Keuhkot is, as Jordan N. Mamone suggests, “the world’s only one-man avant-garde Finnish vaudeville act.” “Keuhkot” is the stage name of Kake Puhuu, born Kalevi Rainio; the word means “Lungs,” and man oh man does this guy own a pair! He is driven by a vision as distinctive as any outsider artist: equal parts dystopian warnings, eco-activism, avant-garde music and D.I.Y. art. Once part of the punk underground in Tampere, Finland (pop. 200,000), Kake moved to the village of Pomarkku (pop. 2,000) where he has lived for years in a converted schoolhouse in the woods. He spoke with PKM’s Jordan Mamone about his life and new album, Jatketaan Universumia (Continuing the Universe).
It’s tough to freak people out these days. Mass shootings and pandemic briefings are now shrug-inducing facts of life. Bonkers conspiracy theories roll off the forked tongues of mainstream politicians. And the most extreme metal and hardcore have become fodder for juvenile video-game soundtracks and skateboarding demos. Despite this onslaught of numbing drivel, a single song by Keuhkot—the world’s only one-man avant-garde Finnish vaudeville act—is guaranteed to rouse the average dope from his or her desensitized stupor. At very least, it might elicit an impassioned plea to hit the mute button.
Kake Puhuu, born Kalevi Rainio, is the creative force behind the project, the name of which translates as “Lungs.” In a mad-scientist gargle, he rants in his native language about humankind’s absurdity, supported by stuttering electronic percussion, stiff guitar discord, and sinister melodies that evoke farcical military marches, early industrial music, a bumbling Arab wedding orchestra, or an especially irritating trip to the circus. The whole mess is a disorienting but inimitable conflation of outsider amateurism, ethnic pilfering, Casiotone chintz, and noise for noise’s sake. At gigs, Keuhkot’s aural assault blossoms into a multimedia spectacle that employs films, elaborate headdresses, and DIY props such as lottery machines, lecterns, and mobile sculptures. Equipment malfunctions are not uncommon. What’s more, Puhuu doubles as an accomplished, if proudly eccentric, visual artist. He works from a repurposed, wooden schoolhouse in the middle of nowhere, i.e. Pomarkku, a sleepy, heavily forested town of 2,000 residents.
Jatketaan Universumia (Continuing the Universe) is Keuhkot’s seventh album and his first after a 10-year hiatus. It also happens to be his finest hour since 2002’s Peruskivi Francon Betonia (Cornerstone Made from Franco’s Concrete). Released by the celebrated Nordic indie label If Society, the new record finds Puhuu flush with black humor and high-concept hullabaloo. Lyrical topics include “Muijat ja Äijät” (“Chicks and Geezers”), “Kutsu Urajäärää” (“Call for the Stubborn Old Careerman”), and “Susta Tykätään” (“You Are Liked”).
A conversation with Keuhkot never revolves around boilerplate tour stories and inane PR hype. Instead, he fields questions concerning his rural abode, his formative stint with the snotty folk-punk band Liimanarina (Glue Creak), and his travels across the Maghreb and Anatolia. Quite seamlessly, he ends up on tangents about the controversial ecologist Pentti Linkola and the inspirational significance of Nicolas Cage’s penis. Brace yourself, mortal.
PKM: The last Keuhkot album, Laskeutumisalusastia [Landingcraftbedpan], came out 10 years ago. Why have you been so silent?
Kake Puhuu: My silence has to do with my income. Real art doesn’t make money.
PKM: What have you been up to?
Kake Puhuu: I had to do lousy jobs: phone sales, market analysis. I had so many difficulties with economic survival that I had to forget that I’m an artist. Nowadays, the economics are not much better, but I realized that I can’t escape my calling.
PKM: Your new album sounds rougher and crankier than the last few. Is there anything going on culturally or politically, in Finland or internationally, that inspired your return to music?
Kake Puhuu: It’s mostly the times and people’s attitudes. In Finland, we can’t save our old forests, which are my favorite places. And we consume more than we can use. Many of the old idealists have also betrayed us. They’ve turned themselves on their heads.
