Mats Gustafsson: Share The Moment
Reedman Mats Gustafsson resides at the center of a hurricane of activity: relentlessly touring, curating festivals and begetting record labels. He boasts one of most distinctive sounds in free jazz, combining the extremes of scalp prickling howls with adventurous exploration of minimalist tone and timbre. Although he's come a long way since his early days in a punk rock band in Sweden's Lapland, that anarchic energy is never far away, revealed in collaborations with luminaries from both the Old and New Worlds, such as reedmen Peter Brötzmann, Ken Vandermark and Joe McPhee, and guitarists Thurston Moore, Jim O'Rourke and Yoshihide Otomo.
One of the most enduring vehicles for his artistry is The Thing, a trio with Norwegians Ingebrigt Haker Flaten (bass) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums), first established in 2000 during a series of concerts and a recording in Stockholm. The trio melds the German, British and American traditions of free music into a searing inferno which can miraculously birth songs from the annals of punk, rock or jazz. Originally, its repertoire comprised the music of legendary trumpeter Don Cherry, who spent many of his years living in the Swedish capital, and after which one of his compositions the threesome is named. In 2012, the trio released two very different albums which, between them, encapsulate the band's breadth of expression and provide an illuminating entree to the reedman's world.
All About Jazz: The Cherry Thing (Smalltown Superjazz, 2012) is a collaboration with vocalist Neneh Cherry, which garnered some rave reviews. It's a neat connection for a band named after a Don Cherry composition to join with Cherry's stepdaughter; how did that come about?
Mats Gustafsson: It was basically because me and Neneh had a mutual friend in Stockholm, where Neneh has had her base for many years. This guy, called Conny Lindstrom, who I ran the Crazy Wisdom label with, he has also been running a couple of clubs in Stockholm presenting creative music from whatever field. Amazing concept. He's never been interested in genre. So he's been presenting extreme Japanese noise as well as Norwegian singer/songwriting, and free improvised music in all forms. He's been a very old friend of Neneh's and is also a record collector. So I hooked up with him very early when I moved down from Lapland to Stockholm and he was working in the record shop. We connected immediately as he was commenting that I was buying Peter Brötzmann records.
It's always been a dream to get me and Neneh together in a project. It's been on the agenda a couple of times with different projects, but it never happened. Neneh got sick one time, [when] we had a recording scheduled. So we had the opportunity to meet in London, and that was after Neneh's husband and producer Cameron heard us live and was somehow impressed by something, I guess. So he set up, with Conny, this opportunity to meet in the studio in London. And we recorded three pieces without any arrangements or anything. We just did it, and it was the same feeling we had when we first played as The Thing in the studio back in 2000. We came together and everything just worked. So we said, "OK, fuck it, we need to do this again." We needed to make a record and then when it was done, we said we needed to make a serious tour with this. It's just one of those things; it needed some time for me and Neneh to find the right situation to work within. The Thing was my main group and so it was very natural.
AAJ: How did you choose the songs on the album?
MG: It's a very democratic group and we always take all the decisions together. We had some discussions, emails back and forth, sending out some stupid suggestions, some serious ones. And then, in the studio, we tried a bunch, and basically the ones we tried are the ones on the record. There are eight songs on the record, and another five that didn't fit that the label will put out as singles-or maybe as a separate LP. It's a really interesting process, bringing in favorite music, whether it comes from the free jazz tradition like the Don Cherry or Ornette [Coleman] piece, or whether it comes from garage rock or The Stooges or the Bristol scene Neneh has been associated with; it doesn't matter. It's what we do with the material. Also, six of the songs on this record are other people's pieces, but it was not intended to look like a cover record. They were just the songs we wanted to try. The next step for this Cherry Thing is to bring in more original compositions for the next album.
AAJ: Did Neneh write the lyrics to Don Cherry's "Golden Heart" and your piece, "Sudden Moment"?
MG: I wrote the lyrics as well. I did some attempts before, but in a way that was an interesting process. I write a lot, I write about music, but to write lyrics to songs like that is a different kind of process [laughs], but I found it very interesting as a challenge, and so I will try again and see if I can make any more sense. Neneh wrote the lyrics to "Golden Heart," and the rest are all songs that actually have lyrics.
