Birth date and place: 19 February 1979, Helsinki.
Place of residence: Kumpula, Helsinki.
Education: Upper secondary school.
Family: Is big.
As a child I wanted to be...a pigeon feeder and a cyclist.
I respect...grannies, grandpas and tango.
I dream of...being able to tour a lot with my band.
In the future I’d like to... see people be a bit
more compassionate with each other.

HEARING the name Mariska still makes many of us think of a tough young rapper who became known in the early 2000s for her long dreadlocks and tough attitude. In reality, she is much more than that. Mariska is an established singer-songwriter who, on top of creating her own songs, writes lyrics to such big names in Finnish pop music as Jenni Vartiainen and Anna Puu. Recently she underwent a transformation from a rap artist into an iskelmä (Finnish popular music) singer. This is not the first time the gifted musician has changed her skin, but while everything else may be amendable, her attitude is one thing that sticks.

First of all, can you tell me how you ended up in the music business?

I started playing classical piano at the age of seven. From there I moved to punk after about seven years or so. Then another seven years later I started rapping and yet another seven and I began to make iskelmä.

Talk about seven-year cycles! Will we see another change of style in seven years time?

Quite possibly. My life seems to go in these cycles. When I get bored with what I’m doing, I swap to something different. I consider the field of music as something where you can move around and you don’t have to categorise yourself into just one style.

If you think about your time as a rap artist, what made you take on that style?

Well, at that age I was just really into rap music so I wanted to try it out.

Do you feel then that your latest change of style has something to do with growing up?

I feel more that I’ve dated. It was just a natural change. I began to listen to iskelmä more at home and whatever I’m listening to influences the kind of music I make.

Can you name artists that have influenced your new album?

The first push towards the jazzy stuff came from Lavey Smith, who I saw performing in Finland some time ago. Then I started to listen to blues as well and more iskelmä. I listen mostly to very mainstream artists – if you can find it from Esso, you’ll find it in my record collection!

There’s certain nostalgia of old Finnish music in your songs, have you intentionally created this sound?

Yes, I have always found old Finnish iskelmä very charming. I don’t really agree with the more modern style of this music, and that has worked as a kind of irritant which has made me want to bring back the old sound. The melodies of my songs are closer to the old style, but I bring in the new in the lyrics.

Speaking of which, you’re known for very strong or even at times, provocative lyrics. Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I’m just constantly aware of what’s going on around me. Someone might say something in a conversation that sounds like it would be a great punch line for a song, or something might happen that evokes a story. Also text messages are brilliant for getting inspiration!

Ok... Whose text messages have you been reading?

Mostly my own! But my friends or anyone who is somehow involved with me is a potential victim! (Laughs)

So should we give people a heads up – hide your cell phones around Mariska!

Yeah, hide them from me if you don’t want to find your message in a song! (Laughs)

Suloinen Myrkynkeittäjä (Sweet Poison Cook) is one of the songs on your new album. Did Arto Paasilinna’s book by the same name work as the inspiration for the song?

I actually only read the book last week! But of course the name is familiar to me, and it’s really more the name than the book itself that worked as my inspiration.

The song Kokkaa Mua (Cook Me) has a sense of old blues songs where everyday lyrics were used to conceal sexual references. Is this what you’ve wanted to bring across?

I wanted to create a kind of translation of this kind of American blues tradition. I went over the phrase “Rock Me All Night Long” in my head and that’s where I got the idea from.

You just won the Tango Markkinat song writing contest with your song Sua Kaipaan. What made you take part in the competition?

I’ve thought about taking part in it for a few years. Just like with iskelmä, I don’t quite agree with the direction Finnish tango is heading to, and I decided that instead of grumbling about it at home I would write the kind of song that reflects my idea of good tango.

Will we hear you performing tango in the future?

Why not! I really like tango music, but it’s quite a difficult style of music and it’s serious business. I approach it with a mixture of fear and respect. I consider it to be more sacred in a way than iskelmä, for example.

When writing a song where do you start?

I try to start with the lyrics. With my own songs I often write the lyrics and compose the song at the same time. But when I write for someone else I work mostly only with the lyrics.

When you write for someone else, do you have to distance yourself from the text or is there still a part of Mariska in the lyrics?

It actually works quite the opposite. If I write about something very personal, those are the lyrics that I’ll use for someone else. My own style of music follows a kind of image of a badass girl, but when I write for others I can let my romantic side loose. (Laughs)

Do you write all your own songs or do you work as a team with your band Pahat Sudet (Bad Wolves)?

I write most of the lyrics and most often have an idea for the melody also. But I always go through them with other people and get someone bigger and wiser to help me!

Where did you find your wolves?

Oh well you know, I was walking in the forest one day... (Laughs) I knew Klaus Suominen (keyboards) from my past and I asked him to become a part of my band. Then we found Jaakko Jakku (drums) and then Luis Herrero (bass). I’m very proud of my wolves!

Catch Mariska and Pahat Sudet at Ilosaari Rock on 16 July.

Petra Nyman