One collaboration of Kemppainens is paint-splatter pop-duo LCMDF, the project of sisters Mia and Emma. But another that’s been bubbling up over the past year and a bit is Mio’s Mountain. Mio’s Mountain is Mia Kemppainen’s solo musical project, delicate synth-pop compositions a little more sombre in tone and subtle than LCMDF’s more explosive work, and she’s just released a debut EP, Room. But the project doesn’t just exist musically – along with her brother Matti Kemppainen, she’s created a visual world for Mio, the figure at the heart of the Mio’s Mountain world. Mio’s story is told as a continual story on Instagram through Matti’s visuals and artworks. We caught up with Mia and Matti to learn more.
You guys are siblings with Mia as musician/producer and Matti as visual artist. Had you collaborated and brought your talents together before, when you were growing up?
Mia: Mio’s Mountain is the first project that we’ve collaborated on professionally. Growing up I watched Matti play video games a lot (and have later had the courage to play myself, hehe) so video game aesthetics, especially newer indie games, are something that we have a shared love for.
Matti: It’s true, we pin the same things on Pinterest all the time.
How did your collaboration on Mio’s Mountain happen? What was the working process like while creating it?
Mia: The music video for Find It was mine and Matti’s first collaboration, and I felt our visions really clicked. With Room the storyline and alternate universe really started taking form. This is the biggest thing we have done together so far and it was a great learning process.
I wanted her [Mio] stuck between dreams and reality, and it being hard to tell which is which. I imagined a room that serves as a haven but also as a cage in a way, it becoming an entity that starts to have a life of its own. Matti had the idea of her being a test-subject in a simulation experiment and we made that the core of the storyline. The story runs on both a science fictional and emotional level and you can choose what [you want to] to experience.
Matti: Me and Mia both enjoy the same kind of sci-fi stories. There were lots of post-it notes, google docs and never ending pinterest boards sent back and forth. I looked back at video games like Oxenfree and Portal and re-watched [2003 film] Animatrix, and fell into a YouTube rabbit-hole watching videos about alternate dimensions, and the story started to take form.
‘Mia wanted an isometric room. That’s where it all started. I envisioned this crazy sci-fi narrative that got very Black Mirror very fast. It was interactive and there were tons of different rooms but in the end we had to simplify a lot.’
I work a full-time job as a game developer so maybe that shows in the end-product. I work in 3ds max, photoshop and After Effects. I try to keep the workflow as fun and simple as possible. The style is low poly so there’s not a lot of texture and I let the light do the heavy lifting instead.
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On both the musical and artistic sides, what are some of the influences that fed into the project?
Matti: We play a lot of games together with my sisters so they are an easy common reference. For the visual style we looked at Inside and The Witness. Maybe a bit of Firewatch for the simplicity/lack of textures.
Mia: Musically I have a lot of love for Christine + The Queens, Metronomy, Daft Punk and Francis And the Lights. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye is one of my favourite albums. Games we love like are the already mentioned Inside and Journey, also sci-fi like Stranger Things. Animes like Princess Mononoke and Animatrix have been a general inspiration for me.
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You describe Mio as an alter-ego. So who is Mio, and what is her universe?
Mia: Originally Mio wasn’t intended as an alter-ego, but more as a character and a vessel for the music, something in-between me and reality, a buffer of some sort. But as the songs are my diary, she has become more and more like me, so I guess that was something I accepted. It’s maybe the most interesting part of me, amplified.
Matti: The room is Mio’s universe. A small square room floating in nothingness surrounded by stars. She has been there for a long time, trying to write music but is creatively stuck. She keeps writing blog posts but no one replies…. Until one day they do.
In the lead-up to the release of the EP, the Instagram cycle of images starts to turn into a loose narrative. What’s the ‘story’ behind Mio’s Mountain and where does it come from? Did you want to tell a story that left a lot abstract and left a lot obscured?
Mia: There’s a deeper storyline going on that is not obvious at first. Mio’s origin and purpose will slowly be revealed. I think it would have been boring to iron it out for everyone, you kind of have this whole universe and we choose where to point the flashlight.
Matti: It was important to me that we knew what was going on even if the readers did not. There is a point to everything. Hopefully at least a couple of people will get it. I’m ok with it just being moody pictures to others.
It’s a story about A.I and technology and loneliness but also about friendship and creativity. Escaping the box you were born into when reality is unravelling around you. The story is set in the fictional 70s so everything is a bit retro.
Do you think this approach allows the Mio’s Mountain project to exist in three dimensions; first in the music; then in the visuals; and then in the listener and viewer’s own imagination, fuelled by the music and art?
Mia: I think it’s interesting how you can expand the experience of music with world-building. I’ve always listened to music through visuals, I think visuals are the guide to the music. If they’re disconnected it all just falls apart. Mio is a messenger of some sort, a shield that gives me the courage to do art the way I want to do it. Yet somehow I realised it also lets the listener closer to me than they otherwise would have been. When you’re not restricted by reality, everything becomes so much more interesting.
The two prominent themes of the Mio story revealed through Instagram so far seem to be isolation and mystery. Would you say those extend into the music?
Mia: Loneliness is a central theme in the songs. The Room EP was to some extent done in isolation, I was actually happy when we started on the visuals and I got to work in a group again. (laughs) I had some collaborators on board, but I do think this project needed a bit of isolation, for me to get into my imaginary treehouse where this world exists, and write out of there. I often look at pictures and gifs as I make music, it helps me navigate.
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How have you both found the experience of creating something like this? Would it be something you’d want to work on in future?
Mia: The amount of work behind a mini-story like this caught us by surprise, many aesthetic and technical challenges that had to be tackled (who knew Android can’t post mov-files to Instagram?), so a lot of invisible work. There’s all these crazy amazing ideas but actually forging them into something real is always harder than expected. I learned that I absolutely love concepts and storytelling, and my love for video games and sci-fi only deepened. The importance of organisation and clarity is something I’ve definitely learned through this process.
Matti: We certainly learned a lot from this and Mio’s story will continue for sure.
The Room EP is out now on Lyktan Records.