PKM: Are you still living in Pomarkku? Please describe your home and the environment around it.
Kake Puhuu: Yes, I still live in this old wooden schoolhouse, which was built after the Second World War. It’s situated at the mathematical center of the houses in the area, so everyone traveled the same distance to school. In the early days, pupils had to ski to class; there were no lights, only stars and the moon to help. When I moved here, there was much old forest nearby. Now most of it has been cut, and the silence has been lost to sound and light pollution. There’s much more wind and no mushrooms or berries in the woods, as there were earlier. But I have to keep on here, to save our woods and to agitate the local farmers with sense.
PKM: How do the locals react to you?
Kake Puhuu: I’m famous here. When I was not doing art for 10 years, they still called me an artist.
PKM: Have you played Keuhkot’s music for any of them?
Kake Puhuu: I have sometimes played concerts here at our school.
PKM: How did that go?
Kake Puhuu: People maybe don’t listen to my music at home, but they respect it.
PKM: Wild. You’re originally from Tampere, Finland’s second city. More than 200,000 people live there, as opposed to only 2,000 in Pomarkku. What was it like growing up in urban Finland in the ’70s and ’80s?
Kake Puhuu: I was born in Tampere. The ’70s were really interesting. Punk rock was declared by Finnish public radio to be a dangerous influence on the youth. That had me thinking, “This is it.” Starting even earlier in the ’70s, we had in Finland [our own protopunk] bands Virtanen and Sleepy Sleepers, so punk rock was sort of always here in some sense.
PKM: In the late ’80s, you played bass for Liimanarina. That was closer to a punk band than Keuhkot is. Was it difficult working with the cantankerous front man, Olli Pauke?
Kake Puhuu: I was frustrated with Olli’s way of producing sound. He used lousy microphones, and with the mixing board, he was a disaster. I asked him to change and make it better, but you can’t change Olli’s thinking.
PKM: He’s a national treasure, but he is stubborn and outspoken, to say the least. In the early years, both Keuhkot and Liimanarina featured the same three musicians. Why did you leave Liimanarina and why did the other two members of Liimanarina leave Keuhkot?
Kake Puhuu: Keuhkot and Liimanarina were the same band in the beginning. I left when Olli said my songs were progressive rock.
PKM: Hah! You continued Keuhkot as a solo thing, but did Liimanarina influence you at all?
Kake Puhuu: Olli and I were like brothers. He encouraged me to practice guitar. We liked the same authors, like William S. Burroughs, and our lyrics were inspired by some of the same things. But I couldn’t move on with Liimanarina; Olli seemed to be from the Stone Age.
PKM: Any memorable stories from your days in the band?
Kake Puhuu: I had many good marketing tricks. I wrote a letter to the main newspaper about our concert, but under the name of a spectator who was there with her child. She was shocked by our performance: “How could these kinds of barbarians play a free, public concert without any musical skill, only chaotic noise and screaming?” I did not tell Olli that I was actually the letter-writing “spectator” in question. He wrote back to the newspaper and after that, I again wrote arguments from the spectator’s point of view. Olli continued writing in, and we had a discussion that way!
PKM: I’m sure he was thrilled about that. How and when did Keuhkot start?
Kake Puhuu: Keuhkot started in about 1984, when the first home computers were available. My brother, Matti, built processors that allowed for more memory. He was a pioneer with computers, first when he was in college. Nowadays he is a big software builder, doing solutions for companies. Anyway, there was the possibility to make chords using synthetic sound. I used these sounds, and with Matti’s two-track tape recorder, I could mix the recordings. The first label [for my music] was mää. In English: “me.”
PKM: Quite a poetic way of describing your home recordings. On a related note, the band name Keuhkot means “Lungs,” and your stage name, Kake Puhuu, means “Kake Speaks.” Is this some comment on giving a voice to your philosophy or inner thoughts?
Kake Puhuu: Keuhkot allows me to vent. That means pushing out air at a dumbed-down culture. Kake Puhuu is the character that does this physically. My stage name is also an homage to Tom Waits: Tom waits, but Kake speaks.
PKM: Do you think Keuhkot’s music has changed over the years?
