“I started playing guitar when I was five years old,” Tomi tells me over the phone. Saario is thousands of miles away, enjoying a “beautiful day in Finland”. I’m in an Itsu hiding from circling staff members suspiciously eyeing my dictaphone. Saario is warmly telling me that it was his dad who taught him his first chords, thereby inducting him into the world of rock and roll. “When I was roughly seven years old, I got this VHS tape of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Austin City Limits performance.” Saario instantly fell in love with the blues, and to this day he works hard to balance his love for musicians like Vaughan with his quintessentially Finnish life. “You need to find the golden line to walk to really marry those two things and make it seem kind of effortless,” Saario explains.
The young artist cites his single “Just a Little” as an example of how he has successfully found this balance. Saario puts this success down to his ability to match intimate lyrics with catchy hooks, but accessibility is also key, he tells me. For Saario, it’s important to write music that is equally “listenable” in Germany as it is in Britain, where Saario spent four formative years performing on London’s open mic circuit. During this time, Saario racked up a heady amount of experience, testing out his bluesy sound on challenging London crowds. “I played so much in London – over a thousand shows there, and nobody really played the guitar in the same style I did,” he recalls.
It’s clear that Saario possesses an incredible work ethic, something that he partially credits to his military service, which is mandatory in Finland. Throughout our chat, Saario talks a great deal about his “responsibility” as an artist, and it’s obvious that this experience has left a mark on this hardworking pop star. Saario feels that it’s his “duty” as a musician to give voice to his experiences honestly. “I know people go through similar experiences as I do, but they might struggle with finding the right words to express those feelings with. That’s why at its best, writing a song can be like finding those right words for everyone.”
Saario seems worried that people don’t talk to one another enough, and he explores this theme in his forthcoming single “I Wanna Be Your James Dean”. In the song, Saario longs for a time before Tinder, a romantic pre-app past. What does Saario think of dating apps, then? “I feel like people are losing the ability to have an actual conversation,” Saario tells me. “First you ‘like’ each other and then in the comments section all your social skills disappear, and you don’t actually say anything important.” In many ways, Saario’s music seeks to address this balance and to return to what the artist considers a more musical past, before, in his words, “the song-writing process [was] condensed.”
2020 is set to be a big year for Saario, dropping his new single “Don’t Hurt Yourself” today with a first-of-its kind music video shot in isolation over the internet with Tomi in Helsinki and his videographer in Berlin. “It’s all very exciting,” I tell Saario. “Yes,” he replies, precise and confident as ever.