auri Ainala, the ringleader of Paavoharju, tells me he just rented a cave. I am not used to people telling me they have rented caves.
“It was here in Savonlinna and there was no use for it, so I asked if I could rent it and they said yes.”
“Like, a rock cave?”
“Yes. It used to be a bomb shelter. It’s very old and in very crappy condition, but I really love that place. I thought we’d record some stuff there. There’s a very good echo.”
Most hermetic musicians are just tickled to cultivate mystery; Lauri just seems to enjoy life better when it’s quiet. If anything, he tries to dissuade me from believing what I’ve read—ostensibly, that Paavoharju are a gaggle of born-again Christians tripping out on the secrets of the universe from an untraceable commune deep within Finnish woods. Not exactly true. Fact: Lauri and the other members of Paavoharju—his brother Olli, Jenni Koivistoinen, and Toni Kahkonen (who don’t even live with Lauri)—once found a guy dead, hanging from the rafters like a party streamer or a dead guy, in an abandoned milk factory. Lauri moved in for a little while. He mentions a secret hideout he built in the cave; given that he already lives in a Finnish town with about 30 people per square mile and does nothing but make art all day, this information lies completely beyond my comprehension.
The band’s music—melancholy, defiantly modern psych-folk laced with digital noise, reggae rhythms, field recordings, and vocals that sound more South Asian ballad than Nordic hymn—oddly validates his lifestyle. With the world more and more charted, the whole idea of a semi-ascetic band dropping out of society to make wild spiritual paeans is precious, if even possible. “There used to be more hippies here. They’re building all these new boring apartments, though,” he laments. “I take food from the trash boxes. There is so much food in the trash that I can’t carry it home.” His voice surges, he can barely contain his pride. “I live in an old house, so rent is cheap. The Finnish government pays part of it. I only need to collect about 20 euros a month, which isn’t so much.”
While cabin fever seems an apt condition (Bryan Berge used the phrase in his review of 2005’s Yha Hamaraa), it also implies that there’s a tension to Paavoharju. There isn’t. Yha Hamaraa’s the kind of record that immediately quiets a room; it sounds like music made by people who have gone places—inner places—you could, but don’t bother, because you’re too busy having a career or riding public transportation or visiting life’s many stages of disappointment or something.
Lauri lives with his friend and sometime Paavoharju member Joose Keskitalo. “We go to old and abandoned buildings, or to forests and cemeteries late at night, and try to spot ghosts. Sometimes we have some recording equipment and cameras with us. It’s really fun, even if you don’t believe in ghosts.” When ghostbusting is slow, “we go to places where alcoholics live, to check if they’re dead or alive, and we chat with them.” When I ask him why he even bothers going on tour, he tells me it’s the cheapest way to see the world (and even then sounds indifferent). “I like much more doing music at home, with a small crew of people, thinking about it, listening to it over and over again. I like getting the feeling—just getting the feeling.”
Given what it means to identify as a Christian band in the States—I explain to him that it’s a market as much as any other, except it’s not, it’s a market based on faith and hence completely repellent and disturbing—I’m curious about his faith. “It’s not as strong or as weird as everyone suggests,” he explains. For almost all of his life, he has attended a summer gathering of Finnish Lutherans in Saari, near the Russian border. “The atmosphere there is really unique—it feels like traveling back to 1930…. There are lots of people singing Christian hymns. The hymns can be heard inside the Church and outside—it can be heard from everywhere.” He rests on the last point for a breath. It is the most important breath we take together. “It’s connected to everyday life. It’s the feeling that God will have mercy on all people. If you’re a sinner”—he offers an obscure chuckle—“you’re as useful to God as someone who doesn’t sin. God wants us to live freely.”
It’s weird—Lauri is a hermit, but he’s unflinchingly personable. “I have no reason to leave here. It’s so great,” he says, rushing to add, just so I know, “You have to come and see it for yourself!” When I ask him how in the mortal world anyone came to hear the music of four people deliberately sequestered from civilization, he recalls, “Christina Carter [of Texan drone institution Charalambidies] and Fursaxa were here for a show. And they were with some people from [Finnish psych-rock band] Kemialliset Ystavat. And I was a little bit drunk, so I went up to them and these Americans, and I said I wanted to take them to a special place.” Lauri showed them the milk factory and gave them a CD-R.
A hermit who wants to tour his corner of the world. During our conversation, I get Lauri, play-by-play.
“I can see two people right now. I’m at Savonlinna cemetery.”
“So you’re just walking in the cemetery?”
We both pause. I can hear Finnish wind through his phone.
“Oh, now there’s only one person. The other one left.”