Exclusive Interview with Kristiina Tuomi

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th'expense of spirit, shakespeare, edgar allan poe, rainer maria rilke, carlos bica, carsten daerr, goethe, goethehaus, kristiina tuomi, kristiina tuomi trio, serambi jazz, tuomi

This is why music is interesting. Not only to entertain us, I could never imagine how life is without music, but some people also use music as the vehicle to express their feelings, emotions and senses, sending whatever they have in their heart to everyone who listen. In such case we have TUOMI, an awe-inspiring trio who knows how to bring the beautiful world of art, poetically with music.

Enter the world of TUOMI and you’ll know that there’s actually a side of art that you’ve never gone before. For me personally, enjoying their performance and songs is like having a wonderful journey into the melodious art. I could feel how romantic the love affair between poem and music actually is, in the most ellegant way. It’s the concept that not many artists dare to have, it’s not easy but TUOMI knows how to bring it alive.

TUOMI consists of 3 highly skilled members. Kristiina Tuomi on vocal, Carsten Daerr on piano and Carlos Bica on contrabass. It might just a trio, but believe me, it’s already enough to carry on this concept in perfection. Kristiina’s clear, strong and seducing voice blends in with Carsten’s remarkable, progressive, and even experimental piano style plus the excellent rhythm control by the great bass player, Carlos Bica. The way they interpret each poems into songs are simply stunning. That’s the impression I got after watching their performance at Bumi Sangkuriang Bandung, brought by Serambi Jazz, the program that has re-opened the mutual friendship between Germany and Indonesia.

Two albums has released by TUOMI, and both got good response by the critics. “Tightrope Walker” and “Th’Expense of Spirit” both speaks loud as a musical artistry, the side of art that we don’t meet often. Seing their presentation, I know that TUOMI has something different, and they will have a long walk together as the music world really needs a band who can bridge these two art forms into one package.

We got the chance to interview Kristiina Tuomi, the vocalist and leader of TUOMI. Let’s see what she has to say about the history, the music, their future plan and so much more.

First of all I have to say, what a wonderful performance it was in Bandung. It surely gave me a new experience in enjoying music in a truly artistic form. It’s really interesting to see how poems can be fitted into high quality of music. Not many band think of this, but you nail it brilliantly. And through your presentation, I can see the on-going love affair that has been on romanticly over the centuries in the most beautiful way. Where did the idea come from?
Thanks, Andy. When I started to work with Carsten, about ten years ago when we were still students, he already had put a Shakepeare sonnet into music. At that time I was reading a lot of Edgar Allan Poe‘s short stories and poems. I had this big Poe book near my piano and one day I spontaneously used one of the poems for an improvisation. Noticing right away how well it worked with my singing I showed it to Carsten. Soon he came up with his first composition to E.A. Poe. Short time later I started to write my own lyrics to Carsten’s pieces, and since then we had 50/50 originals by me and poems.

I see your concept as the musical artistry in which you deliver the inner sense of poems musically, with jazz more specifically; creating beauty, conveying moods and feelings and send them to us right from your heart. Yet, as the music trend now is going more into pop and to see the fact that not many musicians dare to have this concept, I’d say that you are really brave to choose this as your style. What makes you interested in taking this concept as your music style?
Actually we were always influenced by pop-music. What makes our special sound is our variety of influences in every one of us. Carsten has his roots in classical music, Schubert, Bach, and espeacially the German “Kunstlied” (German Art Song),  Art Pop like Talk Talk and of course Jazz. Carlos comes also from a classical backround (that explaines his perfect arco) but is also influenced by Portuguese Fado and Singer-Songwriter Pop. I was a Rock and Pop Singer before I studied Jazz, and in my opinion I still am. The Jazz I liked was always instrumental. Lyrics and singing in Jazz tend to be too nice for my taste sometimes. I’m influenced by Sting, Radiohead, Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Nine Inch Nails, some Soul singers and I always loved European music from the middle ages and the Rennaisance. The thing we three have in common is our love for a simple and emotional song. So our style just naturally grew out of these roots, and is still growing.

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Wonderful. Except from the artists you mentioned, where do you get your inspiration from?
Everything that makes you feel something. People, music, books, the news, sometimes just (aesthetics) of a photo, landscapes, etc. I often get inspired by things that seem out of order or destructed like rotten buildings, a dead animal on a highway, … they sometimes seem strangely beautiful. I think that’s why I like Edgar Allan Poe so much.

Very interesting. Now let’s talk about the formation. You started it together with Carsten, and then Carlos joined to complete the formation. Can you share us how Carlos joined, and what does he bring into the trio?
Carsten and I started out as a duo. We fooled around with some electronic stuff, which was quite fashionable in the late nineties. Then we got to know a Cello player and started to be a trio. At that time we developed our darker chambermusical style. A couple of years later the Cello moved to Hamburg and we were looking for a new man, already thinking about a bass player. At a concert in a Jazz Club in Berlin we saw Carlos with a band, playing also some of his own compositions and we knew right away that he is our man. So after that it went really quick. I called him, sent him some demos and he liked it. The songs that he brought fit perfectly into our musical concept. Emotional, simple, very “songy” stuff. Great for singing. Not trying to be intellectual. It just fit perfect and felt so natural.

