|Mats Gustafsson and Thurston Moore at Café Oto. September 2012.
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved
SAMMY STEIN WRITES:
Mats Gustafsson, the Swedish saxophone player, now based in Austria is a powerhouse, a passionate and diverse musician. Since 2009 he has been involved in his FIRE! project, delivering sets of power and passion to audiences across Europe. He played in 2011 at Cafe Oto, London with Peter Brötzmann and Ken Vandermark as Sonora during Brötzmann’s Tentet residency, and more recently played at the same venue with Thurston Moore.
Mats sees music as a great tool for communication. He continues to push boundaries, developing his own style and way of playing, and can speak fervently about his wish to ignore set preconceptions, to take music to new levels, and to reach more people.
He was brought up on the improvised free jazz sounds of Europe, but is committed to incorporating sounds with influences from all over the world. In an email exchange, we discussed his influences, where he feels free music is going and the challenges for the future:
Inspiration for Mats came from a surprising source. He says, “What got me going when I was about 16 years old was that amazing sax sound behind the great raspy voice of Richard Wayne Penniman (AKA Little Richard) on those early Specialty recordings. Other heavy DNA- changing reasons to follow the path of free music have been Lars Gullin, Brötzmann, Ayler, Bunk Johnson and Bengt Nordström. A bit later I understood what Evan Parker was talking about, ’My roots are in my record player’. I try to combine these truths on my own path”
Initially, Mats took up the flute, followed by the electric piano, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, contrabass saxophones,?fluteophones,?flutes,?weevil sax,?amplified saxophone & live-electronics (according to HIS WEBSITE) but now says, ” I am now trying to deal with all of them but my main focus is on the baritone and tenor sax”.
“In the whole history of jazz”, he says, “there has been a striving for freedom in one way or another to improvise music until we get to what you call free form and free jazz. I prefer to play music where I feel challenged; music that kicks my mind and ass in new directions. What other people call the music, I don’t care. For me it is important with a certain element of improvisation in the music and that I really interact with the other people on (or off) stage.
Freeform was, for me, a very logical development of the music we had before and it was primarily for both political and artistic reasons that the music opened up and deepened. It was necessary after be-bop and hard-bop on one side and the extreme notation systems of contemporary classical music on the other. The only way to go was towards the open forms with electronic music, free jazz and more ideas- based music with, for instance, flux connection. In the ’60s when freeform really emerged, there was similar experimentation in other art forms like the theatre, dance, poetry, art and other fields.” (Brötzmann confirmed this when he commented recently to me that he was influenced by working with artists like John Cage). Mats says, ” Some players, of course, had a very direct connection to the political situation at the time but free form jazz, with some exceptions, did not have sharp connections politically”. To sum up, Mats says, ”No one is free. You create your own freedom. ’Form’ is what you do with others. Free forms you. ‘Free form’. ”And there you have it.
Many jazz musicians who play free form find themselves playing other genres purely to make enough money to keep going but Mats is adamant there should be no compromise with musicians playing other genres simply to make a living. His reaction is, “No way! We need to fight the stupidity back to where it belongs, ha ha! Really, for me, I would rather just work at a gas station or a factory (as I did for some years) and make the music that I want and need to do. I can only do music that I’m challenged by and that makes me develop as a musician and as a person. Music gives me new perspectives, with the help of others! Music and art is way too important for me to make any compromises.”
|Mats Gustafsson playing slide saxophone at Café Oto. April 2010.
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved
Mats is a self-confessed hopeless discaholic and listens to a huge range of music . He says, “I eat anything on vinyl. ’A piece of vinyl a day keeps the doctor away’, as my dear colleague Olof Madsen used to say! I need my daily fix of vinyls/CDs with steaming be–bop, garage rock, west coast jazz and sound poetry! This morning on the turntable were a Bengt Nordström sax solo, Lars Werner and Christer Boustedt, some early Sun Ra on Saturn, Warne Marsh, Sten Hansson and Leif Elggren’s epic recordings made under Freud’s sofa in London” Classical composers also feature in Mats’ listening including, as he says, “anyone that kicks my ass (and mind). Recent ‘kickers’ include Dror Feiler, Pierre Henry, Ferneyhough, Staier’s recordings of Schubert´s piano music, Glenn Gould playing J.S. Bach (‘Always and Forever’) and Lachenmann of course.”
ON THE CURRENT JAZZ SCENE
When asked about how he feels about the current jazz scene in the UK/Europe Mats is confident yet adds riders. “It depends of course on how you define ‘jazz’ (he laughs) but regarding this creative music scene, as we call it, the ‘jazz’ I think that the situation is very bad, from an economical and work situation viewpoint. Many countries are cutting cultural budgets hard in order to save their own asses and this is having a severe effect right now.
On the other hand, the scene is more interesting then ever. There are so many more young players active now playing free and experimental music. You can’t even compare today to the ’70s or ’60s. The scene has never been so interesting and creative. More people are arriving to free form playing from a huge variety of places and backgrounds (electronic, rock, folk, rock and pop) and not just from a straight jazz background. I have to say I look to the future in a very positive way. There is a very fresh blend of different generations and also different musical dialects at the moment – I love it! There is so much creativity in the former Eastern European countries, such as Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Hungary, Romania, Russia, Ukraine and, Slovakia where there is a huge and young audience with a big and healthy appetite! There is a lot going on at the moment! We just need to put the light on it and make politicians and others aware of these amazing human resources!”
