ASTRAL MAGIC “Spaced Out”
By Dark Starr
Mika Laakso is ASTRAL MAGIC. It's his creation and his music. People are likely to know him from his band DARK SUN. He played bass and synthesizer and providing backing vocals in that group. He was also one of the founding members. I got to talk with him about his musical projects, the changing world of music brought about by the pandemic, and much more.
WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music – sort of a "highlight reel?"
MIKA LAAKSO: Okay, I’ll try to make it short! I took some piano and guitar lessons as a kid, was first into 50s rock’n’roll, then punk, Finnish rock, new wave, synth pop, then heavy metal. Joined my first actual band when I was 16, a speed/thrash metal band called "OPPRESSION." Then I started a doom metal band EXITUS in 1989. Around the same time, I found HAWKWIND and psychedelia and nothing has been the same since! We started the psychedelic space rock band DARK SUN in 1991, and that went on until 2007. I’ve done some writing for several psych/space rock zines and web sites (US, UK, Italy, Greece, Finland…). Still have a blog called Astral Zone. I’ve also been organizing psych/stoner etcetera. gigs and festivals in Finland and DJing a lot. Still do occasional DJ gigs, but no time or energy to organize gigs. For many years I just occasionally jammed with some friends, but during the last few years I’ve been doing some stuff with OCTOPUS SYNG and UFO-TUKIMUKSIA. Since the Covid-19 started I locked myself in and started ASTRAL MAGIC to stay somewhat sane.
WC: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
ML: Well, music has always been just a hobby for me, not a way to make a living. If I hadn’t started ASTRAL MAGIC two years ago, I would have probably watched more films and read more books and drunk more beer, that’s about it!
WC: How did the name of the project originate?
ML: In the early 90s I wrote a song called "Astral Magic" for my previous band DARK SUN. That came up when I was thinking abut a cool name for this new project. I asked my good friend Scott ”Dr. Space” Heller for a few options, and we both thought it was the best.
WC:Who would you see as your musical influences?
ML: I listen to a lot of different music, but the main influences for ASTRAL MAGIC are HAWKWIND, PINK FLOYD, ELOY, GONG, NEU!, AMON DÜÜL II, CAN, VIBRAVOID, THE BEVIS FROND, SUN DIAL, OZRIC TENTACLES, PORCUPINE TREE, TANGERINE DREAM, ASTRALASIA, BRIAN ENO, MONSTER MAGNET…
WC: What's the best thing that's ever been said about your music?
ML: Ahem, can’t really think of anything specific, but it does always warm my heart when people make the effort of telling me that they really like and enjoy it. It gives me strength to carry on! Well, as I do release new stuff more often than others, it felt good when someone asked how is it possible to maintain such a high standard with my pace, which was nice.
WC: With Covid, we've all been going through a lot of changes. That's probably more true of the music world than it is a lot of other parts of our society. How did you get through it, and do you think we're on the other side? Do you see the music world permanently changed in any ways?
ML: I think that Covid actually was the final push to start this project in the first place. I mean, I had thought about starting to make music again and learning home-recording and stuff for years, but finally I had no more excuses not to. I had the time, right? And I needed a new computer anyway. And it was a good reason to buy new synths that I have always loved! Since ASTRAL MAGIC is (at least for now) only a recording project, not been able to play live did not matter. For music business and bands and venues in general, the situation of course has sucked really bad. I also used to go see bands (and often DJ) about once a week. It was a hard blow just not to be able to go out and enjoy live music with friends. It seems the situation is getting better now, but who knows what happens?
WC: What's ahead for you?
ML: I will write more songs and record them with more international guests on board. At the moment, I already have four unreleased albums ready and another four almost there. I need to find more labels to release my stuff...can anyone help with that, please? I have intentionally not made new music for a couple of weeks now since I just have so much stuff…
Some labels seem to be afraid of a guy who can produce ten great albums a year instead of the standard one every year or every five years or whatever. But I started ASTRAL MAGIC also as test of how long I can go on with my own terms without following all the rules of the music business. I have found out that there are people who actually want to get a new ASTRAL MAGIC release per month which is great! My primary goal is to find labels to release my music on vinyl on a regular basis. I’ve been asked to play gigs, but right now that does not really interest me. It would also be very difficult and expensive with musicians from all over the world being part of it all! I do hope ASTRAL MAGIC would get some more attention all over the world but I think I’m getting there slowly.
WC: I know many artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
ML: From the beginning (March 2020) I decided, that there would be no definitive style that the music should fit into. I have made electronic, ambient, experimental, space rock, psych, kraut, stoner, prog, synth pop, garage rock and maybe even more. But I personally prefer music that is psychedelic, spacey and emotional and takes you someplace else, so that is also my goal with ASTRAL MAGIC.
WC: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play in the future?
