“Buddy Holly meets Brian Setzer with overtones of American car cruisin’ classics, Mudville 56 are a mash-up of modern talent, sound and production. There is something blue and beautifully familiar in The Sound of Modern Rock ‘n’ Roll that captures the essence of a defiant musical genre.”
Without delving too deep into the comprehensive genre of rock ‘n’ roll music, let’s stick to the essential basics. The origins of rock ‘n’ roll and the artists who laid the foundation for its modern day evolution — Bill Hayley, Chuck Berry, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent, Fats Domino, just to name a few — have held strong since the 1950’s. When talking about these American pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll, it remains incredibly difficult to capture the quintessential sound of the 50’s in a modern era that’s full of so many genre split-offs.
When you strip rock ‘n’ roll down to the bone you come back to these artists mentioned above and their huge contribution to the rock ‘n’ roll sound. Great guitar work, powerful lyrics and a provocatively crisp sound that skidded off the coattails of adolescent outrage and a refusal to conform. If you smash the adapted sound of well-executed rockabilly with the expertise of three Finnish musicians, you get raw, cutthroat music and one of Helsinki’s newer rock editions — Mudville 56. A trio fronted by notable country and western fanatic Antti Vuorenmaa, with Topi Karvonen on bass and Janne Mathlin on drums, these guys are reclaiming the roots of rock ‘n’ roll in Helsinki.
Vuorenmaa’s musical past is multicolored. He currently co-fronts Helsinki’s country music Mondays as the pedal steel/mandolin/guitar player in the Hilland Playboys — who have managed to breathe life into old outlaw, country & western music — and for this I’m truly grateful. Additionally, Vuorenmaa’s impressive career spanning over the past 15 years includes dipping into sound engineering, production, composition and solo work — all of which contribute to Vuorenmaa’s well-earned senior songwriter status.
I talked with Antti about Mudville 56 and his career in music…here’s what he had to say:
M: What draws you most to old American rock ‘n’ roll?
A: Hmmm…let me think…for me it’s my early blues influences. We had a blues band called The Blue Roosters (with blues harpist Ismo Haavisto) in my hometown of Lahti during the 1980’s. We played old blues and rhythm ‘n’ blues standards. In those days everyone was listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan, but we were concentrated on the older stuff: Muddy Waters, Little Walter, etc.
But the roots of Mudville 56 are more from the recent retro boom including bands like: The Bellfuries, J.D. McPherson, etc. Bass player Jimmy Sutton (originally from Chicago) stands in the center of this new boom. He’s been producing McPherson, Pokey LaFarge, Jake La Botz, etc. I also have an everlasting love and connection to the American Chicano-influenced bands Los Lobos and The Paladins. From more of the pop side, The Everly Brothers are one of my favorites from early childhood. There’s a great band called Cactus Blossoms doing the same kind of thing at the moment.
M: What acts have you always admired that led you in this direction?
A: Well we didn’t see that many bands from the USA in Lahti during the 80’s, hahaha. But I saw the last delta blues woman Jessie Mae Hemphill in Torvi about 1989 or something. I still remember that sound and I still have the 45RPM vinyl single I bought from her. Last month I saw her picture in the cover of a Guitar Player Magazine and I thought, WOW!!
M: Topi and Janne….how long have you guys been playing together?
A: We started Mudville 56 as a duo about 2011 with our bass player, Topi Karvonen. We traveled around Finland and Estonia playing old country, rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly. The material was more from the country archives back then. Janne Mathlin joined us just before recording this first album about two years ago. We released one 45RPM vinyl single a couple of years ago as a duo. I’ve played with Janne a lot before, we both have been playing with Finnish rock ‘n’ roll animal Knucklebone Oscar.
M: How has the album been received in Finland thus far?
A: I’m a bit surprised with the kinda success we’ve had here. The genre is small in Finland, but we’ve been playing to full house crowds at really cool venues like Juttutupa Helsinki/Heki, and we’ve done some festivals also.
M: Can you shortly explain your pedal steel skills, how long have you been mastering that instrument?
A: No, mission impossible to do that shortly hahah. It’s too complicated. I think I bought my first pedal steel in 2009 or 2010…so it seems I’ve been playing it for 8 years now. The main reason for my kinda professional level on that instrument is the weekly country music club we are running at Juttutupa every Monday. It’s been on since 2014, so we’ve been playing country music every week, for 4 years now. It’s all about playing as much as possible, all the time.
M: Is your family musical?
A: Yes, the folk fiddle tradition has always been part of my family, from my father’s side. My father didn’t play anything but his father, his grandfather and great-grandfather etc…all played folk fiddle.
M: How long have you been on the music production side of things?
A: I had my first job/s as a producer about 2000. We did quite a lot of music for the Finnish mainstream, but shortly after that I decided to take the Americana path instead. I’ve had my own record label, Hilland Records, since 2005. Nowadays we’re releasing only country/rock ‘n’ roll/bluegrass etc…
M: What’s in the near future for Mudville 56?
A: We have some gigs in Helsinki, Lahti and Hämeenlinna this autumn…then we’re having a short break. I’m not quite sure what the next move is, but I believe we’re going to record some new songs and probably do some new videos as well…
As previously touched upon in this article, capturing a nostalgic rock ‘n’ roll sound in the modern day is tricky — it’s a delicate balance between originality and presentation — depending on how you want to be perceived. Mudville 56 collaborate to form a darkened cross between rock/blues/country with the toughness the trailblazers of the 1950’s left behind. This blend facilitates a nice transition into modern day rock and with Mudville 56 forging a strong path, the stage has been set for a full rock ‘n’ roll revival in Helsinki.