Interview with Finnish band of Wentus Blues Band - the supernatural heartbeat of Nordic blues explosion

"I think music is the best way to make friends over all barriers... music can heal and you can connect with people you not can even talk to... I would say it´s the strongest power we have and can share..."

The Wentus Blues Band: Nordic Explosion

While most people associate the blues with the steamy bayous of Louisiana and the cotton fields of Mississippi, lovers of the devil´s music may be surprised to hear that there is also a thriving scene in Scandinavia. At the heart of this Nordic blues explosion are the WENTUS BLUES BAND, who hail from Kokkola in central Finland. And while the pine studded wilderness of their homeland is about as far as you can get from the juke joints of the Deep South, there´s no doubting their musical credentials. The band are: Juho Kinaret on vocals, Niko Riippa on guitar, Robban Hagnäs on bass, Pekka Gröhn on keyboards, and Daniel Hjerppe on drums. Established in 1986, the band have acquired a reputation as the hardest working in Scandinavia and play around 150 gigs a year. The Wentus Blues Band has toured in 17 countries, released 10 albums, done several TV-shows, headlined festivals and toured with many bluesmen. Expect explosive blues and frantic rhythm and blues, played with laid back stylishness. 

(Juho Kinaret, Niko Riippa, Robban Hagnäs, Pekka Gröhn, and Daniel Hjerppe / Photo by Heidi Alho)

The band has played over 3000 gigs at festivals and clubs in England, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Benelux-countries, Italy, France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Faroe Islands…Without a doubt, the artistic quality of Wentus Blues Band is supernatural with the impressive voice and the energy and charisma that are unrestrained. They have demonstrated this on the stages on their successful performances in a multitude of festivals and special events all over Europe. Wentus Blues Band released the brand new album ”TOO MUCH MUSTARD” (2019), recorded in USA at the Lakewest Recording Studios in Rhode Island and is produced by the legendary guitarplayer Duke Robillard. The Duke himself plays also guitar on the album. The new album consists of 50 % originals written by the Wentus Blues Band along with 2 songs from Duke Robillards early releases; ”She Made My Mind” and ”Passionate Kiss”. The band also covers songs by their old friend Lazy Lester, Holmes Brothers, Tom Waits, Robert Johnson and Leonard Cohen.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What were the reasons that you started the Blues and Rock researches and experiments?

Juho: When I founded my first band, my friend’s mothers had some blues LP’s. After listening those LP’s, we found some songs we wanted to try to play. I think I found at the same time a way to express my feelings and emotions trough the music. Blues sounded for me as a raw and honest without any limits what you can sing about.

Robban: From the first time I heard Blues music I was hooked and started my musical investigations and adventure, a lifelong journey that has taken me to different paths all over the world... I think it´s the best way to travel and I have gained friends all over the world...

Niko: When I started playing guitar and formed my first band the biggest influences were Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, ZZ-top etc. and of course learned songs by them. And pretty soon I noticed these songs were based upon the Blues so from there to SRV, Johnny Winter and from there further to Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and then Robert Johnson, Skip James, and after some years I found myself and WBB together on the stage with likes of Louisiana Red, Eddie Kirkland etc.

What do you learn about yourself from the blues music and culture and what does the blues mean to you?

Juho: The Blues music is a universal playground. It doesn’t look your color, how old you are or where do you come from. It gives you simple tools to start with and after that feel free to bring your own ideas to this playground. For me it has also begun to be a natural way to remember certain people and happenings. It also gives me a chance to express my emotions and ideas. (and moves…)

Robban: For me blues has become a lifestyle and what it really means for me is the way to cope with hard times and struggling through life and it´s matters and problems. Finnish people are well known for not to talk that much about feelings and therefore doing it through music is a great way to express yourself.

Niko: To listen and to be in the moment. That beautiful music can be born from culture under pressure. Blues means life.

"I think we in WBB see ourselves as a Scandinavian band and very much a representative of that. There is some difference in each region of Europe which of course varies by time and what bands are most active. But on the whole, there is a GREAT interest and love for the original blues in Europe."

How do you describe Wentus Blues Band sound and songbook? What characterize band’s name and philosophy?

Juho: Touring and playing all the time is the best way to create tight sound and own style. When you do it day after day, you don’t have to think about playing all the time. You are living the music. That gives you chance to transfer your daily emotions into your music. I also believe in this “learning by doing” method. More I do more learn… I think we do music that looks like us.

WBB's 30th anniversary: Why do you think that WBB continues to generate such a devoted following?

Juho: I think we have our own style to play. Someone said that it is honest and raw. We have also learned a trick or two from our loved mentors we have played with.

How do you describe “Too Much Mustard!"” songbook and sound? Are there any memories from studio sessions?

Juho: Too Much Mustard is a studio live album. Most of the songs are made in that session. This was more like having fun with friends. Whole session was full of stories from the road. We kind of played through those feelings. This was also a chance to meet our old friend Duke. Was fun all the way! Also, that album title came from Duke’s story.

Robban: Too Much Mustard is a mixture of own originals, songs from Dukes early years and some great covers... It was a thrill to do the recording session and we had such a great time recording and coming up with the songs... some of the songs we came up with in the studio...

Niko: For me it was like a meeting with friends playing music and having a good in in a new surrounding (USA). This was of course planned and orchestrated by the producer Duke Robillard. We had talked about doing a couple of WBB originals and some of Dukes writings and after that just see what happens. For me (think I can talk for the rest of the guys too) being a fan of Dukes work we had a good picture of how we wanted to sound. Duke's dog Minnie running around in the studio very very happy after every take (probably because she could come in to the recording room after).

"I think we have our own style to play. Someone said that it is honest and raw. We have also learned a trick or two from our loved mentors we have played with." (Photo: Juho Kinaret & Duke Robillard)

What is the legacy of Duke Robillard to music todays? What has made you laugh working with him?

Juho: Duke is an amazing guitar player! He’s also open minded to do some experimental things on his music. He can different styles and still Sound like himself. Laidback pleasure!

What touched (emotionally) you from Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Robert Johnson, Chuck Willis, and Wendell Holmes?

Juho: Crazy dude telling strong story. Then he put some musical magic on it. You just gotta love it.

How has the Blues and Rock influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Juho: I have found friends all over the world! I realized that age is just a number and people are the same no matter your color or nationality. Blues is the international sand box where you can play with everybody.

Robban: It became my life - what more can I say... I love playing music and all the people we met along the road.

Niko: For me it's been a wonderful journey being able to meet, play and work with artist like Duke, Louisiana Red, Mick Taylor, Eddie Kirkland etc. And all the wonderful people involved in the Blues scene. It's certainly a scene for genuine music lovers and I wouldn't change it for anything.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Juho: Our old mentors have taught me to be myself as a musician and person as well. Learning this from these old masters has been more value to me than any gold.

Robban: We have been very lucky to have the chance to meet a play with so many people and we have somehow managed to create a blues-family where all the older guys are like grandpas and uncles… the most important has without doubt been Eddie Kirkland and Louisiana Red that ore became like mentors for us. All the long discussions with Eddie about not just music but life has been memorable moments that I will keep in mind as long as I live...  The best advice..? hmm.. Eddie put in one line in one of his song “Pick up the pieces and keep on marching on...”

Niko: Louisiana Red and Eddie Kirkland, Red said to listen, Eddies advice was to make it my own.

"The Blues music is a universal playground. It doesn’t look your color, how old you are or where do you come from. It gives you simple tools to start with and after that feel free to bring your own ideas to this playground." (Photo: Wentus Blues Band & Mick Taylor, 2004)

Are there any memories from Eddie Kirkland, Louisiana Red, and Mick Taylor which you’d like to share with us?

Juho: They all seemed to like our car. Chevy Van. Eddie usually kissed the car when he came to tour with us. Usually they continued playing guitar after the show in the hotel room and then they slept in the car.

Robban: Oh, there are so many...Our 20 years anniversary Family Meeting of course... but definitely the last show with Eddie Kirkland... Eddie told me just before the show at a festival in Sweden... “MY GIRLFRIEND IS HERE!! “ – note Eddie was then 88 or 89... and he came up on stage with a big smile and told everybody that this is a special night for him, he put on a show with such energy that night that would have made even the guys in Pearl Jam jealous.. he really put on everything he had just to make an impression on the girlfriend... he was rocking, we were doing a boogie that put everybody in trance... during a blues ballad people in the audience were crying and he made that tent that night into one of the greatest shows ever seen... amazing...

Niko: There's so many, I think about Red and Eddie every day still. They were so humble and kind spirits. Mick also.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Juho: I’m missing those great characters and the honest way how they perform and lived the life of a bluesman. I hope that I have health to do this as long as I live. I don’t really fear the future, I’ll do my thing as good as I can. What comes it comes.

Robban: Well, of course I would have wanted to see all the old guys that now or gone... but I live for tomorrow and we have to take the blues music one step further to the next generation, get them inspired and make sure that the music will live on... 

Niko: That it came naturally. I hope it don’t get institutionalized like jazz, it came from common people and I hope it stays with the common people.

"Touring and playing all the time is the best way to create tight sound and own style. When you do it day after day, you don’t have to think about playing all the time. You are living the music. That gives you chance to transfer your daily emotions into your music. I also believe in this “learning by doing” method. More I do more learn… I think we do music that looks like us." (Photo by Stephan Nord)

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Juho: Music is not a competition of skills and techniques. Music is a way to expose your personality and emotions. It’s a way to share something to the others and a tool to be social. 

Robban: I would like to be able to attract more younger people to come out and listen to music that they are not familiar with... make the live music scene more virile.

Niko: I guess it's quite good as it is, a lot of good things is going on underground. Maybe that live music would be a part of everyone’s everyday life.

How do you describe previous album “THROWBACK” songbook and sound? Are there any memories from studio sessions?

Juho: Making Throwback album was also good way to have some time to remember all those great persons we have played with. Gives kind of feeling that they were also there some way. We also went through lot of good tour memories while playing… Lots of fun, I tell ya!

You have traveling around the Europe. Do you find any difference and similarity between the local scenes?

Juho: Every City has its own kind of feeling. In Finland we have very different kind of audiences depends the part of the country we play. Goes same way pretty much everywhere.

Robban: Yes, there are differences all over... in some countries we have a younger audience and in some we have an older crowd... especially in the western part of Europe you find an audience that was raised on the 60´s boom and more east again you have a young crowd that now has found this music scene…

Niko: I think we in WBB see ourselves as a Scandinavian band and very much a representative of that. There is some difference in each region of Europe which of course varies by time and what bands are most active. But on the whole, there is a GREAT interest and love for the original blues in Europe.

"Music is not a competition of skills and techniques. Music is a way to expose your personality and emotions. It’s a way to share something to the others and a tool to be social." (Photo by J©han H.)

Make an account of the case of the blues in Finland. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

Robban: The blues in Finland is doing well at the moment, we just had the Finnish Blues Awards and there were a lot of bands there that showed how good this scene is doing... we have a lot of bands that manage well abroad and it seems like the Finnish blues has really taken a step further... 

Niko: I have to say that the Blues scene in Finland has never been better, great musicians’ great bands good audience.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the local music circuits?

Juho: Finnish Blues Awards was a good place to meet old friends in arms and cats up with the good stories from the road…

Robban: I enjoy playing and jamming a lot and just makin music with my friends is really what I live for… Can´t tell anything special since I always get touched by music as long as it´s made with soul and great feeling...

Niko: I'm so glad for Olli Ontronen who joined Candy Cane band as a drummer.

What is the impact of Blues and Rock n’ Roll culture to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

Robban: I think music is the best way to make friends over all barriers... music can heal and you can connect with people you not can even talk to... I would say it´s the strongest power we have and can share...

Niko: Guess its shows that we're all human beings. And we all building a brighter future together.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

Juho: Wentus 20years Family Meeting concert in Helsinki and chance to see all those guys together again.

Robban: I would go to Harlem, Apollo Theatre to see Ike & Tina Turner in like 1967 -1969 to see their show... That must have been THE ACT to see and experience live...

Niko: Back in the Wentus Blues Bands van together with Eddie and Red and all the other fellows.

Wentus Blues Band - Home

Photo By Heidi Alho

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