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Jaani Peuhu: “People notice all these elements from my past, a combination of all these projects. Now it feels like everything I have done before has a meaning, also for the future. I wanted to visit some new areas and learn all the time.”

Jaani Peuhu kenden we aanvankelijk vooral van Swallow The Sun, maar zijn muzikale achtergrond blijkt wijdvertakt te zijn in bijna elk genre. Vandaar dat het eerste full length album van zijn band Mercury Circle, met als titel ‘Killing Moons’, een fascinerend amalgaam van al die invloeden geworden is, met gothic, new wave, elektronische muziek en het donkere randje van doom als voornaamste elementen op deze dromerige plaat die je meeneemt naar andere werelden waar grenzen amper bestaan. We hadden een heel interessant gesprek met de bezieler van Mercury Circle, Jaani Peuhu.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 3 november 2021

Congratulations with the album, because it is really something special and different!
Oh thank you! I am really happy if you feel like that.

I was thinking: this is not doom anymore, this is not new wave or gothic, this is just Jaani…
That is great and that was the whole point of it. I feel that if you want to achieve something with music or if you have a voice, you really have to focus on something unique. There are a lot of amazing bands coming from Finland, and they all have one thing in common: they have all created their own style and maybe even their own genre, if you think of bands like Nightwish or HIM or Amorphis, Children Of Bodom… they all created their specific genre.

It all sounds melancholic, mostly…
Yeah but that comes with the mother’s milk. Our traditional music is very doomy in a way.

What was the idea behind the band when you formed Mercury Circle in 2018?
I had no idea what I was doing, to be honest. I wasn’t planning to do it.

Around that time, you also started playing in Swallow The Sun, as keyboardist, isn’t it?
At the time I was starting this band, we were touring a lot with Swallow The Sun and also Hallatar. So my musical life was built with doom metal. When we had a break from the tour, I felt like: now I have to write my own music, as a therapy, you know, because with Swallow The Sun and Hallatar, it is Juha Raivio’s music. Really hard albums about really hard subjects, if you know the background…

Yes, the great loss of the love of his life for Juha Raivio.and his grief…
It is such emotional music and I had been helping telling other people’s stories and share their suffering, so I felt I needed something from myself, I needed some therapy too. I needed to get those dark emotions out. I was not planning to do some doom metal or anything like that. I wanted to do dark wave, pop, electronic, something very different. I never thought about a concept, I just started writing songs and all the guitars and basses were in very low tuning, because of the Swallow and Hallatar stuff, but it sounded cool and I started to experiment with it. I let it go with the flow. The first songs I wrote were quite doom-like, but then I was thinking: why would I do something like this, I already worked with these amazing bands who were actually masters in this kind of genre. You cannot do that stuff better, it is already perfect… So it had to be more ‘me’ and I started to think of my past. I had these doom vibes, these gothic elements, electronics, hip hop, pop, all kinds of stuff.

Indeed, you have done productions of pop albums and one can say you are an all-round musician…
Yes, I have done all kinds of albums. That is what people are telling me when they have listened to the album: they see all these elements from my past, a combination of all these projects. Now it feels like everything I have done before has a meaning, also for the future. I wanted to visit some new areas. I want to learn all the time, so I want to try new genres. As a producer I try to select very different kind of projects, so that I also learn from those projects. I can use all that.

What can you say about the concept? It is pretty dark, I don’t know if you want to go deeper into that…
I cannot write fiction, only stories from my own life or from the lives of my beloved ones. I am a very spiritual person, so it is like the spirits are always there with me. It is part of my daily life. I let them into the process, they are like diary fragments. This is my way of processing things that upset and move me deeply. In general I am a really happy person and I try to keep it that way and I really try to enjoy every day of my life. All my dark emotions I put in the music.

