THE MIKE BELL CARTEL - A FRENCH CHANSON INSPIRED ALBUM SOMEDAY SOON ?
You all come from different bands, can you tell us about your background?
Mike: Yes, we all have been playing in many different bands and styles over the years: rockabilly, indie-pop, ska, surf, punk…Mike Bell & The Belltones, The Hypnomen, The Fanatic IV, Valkyrians, Kevin, The Toxics, Them Bird Things and many others. I thought it would be cool to write some garage songs and put on a band, if only to make some recordings. I asked all the guys that I knew who would probably want to play in a garage band and luckily that was just enough to form The Mike Bell Cartel. I’ve been playing with Pekka and Samuel before so I knew for sure they’d be up for it.
How did you discover the kind of music you play ? Did you play a lot of gigs under the name Mike Belle Cartel?
Ville: The release of the Nuggets box set in 1998 had a huge impact for all of us.
Mike: Nuggets is definitely the key: there’s so many different styles and sounds and feelings, it’s raw and it’s poppy, there’s EVERYTHING you need for a happy life. Some might argue that The Mike Bell Cartel is not a garage band but a 60’s style pop band. That may be so but we can still kick ass live on many bands who claim to be more snotty and punky, haha! But so far we’ve only done about a dozen gigs because corona pretty much stopped everything for everyone. Luckily we had time the make the album even though we could not gig anywhere.
Mike: Mike Bell & The Belltones is a bare bone authentic rockabilly band and we are still going strong! I like to broaden my horizon musically but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the next album from The Mike Bell Cartel will be that different from the first. I like to write pop songs as good as I can. I’m really waiting to start working on the second album for The Mike Bell Cartel but before that we will record a single early next year.
Pekka, I read that you are a journalist, is it true ? Could you tell us what kind of things you write about ? Could you also tell us what are for you the main differences between a band like Mike Belle Cartel and the Hypnomen you played in ?
Pekka: Yes it’s true. I work as a music journalist and documentarian for Finnish National Broadcasting Company (our BBC, sort of), have my own radio show and do documentaries about music, history and related topics. I also write reviews and articles about music, but more just for fun. The biggest difference between The Hypnomen and Mike Bell Cartel is the that my old band is all instrumental. Hammond-driven psychedelic groove, played quite freely occasionally. Mike Bell Cartel is build around great songs. Songs are the most important thing for me as a player here. I like play in a pretty disciplined and melodic style and do a little fuzz freak out here and there BUT ALWAYS keep the focus on the songs. Also Hypnomen sounds a bit heavier leaning more on the late 60’s sound and borderline hippie stuff, Cartel is strictly mid-sixties garage, pop and folk rock as far as style and influences go.
Ville Särmä, I've seen that you've been involved in many different things. Isn't it strange for you to switch from one style to another?
Ville: As a kid I grew up in a household full of music, so many different styles. Ranging from my earliest passion which was second wave rockabilly. My dad played r&b, jazz, experimental and prog, my mum had a penchant for French chanson and modern classical, my sister was a kid of the synth pop generation. In our house there was music playing out of two or three different rooms at all times. So all of that was nurturing my view that it's all music, and if it's good then it's ok. I have a very specific sense of a musical aesthetic so I never jump into something weird or touch anything I wouldn't love 100%. Of course some people would think about image, they would maybe stick to stuff that only supports some specific image. I don't have an issue like that and never will.
Samuel, on your side you participated in the Valkyrians and the Monhead Project, ska bands. Why do you do garage rock now?
Samuel: I don´t see such a big difference between the two styles. Ska and Garage Rock, both have the same roots in Rhythm and Blues, just a little geocultural difference. I play many styles of music, from dub to post-punk. When I was younger I was a bit more radical but now I hate to be pigeon-holed in one subculture. I just wanna have fun, like girls do.
How did you get into the Swedish label Beluga Rds?
Mike: About 3,5 years ago we were supposed to play our first gig at a garage festival in Helsinki. The festival however was cancelled just one week before so The Mike Bell Cartel teamed up with some other garage bands and together organized this drunken garage club night. The guys from Beluga were in town anyways because of the cancelled festival, they saw our first gig and offered a record deal on the spot.
Can you tell us how was the work with the producer Liam Watson ( producer of Elephant from the White Stripe) ? Did you choose him yourself, did you go to Toe Rag studio or did you correspond by distance?
Mike: I thought that Liam would be the best man to mix the album so I send him some emails and he agreed to do it. He mixed it in London and we stayed in Helsinki waiting for the tape to arrive.
So we did not go to Toe Rag studios this time but it would be fun to do that someday.
Can you describe the Timmion studio in Helsinki and do you have any anecdotes about the recording?
Pekka: Timmion studio is very special place, 8 track analog studio and vinyl mastering/cutting lab here in Helsinki. It’s the mecca for all things vinyl, MONO and analog. Very cool vibes.
Mike: They mainly record music for their own label with some REALLY cool retro soul sounds (check out Cold diamond & Mink or Bobby Oroza). And it’s no secret that we love those authentic 60’s sounds so that’s what we were after.
Mike: Smoothly. We were ready for sure. We recorded the album in two session, total of 4 days and we also had time to record some extra material that was left out from the album. The songs were recorded live on tape. Could easily be the most relaxed days in the studio I have ever witnessed.
What are your favorite songs from the album and why?
Pekka: Summer’s Gone is my favourite. I love melancholic beat ballads and it’s a real classic in that style. I love the sound and the mood of that song. I’m really proud of the record as a whole. Nobody has done anything like that in Finland in recent five decades.
- No Turning Back: It could easily be a floor filler in any soul all-nighter around Europe. Great backing vocals!
- Wait: Pekka´s 12-string guitar and the Farfisa-organ work perfectly together. Beautifully composed and arranged song. An instant pop classic.
Who decided on the cover design?
Mike: The cover was designed by Jussi Karjalainen. He is probably my favourite designer in Finland at the moment when it comes to album or book covers. Pretty cool to have him design this album!
Do you think you'll do a tour together and maybe come to France?
Mike: We are definitely planning to do more gigs next year. First we will do a short tour in Scandinavia and after that hopefully lots more in all of Europe. So we really hope so!!
Do you have a message for our French readers?
Ville: Serge Gainsbourg is best!
Pekka: All those picture sleeve old EP's by Dutronc, F.Hardy etc: send them to me. I pay for the mail.
Mike: As you can see, we will most likely do a french chanson inspired album someday soon!