ON HIS OWN PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
For Mats, the future holds endless possibilities. He is the eternal optimist and considers music the way forward. He is a consummate musician and has the energy and ability to bring vibrancy and passion to recordings, concerts and projects. Mats is never still, he tours regularly, plays with a variety of fellow musicians and forms his own record labels just to get the music across to more people. He says, “There are always new things around the next corner… if you stay open, hungry and curious enough! Shedloads of projects are planned at the moment and it is hard to mention just a few… ( laughs). But there are intense plans right now with The Thing, FIRE! (including the 30 – piece Fire! Orchestra), Swedish jazz, Thurston Moore, Neneh Cherry (Don’s Step daughter with whom he has worked regularly, a new version of the Nu – ensemble, the Barry Guy New Orchestra and of course the 25th (!!!) anniversary of GUSHin May 2013! Gush is Mats’ trio, formed in 1986, when Mats joined forces with drummer Raymond Strid and pianist Sten Sandell). And there will of course show up new things that I m not aware of as of now… you just have to see/ hear it comin´!
|Mats Gustafsson, from The Thing at Vortex. November 2010.
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved
“I PLAY MUSIC BECAUSE I HAVE TO. I HAVE NO CHOICE.”
Asked how he feels when he plays, Mats says, “A local presenter asked me in northern Norway after a gig with Fire!: – ‘What is this music all about’ ? – ‘It is about life’, I told her. When the music really works… no analyses are necessary. It is more a state of mind. It is all about communication.”
What drives Mats is an unquenchable thirst for musical development. His philosophy, simply is, “Music is like living, but better” and this is something Mats has told me before – it is his mantra for life. He decides to elaborate. “This music is about sharing, on all levels possible- sharing, listening and interacting. If you can learn how to listen freely, then you can learn to play freely, and then you can learn how to think freely and, finally, to act freely. This is very clear to me. This is also the reason why I play this music. It is a political act in itself. Sharing is about politics. Therefore, I share…”
For Mats, playing free jazz is tantamount to his reason for living. “We do this” he says, “to really become ‘one’ with the music and the ones you play with; to become in the same state of mind. It is really hard to describe but you know when it is happening; that is for sure. This interaction between people is something rather unique. I play music because I have to; I have no choice, in order to fight the stupidity back and to show new perspectives, new ways, and new doors. Influences might be basically anything that kicks me and that I can make into a personal statement. As long as you put your own personal language/ voice into it and don’t try to imitate or copy, you are cool, you are good. If you make music for other reasons, you ought to stay at home (laughs). I am not here to entertain.”
And yet, Mats does entertain. It is rare to meet such a passionate, ardent musician who truly believes in what he does. Mats and his generation are becoming the new vanguard of free music and it is the hope of many, that they will take it to new levels, reach a wider audience and make free music truly free, as it should be.
new interview. published oct 29th 2012.
SHARE THE MOMENT ———in “all about jazz” by John Sharpe— one of the most happening jazz mag´s.
a classic blindfold test is just published in DOWN BEAT…. it looks like this:
a recent italian interview… in italian…. april 2012
by guillaume belhomme
Sous le nom de Sonore, Fire!, The Thing ou encore en tant que membre du London Jazz Composers Orchestra, Mats Gustafsson voit aujourd’hui paraître quatre de ses récents enregistrements. L’occasion de revenir sur son parcours, son rapport au jazz, ses besoins de rock ou… de vinyles. Rapide, précis et électrique…
… Tous les sons sont de la musique… Tous les silences aussi… Alors, pour ce qui est de mon tout premier souvenir musical, j’évoquerais le souvenir d’un vinyle… Ca devait être un EP d’Elvis qui venait de la collection de disques de ma mère. C’était vraiment bon, mais un peu plus tard, j’ai goûté à Little Richard, le vrai roi du rock’n’roll… Ce qu’il est toujours !
Comment êtes-vous arrivé à la pratique de la musique ? Par ces disques, justement… Et aussi parce que j’avais 14/15 ans lorsque le mouvement punk a véritablement explosé en Suède…C’était plus que simple de se laisser gagner par le mouvement et de commencer à jouer dans des groupes, c’était tout naturel. A 14 ans, j’ai d’abord monté un groupe qui mêlait punk, improvisation et jazz rock : ça s’appelait Nirvana, un vrai truc de sauvage ! Et puis, un très bon club de jazz de ma ville, Umeå, programmait Steve Lacy, Per Henrik Wallin, Lokomotiv Konkret, Lars Göran Ulander et tant d’autres. Tout ça c’était la même chose pour moi : jazz, rock, punk. Tout ça c’était de la pure énergie !
Quels ont été vos premiers instruments et les musiciens qui vous motivaient le plus alors ? La flûte dès que j’ai eu 7 ans, et puis je suis passé au piano électrique mais c’était vraiment monstrueux de le transporter ici et là… Alors, après avoir assisté à un concert de Sonny Rollins en 1980, je suis passé au saxophone ténor. Quant aux musiciens, mon seul et véritable héros a toujours été Little Richard. Allez écouter les instruments à vents qui jouent derrière lui, ça aussi c’est sauvage !
Comment se sont passées vos premières années en tant que musicien à Stockholm ? Eh bien, j’avais 19 ans… La première année, je l’ai passée à m’entraîner au ténor dans mon placard à balai la nuit et à travailler à l’usine le jour. Et puis, je suis tombé sur des musiciens incroyables qui m’ont accueilli parmi eux et pris sous leurs ailes : Dror Feiler, Raymond Strid, Jörgen Adolfsson, Sten Sandell et d’autres encore… Ils constituaient alors une jolie petite scène à Stockholm…
Que vous ont-ils appris ? Enormément ! Ils m’ont apporté un soutien monstrueux ! Dror m’a beaucoup appris en matière de politique et d’idéologie autant qu’en musique. Il a été très compréhensif avec ce jeune type du Nord que j’étais alors. Ce que Raymond et Sten signifiaient pour moi était tout aussi énorme… Ils sont épatants ! Nous avons joué / improvisé ensemble régulièrement pendant des années, plusieurs fois par semaine. Nous avons beaucoup exploré ensemble, c’était une époque magnifique et très créative, propice à toutes recherches… Quant à Jörgen, il est sans doute le musicien le plus déprécié qui ait jamais existé. Son jeu d’alto est tout simplement « fanfuckintastic ».
