Published on 24th July 2021
Tomi Kankainen – Confusion Field
After my review of Confusion Field’s Disconnection Complete, main-man Tomi Kankainen contacted me to thank me, and let me know that he was unfamiliar with Riverside before hearing about similarities with his music. I offered an interview to set the record straight…
I was really interested to hear that you were not familiar with Riverside before having Confusion Field compared to them. Once upon a time, I might have found that unbelievable, but that is a long time in the past (literally decades ago). It’s not that uncommon for such comparisons to be made where no such influence actually existed. Possibly the most well-known example in recent times would be Ulver’s Assassination of Julius Caesar. Many people compared the sound of that album to Depeche Mode, and I suspect some were disbelieving when Garm came out to say that Ulver had not been at all familiar with the band until the comparisons were made. Aware of the band, for sure, but none of Ulver had listened to Depeche Mode. Now that you’ve listened to Riverside, do you hear what others have heard?
I actually went through every Riverside album a few days ago since there’s been several mentions comparing us to them. I have to say that I still find it difficult to hear the similarities. Surely, there are the same kind of sounds here and there like one would expect in this genre, but beyond that I’m clueless.
I probably overstated the Riverside angle in my review, because reading back it makes it look like I think there is a stronger similarity than I actually do. I was meaning more to suggest that I expected a lot of reviewers to make a comparison, rather than that the comparison is valid. It was an initial impression on the first listen only, that quickly disappeared after the first couple of tracks. But it was an impression that I could see lasting in the ears of others.
Ok, I see. It is very interesting how that comparison is made. I would like to understand it better. You are right, there have been other reviews mentioning Riverside as well. Not many though. There are lots of other bands mentioned, like RPWL, Eloy, Depeche Mode, Haken, Pink Floyd, Von Hertzen Brothers, Conception… I love how people can hear different bands in our music. But some of my friends have also heard Riverside there, so it’s definitely something that I want to investigate a little further.
Weird, isn’t it? I don’t hear any of those bands really, though I guess I can kind of understand how the Von Hertzen Brothers comparison might be made. This isn’t really a question that can be answered conclusively, but do you think the comparisons between Confusion Field and Riverside are a case that there are only so many variations of sound, that it is inevitable that the odd musical coincidence occurs; or is it listener bias, where we (listeners, and especially reviewers) impose a greater similarity than actually exists, and thus infer influence where there is none?
I think it’s our natural instinct to compare new stuff to something already familiar. That’s how we learn. Same applies with music. But there are many different points of view. Are we finding similarities in rhythm, melody, harmony, lyrics, arrangement or production? Or a bit of everything. In this case, I think it’s because we are in the same ballpark sound-wise and my singing style is similar to Mariusz Duda’s (although he’s a way better singer than me).
I’ll possibly cop a bit of flak for this, as Riverside is a very popular band, but not only am I extremely impressed and enamoured with Confusion Field’s debut, I love it more than any Riverside album (who I do like). So even if I make comparisons, to my ears, I think you do it better. I’d honestly choose to listen to Confusion Field over Riverside any day. Although it probably helps that I’m reminded of Bowie more than once, and he’s probably my most favourite artist ever. I also hear a lot of Peter Gabriel in your music, and at times, vocals. But probably Bowie and Gabriel weren’t influences either, of course! Or were they?
I don’t mind being compared to other bands at all. I’m not trying to say that our sound is unique. It’s just that I don’t consider to be influenced by Riverside, although I like them. I don’t own their albums or listen to them regularly. You mentioned Peter Gabriel. He is a very big influence. I love the dedication and detail he puts in his work. The Bowie connection is surprising. I don’t hear that. There must be something wrong with my ears 🙂 .
More likely with mine, hearing what they want to hear! I guess that the obvious follow-up question is, who are your influences?
One of my biggest influences is Rush. Other major influences include Yes, Saga, Marillion, Queensrÿche and Fates Warning. There are so many different subgenres within progressive rock anyway. I try to follow the current pop music scene because there are always new and innovative production techniques involved. It’s quite progressive in that sense.
And that is one of the things I found most appealing about your sound! Confusion Field is not a straight forward prog metal band. There’s a lot of pop in the mix, as well as rock and metal. I really like the mix, but a lot of prog fans are highly resistant to pop. For some, it’s the name that must never be spoken. It’s all a bit odd to me. Do you think having the pop element to your music could be a handicap? Or is it not something you even think about at all?
