The Story of Esko Järvelä Epic Male Band

by Esko

Kaustinen, the folk music town, my true home. Kaustinen is a part of me and will always be. I can never free myself of it and I don’t want to – I’m proud of it. Folk music has always been a natural choice for me. I’ve had the honour of fulfilling myself in amazing bands such as Frigg, Baltic Crossing and Tsuumi Sound System, and they have very much made me the musician I am today. But there’s a time for everything – pushing thirty I often found myself wondering what I want from my career. I had toured the world and moved in the same circles for around ten years, and my motivation was lost. I wanted and needed something new. I wanted a band of my own.

When pondering on the direction and style of my solo project, I had one big question to solve: should I choose the safe old road and do what I know best, or do I want to challenge myself more and do something that I’ve never tried before? At the end of the day, it was a rather easy choice. I had never played in a rock band, and I felt that there was a lot energy buried inside me that I wanted to release somehow. As I said in the booklet text of our debut album: ”I wanted to play louder, I wanted a reason to buy earplugs. I wanted to cut more bow hair than ever before. I really wanted to write and perform probably the only kind of music nobody has ever asked me to play.”

In my opinion, there had been a shortage of folk rock bands in Finland for some years, and I decided to do something about it. At first I was turning over the thought of bringing together two guitars and wondering what kind of soundscapes could be created by giving different roles to guitars. For a while I had also contemplated where I would find the right drummer and bass player for the band.

The musicians for the project were actually picked rather coincidentally. On an autumn day in 2011, I was having coffee with the guitarist Anssi Salminen at Sibelius Academy, where I gave him violin lessons every now and then. I have known him for years. He is from Kaustinen as well and was my father’s pupil for a long time. I knew he was a vivid and versatile guitar player and had explosive energy on gigs – a patent choice for a folk rock group. So I decided to introduce my idea to him, and Anssi was excited right away.

Jani Kivelä is the crown jewel of the Savonian guitar dynasty. I’ve come to know him through the bands Kajaus! and Tsuumi Sound System, in which we have both played. Like Anssi, Jani masters both the acoustic and the electric guitar. His range of tones and his rythmicity has always impressed me, and when the project had found its direction, I definitely wanted him aboard.

When it came to finding the bass player and the drummer, I had a minor problem to solve: I do know many skilful drummers and bassists but they are involved in almost all Finnish folk music bands. I wanted to try something else. I asked Jani and Anssi who their favourite players were, who they like to play with. And so the first time I met Janne Mathlin and Juho Kivivuori was in the first official rehearsals of Epic Male Band.

Janne Mathlin was described by Jani as an ”organic drummer”, which is quite apt. I’ve never played with a drummer that has as much passion and energy for every stroke he plays. He always gives his all, whether it’s rehearsals, overdubbing a shaker in a studio, or a gig. And most importantly, he never runs out of humour.

Juho Kivivuori is an extremely versatile and musical bass player. I listened to him on albums wondering at his dynamic playing, and it was easy to ask him to join. He has earned his spurs mostly playing jazz, and in a way he is the conductor of the band: his head works like some kind of musical navigator – for a co-player it is a sheet anchor, a database where you can program an endless amount of information. And on top of all this, he is supreme bass player.

While the band’s history is still rather short, the band has already given me so much. I’m still not sure if ”progressive hard folk” is the best possible description for our music. I feel that no matter how we describe it, someone always disagrees. Instead of contemplating this, it’s better to focus on making the best music possible and keep on doing gigs with tongue in cheek. I’ve often said that if it’s not fun being a musician, you’d better stop. Esko Järvelä Epic Male Band is not about to stop!



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Janne Mathlin, Juho Kivivuori, Esko Järvelä, Anssi Salminen, Jani Kivelä. Photo by Eva-Liisa Orupõld
Janne Mathlin, Juho Kivivuori, Esko Järvelä, Anssi Salminen, Jani Kivelä.
Photo by Eva-Liisa Orupõld