Les musiciens américains ont aussi une importance particulière dans votre éducation musicale… Pouvez-vous me parler de ce voyage à Chicago que vous avez effectué au milieu des années 90 ? Eh bien, il s’agissait surtout pour moi d’aller y chercher des vinyles ! Mais c’était une époque de référence pour la musique créative, ils étaient tous à Chicago : Ken Vandermark, Jim O’Rourke, David Grubbs, Hamid Drake et tant d’autres. A cela, il fallait ajouter l’explosion du mouvement post-rock, la présence incroyable de la communauté du free jazz et puis la naissance de labels comme Okka Disk. Je suis très heureux d’avoir contribué à ce qui s’est passé à Chicago à cette époque. Cela signifie beaucoup pour moi, encore aujourd’hui…
Avec quels musiciens êtes-vous d’abord rentrés en contact là-bas ? Ken Vandermark, Hamid Drake, Michael Zerang, Kent Kessler, ont été les tous premiers… Et puis j’ai eu la possibilité de renouer avec Jim O’Rourke, ce qui m’a permis de collaborer avec Gastr del Sol et David Grubbs. Encore une fois, le milieu des années 90 à Chicago a été une époque formidable, tellement de choses se passaient là… Chicago est une putain de ville dans laquelle les choses se passent ! Beaucoup de super bars, de gens et de… vinyles.
Comment s’est fait votre recrutement dans le Brötzmann Chicago Tentet ? Joe McPhee et moi avons été appelés pour venir renforcer l’octette et le groupe s’est depuis consolidé autour de cette formule. C’est un groupe puissant, très rock, dans lequel on trouve des personnalités vraiment très singulières. C’est une sorte de volcan en fusion d’esprits créatifs dans lequel j’ai aussi beaucoup appris.
Vous parlez souvent de rock… Pouvez-vous évoquer ici vos relations avec Sonic Youth ou Cato Salsa Experience, par exemple ? Eh bien, ce sont des groupes qui produisent une musique terrible, et j’essaye de mettre mon grain de sel là-dedans. Il s’agit avant tout de confiance et de respect mutuel, et aussi de l’envie d’essayer des choses et de voir comment ça se passe. Ces musiciens s’intéressent tous beaucoup à la musique, à l’art, donc : en un sens, collaborer avec eux est très facile… La première fois que j’ai joué avec Jim, c’était à l’occasion d’une Company Week qu’organisa Derek Bailey en 1990… Il est tout simplement l’un des esprits les plus brillants que l’on puisse trouver dans le milieu de la creative music, voilà ce que je peux dire !
Pensez-vous appartenir à ce que l’on pourrait définir d’Internationale bruitiste qui rassemblerait des musiciens venus d’un peu partout qui mêlent jazz, noise, drone, etc. ?Peu importe comment tu appelles ça… Je n’aime pas catégoriser la musique. La musique est bonne ou ne l’est pas et s’il vous est donné de rencontrer des personnes qui font une musique tout autre que la vôtre, le résultat peut être passionnant. Mais il s’agit surtout de savoir qui est la personne avec laquelle vous jouez et non pas d’où elle vient, que ce soit géographiquement, historiquement, originellement ou musicalement. Il s’agit avant tout de qui vous êtes. Il y a de la super musique (et de la très mauvaise) partout dans le monde. Il suffit simplement de l’attraper…
The Thing fait une bonne balance entre free rock et free jazz, c’était le but de la chose ? Nous n’avons pas de but en particulier avec The Thing, si ce n’est celui de jouer une musique qui te botte le train, avec des éléments de musiques que nous aimons (ou détestons). Il s’agit surtout d’alchimie entre nous, nous jouons ce que nous jouons et nous jouons aussi qui nous sommes.
Avez-vous l’impression de jouer en ce moment la musique pour laquelle vous êtes fait ? Peut-être est-ce la musique qui joue de moi, qui sait ? Il n’y a pas de destin de cette sorte ; chacun se créé son propre destin. Tu crées ta propre musique, je crois que c’est comme ça que tout marche. Pour moi, en tout cas, c’est comme ça que ça marche.
in connection with The Thing´s gig at Field Day in London, this interview was published… touching on differnet subjects and especially Richard Wayne Penniman…
Mats Gustafsson Oct. 17th, 2005
Starting in jazz and playing the baritone
There’s some basic kind of starting point. The more I do stuff nowadays being 40 I realize how important those starting points were. Some of the starting points I wasn’t even aware of when they happened so to speak. I kind of figured out years later that it was actually a starting point. So for me the definite starting point of making music is really the punk rock scene in Umeå, my hometown, on the border of Lapland. I was 14 or 15 and the whole punk scene exploded in Scandinavia and I heard all the best bands up here and everyone started bands and it was completely fantastic and creative and everything.
Then I heard Sonny Rollins live in 1980, because in Umeå it’s the only jazz festival in Sweden worth its name. Sonny Rollins was there and I just died on his saxophone playing so I got a tenor sax and tried to get some sounds out of it. But still kept on playing in some local punk rock groups. That’s the start of that and then Peter Brötzmann’s record Machine Gun completely made me understand the connections between free jazz and the punk rock hardcore music I was interested in at that time. So that got me going into free jazz but still try to use some elements from the punk rock. So that’s the basic starting points and baritone for me as a Swedish saxophone player it’s impossible to avoid Lars Gullin and still that’s by far my favorite baritone player of all time, it’s just completely insane what he was doing. So hearing him on record, of course I am too young to have heard him live, hearing his recordings I just had to get a baritone. So even if you can’t hear much of Lars Gullin in my playing maybe, that’s really the main inspiration for me playing the baritone.
