Songs about suicide and death aren’t meant to be catchy, or are they? Maustetytöt is a band from Finland made up of sisters Anna and Kaisa Karjalainen, who have accumulated their devout following in their country with an unusual musical approach – deadpan faces and depressing lyrics against a backdrop of upbeat pop rhythms. Now, they are being rocketed into international fame after a performance in the new movie Fallen Leaves by accredited indie Finnish director, Aki Kaurismäki. With a European tour coming this year, what’s next for this unique girl duo?
Anna and Kaisa stand on a stage, illuminated by light in a dimly lit bar. Anna stands on the left and wears a dark pair of sunglasses with a bleak expression while slowly playing the guitar. Kaisa stands on the right while blankly staring at the camera and playing the keyboard. This is the scene in Fallen Leaves where they play one of their hit songs, Syntynyt suruun ja puettu pettymyksin, or ‘Born to sorrow and clothed in disappointment’ as translated in English. Fallen Leaves is a melodic and comedic tale of love between a lonely man and woman in Helsinki, Finland who are faced with various barriers towards their relationship. Born to Sorrow and Clothed in Disappointment plays a vital role in the context of the movie, however, its undertones aren’t as happy as some might suspect, with lyrics like: “I am a prisoner here forever.” Another one of their songs, called Mom Don’t Worry, has a lyric that says: “Now in therapy I’m licking my wounds / even though nonetheless sooner or later I will die.” While Finland has been ranked the happiest country in the world six years in a row, Maustetytöt is definitely the exception to this statistic.
So I just watched the movie that you guys are in called Fallen Leaves, what was it like getting involved in the film and how did it all come to be?
We were asked to be the jury of a student film festival that was held in Aki Kaurismäki’s movie studio in Karkila, where he’s living part of the year. We first said no because we were really busy doing our third album, but then they said that we might meet Aki, so we changed our minds. We went there, we met him, and later he booked us to play in his movie theatre. Maybe that was the point where he started to consider if we would be suitable for his new movie.
So have you guys been long time fans of the director?
What was it like overall to perform in the film? How did it feel to see yourselves on the big screen for the first time?
It was thrilling, we saw it in a huge movie theatre! It was the premiere and it was very exciting because we were afraid that we had ruined the whole film and that we wouldn’t fit in at all. But we were very honoured to be a part of it and it was a great moment to see that we really are a part of Aki Kaurismäki’s films because we are huge fans of him.
What is your relationship with cinema, both personally and musically? Does it inspire any of your music or are there any films of his that are your favourite?
I’ve been watching many of his movies lately and I think they are fascinating. You see the culture and lifestyle years ago in Finland, so I think it’s interesting.
Your band and lyrics kind of fit in the aesthetic of the movie you’re in as well. And I wanted to ask about that because your name means the Spice Girls in English, however you have a very distinct, gloomy style that is pretty much the complete opposite of the British Spice Girls. So how did you come to brand yourself with that style and why do you think people maybe connect with it?
The story is that we used to have a band when we were kids named Kaneli, which means cinnamon in English, and our friend used to call us Spice Girls. Then we founded a new band with Finnish lyrics and decided to take that name, and of course there was this irony or humour to be as far away from the original Spice Girls as possible. People told us right away that it was horrible and that we should change it, but we didn’t want to.
So you kind of played into that opposite stereotype of the Spice Girls?
I think that’s really cool – the way you have branded yourselves is pretty unique. You just came out with a new album titled The Happiest People in the World, and I noticed that it’s similar to how Finnish society has been labeled the happiest in the world over the past years. Does that album have anything to do with that statement? Does it agree or disagree with that?
The album title comes from this one song called The Happiest People in the World, so that is the reason we picked the name for the album. But there are plenty of songs and they aren’t so happy, basically. I think it’s ironic because the album is full of songs that are about misery.
So are you guys actually feeling that misery you write about in your songs? I mean, do you guys get the inspiration from yourselves or is there another avenue you get that inspiration from?
I think it’s easier to write about sad things because they are something you need to work on in your mind, but when you’re happy and everything is good, you feel good so there is no reason to explore your inside.
I remember reading in one of your past interviews that you had a “pessimistic upbringing” from your parents and that might have contributed to it as well. Do you still think that’s true? Maybe that’s part of where you get your inspiration from.
Yeah, I wouldn’t call it inspiration but it’s like how we were. It’s genetic and learned from our home.
I’ve also noticed that, in general, there is a lot of contrast in your music, from the upbeat pop and darker lyrics, so how does that contribute to the overall meaning of your songs? Is there a deeper meaning behind the misery of the lyrics?
I don’t know about deeper meanings, but I really try to write lyrics that mean something and at least make you feel something.
Can you explain a bit about what your song writing process is specifically, and how your band progressed from where you first started to how you guys are as a duo now?
You want to believe that some progress has happened. We are doing the songs by ourselves, Kaisa is writing lyrics or I’m composing something and then we send the ideas to each other and ask for opinions. Then we give feedback and make some changes in the songs. The process is long, I know that it feels very slow, but at some point there will be songs that are ready.
How is it working together as sisters, do you get along pretty well?
We have been doing this for fifteen years and have only had experience with ourselves, so we don’t know any other way to do it. It feels natural and I guess we get along well, but of course we fight too. But then we will just go on.
It’s awesome that you’re able to have that kind of relationship and work together. So again with your appearance in Fallen Leaves, it has kinda started to put you more into the international spotlight, because you have your first ever European tour coming up pretty soon. How has it been to get this attention and what can fans expect from your new tour?
It feels very strange that we sing in Finnish and we’re having a European tour. It doesn’t feel like it’s really happening, but we’ll see.
Did you guys ever expect that you would get this amount of international attention?
Since you were pretty popular already in Finland, would you say your music is for any specific people or just anyone in general?
Anyone in general, we have a very heterogenic audience, they are all kinds of people and we like it.
Finally, now that you have a growing fan base, what can people look forward to and expect from your music in the future? Is there anything you are currently working on that you can tell us about?
We have now started to do songs for the fourth album, but we are at the starting point so there’s not much to tell because we don’t know ourselves yet what kind of album is coming.