East Angelenos For A Day
Before me is a picture.
In it, two Finns, Tuomo Prättälä and Markus Nordenstreng, sit in a 1950 Mist Green Chevrolet Fleetline, a car with modified mufflers that produce a distinct rumbling that’s been turning heads in Southern California since the late fifties. It sits parked near Olvera Street in Downtown Los Angeles. Both wear shades and fedoras, the beginnings of an old school East L.A. Chicano style, the kind of style cars like this are so commonly associated with. These two are the founders of the Helsinki-based folk group Tuomo & Markus. But that is not who they were when this picture was taken. When this picture was taken, they were Pratt & Moody.
Let me explain.
Tuomo & Markus have a vocal blend that might sound to you sort of like a Nordic Simon & Garfunkel, or maybe a Nordic The Band. “American music played by a bunch of Finns,” is how Nordenstreng simply describes their work. Their debut album, 2016’s Dead Circles, was a success in their native Finland. A friend who cut the vinyl on that album suggested the two do some work on their collective Soul Investigators and they spontaneously recorded some tracks. Here, the group’s sound changed. They went soul, old school soul — this time, think of a Nordic Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions. This is when they created their soulful alter egos, Pratt & Moody (Prättälä and Nordenstreng, respectively).
A single under this name was released earlier this year by Timmion Records, the Helsinki-based label focused on releasing music in a fashion that gratifies soul and funk music fans across the world. It’s called Lost, Lost, Lost and this throwback sweet soul ballad, where Pratt & Moody are backed by the house band Cold Diamond & Mink, has been making the rounds of the East L.A soul music scene.
“As soon as a record comes out that fits into our culture, interest picks up,” says music historian and East Los Angeles native Ruben Molina. “If the artist embraces our culture, they become a part of it. It has been this way since the fifties. Respect is very important.” Molina, author of the books The Old Barrio Guide to Low Rider Music and Chicano Soul, is also a life long soul record collector. When Pratt & Moody played a recent show at The Satellite in Silverlake, he was there: “I enjoyed their performance. They are not a soul group by any means but you can feel that old soul music in their sound. There is definitely some Delfonics there.” (Note: The Satellite, for that well-attended June 22nd show, billed them as Tuomo & Markus. The blurb available on the Satellite website makes no mention of Pratt & Moody)
Record collector Oscar Barrios first listened to Lost, Lost, Lost on the internet and his reaction was immediate. “I knew it was going to be some heat after listening to just the first thirty seconds,” he says. Chicano soul record collectors often refer to themselves as Souleros. Souleros commonly refer to a hit in their world as “heat.”
Molina and Barrios are co-producers of Soul Of Lincoln Heights, a 3Res Vinos Pictures documentary about Chicano record collectors from Lincoln Heights that is currently in production. This film, directed by David Trevino, gives special focus to the Vacas, a Lincoln Heights family comprised of three generations of collectors. The youngest, Santino ‘Tino’ Vaca, a recent graduate of Excel Charter Academy, is currently only fourteen years old and the owner of four hundred and seventy five soul and doo-wop records.
When Tino was nine, his grandfather Frank Sr., both a record collector and car enthusiast, was paralyzed from a stray bullet in a random shooting. To help him overcome the mental wounds of that traumatic experience, Tino and Frank Jr. began a series of soul record therapy sessions for their wounded patriarch. This record-playing therapy, over time, helped restore Frank Sr. his old self. But it also caused a change in young Tino. The throwback sounds emanating from the vinyl Tino was listening to became passions of his. He began collecting old records and learning about the artists behind the songs. Tino’s role as a collector, while under the mentorship of his family, attracted the attention of the filmmakers behind Soul Of Lincoln Heights. He is now the spine of their documentary, a modern day springboard to a bygone era, a carrier of the fire.
Pratt & Moody’s Lost, Lost, Lost is part of Tino’s record collection. He admires the duo’s old school sound and sees their contribution to the world of soul music as a valuable part of his collection. “It really caught us by surprise when we heard from our label that people are diggin’ the single in SoCal. I think most Pratt & Moody fans are not aware of Tuomo & Marcus and vice versa. Potentially, people should dig both Pratt & Moody and Tuomo & Markus, as fundamentally they’re not that different, in my opinion,” Nordenstreng, who lived in L.A. from 2007 to 2010, says.
Ruben Molina, one of the many digging their single in SoCal, is also a member of the Southern Soul Spinners, an East L.A. collective of soul record enthusiasts. The Spinners periodically throw fundraiser parties, usually at their favorite venue, the City of Industry VFW. During these parties, different Spinners, who wear shirts that feature a .45 record adapter across their backs, play .45 records in rotating half-hour blocks throughout the night. At their most recent event this June, which was thrown to raise money for L.A.’s homeless, Pratt & Moody were on the evening soundtrack. Much of this crowd, predominately comprised of Chicanos in their forties or older, seemed to know Lost, Lost, Lost already.
One wonders, are fans surprised to discover that this tune, which plays so seamlessly among music created by black and Latino artists from America in the 60’s and 70’s, was created by modern day Finns? The answer, according to Nordenstreng, is yes. Pratt & Moody fans that discover their biographies do seem to be surprised. “It’s slightly absurd, but a nice absurd,” he says.
On the afternoon following their Silverlake show, Tino, accompanied by Barrios, Barrios, Trevino and the crew of Soul Of Lincoln Heights, met the Finnish duo at Olvera Street with two 1950 Chevy Fleetlines, cars owned by friends of the Vacas and Molina, and took them for a spin around the city. This was when the picture I see before me was taken. “I always see it as a plus when you can show people outside of our culture what we are like and the cars are an ice breaker. After all, L.A.’s Chicano culture was built on the cars,” Molina says. “They were very excited to sit in them and take a ride in them. They looked like kids with a new toy.” At the end of the ride, the duo both gave Tino autographs, a moment that was captured by the movie cameras.
3Res Vinos Pictures expects the film to be complete before the end of the year. A Tuomo & Markus follow-up album to Dead Circles is due out in 2018. More Pratt and Moody songs are in the works as well. Molina, who’s seminal book Chicano Soul is being reprinted for it’s tenth anniversary edition this September, has long stated that keeping the music of the east L.A. barrios alive is his goal: “First, the music, rather the song, has to fit in. In this new world something as far away as Finland is not that far.” As Molina talks about soul music, one sees how important this subject is to him. He is one of many East Angelenos idealistically fighting to keep a place for soul in the American lexicon, a respecter of the old school, a believer in a cultural movement, a passer of the flame. Looking forward to the future of this musical world to which he is so devoted, Molina is optimistic: “When we started there wasn’t too many people doing this, now there are so many groups or crews keeping the music alive so, mission accomplished.”
“Those cars were something else and the views of downtown were amazing,” Nordenstreng, looking back on his day in the Fleetlines, says. “To me, this was one of the highlights of our trip to the west coast,” Prättälä tells me from Finland. “Music can be a healing power and I’m very happy that our little song is part of the soundtrack in Tino’s story.” Tuomo Prättälä and Markus Nordenstreng are two folk singers from Finland, but this ride in two old cars was, in a sense, about giving them their chance to become honorary East Angelenos, if only for a day.