Mixing punk and jazz
It’s really interesting I think kind of starting with my generation, born in the mid ‘60s who really grew up with punk rock and the next generation with straightedge hardcore scene, there’s so many musicians, press and audience and everything that really has that background or can see those connections really clear. And I think that’s a big difference to the whole scene that there’s much more natural connections between the creative rock scene and the creative jazz scene than ever before. That’s why, this is my own theory, that’s really why at this point there are so many really great projects trying to combine those elements and very natural. I mean since we were raised up with both elements, it’s very natural for me to do like we’re doing with The Thing to play Stooges and Cramps pieces but play them in our language. It doesn’t feel like we’re constructing it, it just feels natural to do it. And I think that’s the big difference with all the generations from us in a way.
Moving to Stockholm
I was 19 when I moved down [to Stockholm] and for me there was really no alternative. One guy, actually the drummer of AALY Trio, Kjell Nordeson, we sort of grew up
together so he was the one I was working with up there [in Umeå] but there was no one else. So there had to be a change in order to get new input and to play with other people and then still stay in Sweden because I didn’t want to leave Sweden at that point, Stockholm was the only alternative there was at that point. I got rather quickly into the scene with the help of some key figures on the scene. Everyone was really helpful and generous. That’s always been a trademark of all scenes internationally dealing with improvised music. People are really supportive and generous and inviting. I found it very necessary also, you need to keep after the ones that are interested in this shit. For instance, Dror Feiler, the saxophone player and composer, he ran this band Lokomotiv Konkret since 25 years or so. He was the first one who really took care of me and he meant a lot to me, not just musically but politically, ideologically and all that stuff. So then I could see all those connections really clear which was extremely important for otherwise I wouldn’t continue doing music. So there was really heavy dudes around in Stockholm in the mid ‘80s but not so many as I thought it would be because the scene kind of shrunk; it was almost dying, there was no one really traveling outside Sweden. There was no money to invite people outside Sweden so Sweden was really isolated and geographically in Europe it’s on the northern outpost. No one was ever traveling by Sweden on the way somewhere. It’s like the end of the road. So it was really problematic because a lot of players stopped playing and there was not much happening so we had to start in a way from scratch. Me and there were some other guys in my age and Dror and some other people in Gush. So we built up the scene ourselves actually from the mid ‘80s and then 1990 we had a working scene and then people were invited from outside and we were also traveling a lot internationally so that’s how things started and the scene is really really good still I have to say.
Creating a scene
For me, what happened happened. It was perfect. I don’t wish it to be different in any way. For sure it would have changed I think and I guess things would have gotten together faster. There would have been much more activity on all kinds of levels if there had been more players but on the other hand, the experience of building up the scene, creating the scene and getting into places like record shops or pubs, making series of improvised music for no money or all that stuff was extremely helpful. I learnt so much from that and started making records for really no budget. For me it was really a great learning experience. It looks different now because if you are 19 or 20 coming into the scene now, there’s so many musicians to play with here in Stockholm and there is a lot more places where you can do it. Of course there is still no big money or anything of course but that seems to be the nature of this music but there’s a lot of places where you can try stuff out and set up small concerts.
Norway was completely dead at that point. Nothing happening except for the fjord jazz bullshit basically. There’s great players already then like the old stuff that Rypdal, Garbarek, Christensen, great stuff. But then there was only one thing happening in the ‘80s basically. That didn’t interest me, the music they were doing. So there was no connection at all to Norway. No one worked there and no Norwegian musicians came over to Sweden. It was like nothing so for me there was no alternative to look…west. So I rather quickly went down to mid Europe, Austria and Germany, Switzerland and Holland, England, the first couple of years. And a lot in Berlin. Berlin, there was so much activity. And now again. But I was a lot in Berlin in the early ‘90s all the time. I hooked up with [Paul] Lovens and Barry Guy and Derek [Bailey] and all those key figures on the improvised music scene. And it was absolutely fantastic. The feel was great at that point. Everything happened so quick; I got in touch with people so fast and everything just exploded. It was completely fantastic. Great teachers also.
Free jazz as a community
That’s the whole thing with improvised music. You need to share stuff with each other and you need to respect each other and trust each other because there is no other way because you can’t share the moment on stage if you’re not sharing the trust and respect for each other when you’re off stage. Not saying that straight ahead jazz people don’t trust each other but, there’s none of that competition. Of course there’s assholes on the improvised music scene as well but you can find assholes everywhere. But in general the feeling of a very strong community is extremely important for the music and that you can do it and we see it more as a challenge and a great chance to play five tenors or ten piano players together. That can create some really new music but if you’re a straight ahead jazz player, that would be very chaotic probably.
From the beginning, saxophone players were really important but then I am talking about the very starting of playing. Ayler and Brötzmann and Coltrane and Evan [Parker], sax players but already when I moved down to Stockholm at age of 19, I was looking at drummers more. And I would say that drummers have meant more to me as a source of inspiration and to get me into phrasing the music and using space and like odd deconstructive meters so I definitely look more into the way drummers are working than sax players I have to say and also in general how people approach the music, what kind of concept or idea they have behind doing it is more inspirational than looking into the specific techniques of one specific sax player. I tried to pick up bits and parts everywhere, no matter where you find it, in nature, in a garage band or a free improvised drummer or sax player and try to take that little thing, that little cell and make it my own and put it into my language. That has always been my strategy, kind of my idea of using sources of inspiration. To hear something, a sound or a phrase or some sort of attack or something and then to try to play it on any of my horns, to control it and figure out what is the basic cell, what is the naked, to get into the skeleton. And then when I figure out what the skeleton is, then I can dress the skeleton my way so to speak. Then you can make your own language on your instrument. If I would only be looking at saxophone players, I would just sound like a lot of saxophone players mixed together and it would be more difficult to create a personal language. That fits me very well to work like that.