Kake Puhuu: Keuhkot’s music has always been open to influences. I was raised with hard rock, glam rock, and what later became punk. Classical music has always been there, too: My first exposure to computer music was [Finnish composer Jean] Sibelius’s  Jääkärimarssi [aka Jäger March]. We wrote the notes on the computer, and the software played them. It was amazing. World music was an important influence in the ’90s. Nowadays, I still play the same instruments I got in 1987. The sound is the same; there’s no need to change. But if I ever have the chance, I’ll get new acoustic instruments by traveling abroad again or even buying them here in Finland. We have many master instrument constructors.
PKM: When exactly did you move from Tampere to Pomarkku? And why do you live in such isolation?
Kake Puhuu: I moved from Tampere in 1998. Living there was too expensive. I made large [art] installations and I needed more space. I was also disappointed with Tampere’s cultural politics: Nobody noticed me. Here in [the region of] Satakunta, I got noticed.
PKM: How do you cope with the wintertime snows?
Kake Puhuu: Wintertime snow cleans the air. You surely know the Talking Heads song “Air” [from 1979’s Fear of Music]? It’s my favorite. The worst thing about winter is the darkness. You have to wake up in the morning, which is truly night. And when you get back from your job, it’s night again.
PKM: How about the swarms of summertime insects?
Kake Puhuu: Insects are my friends. I can give them a little of my blood, and they give me songs to write. I don’t think anybody has written as many songs about insects as I have. And also about photography.
PKM: So you’re able to make a living now?
Kake Puhuu: Living… whew. In 2000, I was at a concert by [the progressive rock band] Gong, in Imatra, Finland. I had a video camera, which I gave to my friend to do an interview with [front man] Daevid Allen, for a local TV broadcast. The friend messed up the camera; the record function wasn’t on. After that, he got another chance. So we interviewed Daevid Allen again. He was quite cold about our mistake. My friend asked him something about space rock, and then I asked, “So where does your income come from? Your records are not selling and your music is being downloaded for free.” Allen’s answer was, “You need to learn how to use your camera before conducting an interview.” Art doesn’t put bread on the table. I’m basically a phone salesman. Nowadays, I make ice for hockey rinks.
PKM: Is that some kind of Finnish idiomatic expression? Or is that literally your job?
Kake Puhuu: No, it’s one of my physical jobs. Really.
PKM: No shit. What do you do for fun at night?
Kake Puhuu: Fun at night?! The best thing is getting real sleep. The worst problem in society is bad sleep. There’s electricity all around, and even when it’s shut off, it interferes. City lights mess with our hormones, noise pollution makes us stressed. I just want to be close to my girl in bed. If we can’t make love, we eat.
PKM: Sounds all right to me. When I interviewed you in 2001, you said, “Most of the time, I’m criticizing human culture. I hate new media and technology because they have made the level of expression worse.” I think this is even more true nowadays. Do you agree?
Kake Puhuu: Yeah, this is now even worse. People are educated to take only short clips from reality. Today I read the main Finnish paper, Helsingin Sanomat, and again realized this trap, which I have also fallen into. In a newspaper, articles are analytical, giving background. You can read real news from the web, but most people read only the clips. And that’s the way we will be conquered!
PKM: Right. On social media, everyone is even more distracted by headlines, soundbites, simplifications, lists, charts, and celebrity gossip. Is society getting stupider?
Kake Puhuu: We don’t want philosophers. Or we want them only if they say what we want to hear. Society may be stupid on the surface, but there’s much fine literature, alternative visual art, sculpture, and alternative music and poetry that we should get in touch with again. We are wasting our greatest skills.
PKM: Does Keuhkot have any sort of guiding philosophy?
Kake Puhuu: Most people want to be the same as others. In high school, I hated wearing what everyone was wearing: Adidas, Puma, Reebok, or whatever. I wore clothes designed by my mother or even by me. Some people didn’t like it, but most actually did. You have to think wide. Closing your mind may feel safe, but opening it feels much better. There’s a little space for real thinkers who may save the Earth. But they’re mostly silent because of what populists demand to hear.