That’s a good way to ventilate…
Yeah and in the end of the day, even though I go really deep when I write, at the same time it is like a cleaning process. My father has an amazing influence on my music. He is an amazing musician and now he is suffering from Alzheimer disease. This album is a way to show how I process things, how I say goodbye. He doesn’t know who I am anymore. We always communicated a lot through music. There is this space boy in the music and he is like my father: now he is free from this world, so he lives in his own world and I can only imagine what he is going through there. Travelling in space or something… and also the killing moons, the title from the album, comes from that. ‘Moons’ is also a way to measure time, they say like ‘many moons ago’. When you have this kind of mental disease, it is killing your memories or erasing them at least. At first you start losing the last years of your life. You cannot remember people that you have been living with, only things from your youth. Then you can still communicate. He didn’t know who I am, but when I started asking about his first bands or what kind of guitar he was playing in the beginning, he remembered all those details. Year by year he started losing these memories. It hurts, but I don’t want the people thinking about what I am going through, I want them to create their own stories and think of their beloved ones. It does not belong to me or to my father, it belongs to everyone who is listening to it.

If art comes from such deep emotions, it is always better. If you have the gift of being an artist of course…
Absolutely, in that way I am really blessed. Sometimes it is even unfair. For songwriters, if you are going through some crisis in your love life, it can be good news for your art (laughs). If my heart is broken, then I run to the studio and write and write and write… and I fuckin’ love it! So it is really unfair that I can use it in my advantage when I am going through some difficult times, but at the same time I think it is really important, because we all suffer from these kind of things sometimes and if you can turn that into something good, if a person is listening to my music while going through stuff like that, then maybe that person feels like ‘I can understand’. We feel something in common.

Back in the days I had a diary and it is full of sad moments…
Yes, exactly, but there are a lot of people who cannot let it out. They feel like they are victims somehow. They have problems with substances because they cannot handle their lives and they need to escape. Therefore I feel very blessed that I have my way to process things. I don’t need to drink for example.

You mentioned the space topic earlier; can you tell a bit more about that subject?
It is about imagination basically, because I wanted to create some kind of getaway from here. This is also music for dreamers, this album you can imagine where ever you want, but I saw it as escaping, somewhere sitting in a capsule in space and looking at the earth from there and thinking how futile we are. That freedom to go where ever you want is important and it is also reflected in the artwork. Put on a helmet and go where ever you want. In the videos we have these helmets. In the ‘You Open Up The Earth’ video, there is this little boy who puts on the helmet. He escapes into space. In ‘Black Mirrors’ it is a girl who puts on the helmet and we are in Paris in the fifties. It is her fantasy. This helmet can take you where ever you want and it is a symbol of our music; that you can dream when you listen to our music and that music should be like a gateway, away from this daily life. If you put on that helmet you can go everywhere. That’s how I see our music, it is music of dreamers and I wanted to inspire people to create art themselves. That is the idea.

That’s why the album starts with this fascinating track ‘The Gates Wide Open’, everything is possible and you can hear some ethnic influences in it…
Yes. It starts with these tribal drums and you can join us. This is how I saw this, like a big group of drumming people together and then we dive and the music starts and we go deeper and deeper and then the gates are open.

It should deal with decisions we take which are not always good?
It can be that also. It can be everything. Sometimes you do things and somehow you know that this is not going to end well, but you just feel like ‘okay, I have to do it’. Even as grown-ups we take wrong decisions, but sometimes it is needed. Sometimes you have to try things and see where it takes you. If it leads to a disappointment, there is a reason for it. Then we learn from it. I want to experience things, I want to live.

Life is a learning process in some way…
Yes, absolutely and then I welcome all the disappointments too. It is like they are needed, otherwise you can never learn. Disappointments can be way more valuable than all the good things and living a safe life. Through disappointments you find the right way and then you find yourself in a total new situation and you realize: this needed to happen.

