The Latebirds, a Helsinki-based rock band, is still unknown to many US readers. However, the band has been together for 11 years already and has cut two records in their native Finland. They are now ready to conquer the United States with their North American debut album ‘Last of the Good Ol’ Days’.

The title says it all. The Latebirds is a truly retro 1970’s rock band – with an added twist of country and western and punk. The men behind the magic are: Markus Nordenstreng, who sings and composes most tunes; Janne Haavisto plays percussion; Mikko Mäkelä does bass and vocals; Jussi Jaakonaho is the lead guitarist and last, but not least, Matti Pitsinki, a master with his guitar who also tickles the ivory, aka the keyboards.

Markus Nordenstreng by Jonny Kahleyn

Markus Nordenstreng

The five man band performed recently at the elegant Bel Air residence of Finnish consul general Kirsti Westphalen. The stop at Los Angeles concluded a two week tour of the U.S. It encompassed club dates in the big East Coast cities New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington. The band then headed to the Windy City (Chicago that is), and finally Los Angeles where the boys played at Amoeba Music in Hollywood, the world’s largest independent record store. The tour later ended in San Francisco. The reason for the big tour was to publicize their first record made in America “Last of the Good Ol’ Days”. The launch was made possible by generous grant from the Finnish government.

THE-LATEBIRDS-BY-JONNY-KAHLEYN - Jussi Jaakonaho and Mikko Mäkelä
Jussi Jaakonaho and Mikko Mäkelä

“It is great that the Finnish Ministry of Education and Ministry of Employment and the Economy support such activities. Otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to come here. Our tour budget was 15,000 Euros. The government aid covered about half of that”, lead singer and songwriter Markus Nordenstreng acknowledges. This is the Latebirds’ third album and by far the most difficult to get out.

“The Album was recorded here in the Santa Clarita already in the spring of 2007. We had a great producer, Jim Scott, who has worked with all the greats. But the release date was delayed by the record company. And, while waiting, we went to Woodstock to record a bonus EP (a short, five-song CD that accompanies the main CD) that guest stars Kris Kristofferson”, Nordenstreng recounts. Kristofferson got interested in the Finnish band after hearing their cover version of his hit song ‘In the News’.

Markus Nordenstreng and Finnish Consul General Kirsti Westphalen

“I sent it to Kris. He liked our version so much that offered to sing on our album. Of course we couldn’t afford to hire Kris Kristofferson. We did not pay him a penny. He appeared completely free”, Markus says with a smile. Aside from singing, Kris is heard on the album in an unusual role – the voice of God.

“Kris has inspired our music, as have other rock and punk bands, as well as Finnish bands, like the Agents.”

The celebrity encounters don’t end there.

“We had a chance encounter with Bruce Springsteen in a Boston bar. I had previously interviewed him as a journalist and he remembered me. The Boss promised to attend one of our gigs in the future”, Markus says. At this point in the interview, he is called on the makeshift stage at the consular residence to perform. The music of the Latebirds is very pleasant and familiar indeed. At points one can hear influences of country and western. I noticed many guests tapping their feet; some with their head swinging in unison with the music, even though the crowd was a bit longer in the tooth than the band’s usual mid-twenty to thirty- something audience.

lead singer/songwriter Markus Nordenstreng

After the show, I had a chance to get reacquainted with Matti Pitsinki. Our first meeting took place in the Silicon Valley some ten years earlier when Matti playing for another band, “Laika and the Cosmonauts”. It was purely an instrumental, sixties’ style guitar band that for some strange reason attracted computer nerds.

“We became aware of that. I do not mind it, it’s nice that people like your music and we cannot choose our audiences. It was surprising, because we didn’t really have any hobbies or apparent connection to the IT-world”, Matti chuckles. He has been with the Latebirds since 2005. During the first 3 years, Matti divided his time between the two bands since “Laika” was still in operation. However that band dissolved in 2008 by mutual agreement among its members.

The Latebirds seems to attract celebs like moths to a flame.

“By no means were we after celebrities. However, you inevitably meet famous people in America. Friends of stars who attend our concerts report to them that it was a good experience worth going to. Then the stars eventually show up”, Matti explains. In addition to Kris Kristofferson, another Hollywood luminary was drawn to The Latebirds’ music.

“We were recording at Pliers, a recording studio in Santa Clarita. It is a nicely equipped big two-story warehouse. Producer Jim Scott knows how to create a great atmosphere and he also knows how to kick ass. One day, a casually dressed Minnie Driver came to the studio. She was doing her own album. Jim and Minnie were old friends and Jim had promised to give her some advice. While there, she saw us perform and stayed on to hear more.”

Markus Nordenstreng asked Minnie if she would do a number.

“Minnie agreed immediately. She performs the song ‘Underwater’. This is a mid-tempo tune that has underwater kinds of tones in it. Minnie did a beautiful job; she has a very good voice”, Matti says with praise. It turns out that the actress also has a sense of humor.

The Latebirds' newest CD: 'Last of the Good Ol' Days'

“As we were listening to the rough mix of the song, everybody else was sitting, listening and looking serious while Minnie was on the floor on her belly, making swimming movements”, Matti says with a laugh.

The Ladebirds’ first American tour was such a smashing success that the band members plan a return engagement on the new continent sometime before Christmas.

  The Latebirds – ‘Summer Becomes Fall’ video


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