I love pop music! Growing up in the ’80s I fell in love with the sounds and production styles of that era. I was a metalhead back then but I liked the melodic stuff better than the aggressive. I fell in love with progressive rock in the early ’90s so all the “classic” prog albums were already released. I had such a vast back catalogue of all this music to explore, so naturally I gravitated towards those who had the sound I was used to hearing. Call me a heretic, but I prefer the ’80s albums from all the big names in prog. Surely there are exceptions to the rule, but generally speaking that’s the way my ears are wired. I like to have the pop hooks in my prog. On the other hand, I enjoy the atmospheric post rock too. Not many pop hooks there… I really haven’t thought of the pop elements as some sort of handicap.
Which is great. Hopefully listeners will be similarly unworried. Regardless, I’m certainly hoping that there will be a follow-up to Disconnection Complete. Where do you see the band going in terms of future sound. Do you have a plan, or do you go where your muse takes you?
Confusion Field is going to be a long-term thing and not some one album project, so there will definitely be more albums coming! I do like to plans things ahead. At the moment it looks like the next album is going to be a bit more keyboard-oriented and up-tempo. Not any radical changes though, more like fine tuning the sound. New songs are far from finished so I’m not 100% sure where they’re going. I like to have a big picture and then craft the songs in that framework.
Do you have any favourite songs from this album?
Yes and no. I like them all for different reasons. Sky Is Never the Same is important because it was the first Confusion Field song we finished and released. It sets the mood beautifully. Some of the songs didn’t turn out quite as I would have liked, but they were close enough. There’s something in every song I would like to change but there comes a time when you just have to let it go. Nothing Holds the Storm was one of the hardest songs to finish, so I feel good about how it turned out in the end. Anxiety Reflected is maybe the most personal song I’ve ever written. That’s why it has a special meaning to me.
You should absolutely be proud of how Nothing Holds the Storm turned out as it one of three songs that I find incredibly impressive. I absolutely love the three songs that come in quick succession near the beginning of the album (Nothing Holds The Storm, Become Invisible and Distort Reality), which between them pretty much cover all the sounds and styles of Confusion Field. That’s such a strong set of songs, for me, that I remain constantly amazed by how much I continue to love the album after my three favourites have been and gone. How much thought went into the sequencing of the album? As you say, Sky Is Never the Same sets the mood beautifully, and is a perfect opening number. It all seems very carefully considered.
I planned that very carefully. Because the album has a theme, the lyrics dictated a lot. So the album structure pretty much came together during the writing process. And once I got the sequence figured out, I paid attention to the transitions between the songs. I tried to make it feel like they are part of the same story, although they are independent songs.
They definitely all feel part of one whole, yet can be appreciated individually, so I think you achieved your goal. I’d like to ask something different now. I listen to a lot of Finnish music, and I love when the vocals are sung in Finnish. There’s something quite musical about the language, I think. I really like the bands and artists that choose to sing in Finnish. I have no idea what they’re singing about, but I love the sound of the language. Would you ever consider including a song sung in Finnish on a Confusion Field album?
I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Never say never, but I prefer singing in English. Maybe if I found the right concept for it, I would give it a second thought.
It’s not just the language, though. There’s something about music from Finland, that differentiates itself from other music of the same genre from other countries. I don’t know if it’s geography, or history, or culture, or some combination of those, or something else entirely – but there often seems to be a mix of influences from both east and west, so that the resulting music is just different from what one might expect. What are your feelings about this?
I’m sure it’s a combination of all those things. The eastern influence is in our blood and the western has pretty much invaded the whole cultural landscape of Finland in the past forty years or something. Our cultural identity is based on the notion that Swedish people can do everything better, including music.
There’s a lot of self-deprecation there. The biggest problem any band or artist from Finland seems to have is how overlooked the country is when it comes to music from the Fennoscandian peninsula. Sweden and Norway are definitely the most recognised countries from the area in the prog community, but their music is not necessarily any better. I definitely don’t believe Swedish music is better than Finnish music, so much as more well known. Why do you think Finland continues to be so over-looked and underrated?
We still have some catching up to do compared to our dear neighbours. It has something to do with the structures of our society. The business side of music industry hasn’t been very professional. At the moment things are going for the better though.
It would be great to see Finnish music get the same sort of acknowledgment as Swedish and Norwegian, so hopefully you’re right, and things are going to continue to get better. Maybe we should end here on this positive note. Thank you for talking with me.