What means spirituality for you? How do you see that?
Well, I don’t like religions that much, to be honest. All horrible things that have been done in the name of Gods through the centuries… If I start talking about my ways of spirituality, then I am not any better than other people. This can lead to something bad, people must find their own way. That is why I am kind of careful when talking about my own beliefs, because they are my beliefs and I hope that other people find their own ways, but I am always open to everything. You can learn from those religions all the time. That has been the case my whole life, I have always been open to energies, spirits and angels. They have always been a very important part of my life. I feel god all the time, but at the same time, the older I get, the more I feel like I don’t know anything. That is what makes it so beautiful, that I am trying to learn about everything every day. Sometimes I find myself in really interesting situations and in the spiritual world too. I keep my own gates open all the time and it is not always that easy, but in general I am open to all kinds of energies.

It was not my intention that you would start to preach…
I know, but you get my point. Pretty often, when you talk with people, they tell you how things are and how I should believe and they tell about their views as a truth, like they know something that you don’t know and if you don’t believe it, you are dumb. My belief is that I don’t know, the eternal student and I hope I will be like that for the rest of my life. I know a lot of things, but when I was fifteen I thought I knew it all. A spiritual guru back then, but these days I don’t know anything anymore and I love it. It is an ongoing journey, a long process and when one day I would feel like I understand and know it all, then that would be a bad thing. Then I cannot learn anything anymore, it is like I find something that is absolutely mind-blowing. O my god, now I see everything in a totally new way, in a new light. I want to keep learning.

Wasn’t it a difficult decision to part ways with Swallow The Sun?
To be honest, I didn’t have any choice. It was not meant to release an album with Swallow The Sun this year, but then because of the covid-19, they started writing and one day Juha wrote the band: ‘hey, I wrote a new album.’ I was like: okay…. From that moment I knew that this was going to be problematic. Of course I was thinking about the periods, like this year I can focus on Mercury Circle, Swallow The Sun isn’t going to be touring and so on. But then both of these albums are coming at the end of the year and now all the bands will start touring. And when Swallow The Sun are touring, it is for months and months. They have really long tours and they are going to North America. Then I could not do anything for Mercury Circle and that is so unfair to my band mates and the label and the management and everybody, I have been working so hard for this album. On the other hand it would also be unfair towards Swallow The Sun that I would only do the gigs that I want, then they need to practise different kind of sets. Now it is much more clear and easier for everybody and that is okay. We decided for this album that I am not going to tour with them and that is okay. They all supported me with this. It is a very clear situation and we are still brothers. It didn’t affect that at all.

Among the big amount of guests on the album, one can find Gogo Melone and Cammie Gilbert. Let us shine a light on these appearances…
They are both really special. We (he means Swallow The Sun – Vera) have been touring with them, with both of them. Aeonian Sorrow was supporting us on our European tour with STS and also Oceans Of Slumber did. So we got friends on tour.

Oh yes, Cammie sings on one song of the new Swallow The Sun album too!
And that was funny! I was talking with Raivio about our album concept and everything. It was like: oh my god, we both have the moon starring and then Cammie… okay, maybe these are like sister albums? It feels a bit like that.

That means you both have the same mindset…
Absolutely. We could have reacted: ‘oh no, this is so bad.’ Having these same elements on our albums, but we were just laughing about it. I think so much like Raivio, that’s why we are so close, as people but also during our art. I have done so many albums with him and we both respect each other so much. It is so easy to work together. With Gogo was very cool too. I needed someone to do these ethereal ethnic chants and I asked her if she knew someone from Greece who can do that. She was like: ‘I can do that’. She did an amazing job in the opening of the album on ‘The Gates Wide Open’ and in ‘Seven Archangels’. When I realized that ‘Like Matches’ needed to be a duet, I only had one person in my mind right away: Cammie Gilbert. I love her voice so much and she is an amazing person and that is so important to me. So I wrote her right away. And I know she likes this kind of music too, so she said yes. I am so grateful to Swallow The Sun, because I have been touring with them and got to know a lot of very cool people too and some of them came up playing on this album.

