Originally published in The Irish Times, February 18th 2011
IF APPEARANCES really count for something, then Emma Kemppainen should be a right moody sort. Her band, LCMDF (who were briefly known as Le Corps Mince de Françoise before abbreviating), make music that treads a thin line between ultra-trendy pop and the more obscure end of 1980s and 1990s indie. Their artwork is sleek, and accompanying press photos of the Finnish duo – Emma and her younger sister, Mia – exhibit sharp cheekboned pouts with nary a smile.
So it’s somewhat surprising that she sounds so enthusiastic. At the moment she is deep in the heart of the Finnish countryside, trying to write new material. The duo’s debut album, Love Nature, hasn’t even hit the shelves yet, but time is precious when you do everything yourself.
“It’s not going that well. In fact, it’s not going at all,” she groans. “I have so many e-mails I have to answer, and so much paperwork, and scheduling and planning and stuff. I’m taking care of our company at the same time, so it’s really killing all creativity.”
This DIY ethic comes with the territory. The band’s origins lie with the 22-year-old: in a largely art-based household, Emma was the first to pursue music. Although the girls’ father has a background in radio, Emma’s desire to be a musician was met with bemused horror by her parents.
“When I was maybe 12 years old, I was like, ‘I wanna sing in a choir!’, and mom was like, ‘Oh my God, no. This is not happening’,” she giggles.
So Emma took up guitar and wrote her first song at 13. In 2006 she uploaded her bedroom band musings to MySpace.
“It was something that everyone was talking about – it was the place to go for opportunities, and Lily Allen and Arctic Monkeys got huge through using it. So I just created a page called Le Corps Mince de Françoise (The Skinny Body of Françoise), and it was never supposed to be anything. Then I uploaded some songs, and we got the first gig. It kind of all happened by accident, really.”
Emma eventually brought in Mia and their friend Malin Nyqvist, who quit the band last year. Streamlining the line-up meant that they could no longer emulate Salt-N-Pepa, Bananarama, Sugababes or even TLC, but she says it was inevitable that the group would become a duo.
“Malin didn’t want to be in the band, and we didn’t want her to be in the band, so it was kind of a mutual decision. I think our fans took it much harder than we did. I guess it’s a powerful sort of statement to have three girls in a band, but it got to the stage where nobody really wanted to take responsibility for anything. Now our functions are much clearer. Malin was never really included in writing any songs, and she was never in the studio, so for us she never played a big role in the band.”
Emma remains the principal songwriter in LCMDF Mark II, though Mia penned several numbers on Love Nature – the “sadder” ones. “Mia’s the romantic one, whereas I’m more the pop girl who comes up with the radio-friendly hooks. If Mia hadn’t written on the album, I think it would have been too frantic. Songs like Hard Smile really slow down the record, which is a good thing for us. Otherwise, we get hyper.”
The Kemppainens recorded the album in Berlin, their base these days. As well as being a hub of art and creativity, it’s also where they feel most at home. Being a pop band in Finland, the home of heavy metal, isn’t easy.
“Yeah, it’s really big and heavy on rock in Finland. They don’t really have any pop bands here, or else the pop bands that exist are the products of the Finnish versions of Idol and The X Factor. At the same time, we’re really proud of our heavy-metal culture, because we’ve got some of the world’s biggest heavy metal bands – Children of Bodom, Nightwish and Apocalyptica, stuff like that. I’m not really into that sort of music, though. If you go to a summer festival in Finland it ends up full of the people who are really scary and walk around with black coats,” she deadpans, “so you’re kind of afraid of everyone.”
Love Nature is certainly light, although it’s far from fluffy. Gandhi sounds like a hybrid of Happy Mondays and MIA, Future Me doffs its cap to the aforementioned Salt-N-Pepa, and Beach Life is like a funked-up, blissed-out version of The Knife. In other words, minimalism was not on the agenda: “We wanted to make it sound like it could almost be a big Armageddon movie soundtrack at some points, just full of explosions, and massive riffs, and massive drums.”
There have been plenty of comparisons. But whatever you do, don’t mention Chicks on Speed.
“We get the Chicks on Speed thing a lot, and I always get really angry about it. I don’t really see it. I think we’re more like Neneh Cherry, or Lily Allen, or Late of the Pier or Happy Mondays. There are so many other references.
“And I just think the riot grrrl thing is so old, too. I don’t want to be part of that. I’m not an angry person at all. I don’t feel any kind of riot. We’re just modern women, and modern people. I’m just so, so tired of that whole thing. We get asked questions about feminism a lot, and I think ‘Why don’t you ask the guy bands about that?’ It’s not our responsibility – it’s everyone’s.”
Kemppainen is allowed to be a little wary. A plethora of Finnish publications were hyping LCMDF as the next big thing before they’d released more than a couple of singles, just because they were like a streak of neon on Helsinki’s pallid musical landscape. International bloggers also picked up on the band – at one stage they overtook Kanye West as the most-written-about act on blog aggregator The Hype Machine.
“We got a bit overhyped, I guess,” she says. “We were on the covers of music and lifestyle magazines two years before the record was coming out, because they were so excited. Of course, that meant that we got a big crew of haters, too, so people really have a love/hate relationship with us now in Finland. But I think with the next single, Future Me, it’s being played on radio and it’s less aggressive than the earlier stuff, so people are really starting to accept us as a band, whereas before they’d seen us as one-hit wonders, or some sort of art project.”
That the album has been several years in the making doesn’t help with the impatient music-buying public, who have been wearing out the metaphorical grooves of Something Golden , a single released on trendy Parisian label Kitsuné in 2009. The delay was mostly down to management problems and on-again-off-again dealings with labels. LCMDF eventually signed with Heavenly Records, Emma says, “because it suited our ’90s, old-school sound”.
Despite their status as burgeoning pop icons, the sisters are realistic about their chances. Emma is only 22, she reminds us, and she can always return to the graphic- design course she dropped out of, “if something fucks up, or if I burn out”.
“But sure, it’d be so much more fun to be a pop star. I really hope that our band will give something to the Finnish music culture. We’re really into Sweden and what’s happening there. I really admire pop stars like Robyn, who has had a long and successful career, and has her own record label. That’s really cool. If that could happen in Finland, I’d be really amazed. But we still have a long way to go, since we’re the first ones who’ve even tried to do something that’s not heavy.
“I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens. We’re still young, there’s still a lot more things for us to learn and figure out.”