overproduced music, people are desperate for music that sounds human, music played by human beings and not just freaking machines.
In Finland, there are not many bands playing these traditional sounds, why not?
I really don’t know. Are there any? Some people have asked me how come I dare to do this but I don’t think it’s brave at all.
Photo by Aki Roukala