rocking the grass, finland style

Steve ‘N’ Seagulls. From left: Matias Haavisto (Herman), Janne Tuovinen (Jamppa), Tomi Tajakka (Remmel), Juha Salonen (Skubu) and Viljam Hänninen (Hiltunen).

Take a guess as to which sensation you might feel upon introduction to the music of Steve ’n’ Seagulls. Is it joy? Maybe reflection? Unrest? Trepidation? All around musical bliss?

Try displacement.

Imagine a hard rock classic like AC/DC’s “Thunderstuck,” but in the place of Angus Young’s dizzying electric guitar arpeggios, you have the same riffs replicated on banjo. Instead of metal-encrusted power chords and death rattle vocals, you have a sound falling somewhere bluegrass and polka. Finally, there’s the geographical displacement. Instead of an Aussie take on American rock ‘n’ roll, you have Appalachian-inspired, roots-savvy licks devised from deep in the heart of… Finland?

Believe it. Steve ‘n’ Seagulls’ 2014 video for “Thunderstruck” began the exportation of one of Finland’s great musical curiosities to the world. Now, after three albums, five years and countless tours that have taken the band to over 20 countries, the genre-mashing quintet is back in the heart of the Bluegrass.

“A lot of times, people seem to be surprised with our live act,” said Steve ‘N’ Seagulls vocalist, frontman, guitarist and balalaika ace Tomi “Remmel” Tajakka by phone last week from his home in Iisalmi, Finland. “A lot of people usually come see us after seeing our videos online. In the videos, the whole thing is really small and sketchy. But when we’re playing live, there is more, let’s say, energy, more of a variety of sound. People have been really surprised with the fact that we can transport them to so many different places live, if you know what I mean.”

A novelty, you say? Not when you hear the band in action. On “Grainsville,” its third and most recent album, Steve ‘n’ Seagulls give acoustic driven makeovers to a battalion of hard rock chestnuts by Van Halen (“Panama”), ZZ Top (“Give Me All Your Lovin’”), Pantera (“I’m Broken”), Pearl Jam (“Alive”) and The Beastie Boys (“Sabotage”). The temperament borders on punk at times while the music leans to bluegrass. Still, it’s the mix of instrumental prowess and stylistic cunning that wins fans over.

“Through the years, the sound and the style of the band has refined itself,” Tajakka said. “But it seems to come out pretty naturally because we come from slightly different musical backgrounds. Some of us have played more traditional music, some of us have played more modern music – acoustic, electric and heavy metal, punk, Finnish dance music, choir music. For us, it’s pretty natural to mix different styles together. Of course, there are up sides and down sides to it, meaning that writing original songs for a band that mixes a lot of different styles is kind of hard because you don’t have a specific context in which to write in. But it all feels really natural. It still feels that way after quite a few years.”

So where did this sound come from? Did Tajakka spend his youth soaking up Bill Monroe and Stanley Brothers records? Not exactly.

“I grew up listening to my dad’s records and CDs at first, so there was a lot of stuff from the late ‘60s, early ‘70s and late ‘70s. I grew up with (Jimi) Hendrix, Neil Young, Led Zeppelin, a lot of British bands like Deep Purple, but also some of the folkier stuff and country music.

“At some point, I really started getting into heavy metal – bands like Metallica, Pantera, stuff like that. In the early ‘90s, Music Television (MTV) really kicked in here in Finland. That changed the game for us. We were teenagers who now had unlimited access to music videos and different kinds of programs like ‘Headbangers’ Ball,” which had mainly metal music. Then suddenly grunge kicked in. So I guess we grew up as pretty usual ‘90s kids who really liked music. It was an awesome time to be a teenager interested in music. It felt like there was a ton of new music pouring in all the time.”

A few of the artists whose music Steve ‘N’ Seagulls rewired, including The Offspring’s Dexter Holland and the late Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul, have given the band a thumbs-up for their efforts through the years. That has helped provide enough impetus to push ahead with a fourth album, which it plans to record in early 2020, and even more videos for internet consumption.

“Making the videos is always a lot of fun,” Tajakka said. “We usually get together at our accordion player’s home farm, light up the barbeque and start working. Those are fun days.”

Steve ’n’ Seagulls performs at 8 p.m. Aug. 29 at The Burl, 375 Thompson Rd. Tickets: $18. Call 859-447-8166 or go to

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