PKM: Do you consider yourself to be a misanthrope?
Kake Puhuu: Well, it started for me just as provocation. You maybe heard about Pentti Linkola?
PKM: Of course. The radical Finnish ecologist and philosopher. He died in 2020.
Kake Puhuu: He was a nature pioneer and very quickly, he came to the conclusion that humans are the worst, most destructive species in the world. And that the population should be reduced. This is basically true love for humans and nature. I just hate people for doing bad things.
PKM: Agreed, but Linkola also had some sympathy for fascism and authoritarianism. And Keuhkot seems to be the opposite of that aspect of his thinking.
Kake Puhuu: Keuhkot is a parody of authoritarianism, but I understand Linkola’s ideas about fascism: Maybe we can’t save nature and solve climate change without hard law and order? There is a Finnish singer and poet, Aulikki Oksanen. With the legendary composer Kaj Chydenius, she wrote the song “Kenen Joukoissa Seisot?” [“Whose Side Are You On?”], released in 1970. The best lines are translated: “This injustice we can’t fight with flowers/ Hungry mouths are not filled by kisses.” [Chydenius’s then-wife,] the singer Kaisa Korhonen, also performed this song. These angry women said goodbye to hippie times; it was time for action.
PKM: Technology has become even more inescapable since the early Keuhkot records. But people are willing victims of it. What are your thoughts on the rise of social media, digital surveillance, and individuals documenting every moment of their mediocre lives via the video functions on their smartphones?
Kake Puhuu: I mostly hate it. Analog technology was enough for me. But my old instruments and recording devices are not so fine anymore. I have to use software to record, and some of it needs restoration or reconfiguring, which sucks. But I’m not on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
PKM: Me neither.
Kake Puhuu: They eat your time and life.
PKM: The title of your new album translates as Continuing the Universe. What’s the significance of that?
Kake Puhuu: This is about my feeling that I am a superman, like in Nietzche’s writings. I have so many things to say right now that one universe is too small to take it all in. So I’m broadening it, to make room for my gorgeous thoughts.
PKM: In the promo photos for the new LP, you’re blowing into a horn and strolling through a forest without many trees. What do these images represent?
Kake Puhuu: They were taken here, around my home. The horn I made from a local newspaper. It’s a classical Finnish shepherd’s horn. The picture is a new version of Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s [landscape] painting Paanajärven Paimenpoika [Shepherd Boy from Paanajärvi, from 1892]. Old forests are disappearing, and I’m criticizing cutting them down. Wood should be used for buildings and furniture, not cellulose.
PKM: Who’s that figure on the album cover?
Kake Puhuu: The front cover and the other photos are also taken near here. My neighbors did huge cuttings in the woods. I was really angry. There were very large, old woods here, but the neighbors just think, “money.” I made a doll who has lost his home in the woods, and I photographed that.
PKM: There’s a song on the LP called “Oraskuu,” meaning “Sproutember.” It’s rather spirited. What’s that about?
Kake Puhuu: The song tells about a wise king who senses that people don’t have enough time for living. So he declares a thirteenth month of the year, so people will have time for family, celebrating, eating, loving, and drinking.
PKM: Sign me up. The song title “Miestenpäivänä” translates as “On Men’s Day.” Does anyone in Finland care about this holiday? It’s not too popular in America. What’s the significance?
Kake Puhuu: I really did make this song on [International] Men’s Day. For many years in my mind, I’ve heard the disturbing soundtrack from a Nicolas Cage film, where he was the big boss of a crime gang. He had his own club for cover and wore white, loose trousers. When I saw this movie, I thought, “There is much room in there for him to shake his cock…” The soundtrack to this film was awful—funky disco, which I plagiarized. The chorus, munien heiluttelulaulu, is translated: “the cock-shaking song.”
PKM: [laughing hysterically] It’s probably for the best that I haven’t seen this movie. Jatketaan Universumia is your first record since 1990 to feature major contributions from other players. Why are you collaborating with guest musicians?
Kake Puhuu: I’m getting older and can’t do everything myself anymore—a good idea, but it did not make it easier. I have even thought that my friends can do the whole Keuhkot product without me; the main thing is the art, not the performer.
