Finnish folk rockers hit stage near you

Robert Thomas

Finnish folk rockers Markus Nordenstreng and Tuomo Prättälä (known as Tuomo and Markus)didn’t meet while performing the Schlager (popular traditional, easy-listening music from Central and Northern Europe) or metal tunes liked by many Finnish youth.

Photo courtesy of Markus Nordenstreng Markus Nordenstreng (left) and Tuomo Prättälä (right), based out of Helsinki, Finland, just completed their first album, “Young Male Spinsters.”
Photo courtesy of Markus Nordenstreng
Markus Nordenstreng (left) and Tuomo Prättälä (right), based out of Helsinki, Finland, just completed their first album, “Young Male Spinsters.”

According to Nordenstreng, they both participated in a musical tribute to Woodstock around 2007 and ended up reciprocating each other’s love for artists like The Band, Calexico, Fleet Foxes and Simon and Garfunkel.

“That’s how we met and started playing together for the first time,” Nordenstreng said. “We became friends from then on.”

After that, Prättälä, from Helsinki, Finland, made frequent visits to Los Angeles, where Nordenstreng has resided for eight years, allowing them the opportunity to feel each other out musically. In 2012, on a trip to Tucson, Ariz. to play at FinnFest, USA, they caught wind of an opportunity to record at a local studio. With a five-day break in front of them, Prättälä and Nordenstreng went in with a few original songs and left the studio with a full album that, Nordenstreng said, “just sounded perfect.”

“We kind of call our musical style Finn-Americana,” said Nordenstreng, acknowledging the uniqueness of two Finns playing American folk music. “But I think that’s kind of the interesting aspect of it. It’s something that we’ve really worked on.”

Dan Truckey, board member of FinnFest, USA and coordinator of the Northern Nights concert series, remembers seeing them play in Tucson. According to Truckey, Tuomo and Markus have a contemporary, soulful sound, they know how to rock and have quite a reputation as artists. The folk duo just played at the South By Southwest festival (SXSW) alongside John Stirratt of Wilco.

“I had never heard of them before,” Truckey said. “I met them at [FinnFest], saw them play and was like ‘you guys are wonderful.’”

Truckey and the Northern Nights concert series committee work to find entertainment that the Marquette and NMU community will connect with in a meaningful way. Amongst the 20- to 30-year-old demographic, Truckey said, the committee has noticed a resurgence of traditional/folk rock/Americana music.

“And I think it’s a great thing,” Truckey said. “This means that traditional music is going to have a new life, even though it’s not exactly the same as the music of the ’60s or the ’50s. Students who are really into that kind of music, this is right up their alley.”

Tuomo and Markus embody this rebirth, Truckey said. But don’t expect anything too old-timey because their music is heavy with harmonies, classic songwriting and a balance of ‘going with the feel’ and structured song-building, he said.

“[There’s] this Simon and Garfunkel and Everly Brothers aspect to what we do,” Nordenstreng said. “Harmony is a really important thing. You don’t hear that so much anymore.”

The differences in Nordenstreng and Prättälä’s musical careers make for a harmonious relationship in more ways than one.

“We come from a very different musical background and we sort of fill in for each other,” Nordenstreng said.

Prättälä is a formally trained and technically-oriented solo-artist, jazz pianist and vocalist, winning international acclaim in the United States, his native country of Finland and even Japan. In 2007, he won Best Finnish jazz artist through the Suomen Jazzliitto (Finnish Jazz Federation) for his work on the jazz piano. He also dabbles in soul, R&B and electronic music.

“I think the difference between Tuomo and a lot of his contemporaries is…it’s always songwriting first and song second,” Nordenstreng said.

Nordenstreng, on the other hand, doesn’t even know how to read music. He comes from a rock band background, having played in them all of his life, and is influenced by artists like Gram Parsons, the Byrds, The Jayhawks and Father John Misty. His current band, The Latebirds, has toured with popular bands such as Wilco, and on the side, Nordenstreng writes songs for Warner/Chappell Music.

“That’s kind of what keeps me afloat is writing for other people,’ Nordenstreng said. “I’m sort of more of a ‘feel’ guy.”

Together, Tuomo and Markus’ upcoming record titled “Young Male Spinsters” aims to illustrate the opposite of the cookie-cutter style Nordenstreng describes as “people strumming guitars and coming up with songs that have a verse, and a chorus and a verse and a chorus and a bridge.” As far as the record is concerned, Nordenstreng said it’s all recorded and just needs to be mixed. It’s set to be released in fall 2014 or early 2015.

“I think that all of music today is based on a certain sound,” Nordenstreng said. “And it’s less focused on song, and I think that’s why a lot of artists that get hyped about, you forget them in like three weeks. You’re already onto something else.”

Featuring local singer/songwriter Michael Waite as the opening act, Tuomo and Markus will perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 21 in Jamrich 102. Tickets are available at all EZ ticket outlets or by calling (906) 227-1032. Prices are $18 for the general public, $5 for NMU students and $13 for seniors.