ML: Yeah, hundreds of them! I have already collaborated with dozens of musicians from Europe, US, UK, Russia etcetera. but I always get more ideas. Some have turned down my proposals but actually most have been interested and I have lots of new guests coming up on future releases. My old buddy Nik Turner (ex-HAWKWIND) is one of them. Nik is a legend. We played some gigs and did some recordings with DARK SUN together. Maybe it would be cool to have some collaborators also from Asia, Africa, South America and other, more exotic, parts of the world. I have a few in mind already…
WC: Do you think that illegal downloading or streaming of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
ML: It’s a double-edged sword, really. It helps to get your music around, but if people won’t buy it you can’t survive. Personally, I just check new bands/artists on legal streaming services and if I like them enough, I buy physical copies of their releases - on vinyl, if possible. That’s the way it should be if you ask me.
WC: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them or posting them online?
Ml: I’ve done that too… Have hundreds of HAWKWIND gigs on tape and CD-R, for example… That is much cooler, since the bands don’t really lose anything. But if a band is totally against it, maybe not then. Making money out of it is wrong, though. Having said that, I also have lots of live bootleg LPs… But only a couple of counterfeit studio albums, and only because the real ones are impossible to get. But this is a grey area, really.
WC: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
Ml: Phew, this is a tough one for me… I don’t believe making enemies is a good thing. But I’d say a dodgy promoter who takes advantage of young musicians and steals their money. I would shame and destroy all of them as a superhero.
WC: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?
ML: I really don’t consider any musicians as my heroes or anything. If you just put up some top-notch musicians together on stage the chances are they might sound terrible together. A real tight and great live band is only created with lots of sweat, tears and blood by playing together and knowing each other through and through. It needs a telepathic connection to jam together in a perfect combination like an oiled machine. It needs a lot of work and practice.
WC: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?
ML: Well, HAWKWIND with some old members on board, all the surviving members of PINK FLOYD with some help, original BLACK SABBATH, HELIOS CREED and/or CHROME, ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE, VIBRAVOID, THE HEADS, CIRCLE, OZRIC TENTACLES with as many original/early members as possible, THE BEVIS FROND, SUN DIAL, WHITE HILLS playing only their earlier space rock stuff, BLUE ÖYSTER CULT, FARFLUNG, THE SPACELORDS, GIÖBIA, ACID ROOSTER, SENDELICA, PORCUPINE TREE, ORESUND SOUND COLLECTIVE and CARLTON MELTON, just out of my head. That should get a real party going!
WC: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
ML: I always prefer vinyl. Some of the latest albums I have bought and been listening to are by ECSTATIC VISION, ACID MOTHERS REYNOLS, UFO ÖVER LAPPLAND and ERIC WAGNER.
WC: Have you read any good books lately?
ML: Not really, all my spare time goes into ASTRAL MAGIC. My favourite writers are Philip K. Dick and Michael Moorcock.
WC: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
ML: KUNGENS MÄN and MYTHIC SUNSHIP last week, I was also at the DJ. Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets before that! All these blew my mind.
WC: Do you remember the first concert you attended?
ML: Oh yes, it was Jussi and Eero Raittinen and THE BOYS when I was twelve. Cool rock’n’roll show!
WC: Have you come across any new gear recently that you love?
ML: Yes, I’m heavily into synthesizers! Too bad I don’t have enough money to buy the top of the line. I did manage to get a used Moog Grandmother in 2020. That is my fave. Also bought last year a used DeepMind 12 which is great, too. My latest purchase is Behringer VC340 that is good for strings, human voice and vocoder stuff but that’s it. I prefer analogue synths (also have 0-Coast for some experimental stuff, for example) but also like some digital ones. I don’t really “collect” guitars or basses, just have my old, trusty Rickenbacker 4003 from 1971 (as old as I am) and I only bought my first electric guitar (a cheap LTD model) last year. If I had the money, I would like to have a Fender Jazz bass and some more expensive electric guitars as well like Gibson SG.
WC: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
ML: I’m not really ashamed of anything I like, but maybe some synth pop stuff would almost qualify for this. DURAN DURAN?
WC: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
ML: Well, there have been some… Maybe when a member of DARK SUN accidentally wiped his ass with some fresh stinging nettle leaves at the Hamburg Hawkfan Meeting in 1997…
WC: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?
ML: Lemmy, Philip K. Dick and Terence McKenna. Should be interesting…
WC: What would be on the menu?
ML: At least some mushrooms!
WC: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
ML: Thanks a lot for this interview, much appreciated. I hope people would check out my music with an open mind. If you don’t like one album, try another one since they might sound quite different. Experience it in a relaxed state with your eyes closed and see where it gets you. Music has the power to heal, transform us into a higher state of existence and hopefully save our planet. Love and peace.