It’s that special feeling when you suddenly realize that choices you made years ago or things that happened start to make sense. You finally get the idea behind it all. We got to experience this feeling on last week’s Friday evening.
It all started during our studio session two weeks ago. I was listening to Ripe performing another wonderful guitar solo and thought about the next session, in which we’d record the vocals for our upcoming singles "Falling in Love" and "The Dark Ride". It would be the first time for me to sing in the studio and I thought about the feedback we received after the release of our debut single "One More Time". In addition to the unanimously positive reactions there were some native speakers from the very motherland of country music, who liked the song as such but commented on our accent. Although the words were pronounced correctly, according to some comments, they still had a slight Finnish touch.
Of course they have. We are Finns. Well, most of us. But we are a band from Finland, and how should we sing anyway? Should we, for example, try to imitate British or American English? Should we – as a Crossover Country band – try to put some Texas into our pronunciation? I still remember the words of my first English teacher, who asked what we would think of an American trying to speak German with a Bavarian accent (his point being that speaking correctly without being somebody you’re not is the favorable choice).
One thing that has always been a distinguishing part of our Dark Ride is professionalism. We love to make music and to present the best, and only the best, to anybody listening to it or visiting our concerts. To achieve this, we work with well-chosen professionals from various different industries. All of them are recognised experts in their field: our producer Teemu Aalto (who has already brought other bands to the top of the charts), Svante Forsbäck (more than 3000 mastered albums; among his clients are nobody less than Volbeat, Sunrise Avenue, The Rasmus, Apocalyptica, Sonata Arctica and Rammstein), our sound technician Henry Tiainen, a number of experienced video producers and photographers, graphic designers, to name just a few of them.
When thinking about the feedback on our pronunciation, I suddenly realized that what we needed was language coaching. Two years ago, Terhi, a friend of mine, had told me about her American friend who lives in Imatra. His name is Keith and I wondered if he could help us on this one. It turned out that Keith happens to be a language teacher (in other words: a professional) and a huge country music fan. Despite the short notice and his fully booked schedule he invited us to his house the day before we went to the studio.
It is not often that you go to a stranger’s house and immediately feel so welcome. Keith had cooked for us and provided us with the necessary tools to moisten our throats in preparation of our coaching session. We sat down and started talking about who we are, what we do and what we needed help with. Keith had already scrutinized the demo vocals we had sent him in advance and had made a lot of notes. We spent three hours on going through two songs in order to get some more country into our vocals and reduce hypercorrection.
To answer the question above, British English is suitable for a lot of musical genres, but country music really calls for a southern variety of American English. Vesa quickly got rid of some clear influences of Finnish, such as, for example too hard pronunciation of /r/ and /d/ and too short vowels. I, on the other hand, had to learn how to pronounce "now" without sounding like a German cat ("Sven, remember the dip in your mouth!").
While analyzing and preparing us for our upcoming studio session with the precision of a military operation, Keith used a lot of terms that I hadn't heard since I left university. I am a linguist and have always had a partiality for phonetics and phonology (i.e. the study of the sounds of human speech and their systematic organization – one of the sexiest things on earth, I know!). For the first time, knowing about voiceless palato-alveolar affricates, open/closed vowels and aspiration actually helped me in real life. So I guess we didn't learn for our professors after all.
We laughed a lot this night, and somehow it felt as if we had known each other for years. In Finnish they say that "Palikat loksahtavat paikoilleen" – the pieces are falling into place. Keith turned out to be a perfect piece, waiting to be found. He was there all the time, but neither did we know about him, nor had he heard about the Dark Ride. It took this conversation with our mutual friend from June 2014 to make this happen. And here we are with our Dark Ride Coach, whose next job will be to help us put some more country into "Wasted Sundays". We would like to thank Keith for this very helpful session (the first results can be heard at the end of 2016 when we release "Falling in Love"). It feels great to know that another great brother and professional just joined our ride and we look forward to our next studio session – this time together with him.
Thank you all for being a part of this ride and just be confident that all pieces will eventually fall into place!