PKM: Some of the songs sound like messed-up versions of melodies I’ve heard at weddings in North Africa and in taxis in Central Asia. How did Keuhkot become influenced by Middle Eastern and non-Western music?
Kake Puhuu: Me and Siru, my life partner, traveled the first times by train to Morocco and Turkey in 1990 and 1991. The local music was the music we had been waiting for. I bought cassettes of it and folk instruments. We came again to Morocco and Andalusia in 1995, with a small radio. There was everything we needed: Arabic music, Berber music, Gypsy flamenco, tapas, wine.
PKM: Please describe the most memorable thing you experienced in those countries.
Kake Puhuu: The most memorable place was in Turkey, Cappadocia. We slept at night in caves. The first night we spent in a cave was windy. The wind was blowing and shaking our tent. Bats flew through the cave. I played on the tape recorder [Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1886 arrangement of fellow Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky’s piece] “Night on Bald Mountain” [made famous by Disney’s Fantasia]. Then we heard creepy screaming by an animal. We didn’t sleep. The other night was maybe easier. We met a local desperado, who showed us a better cave. Communication was by hand gestures and drawing marks on the sand. I imitated the night-screaming voice, and the local man drew an eagle figure.
PKM: How did these travels influence Keuhkot’s aesthetic?
Kake Puhuu: The best lesson was that there is much more to the world.
PKM: Why haven’t you learned how to properly play any of these ethnic instruments that you use, like the kamenja or the wooden flute?
Kake Puhuu: I’m too lazy to practice.
PKM: If you hate technology so much, why have you been using computers and synths, along with noisy guitars and folk instruments?
Kake Puhuu: I have Windows 95. Its terminal is from the Stone Age.
PKM: I guess that doesn’t really qualify as cutting-edge. You used to bang wheelbarrows, rocks, and hammers as percussion instruments. Are you making music from any other household objects these days?
Kake Puhuu: Like I mentioned, I’m getting older. The shows I did using those things took too much time and energy. Maybe you could be my assistant? I have here a massive water reservoir; it makes amazing psychedelic sounds, but it’s too heavy to carry for performances.
PKM: What are those noises on “Kutsu Urajäärää” [“Call for the Stubborn Old Careerman”], on the new record?
Kake Puhuu: That’s me, playing in my kitchen with my dog. No effects, only Moroccan finger drums and a guembri, the wooden, three-stringed, Moroccan-nomad bass covered with donkey hide. My purpose in this song is to get into listeners’ minds and under their skin, to open them up to the possibility of making contact with insects.
PKM: Delightful. How did you get those grunting vocals on “Jatketaan Työuraa” [“Let’s Continue the Career”]?
Kake Puhuu: My voice is recorded outside, same places as the cover photos. I totally crawled around on the ground.
PKM: Your multimedia performances are infamous in the Finnish underground. Why do you use props like lecterns, lottery machines, and gavels on stage?
Kake Puhuu: Who the fuck can watch a man doing nothing but playing guitar? Not me.
PKM: And the costumes and headdresses you sometimes wear during the gigs?
Kake Puhuu: I only use materials I have at home. I don’t buy anything. Trash is almost better. The best stuff is the cheapest.
PKM: What was the wildest Keuhkot live show?
Kake Puhuu: It was in Tampere, at [the venue] I-Klubi, about 1997. It was my smell symphony, where I got boxes to emit different odors with musical changes. I had a huge propeller that I spun to spread the smell to the audience. The main smell, fermentation, didn’t work; the stage was too cold. Then I put chicken shit in a can, spun the propeller, and wondered why people were crouching down. There must have been some kind of ammoniacal reaction. The place cleared out, and everyone thought I did it for a reason. But it just happened.
PKM: Many Finnish listeners claim that it’s impossible to fully appreciate your music without understanding the words. But you have foreign fans who don’t speak Finnish. Why do you think Keuhkot appeals to these people, despite the language barrier?
Kake Puhuu: When you listen to Berber music, you don’t understand the lyrics, you get into music. You are the music.