The Helsinki-based synth-pop duo RULES releases their self-titled debut album today, the August 21st. With soothing and rough retro-tunes from the 80’s and early 00’s, RULES combine their synthbased sound and echo-drowned vocals with lyrics based on characters from world literature. Each song tells a story from a character, but with a new perspective, that has been silented down or left out. RULES want to fill the gaps in the old literatures with a modern touch and contemporary perspective, and they creates it’s own world in each tune.
We took a chat with the girls behind RULES, about their interpretations of the world litterature they write about, how the inspiration about writing these kind of lyrics and perspectives came to their minds and what they want to say to the listeners with their messages. And why the cover of Nirvanas ”Lounge Act” fitted in to the theme of the album, about their musical inspirations in their sound, how it is to release an album in these insecure times with a new approach that has never been done before, and their future plans with RULES.
Hi girls, and congratulations to the amazing release of your debut album RULES! First of all, what’s the inspiration and background of you band name?
Hi, and thank you so much! Thinking of a name for our band was not easy at all. We went down a deep rabbit hole of words that just started to lose meaning while we tried them on. We looked for everywhere in our own lyrics for an inspiration but nothing felt completely right. Finally, we spotted the word rules in our cover song “Lounge Act” by Nirvana and really enjoyed the slight arrogance and cheerfulness it entails and found that this was it!
When did you start writing music together?
Sarra: We started about two years ago. Iiti wanted to make new music but was not so inspired to write lyrics so she asked me to do that part, as I enjoy writing.
Iiti: We’ve been best friends for a long time, and I thought that if we have a band together, we get to spend more time together too!
Now it’s time for the debut album, and the whole album is based on your perspectives from characters and stories from different world literatures. From unheard people, stories that never been told, silenced voices or never get the chance to be heard. Where and when started the inspiration on this kind of theme?
Sarra: I had never written lyrics before and didn’t really know how to approach the medium so Iiti came up with the idea for me to write about the books I was reading. This is another thing that the band’s name represents as this rule was what served as the main inspiration for creating the songs.
What is your interpretations of the world literature that you got inspired from on the album?
Sarra: I draw for the lyrics on an aspect or question in the literary work that strikes me as interesting and in the lyrics I contemplate what ever in the work has resonated with my own thoughts. So the lyrics are very much personal interpretations of the works and mirror my own sentiments. In some songs, such as “Nils” and “Kafuku’s Wife” I imagine my own idea of an answer to a specific question raised in the literary work itself, while in some songs, as in “Wendy” or “Terry” I imagine what a character that has not been given much opportunity for their own voice in the story might feel about the situations in the stories. Some songs, such as “Constantia” or “Eleanor”, again are simply homages to a beautiful style of writing that has inspired me.
“I’m very proud of having been able to make good use of everything I learned about scrutinizing and interpreting texts and offering my own views and perspectives about it, to create something new that may even end up inspiring someone else in its turn”. – Sarra
What made you choose the old stories you did? Did you aim for cohesively literatures, or just where you felt that a new perspective could or needed to be told?
Sarra: The stories actually are simply a selection among the works of literature I read during 2018 when we started making the songs. As such, I feel the selection could have been much more varied still, but these are the ones that inspired me so this is what you get!
Sarra, you have written the lyrics and you studied English and world literature for this music project. Where started the inspiration of writing these kind of lyrics and with this perspective and gaps you wanted to fill?
Sarra: Well, the slight pun of me having made my master’s all for this project hints to the fact that humanist studies are not so widely appreciated at the work markets in this day and age. So these songs for Rules are basically at the moment the main thing I am doing with my degree. Which is very cool in a way because I’m very proud of having been able to make good use of everything I learned about scrutinizing and interpreting texts and offering my own views and perspectives about it, to create something new that may even end up inspiring someone else in its turn. So in writing these lyrics I am basically performing the same thing as in studying a work of art, only in a more creative rather than scholarly way.
You want to reach out to a wider target group with this album, not only to the music listeners, but also to people with a primary literary interest. Do you feel that this album might catch their interest with your new point of view of something old?
Sarra: I hope it might inspire people to look up or revisit these works of literature, I can wholeheartedly recommend each and every one of them. As I said, the lyrics are very much my personal interpretations, and as such are open for a challenge. If the songs serve as opening a new perspective for someone in these works of literature, I should be very delighted!
What do you think these people will think and react to the album? And what is your expectations?
Sarra: Of course I hope the reactions will be positive and keen! I hope no one takes offence if we have misinterpreted their favorite books, though.
What is the message you want to say to the listeners and to the world with your music and perspectives of the lyrics?