Did you often play live with Mercury Circle?
No, we only played one showcase, this October. It was a short 30 minutes gig during this Music Export happening in Finland. Basically it is all about playing to press and international music industry people. That is the main point of the festival. This is for all kinds of music. Our first own gigs will be in December, proper headline gigs. The situation is very difficult, they keep on postponing gigs and for the new bands, there is no place anymore, because all the older bands have been postponing their tours for years. At the moment it is really difficult. We are really lucky that we have at least three gigs in Finland. Same problem with the festivals, they are booked with bands that planned to perform in 2020. There are very little slots here and there.

What can you tell about the last track ‘Death Poem’?
I wrote it to be the last song of the album. The title ‘Death Poem’ comes from Japan. The Samurai’s, when they went to battle, they used to write death poems. If they would die in the battle, the death poem would be read. It is like a farewell letter to their families. It was written in a way that I wanted to leave the listener in a certain kind of state of mind when the album is finished. A feeling that you have gone through a journey… It is a farewell, the same way like the first song, I wanted it to be an intro song. These are real songs, but to me they are like an intro and outro for the album. To me it is very important, the feeling you have after listening to the album. The last seconds and everything, they mean a lot, because that is the state of mind you leave the listener. I did not want to leave them in a sad mood, so at the end of the song there is this feeling of relief a bit, like there is hope. That’s the way you will remember the track, you have to feel okay and want to make this trip or journey again. If the last song would be really heavy and negative, that is the state of mind you leave the person in, and I don’t want to create any negative art. If you give negative energy to people, you will receive it also. I don’t want to educate people, but I have a voice and I want to use it. Maybe it will open somebody’s eyes.

You also worked with Lord Of The Lost, they are hot in German speaking countries and their recent album ‘Judas’ is great. What about this adventure?
I worked on three songs. I love Chris Harms. I wrote songs for ‘Thornstar’ too, three or four of my songs are on that album. I really love to work with him and I really respect his amazing high work ethics, he is working so hard. They all are, the whole band. There are so many bands making records and then they go on tour and if they don’t get anywhere, they blame everybody else. But Lord Of The Lost, they don’t see it like that. They work their way through it and that is why they are big and that is why I am glad that they are growing and getting more recognition. It is because of the hard work and I respect that so much. The first time I met the Lord Of The Lost guys, we were playing at the same festival in Finland, quite a few years ago. Finnish bands were just drinking beer in the backstage, feeling good, you know. Then the German guys came. They go shopping before the gig and they are so focused, only on the gig. When they went on stage, it was like an explosion, because everything they did that day was about the gig. We will be working with Chris Harms in the future too. He is like a musical brother and we will meet again. It is amazing to get to know all these amazing characters and I really hope that we can be touring with Lord Of The Lost at some point. I think our bands fit well together. That is one of those bands that I really want to tour with.

Other bands on your list to tour with?
Yes, Amorphis, that is another real cool band, I love their music. Depeche Mode would be good (laughs), Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins, The Cure, Sisters Of Mercy. We want to tour with all kinds of bands. We don’t want this to be a metal thing only, because our music is not like metal at all. I want to tour with gothic bands and more electronic acts. We hope to find a new audience. Wave Gotik Treffen would be perfect. There are amazing gothic festivals in the centre of Europe and I think that is where they love to see us. It is a bigger influence than doom metal. To me gothic music is like Bauhaus, Sisters Of Mercy, The Mission, that kind of bands are my influences, that’s where I am coming from. With my earlier band Iconcrash we were playing at Finnish gothic parties most of the time and before that I was drummer in Varjo. That was a gothic band, pure eighties style. Guitars are from that kind of music. The Cure are a huge influence and as you mentioned, U2 can also be seen as a huge influence for me. The Edge has a groundbreaking style of playing.