Interview with Heidi Kilpeläinen, HK119

Interview with Heidi Kilpeläinen, HK119

Heidi Kilpeläinen, or HK119 as she is otherwise known, has a new album out on 25 March. Her third album, Imaginature embodies nature in a surrealist and spectacular recording of electronic chirps and howling lyrics. With each song named after an aspect of nature, Iceberg, Whale and Milky Way for example, Kilpeläinen was inspired by a holiday in her native Finland. Both an artist and a musician, she approaches her work under the identity HK119, a hyperreal character invented to front her performance-art pop project. Aesthetica speaks to Kilpeläinen about her work on Imaginature and the influence of the Finnish text, Kalevela, on the final work.

A: You describe your new album as a “revolution” – were you consciously striving after an entirely new direction with this new sound?
HK: Yes, firstly, a personal revolution, to be precise. I jumped over many clouds, climbed up some trees, looked under some rocks and rolled in mud..naked..sometimes lost..sometimes found. For example, if you would have told me 2 years ago I will play ukulele in my live show, I would have laughed at you. I did not consciously strive for this new sound. It came to me organically – in my life and in my dreams. I collided with an elk, had a chat with a bear and ran off on a back of a wolf. Dreams and journeys inspired my lyrics and nature the soundscape… my piano gave me the melodies. Christoffer Berg provided his fantastic production talents to bring it all together.

A: It still seems very playful, but with more hazy textures, less clear-cut, and a move away from cyber-ish soundworld. Your well-known rubber-catsuited persona seems to take a back foot in this album? How much of her – and what she stood for – is still present here?
HK: The work is still playful but also more mature. There is more of HK in this album and less of 119. The catsuited woman is a thing of the past – until next time ;-) I believe in moving on with times and personal experiences. As an artist it is important to be open to changes, rather than repeat the same patterns and ideas. I never appreciated people who milk that one idea for decades, especially in fine art… for fear of alienating their audience I guess. For fear of not selling anymore. Money shouldn’t come into it in my opinion.

119 creates an important background for Imaginature. One way I think of this album is as, “the answer to the problems 119 sings about” in the first two albums. It’s, as if 119 went to rehab and came out with a clearer body and spirit. The previous hard edges have softened to reveal a more personal landscape. It has been a joy (and pain… no pain no gain!) to move on and discover new territories. I am much happier on the “other side of it all” and very inspired and excited about the new outlook, sound and vision I have in the “world of Imaginature“. It feels like finding water in the middle of the desert. The cyber-ish soundworld you mention has morphed into a more electro-organic sound.

A: Do you envisage the live experience of these songs to be,very different from your previous live ventures?
HK: Yes! We have had a few shows with the new live set up. That in itself has been a “revolution” of its own kind. After always performing alone, sometimes with dancers but without musicians, it’s a fantastic experience for me to play live now. It suits the record too. Everything is more organic but still very much an electronic project. It’s as if I am trying to find a way, through my music and art , “to survive and enjoy life in a contemporary city”… trying to find a way to marry the grid life..the lack of real freedom… the “I am just a number in the society” with a fantasy of “off grid life” and a need for more access to all healing nature. In the last show my 119 side was there too and that was fun. I think she represents the darker side of nature in this show.

A: You were influenced by the Kalevela – for those of us unfamiliar with this ancient Finnish text, could you tell us about its broad influence on this album?
HK: Reading the ancient folk tales of Kalevala was a starting point for the Imaginature project. Reading it felt like finding a treasure. Usually it is force fed at school so no one really wants to read it, plus that it is not an easy read as it’s ancient Finnish poems. I got completely into it and understood why it was such an important book. In fact, I found out after reading the saga, that one of my ancestors did field trips locally in north of Finland in 1600. He was a vicar called Johan Cajanus and he researched folklore of the area (200 years before Lönnrot.) He spoke of a giant called Calava and his sons Soini, Ilmarinen and Vainämöinen. Apparently his findings inspired Lönnrot’s decision to call the collection of poems Kalevala. Fascinating!

The main character Vainämöinen is a shamanistic hero with magical power of song and music. I loved the bit when he journeys in search of song for boat building into the belly of a giant living underground. He also sings Joukahainen into the swamp during a battle. Couple of years after reading this book I accidentally met a real shaman, Adailson, whom I then recorded and included on my album. Not that I believe in such accidents, it was one of the most meaningful meetings of my life and forms a core structure for Imaginature.

A: Tell me about the process behind the album’s creation? Did it involve a lot of research/field work/recording?
HK: Meeting Adailson and recording him reciting his poems and singing his songs in his small simple hut in a remote area of Brazil was my “Cajanus/Lönnrot moment”. My field trip was to find this beautiful person living an “off the grid” life – entirely in touch with and respecting the nature around him. He is still a great inspiration to me.

Previous to these recordings I had listened to bird song for the first time, been collecting sounds of nature, as well as, all sorts of sounds and noises I could make in “the field”. I recorded snow steps minus 25 below zero and waves of the sea plus 35 degrees. I banged snowplows with sticks and threw my dad’s golf balls around the garage. I recorded my favourite, the buzzing bee, that appears on Milky Way, on the steps from sauna to the lake. Beautiful bee, Nature’s genius solo performance in the orchestra of nature.

A: Do you have a favourite song on the album, one which perhaps sums up best the feel of this record?
HK: The album is quite a trip of different vibes, weathers, emotions and genres, so this is a difficult question! I think I’d need to mention two songs – Moss and White Owl, which represent light and shade and the beauty and beast of nature. The beast would be Moss, which I love, especially performing it live. And the light side would be White Owl – but I am sure if you asked me on a different day my answer might be different. Like the weather!

Your question about summing up the album might be best answered by listening to Snowblind the first single, for example.

A: Tell us a bit more about the therapeutic purpose that this album has had for you. Is its “pastoralness” a direct reflection of your search for peace of mind at this time?
HK: I think we could say something like that; a reflection of my search for peace of mind. Really, Imaginature has been a lifesaver – the subject matter and the research that went into it. Also, meeting the nature I met, meeting the people I met, everything feels right and even magical. To stop to hear the bird for the first time or to really look at the movements of the leaves of the tree, let alone to feel how a tree energy feels, has been revolutionary. That is the true revolution, to momentarily stop the rat race of mind. The conditioning of contemporary life is being busy with being busy, so that is the biggest gift I received along the way of making this album – the biggest, personal revolution. I admit, it is a hard state of mind to maintain in the city. But I try my best. Each small moment counts..Bzzzzzzzzzzz

Words: Rachel Coombes

HK119: Imaginature is out on One Little Indian, 25 March,

Images courtesy of Marc Lebon.