The Finnish Lines

Saara Markkanen brings folk from her part of the world to Dayton

By Tim Anderl

Already earning comparisons to folk heavies like Joni Mitchell, Finnish folk singer/songwriter Saara Markkanen plays and sings songs that are short stories about hope and wonder.  However, for listeners with American ears who don’t share her native tongue, her exact narrative may be lost.  Markkanen relies on the universality of music as a common language to find a common ground with her audience.  Whether her compositions are ebbing and flowing with melancholy, chirping with cheerfulness, or erupting in little waves that conjure some other emotion, she hopes that her musical expressions resonate with listeners in a way that allows them to meander into their own meaning.

Originally finding her own voice after intense studying in woodwinds for several years, Markkanen thought she’d lost her muse and passion for music until she began teaching herself guitar.  This opened a new world for Markkanen, one that led to her debut full-length album, Aina Jossain Sataa (which translates to Always Raining Somewhere, in English), in 2011 and the Schönleinstraße EP, which she released in April 2012.  Dayton City Paper caught up with Markkanen prior to her July trip to Dayton’s South Park Tavern to discuss her influences her background, and her first U.S. tour.

You currently reside in Berlin, Germany but you are originally from Helsinki, Finland correct?

Yes. I moved to Berlin a year ago to find more people to share my music with and it is going good! I really enjoy the city and its possibilities.

Will this North American tour be your first trip to the U.S.?

No. My father lived in Arizona for several years so I visited him a bit. But it will be the first time I visit the states as part of a tour.

Is the tour in support of an album?  If so, when was the album release and what is the concept behind it?

Well it is not an actual support for an album, but we are playing the material from my first album, which was released last year, and my EP during the tour. It is my solo material, but I have my dear friend Elise Melinand singing backgrounds for me.

Do you think the rising popularity of bands who sing in their native tongues, like Sigur Ros perhaps, have enabled acceptance of music from other parts of the world with English speaking audiences?

Yes. Of course it is always easier if someone does it first. There is a fine line between being a freak, or offering a cool and different experience.  But many people have told me that they enjoy the fact that they don’t understand the lyrics because it enables the mind to travel while listening to me and offers them the opportunity to make up their own meaning to the music.

You are a multi-instrumentalist, skilled at woodwinds, guitar and singing, correct?

I started with flute and saxophone as a kid and had always done songwriting on the side. Then I started to play guitar two years ago.  At the moment, I primarily play guitar and sing in my solo project.  I also play flute, clarinet and sax with Christina Vantzou’s Little Prism ensemble.

Did you study music in an academic setting or are you self-taught?

I studied flute and sax in a music school, but guitar is self-taught. With guitar, I rediscovered my love for music, which I had lost during intensive music studying.

When did you realize that you’d like to pursue music and perform?

Two years ago when my very good friend got really sick.  It made me realize life is short and we have to do things that we feel important for us in the moment.

In the U.S. music press you’ve been compared to Joni Mitchell and Joanna Newsom.  Do you agree with these comparisons? 

I am very honored to be compared to these artists. I’ve been listening to Joni Mitchel’s music intensively for 10 years and I also love Joanna Newsom’s music.

What would you say your other major touchstones are in terms of influence?

First, I wanted to learn to play like Jose Gonzalez, but I am not quite there yet.  I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by great musicians as friends, so I guess my biggest influences have been around me.

Are there essentials (books, movies, food) that you can only get in Germany or Finland that you’ll be bringing on the road with you to combat homesickness?

Not really.  I guess these days we are so connected all the time because of Facebook and all the social media so there is no room for homesickness.  It is sort of a shame, because yearning is a good muse as well.

What are your other interests besides music?

I like to paint houses. I will go do that again when I get back from this tour. Nature is also very important to me, so I will be happy to spend some time in Finland soon. But the thing that interests me the most is meeting new people.

Saara Markkanen performs at Dayton’s South Park Tavern on July 13.  Also on the bill are Mike Perkins and Alli King. Admission is $5 for all ages. Doors at 9 pm. For more information, visit

Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Anderl at

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