Mikaela Finne — Time Stands Still
With its Telecaster leads, acoustic strums, mid-tempo waltzes and tales of outlaw women and lost love, one might naturally assume Time Stands Still, the new album from Mikaela Finne, is a product of Nashville, TN. Truth be told, Finne was born and spent her childhood on the coast of Finland in Vaasa, and now hails from Stockholm, Sweden, where the album was recorded with producer Brady Blade (Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and the Dukes, Jewel, Indigo Girls, Buddy & Julie Miller). Somewhat fitting for an album that’s laden with contrasts, Finne actually found as much inspiration in heavy metal as she did the country genre during her youth, the rebellious spirit she found in both prompting her to pursue her musical passion.
Like her contemporaries Sarah Shook and Lydia Loveless, Finne’s emotive vibrato is its own instrument, adding an undeniable passion to her songs and making lines like “I’ve lost count, how many times you’ve broken my heart“ even more impactful. “The country music comes from my dad,” she explains, recalling his love for Dolly Parton and Creedence. “The word ‘outlaw’, for me, [means] you do something that you love regardless of what anybody else thinks about what you’re doing. … When I was a teenager, the music and the heavy metal that I listened to were totally outlaw.”
While topics like self-awareness and confidence are certainly not new terrain for a songwriter to excavate, Finne puts her own spin on them, with lead-off track “What If I” revealing a realization that sometimes self-confidence means admitting a sense of uncertainty and taking a step back to think things through if another’s intentions don’t seem to be pure. Set to a swinging rhythm section and tasty guitar riffs, and wrapping up with a nice classic country modulation that exudes swagger and confidence, the track finds Finne “second guessing … stressing … going out of [her] mind,” but make no mistake, as she also warns the listener, she can be a bit headstrong and they best get on board or get left behind.
Praised by critics for her ability to write with “a depth and sincerity that once made American country music great,” Finne doesn’t shy away from the breakup song, but even those have a tendency to reflect a sense of peaceful acceptance and resignation, leaning more on appreciation than heartbreak. This is most evident in the tear-jerking “We Both Wanted Forever (But Got For Now),” in which Finne recalls a relationship that was once “divine” but later “just didn’t sit right.” One can only hope to look back on such failed unions as lessons learned, which Finne manages to do quite beautifully. “I don’t believe in regrets,” she explains, “because every decision you make will bring you a lesson you may need.”
Finne was set to tour Europe with Caleb Caudle just as Covid-19 began wreaking havoc on touring musicians’ plans all over the world. With the tour cancelled, boredom set in, and rather than simply waiting it out, Finne called up Blade, a drummer and producer with an established pedigree as well as a love for working with new acts. Together with a cast of top-notch musicians from the Stockholm area (the core comprised of Al Perkins — “the world’s most influential dobro player” — on pedal and lap steel, Niklas Ekblom on lead guitar, Martin Tronsson on bass and synth, and Rasmus Söderling on drums and percussion), Finne and Blade recorded most of Time Stands Still over a week’s time in November 2020. Committing to a raw, live band sound, the resulting collection is full of warmth and grit, coming off far more natural and real than slick and polished.
Despite the cancelled plans and disappointments of the past year, Finne is ever the optimist, viewing Time Stands Still as an obvious product of the pandemic, but also a felicitous synchronicity. “It had such a flow,” she recalls, when describing the recording experience. “It felt like this was totally what was supposed to happen.”