Interviewing a band over dinner is always quite a tricky thing. Heck, making most small talk over food stuffs is always difficult for some. But trying to keep the balance between work talk and conversation-filler anecdotes, attempting to unfold your interview notes with greasy fingers from handfuls of fries and managing small talk about the band’s forthcoming tour dates while having a mouth full up with burger; it’s always a professional minefield. Add the nervy feeling of knowing you’re going to have to listen back to the whole thing on your dictaphone later then it’s quite a strange and surreal experience indeed. These are things running through my mind as I meet Helsinki natives Zebra & Snake in an American-themed diner in the centre of London. Oh, globalisation!
I guess for accuracy and the sake of being an utmost professional journo then the audio recording is essential and good for remembering astute details. Such things as what the food orders were, of course. So if you were wondering then Matti, the group’s bassist, had a Californian burger, along with a side of hash brown, while Tapio, singer of the band, chose the halloumi burger because while he isn’t a vegetarian, he just “really likes halloumi”. You may project your own insightful thoughts on their and perhaps what it may say about them as a band or reflect about their music.
This encounter is something of a belated fixture, having previously meant to interview the band before Christmas but having recently moved to London and being between homes at the time, organising things were difficult and the date and time got chopped and changed a lot until it ended up not happening at all. So having exchanges an obscene amount of emails bouncing back and forth and with the release their forthcoming album Healing Music (which, like their name that originates from a t-shirt one of the members once wore, has a touch of irony to it), it feels the right time to sit down with the duo. It’s almost finally meeting some old pen friends, or people you’ve met on an internet forum. Almost.
“We had a Club NME show when we were last here, which was interesting,” Matti tells me as we wait for our drinks to arrive. Again, if you must know Matti ordered a coke while Tapio, obviously the rockstar of the band, didn’t think it was too early to opt for a beer. “It was at Koko in Camden, which is such a big and nice venue. At first we were wondering if people would actually be interested in us, as we played quite late – around midnight, or if they would just be into it because they were drunk by this point,” Matti laughs. “It actually turned out to be a good show, it wasn’t like people were just waiting around for us to finish so they could dance to music they actually knew again.”
But perhaps it’s for the best that we didn’t get to grab a bite last time round because it turns out the last time they were over wasn’t the greatest of introductions to London for the Finnish pair. “We spent most of the time lugging equipment to and from different parts of the city, and it didn’t help that we were staying quite far out,” the bassist bemoans as he sips on his drink, which has magically arrived in the time connecting the last paragraph to this one. “But we have now had a lot of experience with night buses,” Tapio interjects. I bemoan my own experiences with the dreaded night bus, having not been situated in the city long enough to know off by heart when the last train leaves or recall off the top of my head which buses miraculously respawn as night buses after dark. “But I like to think that I have a magical internal radar when it comes to night buses. I may not have ever been to the place but we somehow always get there in the end,” Matti jokes as Tapio nods in agreement. “I don’t want to take a single bus during this time here so it doesn’t spoil this belief.”
“Helsinki is obviously a lot smaller than London in size,” Matti says as a half-eaten burger rests on his plate surrounded by a few similarly-fated hash browns. “But that’s a good thing in a way as everyone knows each other and all the musicians help each other out.” This certainly isn’t the case with London, at least not anymore. No matter how vibrant the English capital city’s scene is at the moment, it is often disparate with East London bands occupying its own realm to, say, the trilby-hatted groups occupying Camden Road and Kentish Town.
“But there’s a slight divide between those who sing in Finnish and those who don’t,” says Tapio, the singer of the group who writes lyrics solely in English tongue. “There’s quite a lot of bands that sing in Finnish, actually. Probably most of the charts.” This is a good thing though, I suggest, as a lot of countries (Spain in particular) have charts grossly flooded by Anglo and American acts. “Oh, yeah. I agree that’s it’s a good thing for Finnish culture.”
I bring up a news story that I recently read on this very topic, regarding how the French-Canadian pop-punk band Simple Plan released not only a song but its accompanying video bilingually. As a result, the band did enormously well in their native land of Canada, appeasing both speakers of the country’s two “official” languages, and even saw a massive hike of popularity in France because of this intelligent career move. “Some bands suddenly choose to switch to English after a few albums and it seems so forced,” Tapio laughs. “We made our decision at the start and we’re sticking to it.”
Just days prior to the interview, when my eyes were keeping peeling for any news on the band, Dam Mantle – one of our favourite producers here at The Line Of Best Fit – dropped a remix of the group’s latest single ‘Sweetest Treasure’. “We actually haven’t met him in person,” Tapio pauses as the bill gets placed on the table. “But that’s the wonder of the internet, I guess. You don’t have to know someone to collaborate with them. In the same way, you don’t have to physically come across a band to come in contact with their music.”
I guess this is perfectly true, and suddenly there’s an air of how antiquated our lunch meeting is – I feel like a tabloid journalist following around the hell-raising. I down my espresso and realise that this metaphor isn’t exactly accurate in this case. But as we depart, Zebra and Snake seem to occupy a middle-ground of the old and the new. Gathering a loyal and outspoken fanbase online but still touring tirelessly, sometimes gaining a flurry of new followers as was the case in their previous NME show but also sticking it out at the more modest shows, such as the band find themselves in later that evening at the Bull and Gate. Nonplussed, Zebra and Snake showcase their fine electro-pop gems to a largely unresponsive crowd, quietly confident that it won’t be too long before everyone is listening attentively to their “healing music”.
Healing Music will be released through 100% Records on 14 May.