Carsten did so many experimental attempts. Not only playing the piano with high skill, he also did manouvers with the hard strings in the piano. How did you come up with that?
Carsten is a very sensitive person. He’s coping with the world by playing the piano and expressing all impressions he gets through it. So I’d say, things like that just happen when you really let yourself go in your instrument and try to express all sides of the world, not just the lovely ones

Both “Tightrope Walker” and “Th’Expense of Spirit” had received good responses from the critics for opening a new horizon or if I may say, bridge between music and poetry. How do you feel about the result of those albums?
The are very different. When I listen to “Tightrope Walker” now, it feels raw and young to me. We had just formed as a trio and I was still reading the lyrics in the studio. “The Expense of Spirit” is much more grown up and has some extra strings. I like my singing better on that one.

The Police/Sting’s “King of Pain” sounds very interesting in your version. Could you share us about the creation of this new version?
Carsten and I love the music by The Police. We wanted to have something light for the live gigs, so we chose that song. It doesn’t really have a concept. We play it different every time. Very jazzy concept I guess.

interview-kristiina-tuomi2And I also love Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129, Th’Expense of Spirit. Not only as the song title, but you used it as the album title as well. Can you share us what’s special for you about this sonnet?
It is just so timeless and tells about something everybody knows. The weakness of the human flesh towards temptation. Even though you know it’s bad for you, you can’t help giving in to it. Also Carsten and I liked Ralph Fiennes‘ recording of that Sonnet. It really inspired us. (The British actor Ralph Fiennes once recorded his interpretation of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129, “Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame” to be included in the album “When Love Speaks”, an album made as a tribute to Shakespear which featured musical interpretation of  Shakespeare’s sonnets including some excerpts from his plays by famous actors and musicians. Released in 2002).

You have used some classic poems from many great poets over the centuries. Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe and Rainer Maria Rilke were some of the names that have inspired many people throughout generations. Would you please describe how influential are they to you? And do you plan to bring more poets and their works in your next albums to come?
In fact there’s going to be less poems and more of my own lyrics.

I believe you need a full concentration to bring this concept alive. How often do you get disturbances from the audiences, let’s say, people that walk around, making noise, or even the “clicking” sounds from cameras?
In Europe people are very disciplined. So you won’t get any disturbances from the audience there. Sometimes though as an artist you wish to have a little more feedback while your’re performing. In Jakarta it was very different. We expierienced the same thing in Korea and Africa. People in the audience show their emotions directly. That can give you a great energy on stage. Even if it is somestimes hard to concentrate on a delicate and silent piece, when the camera clicking and the noise of people coming in and out of the room gets louder than the bass-notes.

Let’s talk about Serambi Jazz with its important mission. In your opinion how important is Serambi Jazz for the mutual relationship between Germany and Indonesia, especially in the culture and music field?
That is something to tell after years by the people who organize and follow the project over a longer time. I really can’t say that from my short visit. Of course I hope everyone profits from this cultural exchange. I surely did.

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How was it like to perform in Indonesia? Did you get any interesting experience after having two gigs in Bandung and Jakarta?
Besides experiencing the different way of expressing emotion like I said before, it was an interesting expierience being considered an exotic person for others. The indonesians I met were very friendly and relaxed and they really love taking lots and lots of photos. Apart from the concerts it was sometimes hard being in town, because people tend to stare at you. That’s something I could never get used to.

We don’t hear often about jazz development and progression in Germany today. How is jazz doing in Germany? And since you are from Finland, I’d like to know how the development of jazz in Scandinavia is?
Actually I don’t follow the Jazz scene very much, so I can’t really say. I’m not from Finland, my mother is. I was raised bilingually and spent a lot of time there, but I never lived in Finland. By the way, Finland is not Scandinavia, it belongs to the baltic states. Scandinavian Jazz, especially vocal-Jazz tends to be really clean, a lot of Soul clichees in there. The singers tend to sound like little sexy girls. I can’t really identify with that. Jazz from Finland is not famous at all, I think.

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Can you tell us what TUOMI is working at right now? Will there be any new albums, or more concerts around the world?
We will be collecting and rehearsing new material this year, and hopefully recording after that. The no time pressure for us, so we’ll record when we’re ready.

Is there anything you wish to say to the fans?

Thanks for coming to the gigs and for listening. I got a lot of feedback for some of my own lyrics. That really makes me happy. To see that I could reach you in a way.

Interviewed by Riandy Kurniawan
Photographer: Omar Arif Maulana, Reska K Nistanto

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