Responsibility as an improviser
I see myself definitely as part of a history but it’s my fucking responsibility to make my own music and not to just to go in whatever direction people think I will go in or that the history demands I go into. And there are way way way too many so-called free improvisers who is only doing free improvised music and they stay with the free improvised music and suddenly you have created a lot of unwritten rules how improvised music can be played. And I think you are locking yourself into a corner if you limit yourself to play improvised music in one certain way. And that’s very dangerous and I think in a way that’s against the nature of improvised music. Of course there is great great groups of musicians who is always making fantastic music because there is such a strong voice in the music and that goes for bebop and hardbop and west coast. If you have a really really strong voice, personal voice, you can always create great music and I don’t care if its traditional or conventional, if you have a really strange, it’s okay, it’s always great. But there’s a lot of musicians who doesn’t have that strong voice and they play so-called free improvised music but it’s really not free and it’s really not improvised either. As an improviser, I see my responsibility is that I have to go and look for situations where I’m challenged, where I feel there is a resistance, where I don’t feel safe, where I have to take risks and where there are mistakes being made because that is the key to make something different, I don’t say new because nothing is really new, to make something different and you can create something of your own together with other people that you trust but you have to go and look for situations that challenge you and that is sometimes really difficult because you fuck up really bad sometimes. At least you know that you fucked up and you can do something different or you try it again because there is resistance. That’s the kind of responsibility that I see, that I try to deal with all the time and I hope I will never be in a situation where I just play the same kind of shit all the time because that will be very uninspiring for me and I would probably just stop if I feel there is no challenge anywhere.
Playing with older improvisers
I think it’s person to person. It’s more individual. It’s impossible to say that one generation would play different than another. It’s all about the personalities doing it. And there is younger improvisers who sound like they have been improvising for 40 years and there is younger improvisers who sound like they never improvised before and vice versa for the elder improvisers too. Evan and Peter are extremely different as persons and extremely different as saxophone players as well and it makes a very different music if I play a duet with Evan and play a duet with Peter. That’s very different music. So it’s just the persons really.
Of course to play with Peter and to play with Evan and Han [Bennink] and all these people is fucking crazy. Sometimes I feel it’s not for real sometimes. I’m a crazy record collector and always been and listening to those records that those guys have been doing over the years has been lifechanging so of course it’s, I feel so fucking honored to do it. Every tour we do with Peter with the Tentet or Sonore or whatever it is, its fantastic that he’s playing with me and that he takes the time to be with us assholes. I feel so privileged to be able to work with those heroes for me. It’s fantastic and it’s a great learning experience to see the way they deal with people, not just the music. I’ve been learning so much from them, hopefully I can teach that or give that to someone else in the future and someone will pick something up from it because they’ve taught me so much it’s insane. Of course, you can’t and there is no reason to deny or avoid talking about it, because that’s the truth and I think that’s the beauty of improvised music that we are sharing together all the time and the first generation is really willing to share with the second and third and the fourth and fifth generation or whatever it is. But it’s not just one way. I think that a lot of the first generation of players learnt something from the younger too. The music is different now of course because it’s an exchange between the generations and between the personalities.
It is important to say that this music really is not possible to learn in a school or in a conservatory. This music is so much about living it, like Derek said “Music is like living but better.” And that’s exactly what it is. You have to be living it and you have to be together and you have to tour together, you have to make all the sacrifices, all the bullshit during a tour with traveling and eating. You have to share all that and you have to share the music together. And I love that because everyone knows that’s the way it works. And that’s the only way to develop in the music also, to be there and to tour and to do this stuff together.
Live versus studio
Those situations can occur in the studio. It depends on the situation and it of course depends with the musicians you work with. With The Thing, it’s insane. It’s crazy. And with the Italian group Zü, it’s electric bass, drums and baritone sax and we just released, I don’t know if it’s released yet but it exists, I’m actually holding in my hand on Atavistic there is a record coming out I think maybe next month with me and Zü and that was also a studio situation, absolutely just fantastic, everything just happened. And with The Thing, every time we record with The Thing, it’s hilarious. It’s not for real. It’s just going by itself. And The Thing, that’s the group I have been waiting for my whole life in a way to explore shit together and now when we have been doing some of this Garage material and the Stooges and shit, to use that material in this context is almost too good to be true for us and if anyone else likes it, it’s great but we love it.
[small interlude speaking about Zü]
More about The Thing
It’s just the perfect mix of personalities, what we’ve been doing before. It’s funny because we met for making the first record which was only covering Don Cherry pieces, and actually the day after tomorrow is the 10 year anniversary of Don’s death, while we’re talking about it, and then everything was just working so we just decided on the spot. It was just a recording project, the intention was not to form a group. It was just to record Don Cherry pieces for this label I was co-running in Stockholm. The more we played together, talked about music and listened to music, we realized we had the same basic sources of inspiration then we just tried to include that music into our music basically and found out that it was just taking off. I can’t wait for the next opportunity to play with The Thing because it’s just fantastic.
Getting excited for playing
No. It might sound stupid, naïve to say it but in rare occasions when it’s been extremely hard traveling and no sleep and too much drinking and stuff, it can affect the music. But it’s this cliché, whenever you’re standing there on stage together and the music starts, it just hits you and grabs you. Of course there is physical limitations and I’ve been really close to throwing up on stage a couple of times lately because of physical exhaustion and being fucking dead for hours after the gigs but when the music hits you, you just go with it and there is no alternative. That’s also part of it, you have to give 100% in the music, otherwise you’re not communicating for real, not with the musicians and not with the audience, then it doesn’t work because you have to live in the moment, you have to play in the moment, you have to be there physically and mentally and everything. Bu the last tour I did with this group called Original Science I put together with Thurston Moore and Jim O’Rourke and Massimo from Zü, Paal Nilssen-Love from The Thing and Terry from The X, the Dutch punk collective, we toured in Italy for a week and that was close or even beyond what I can do physically. It was absolutely insane. I survived and I think eventually the whole tour will come out on Smalltown Supersound. It was absolutely insane I have to say.