Sarra: Well, the overall message of these songs and their perspectives, I feel is that of empathy: I find it is the best quality of literature, and other works of art too, that they teach us to take someone else’s perspective and I think it is one of the most important skills anyone can have, and something I very much want to promote.
What is each of your favorite and/or most important song on the album due to the lyrics, and what is your favorite line and why?
Sarra: I think both of ours favorite keeps changing all the time, which is great because it means we have made an album full of potential favorites! At the moment, my favorite is “Eleanor” and its line: “rolling loudly down the walls, pattering maddeningly on the roof”. Simply because of the rhythm and flow of the words. However, I do get goosebumps still from the message of “Wendy” and the line: “You think you taught us how, but we’re flying on our own”, if I do say so myself.
Iiti: Impossible to choose, but some of my favorite lyrics are in “Kafuku’s Wife”, how Sarra reveals the wife’s side, it feels like a whisper, the whole moment feels so vulnerable but there is still self-respect and power in her.
“Kafuku’s Wife“: ”I do it so you see it’s me. Just playing my part. In re-mending my heart With a silly vice.”
“Wendy“: ”Each daughter will be wiser!”
“Catherine“: ”I’m tired of leaning to your powerful side. I’m anxious to get along with me”
The album contains an outstanding cover of Nirvanas ”Lounge Act”. What made you feel that this particular song fitted in to the theme of the album?
Iiti: It’s interesting to think about the lyrics also without thinking their literary sources, how they speak to each other. It’s nice to try to imagine the characters being in connection with each other. I feel that many of these stories reveal a private moment in a character’s mind before some kind of turning point in their life. They question something they’ve been used to, and they are gathering strength to make a change and become more whole. This long train of thought leads to this: in my mind “Lounge Act” feels like this kind of moment too. Something you would write in a diary when you know you need to process something in yourself and your relationship with someone. A private moment, and maybe after it you feel clearer on what to actually do. And I’m a true Nirvana fan and I wanted to honor the band by covering one of my favorites.
Iiti, you have composed the music based on Sarras lyrics. How was the process of making the music out of the stories that were told in the lyrics?
Iiti: It was very liberating. With my other band Pintandwefall I always make the music first and then try to think of the lyrics, and the lyrics-part is always quite challenging. It was really nice to do it the other way around. First I get the lyrics from Sarra and then I make the music based on them. It forces me to do different kind of decisions and leads to solutions I wouldn’t have been able to do by myself. I try not to get too stuck in the mood of the original source of the story, so I could allow interesting combinations in music and the story. For example, “Susie”, the song doesn’t really reflect the horror of the movie Suspiria, but it brings a new layer to it, joy and empowerment.
“We have aimed to make an album of catchy and irresistible pop tunes with a bit more depth and perspective, that invites more than one listening-through”. – RULES
What is your musical inspirations to the sound?
Iiti: I wanted to make shameless, irresistible indie pop songs. I wanted synths, I wanted to let go and just do what I most felt like doing. I wanted to concentrate on delicious melodies and tried to find sounds that really felt satisfying.
Do you have any favorite artists that inspire you the most?
Iiti: Few bands that inspired Rules songs: Depeche Mode, Tegan and Sara, Pet Shop Boys, The Ark, Chairlift, Warpaint, Destiny’s Child and The Knife.
And the same question about each of your favorite and/or most important song, but now due to the music only, and why?
Sarra: This is a hard one, because I really love Iiti’s compositions and the favorite keeps changing all the time, but I think at the moment my favorite is “Laodameia”, which is the very first song we made, but I think the last one we recorded, and the form kept changing a lot through the process. But the main compositional elements have remained throughout and I LOVE the synth melody that opens the song!
Iiti: Maybe I will go with “Nils” right now, it was one of the first ones we made, I like how the music itself tells the story in it and that there is room for creating scenes and feelings in your mind. It also combines musically quite different kind of parts in a nice way!
In these insecure times with the pandemic going on in the world, listening to music is more important than ever to people. Do you think the timing of releasing this extraordinary story-based album is better now than ever?
We have aimed to make an album of catchy and irresistible pop tunes with a bit more depth and perspective, that invites more than one listening-through. We hope the album will give joy and inspiration, and maybe some food for thought and an itch for reading to the listeners, and of course, it so happens that that may be very much in demand right now.
Last but not least, what is your future plans for RULES?
Sarra: I think we are only getting started! Leading up to the release of this album has been a trial of learning a bunch of new skills and learning by trying, so I think we are only starting to get the hang of things. Now is the time to start repeating the creative process and seeing what new things we can include this time! Thankfully the world is full of great stories to re-interpret!
Iiti: Yes, this has been so much fun and I’m happy about what we have created! So I want to do it more in future. Hopefully people will find our music and enjoy it!
Listen to the album on Spotify via the link down below: