The culture critics' blog at culture.ee recently published an interview with London-based artist Joel Sarakula following his performances at Tallinn Music Week.
The writers of the blog had the opportunity at TMW to interview extraordinary musical adventurer, potential e-resident and heavy coffee-drinker Joel Sarakula, a Sydney-born, London-based artist who spends his time writing soulful music and performing all over the world.
Let’s start from the beginning. When you were a boy, what kind of music did you listen to and how did that boy become a musician? Did you study music anywhere?
Earliest influences: When I was a child, my parents had a huge collection of vinyl LPs from the 70s, so they set the tone. I also used to teach myself the theme songs from childhood TV shows. Then as a teenager, while everyone else was listening to nü-metal and grunge, I was obsessed with the 60s and 70s. Personal favorites that are still with me are the Zombies, Sly Stone, Todd Rundgren and the Beach Boys. But I had so many guises as a kid: I was into 60s baroque psychedelia one week, then I was a mod the next week, then a 70s punk revivalist.
I had a few years of some classical piano lessons as a child but my teacher was really inspirational and helped me experiment with jazz and blues. Since then, I've just learned from records and grown from the people I perform with. That's why I always try to play with people who are better than me!
For how long have you been making your own music and what periods would you say you have gone through?
I’ve been making music since I was a child; it's been a lifelong journey. When I started out as an artist, I painted with lots of colors and styles, not quite knowing where I fit. I guess I've had lots of different lives and played within a few genres. But over time I've narrowed down the palette and I'm pretty happy where it's sitting now: I call it soulful retro-pop.
You have a band of great musicians also. How did you guys meet and for how long have you been working together?
I've been lucky enough to perform with some incredibly talented people over the years and I don't have a regular band. However, my TMW band — Geno Carrapetta (London) and Alex Dommisch (Berlin) — do perform with me quite often. I met Geno in Sydney and we decided to work together in London as we were both relocating there. Geno is an artist on his own terms and we play in a few projects together. I met Alex at Reeperbahn Festival a couple of years ago; his other project is the Jooles, who perform as my backing band in Germany.
I like to pick up musicians and backing bands from the regions I play in. It keeps costs down and the concerts fresh. Also helps having a band who speaks the local language to deal with bad promoters and rider requests! I have a few bands' worth of people in the U.K., Germany, Paris, Australia and I recently played at SXSW with an amazing Austin guitarist Jon Sanchez. I am a musical philanderer.
If you were not an artist, what would you be? Have you studied anything else?
I’m not sure my mind would escape unscathed if I wasn’t an "artist" of some kind. I love the freedom of what I do: no boss, no rules, only self-expression. But I really love cities and how we humans interact with them, so maybe I was an urban planner in another life. And yes, I did study something else — it was computer science, but that was a long time ago. So my geek glasses aren't just for show!
You have such an eclectic style and your songs have very different vibes. How does inspiration come to you? Are they the sweet pains of life that make you write or is it hard hours by the piano or...?
I don't write at the piano or guitar very often. Usually soundscapes and lyrical ideas just float into my mind. Life, people, emotions are all part of my influences and then there's some silent work going on deep in my subconscious before it rises up for me to use. I walk a lot and like to keep my body moving as much as possible. I like to think the songs are creative responses to this physical activity.
What does your usual work day look like in London?
I think I'm quite disorganized so I don't really have a normal workday routine. I'm constantly traveling around performing festivals and tours so it's difficult to get into a regular pattern back at home. But there is one constant every day — coffee!
You have a new album coming out at the end of 2017. Tell us about that.
The new album is called "Love Club." It goes deeper down the soul/funk/R&B route that I was playing with a bit in "The Imposter" (2015). I don’t want to say too much as I'm working on it now and it's constantly evolving. I will say that love in its many forms and guises is an overall theme of the album.
You are so booked with gigs and traveling all over — what do you do for a rest? ...Do you ever rest?
I’m pretty busy right now but I actually took February off and spent the time in Sydney, Australia. I didn't do very much there. I just jogged to the beach and swam everyday and ate good food. Simple plan. That was a beautiful time and it recharged me for the rest of the year so I don't need any more rests this year!
How did you end up at TMW and what is the most memorable thing from it? Did you book any gigs here? Are you coming back or perhaps considering of becomeing an e-resident?
I put in an application to perform at Tallinn Music Week because the idea of visiting Estonia really intrigued me. My family surname has some long lost origins in Finland or Estonia so it became a kind of journey for me to connect with some unknowable past. I didn't book any gigs there but I would dearly love to come back and I think my music was really well received at the concerts. I'm thinking of applying for e-residency, though it does sound like living in the matrix a little bit.
What did you think about Estonians — are they a singing nation, as is said?
Estonians do have beautiful singing voices — maybe it's because the language has a mystical, sing-song lilt to it.
Editor: Aili Vahtla