Europe versus Chicago
The scene in Chicago is slightly different now than it was in the mid ‘90s when I started going over. It’s more the connections with individual people on the scene and that was a fantastic challenge in the mid ‘90s, is still a fantastic challenge to play with people from Chicago as it is to play with people in New York as well. But the whole Chicago thing was really the feeling that everything exploding, of creativity and stuff and the whole post-rock scene and everything was kind of connected to each other and people were playing with each other. David Grubb was living there and Jim was still living there but now a lot of people moved and Ken [Vandermark] is always in Europe. It is different now than what it was at that point. Otherwise it’s similar. It’s all about sharing moments and doing improvised music together or music that is built on improvised music at least. That goes for the whole world, it’s more to individual people than people in Chicago would improvise a certain way or have a special attitude towards improvised music, that is never true. It’s just interesting and great to be part of the scene, like the Chicago scene when everything was exploding, the same kind of thing happened with a couple of clubs, a couple of record labels, some new musicians, good media, when all that shit is happening at the same time in the same place, then you have a scene. And that happened also in Norway five or six years ago with Smalltown Supersound and with the Club Blå and with Paal Nilssen-Love and Ingebright [Håken Flaten] and all those people coming up at the same time, then you have a scene. And it was exactly the same completely enthusiastic feeling and vibe in Oslo like it was in Chicago five years earlier. And now maybe you can see that level of creativity happening in Berlin again because there are so many younger players living in Berlin and traveling to Berlin to play so right now I think in Europe Berlin is very very interesting right now.
That’s connected to the urge of finding challenges because it’s a very uncomfortable situation to play solo, sometimes it really sucks. Then it really puts you out there. It’s more like intuitive composing, instant composing than improvising really because you’re really not sharing it with anyone. You try to trick yourself in a way to communicate with yourself. For me, it’s really a love-hate thing to play solo and I need to feel challenged by it. It needs to feel uncomfortable doing it. If it felt to comfortable, I wouldn’t do it I think. Bu the main thing is to play with other people, and not just musical reasons, social reasons, political reasons, ideological reasons and all that as well but I find personally very very fascinating to listen to solo music. It’s been really really inspiring and of course not just saxophone solo playing and in the history of improvised music there is an amazing amount of fantastic solo players like Barry Guy and Evan, [Peter] Kowald and Brötzmann of course, Derek, it’s insane music and I personally just love to hear to the single voice. It’s this love-hate kind of thing but it was very interesting to do the Catapult recording in Japan and to use more compositions than usual and see what I could do because all the former solo recordings have basically been just free improvisations. I don’t know what the next will be but we’ll see.
Tell people I am looking for rare Cramps records and Musique Concrete records and people can bring it to The Stone in November.
Interview in German
Mats Gustafsson (*1964), gegenwärtig wohl einer der kreativsten und umtriebigsten Saxophonisten
dieses Planeten, mit The Thing, in Barry Guys New Orchestra, im Brötzmann Chicago Tentet, im Diskaho-
lics Anonymous Trio mit Thurston Moore & Jim O‘Rourke, ist auch Teil des Powertrios NASH KONTROLL,
das mit Your Left Hand Just Exploded (iDEAL027 CD), ein furioses Teil eingespielt hat. Seine Partner dabei
sind Dror Feiler (*1951, Tel Aviv) & Lasse Marhaug (*1974). Damit bündeln hier quasi drei Dekaden nordi-
scher Avantness ihre jeweiligen Akzente. ‚Music trasher, saxophone screamer & computer terrorist‘
Feiler, Wahlschwede seit 1973, spuckt seither mit dem The Too Much Too Soon Orchestra, schon mit
Gustafsson an seiner Seite, und mit Lokomotiv Konkret (w/ Tommy Björk & Sören Runolf) an der Free- &
Now-Front Feuer, aber auch als EA-Composer hat er starke Statements abgegeben, solo (The Celestial
Fire, Anckarström, 1991; The Return Of The Real, Tochnit Aleph, 2002) und mit Werken wie Sham Mayim
(1995) for chamber orchestra (1995),Ember, for symphony orchestra & electronics (1996) oder Chur-
ban, for live electronics (1999). Seine Agenda „to deal with the grim problems in life: Shrapnel (war), Beat theWhite the red wedge (Revolution), Schlafbrand (Second World War), Let the Millionaires go Naked (Revenge of the poor); Intifada
(Israeli-Palestinian conflict)“ schlägt sich nieder als metaästhetische Betonung der kämpferischen und rituellen Wurzeln von Musik. Der Norweger Marhaug wiederum tauchte ab Mitte der 90er zuerst in den harscheren Gefilden der Noise Culture auf, in Gesellschaft von Aube, Government Alpha, Merzbow oder mit Origami Replika, bevor er mit Anla Courtis, Helge Sten, Bad Kharma/Ronnie Sundin und vor allem mit John Hegre als Jazzkammer ‚New Forms of Free Entertainment‘ zwischen ‚White Inferno‘, ‚Metal Pollution‘, ‚Headache Chocolate‘ und ‚Hot Action Sexy Karaoke‘
ausprobierte, von 1996 bis 2002 mit dem eigenen Jazzassin Recordsals Forum. In Ken Vandermarks Territory Band
konnte er sich mit seinem Laptop mit der Creme der chicago-skandinavischen Freeform-Heroen verlinken. Gustafsson alsquasi die akustische und Marhaug als die noisige Ausstülpung von Feiler reinkarnieren mit ihm zusammen eine
elektro-akustische Totalität, die Gewalt in gebändigter Form als Volksvermögen reklamiert. Gustafsson spielt eine der
Schlüsselrollen, wenn Free Improvising mit den furiosen und engagierten Formen von Avant- und Powerrock fusioniert, wenn Namen wie Dror Feiler, Han Bennink und Ken Vandermark in einem Atemzug mit The Ex, The Flying Luttenbachers, NoMeansNo und der FantômasMelvins Big Band auftauchen. ZU taugte dabei immer wieder als gemeinsames Sprungbrett. Auf Radiale (Atavistic, 2004) kollidierten die Italiener mit Spaceways Inc., auf How to Raise an Ox (Atavistic, 2005) mit Gustafsson selbst, bei The Way of the Animal Powers (Xeng, 2005) mit Lonberg-Holm. iDEAL ist, neben Smalltown Superjazz und Rune Grammofon, DIE Drehscheibe für ‚New Alchemy‘ in Musik.
