Recently, Finnish rock star Kauko Röyhkä had some major, packed concerts in Helsinki, as well as -- improbably -- a gig at the Baltic Herring Fest. He only sings in Finnish -- though he is fluent in English -- so that cut his crossover potential early on. His style would best be described in the US as alt-country/psychobilly/cowpunk. His singing voice is deeper and more gruff than his speaking voice. His music reminds me of the Violent Femmes, with its simpler chord structure. He counts among his influences Paul Simon, the late Lou Reed, ZZ Top and The Rolling Stones. When he's listening to music at home, surprisingly, he listens to Debussy, Ravel, Medieval music, jazz, Frank Sinatra, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, and Franck. He also likes to read novels.
I got to interview him at the Baltic Herring Fest, right before his gig! He is tall, black haired, lanky, middle aged, dressing in all black with motorcycle boots. His wife is tall, model-like and blonde. Immediately, the couple reminded me of Gene Simmons and Shannon Tweed. When I told him that, Kauko immediately replied, "But he's a sellout and I'm no sellout!" Kauko has three children, including a daughter who's a classical violinist.
His shows are low-budget: no fancy backdrop or equipment. He plays on a handmade guitar made in Finland by Kari Nieminen. Kauko says it has a strong sound.
Kauko emphasized to me that he is definitely no "sell-out," but that many Finnish stars are. He writes about "personalities . . . characters," and doesn't want to "go mainstream". He's just about the music, not particularly interested in selling merchandise.
When crafting songs, he concentrates on the lyrics, writing about love, being an outsider, nature, loneliness in the woods. He likes to go to Lapland on camping trips, though he does not hunt or fish. Kauko enjoys silence: "No cars, airplanes. It's good to get away from cell phones and the computer."
"I'm not an activist, but in songs, I want to show people the beauty of nature." He considers himself mostly "dark," but with a sense of humor. He says he has "all kinds of feelings."
When he's not being a musician, Kauko also writes, famously writing a bio of a Finnish porn star.
His audience had a lot of women in the 35 years + age bracket.
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