Kimi Kärki is a giant in the shifting world of post-industrial music, but his real name is coming forward now with the new solo project. His influence inside the world of doom music extends internationally from its Finnish roots, and though he has been in so many different projects (many of which you will see in later features here), Lord Vicar is what comes to most people’s mind.
Now he is looking inward with his solo project, breaking away from the layered sounds he is regularly known for and sides with minimalism. The depth of lyrics make sense given his academic background, but his focus on confronting rising authoritarianism is what really put him on our radar to begin with. He sets his sites on religious fundamentalism, political totalitarianism, the collapsing climate, and the far-right shift that has happened across the West.
In our interview with Kimi Kärki we dive directly into his new album, how he developed his solo sound, and what it means to be an antifascist in this contentious music world.
You have been incredibly prolific over the years, and your music has been equally diverse. How did you first encounter music?
When I was a kid I would like the more epic intro tunes of television programmes, and record them for myself with a tape machine… kind of taking them out of their audiovisual context. I simply loved the epic quality that combines layers and melodies. I would listen to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons when I went to sleep, every night. I guess my interest in narratives and cinematic feel in music, even conceptual thinking, started already there and then, around the age of seven. A classmate played me rock music, and there was no turning back. Now these things, and I should also mention a certain melancholy, runs through all music I have made, with bands like Reverend Bizarre, Lord Vicar, Orne, Uhrijuhla, E-Musikgruppe Lux Ohr, and the acoustic solo albums. Diverse genres from doom metal to prog and pop psychedelia, but with similar heart.
How did this most recent solo album come together?
I have now done two, The Bone of My Bones (2013) and Eye for an Eye (2017), both with the Finnish independent label Svart Records. I recorded both in my hometown Turku, in Finland, with producer Joona Lukala at Noise for Fiction studio. I used to incorporate a lot of acoustic passages in my earlier more band driven music, and Svart suggested I should do something more with that. At the same time, I had already written some original songs. I was playing some of that stuff in studio while making the second Orne album Tree of Life (Black Widow Records, 2011), and the drummer offered me a solo gig at the local info shop/activist book café. Then a promoter in Dublin heard about that, and I played my second solo gig there at a basement of a record store. Good start. In 2012 I was invited to do a few shows in Italy, and closed a doom metal festival in Parma with an acoustic gig around 4 am. Doing this kind of singer-songwriter material felt natural for me, I had always written music with an acoustic guitar, and loved the acoustic albums of Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Nick Drake, to mention three. Music driven by strong and simple melodies, but as much the quality lyrics. Lyrics have always been an important part of music for me.
These last two albums feel much more stripped down than your projects before, why did you decide to go so minimalist with these albums? How do you define your music now?
That was the idea, to strip it down and explore that side of the music where you cannot hide behind a wall of sound. I loved what Rick Rubin was doing with the production of Johnny Cash for the American Recordings, going to the very core of the songs, pure minimalism with the arrangements. I felt a strong need to do this kind of ”naked” encounter also live, to put myself in a test — could I touch the feeling of the listeners in this very primitive way of musical storytelling? My music is still the same, but the songs get directed to different bands and genres very naturally, their context change. I have sometimes also ”covered” some of my more mellow band driven material in my solo gigs.
There is a strong sense of narrative in your music, a kind of songwriting storytelling. How do you consider your lyrics, where do they come from and what themes draw you?
I am really interested in myths as a form of intuitive form of transmission. Symbols, words and stories have power that open us to the world, and this was especially true in prehistorical world, but also now. This power can be used for good and bad purposes. My writing is based partly on dreams, subconscious flow, my own experiences that I felt had a more universal resonance, and the history. I am interested in the things that shape us as people: love, hate, longing, the pursuit of happiness, loss, violence, cruelty, kindness, spiritual growth, the nocturnal world.
What bands inspired you in doing the work?
The already mentioned storytellers mostly. Also the more subtle moments of bands like Led Zeppelin, The Who, Black Sabbath, early Genesis with Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd… Musically my acoustic material floats also within the long tail of storytelling, between American folk and outlaw country, but also Celtic folk heritage, and perhaps a touch of Finnish melancholy. I do listen to a great variety of genres, and it’s sometimes difficult to pin down where an idea comes from.
There is a strong spiritual center to your work, but feels like a walk along a path rather than driving from a spiritual home. Do you identify with paganism, like a lot of people in the genre? What has that meant to you?
I would define myself as an agnostic who has an endless interest in religions from the research perspective. I am a pagan only in two senses: I am not a Christian, and I tend to get spiritual experiences in the nature. But I also consider my martial arts training in Aikido to be a form of strong mind-body spirituality. Some claim it’s a form of meditation, moving Zen. To be historically accurate, it comes from Omoto-kyo neo-Shinto.
Why do you think it is important to be a publicly antifascist band? How does antifascism inform your music?
I have two children, and the future looks bleak… In this era of rising populism it’s extremely important to remember what happened in the 1930s and 1940s. The last thing we need now is egomaniacs, dictators, walls and violence. We should be thinking globally, as we would have means to solve the problems with education, more equal distribution of wealth and rapid advancement of green technologies. But I don’t see it happening fast enough… Melting polar permafrost will release more methane and speed up the global warming. Next there will be lack of food and drinkable water in many areas inhabited by millions of people. Rising sea levels, mass migration…
What other social issues play into your music? There is a strong sense of countering extremist religious oppression.
Well, it all comes back to the future of this planet. We either find ways to fix our problems, coexist, or leave everything to cockroaches. The right to exist, right for education, obligation to learn empathy. Otherwise it’ll be a slow decline into the night. I really don’t see religious extremism as an answer yo anything at all…
What’s coming next for you?
Just finishing a tour with Lord Vicar, typing this between the cities. We just released our fourth album and will be playing more live shows for it… slowly writing new material for my different musical outfits. I work as a researcher at University of Turku. My current professional project is funded by the Kone Foundation, and I am studying the cultural history of Artificial Intelligence, how it has been portrayed in popular culture, and how speech works as an interface. Talking Machines…
What other bands do you recommend for antifascist neofolk fans?
In Gowan Ring/Birch Book… if there ever was a loving hippie in that scene, it must be Bobin ”B’ee” Eirth!!!
We are putting a few tracks below from his Bandcamp, and will be adding several tracks to the Antifascist Neofolk Playlist, so make sure to follow it!