VILNIUS INTERVIEW 2008 :
1.Lets talk about your project The Thing
well, what is there to say ?
Its the group that I always wanted to work with. Where everything is about sharing and trust and respect…..and everyone in the group is just eager to play and try new things all the time. And all three are always curious to take new challanges and to question stuff…backwards and forwards…
for me, its like a dream to work in a group like this. where we can combine our sick interest in grind core, noise, free jazz, garage rock and everyting in between and make music that is just simply The Thing.
Starting off like a Don Cherry tribute…but really soon everything just took off and we started to work with material from a lot of different music traditions…..basically just trying to involve impulses from music we love — but always transforming it to our own music!
and it feels that we just started the whole thing……there is a shitload of stuff to still explore!!!!!!
2.Is there a particular concept or idea behind it; some philosophy which can be put in few words? [non-artists are always looking for concepts]
no, not really a concept…..its more to do with the fact that we cant be without this group and the music we are doing together…..we just wanna kick some ass!!! with the most thrilling music we know….lateley the book has involved pieces by Duke Ellington, 54 nude honeys, Albert Ayler, Åke Hodell, Steve Lacy and The Ex….
its all up there for grabs!
music is music …mystery is mystery… you just have to go with the flow…….
3.The Thing seems to perform well structured material. Please tell about measure of composition (or planning in more general sense) and pure improvisation in your music.
it s all mixed…basically , I can say that we never decide what material to use in a performance….we leave it totally open…there is never a set list…..who ever picks up a theme does…and the others can choose to join or not….so, in a way its all improvised….with some written bridges inbetween.
I heard a absolutley FANTASTIC swedish jazz trio when I was 15 called Per Henrik wallin trio…….they played free jazz…some kind of free jazz….sounding like monk meets cecil taylor backwards….and there was never any setlists…..but written stuff was flying through the air…..I couldnt belive how it worked….it was like magic…..pure telepathy it seemed
it takes a lot of working to get it together…but, I do believe that this is a form that really fits The Thing to work within.
it makes it more thrilling for every evening….we never knows if there will be 1 or 50 themes per night…..it all depends….on the evening…..
4.How many albums have been released by The Thing so far?
Gustafsson/Flaten/Nilssen-Love, “The Thing”, Crazy Wisdom/Universal 001/159 073-2.
The Thing with Joe McPhee, “She Knows…” Crazy Wisdom/Universal 006/014756-2
The Thing and School Days, “Plays the music of Norman Howard”, Anagram, ANA LP 001
The Thing, “Garage”, Smalltown Supersound, STS078CD
The Thing, “Have Love Will Travel/Art Star” Smalltown Superjazzz, STS071 7? EP
Cato Salsa Experience and The Thing with Joe McPhee, “Sounds Like A Sandwich” STSJ103CD
The Thing, “Live At Blå”, Smalltown Superjazzz, STSJ099CD
Two Bands And A Legend, “TBAL”, Smalltown Superjazzz, STSJ….
The Thing, “Action Jazz”, Smalltown Superjazzz STSJ123CD
Two Bands And a Legend ” I SEE YOU BABY”, smalltown superjazzz
The Thing + Ken Vandermark ” Immediate Sound”, Smalltown Superjazzz
The Thing “NOW AND FOREVER”, 4 CD BOX, Smalltown Superjazzz
The Thing “BAG IT!”, Smalltown Superjazzz
5.Please tell about input of guest musicians Joe McPhee, Ken Vandermark into the music of the band. Who else can you imagine playing together with The Thing?
well, of course the different guests really change the music of the group…otherwise it wouldnt be worth inviting them….we love woking with guests…its always a thrill…..and kicks our asses…..
so far Joe McPhee, Ken , Thurston Moore, Jim O´Rourke, Otomo Yoshihide and others have been doing a great job in that….
hopefully this journey can continue.
among other things,we will tour with ken in japan and scandinavia in september and with Joe in Texas in november….
6.The Thing is obviously a constantly developing project, where is it going? What are the future plans?
if we knew that, we would just stop playing…..
7.Please tell a band story, anything funny in connection with this group
well, those things are only for talking and drinkin….;)) —-
there is way to much to tell about things that happened during tours and shit…..but , this all has to be discussed in the neaarest bar or record shop….
lets see what happens!!!
General talk about music
8.You are playing some very unusual Swedish folk instruments. Can you tell about them?
They are not especially swedish, i m afraid…….I m just looking for new instruments that can challange me in one way or the other….if it is low budget live electronics…or if it is a 1922 slide sax…..or a home built alto fluteophone…it doesnt matter, as long as they add something to the music…..
but, the main axe will always be my bari……
but, I really like the idea of mixing the sound and colors up a little bit.
so, with The Thing we are now using a lot of live electronis……sometimes very noisy….
