Having emerged onto the music scene as the songwriter behind Carmen Grey – one of Finland’s biggest ever rock bands, Tommi Tikka has partnered with fellow lyricist Antti Autio to form The Impersonators, a two-man project journeying away from the lacklustre sound typical of producing music through a major label. From a period of having been signed with Sony/BMG came a longing to have complete artistic control over the final product, and thus gave rise to a duo which masquerades as a full band, born of the living room instead of the studio. In utilising all of his ability as a competent instrumentalist, Tommi notes that he feels like he’s impersonating all of the members of his imaginary rock group.
Speaking ahead of their forthcoming EP ‘Sad Cafe‘, released 22nd March this year, Tommi discusses their journey up to this point:
“The reason why The Impersonators took the shape it did was that I wanted to have complete artistic control over how my songs were produced. Writing and recording for major labels was awesome and I am so grateful for everything they did but at the same time, I wasn’t always happy with the sounds and the final product. My goal was to avoid the sterile production typical of modern pop/rock.”
From the perspective of style, The Impersonators’ goal is to nurture and cultivate the creativity, spirit and warmth that graced the pop records of yesteryears – realised through poignant lyrics, emotive music and sixties-flavoured vocal harmonies. Partnered with their producer – Janne Saska, The Impersonators are a group of two songwriters, whose inspiration is inherently true to life.
“If you start with the lyrics and the story, it’s somehow easier to find the right mood musically. I like to write autobiographical songs that reflect what’s happening either to me or around me in real life. I dislike ‘cool’ love songs. I don’t think there’s anything cool about being in love – so much of it is actually difficult and unnerving. Love make you vulnerable and aimless in so many ways. It’s trusting the other person with your happiness and ultimately, with your life.”
Previous outfit Carmen Grey had enjoyed no less than 8 top-ten hits, including Tommi’s proudest feat ‘Gates of Loneliness’, which stood as the most played song in his native Finland during 2010. However, outside of the security of the ready-built music machine which generates both hype and distribution, it’s of little surprise that The Impersonators had struggled to take the first steps towards success in their own right:
“I pestered a few local labels trying to get them to sign us, but it was a real challenge getting them to listen to our stuff. One guy said to me that he’ll listen to the CD if I bring it to him dressed as Santa Claus (Christmas was just around the corner) and give everyone at the office a small present. I surprised him when I showed up with a sack of candy canes and, obviously, a CD.
You can just imagine his surprise when he realised it was me. He did listen to the CD, and although he didn’t sign us, he gave us a few names that turned out to be very valuable for us. It was a fun afternoon all in all and as the two absolutely gorgeous secretaries wanted to sit on Santa’s lap, I consider it an out-an-out success.”
Having grown up in California with his Finnish parents, Tommi has spent his life somewhere between these two cultures, and many places in between. Surrounded by his vast music collection and vintage guitars, he also reflects on his past with Carmen Grey -detailing some crazy stories and experiences such as supergluing their manager’s door shut during a stint in Berlin:
“We cut the phone cord and stole the battery from his mobile phone, so he couldn’t call for help. It was a prank and we were supposed to let him out after an hour or so, but then we received the news that our song was #1 in Finland and forgot all about him. That evening at the airport we realised he was missing. Obviously, all it took was a quick call to the hotel and the help of the local fire department to get him out. He was pissed off but calmed down after a huge bouquet of flowers and a very, very expensive bottle of cognac.”
Tommi explained that his approach to life, music and everything in between has long since been in accordance with one of Abe Lincoln’s most famous quotes: “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count; it’s the life in your years.” Musically, this EP is etched in subtlety. Stylistically reminiscent of the bejewelled power-pop of The Go-Betweens, the effortless song-writing genius of Matthew Street and the immediacy and worldliness of early R.E.M., ‘Sad Cafe‘ succeeds in delivering timeless studio-based alt-pop melodies.