.9.Mats your passion for punk rock has been mentioned many times and collaboration with Sonic Youth brought to you wide recognition far outside jazz community. How deep is your connection with rock music today?
well. good shit is always good shit….nothing can change that…..and I dont really care what you call the shit. shit is shit.
my roots are my roots….and I dont wanna change that fact……
Im standing with one leg in the punk/ garage bucket and the other in the free jazz/ improv bucket…..balance might vary…..feeets might loose from the buckets…..but they are always there; and the end of each leg….
I m always looking for challanging projects within any genre….and right now I think there is more thrilling music to be found within the alternative rock scene then in th e jazzscene….in general )
10.Do you consider yourself a jazz musician? Is The Thing a jazz trio?
what is jazz ? what is a musician ? what is the Thing ?
I have no idea…thank god…
but, jazz is my love….rock is my blood….and vinyls are my addiction…its all a sick mix….with sometime surprising results….and sometimes not. You can never relax about it….you can never really lean back and feel satisfied…that will fuck up he music and the flow….you have to continue the search….it takes a life…it has to….it should take a whole life to just explore the shit…..maybe you will never really find the answers…but, it is for fuckin sure a nice reserach!!!
and a fuckin privilige to share that journey with others.
11.What other music apart from jazz catches your attention and inspires you?
lots of different stuff of course…and I do not care what u call the music…..lately I ve been listening to different shit like: Howard Riley Trio, John Fahey, Anti Cimex, Merzbows Merzbox……, PJ Harvey´s peel sessions, DräpEnHund, Lasse Marhaug, Tommy Flanagan trio, Jackie McClean, Entombed, Serge Chaloff….good shit is good shit…..
12.Do” styles” in music have any importance at all? Are they going to survive or music is melting, styles are blending together to become something global and all inclusive?
no….good shit is good shit…….if u blend and mix and make something good out of it…FINE! if not…..fuck off…..
of course it is important to keep some traditions as they are….you cant really fuck around with Biber or Bach that much…..but when it comes to more improvised music traditions its all a different story,I believe.
just go with the flow!!!! make it your own music – make it your own language!
13.Where do you see the future of music and jazz in particular? [theres that endless and pretty dull discussion on whether “jazz is dead” or not. But people do speak about it with passion and they are interested in authority opinion.
jazz IS dead......but music will always stay alive.....as long as there are communication between people there will always be good music happening....and I dont care what u call it.
jazz finally died with derek Bailey´s CD Ballads.....it was about to die for a long time.....but that was the final nail in the coffin....
if I wanna hear good jazz shit, I rather listen to vinyls with Clifford Brown, Bird; bud, Monk, Hal McKusick, warne Marsh etc etc......there is really not many jazz players these days I wanna listen to ..... Bernt Rosengren, Joakim Milder is two swedish guys that still can play the real shit....
Concert in Vilnius and Moscow
14.Did you enjoy your concert in Vilnius?
man, it was amazing.....perfect situation......kicked my ass seriously.....
great room and an attentive audince! Good situation for creating some noise...
15.Your solo performance was “a hard nut” to crack for many in the theatre. What was your feeling about the audience?
its always up to the audience what to think...I can never tell them what to hear or what to think....if it is good or bad...its always up to each individual how to approach the music.
I think the audience were great....I had a good time....perhaps some of them was not use to this kind of noise.....and that is great!
there is always something new around every corner....if u wanna see it....not everything is good....and a lot smells really funny....but there is always new shit to find and explore and to get inspired by.....otherwise you ought to stay home, if u dont wanna see that.
16.What can you say about your spontaneous collaboration with musicians from Vilnius?
I really fuckin enjoyed it! we had a good time on stage and some of the sounds really fuckin made sense to me, at least.
it was for me a VERY good moment musically....everyone sharing the moment. right ON! FIRE!!!!
There is of course a really interesting history and tradition of creative music from Lithuania with Chekasin, Tarasov and Ganelin and others...and I really have a feeling that we can start with some serious exchange across the water now.
the scene in scania , where I live now, is really also interesting. in the same way with some interested record labels starting up and a couple of new places to play and to record. I think we might have some really interesting years coming up with good activity and exchange between scania and Lithuania....we just NEED to make that happen., and we will!!!
Liudas is ROCKIN ..... and I think there is many more names after him that I havent heard of yet in Vilnius.
Who knows - maybe 11 year old Lukas will ROCK the scene in some years. I met him backstage at the theatre where I played and he do has got the right energy to make things happen....already!!!
I cant wait to see what will happen!
17.The concert was advertised as “Mats Gustafsson & friends”, how do you normally pick friends (musicians you want to play with)?
usually other musicians share experiences and give advices...and since it all has to do with trust and respect......you really like to try those names out. My feeling is that it is almost all the time through other musicians you hear about the good stuff. not via newspapers or on records...
I just always wanna play with musicians that challange me in one way or the other.
I dont want to be sure about what will happen....its all about sharing that mystery moment ...
18.What makes a good improviser? Please tell about onstage understanding between musicians. (I remember your metaphor about conversation. I liked it because it was very descriptive. Please write about it shortly)
big ears....big heart and soul....
The willingness to experiment.....there is a lot of factors , of course. And those factors can only be tought on stage....you cannot learn it in school.
Learning by doing it...always!
19.You constantly work with musicians from both the United States and United Europe, is there any difference? What can you say about modern American and European scenes? [You ve said a lot of interesting things about it. But whats your public opinion on this?]
well, again — I see no differences really…its always the individual person that is the most important factor….not from where he or she comes from….that is the beauty with making improvised music together.
You can improvise with people from ANYWHERE on the planet…it all has to do with WHO they are. I think that is really important….there has been way to many misunderstandings about that in the history of this music, I believe.
20.Have you played with musicians from Russia? Who with?
I only played with sainkho namchylak years ago…….but I m always waiting for a new challange……
21..II know that you last visited St. Petersburg over 10 years ago. What are your expectations for the new visit to Russia?
just that we will meet and make new friends that can challange us in one way or the other! yeah — we cant wait!!!!!