AAJ: Ornette Coleman's "What Reason Could I Give" is one of the strongest pieces, and a great set closer. It comes from Science Fiction (CBS, 1972) , a very underrated album.
MG: I think it is a master album, one of his best. I think it is fantastic, but it's somehow overlooked, I think. If you talk about Ornette, there are usually other albums that people talk about first. But it's one of my favorite albums and it's also the album that Neneh puts first. I think she grew up with it, more or less.
AAJ: Your collaboration with Barry Guy, Metal! (No Business Records, 2012) sounds as if it really changed the dynamic in the trio-is that what you were looking for?
MG: That's the whole point of having a guest, I think: that you will not be really sure of what will happen. When it happens you understand it, hopefully. Or you don't understand it. It's all about the meeting, not about having preplanned judgments or preplanned maps, or about how things should work. Because then you are shooting for something, a specific result, and my experience is that then the magic is not there. The real interaction, the real passion is gone. So, in a way, that's what we ask our guests to do, to just come in to play, to put their personality and their imprint on the music. Then we have something hopefully new and fresh, something that adds to what we do. I think that's the kind of guests that we need and we want, and that's people that can change the dynamic of the group and change our perspectives in different ways. That's why we have worked with Joe McPhee for so many years, because we never know what he will do. We have worked with him now for 11 years already, and it is always a surprise with him onstage-and you never, never know. That's what I like; his passion for the music and his unpredictability is amazing.
AAJ: So even night after night it is always different?
MG: Yeah, I would say. It sounds like a cliché, but that's how we feel and that's how the music works. Now. the project with Neneh is slightly different from the other collaborations in that it involves actual songs, so that means that we might even make a set list, but with the trio with Joe, or Thurston [Moore] or Brötzmann, or whoever, we improvise. And if a piece comes up, then a piece comes up. That was the same with Barry too. We deal with it, even if our guest doesn't know it, and someone starts the fragment of a melody or a riff, then the others join or not. I love this way of making music. But with Neneh as we are dealing with more song-based material, at least in the beginning, we will play songs and structures, and just try to extend the structures and see how much we can fuck things up. Then, perhaps in the long run, we can also work with Neneh in this way, because she is so open about trying some stuff out, and she is extremely musical and a great improviser as well. That, in a way, is a goal we have with all our guests, to play free but still to play material if something shows up.
The first time I heard this way of playing, I was only 15 and I heard this amazing Swedish piano trio, the Per Henrik Wallin Trio. Completely mind-blowing music. He died ten years ago, but he was one of the true masters of jazz or improvised music, if you ask me. His trio ran for many, many years. The bassist played with [pianist] Bud Powell and [saxophonist] Albert Ayler and everyone, and he had a great drummer. I was mesmerized the first time I heard him, because they played themes of jazz material, but also very advanced original material with really fast and very complex structured and super, super tight. But they had no music on the stands and they didn't even look at each other, and there was no counting. I couldn't understand how they could jump between complete abstract playing and super exact precision. But it was all in the air: someone gives a little hint or a fragment and the others just jump on it. They never had set lists. They just played. For me that's always been the wish to find musicians to work with, but you have to work over a long time, so all the trust and respect and flexibility is there. For me, The Thing is my dream group. It's always been a dream group.
AAJ: That characteristic of tunes appearing out of nowhere defines much of the music I most enjoy. Bands like the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
MG: Yeah, and if you hear [saxophonist] Sonny Rollins, I saw him a couple of years ago in Vancouver, even now I get the feeling that his colleagues on stage have no idea what songs will show up. That's the way it sounds to me, at least. There's just a signal from maestro himself and bang, you're into something, then out, then into something else. I think that is a great way of sharing music or sharing the time together on stage.
AAJ: On Metal!, did your version of Lightning Bolt's "Ride The Sky" come up in that way?
MG: That was an exception from what I was just talking about [laughs].That was the second encore, and just walking on the stage we told Barry we're gonna play a piece, and he said "jolly good." And he had never heard of Lightning Bolt before and he had never heard the piece, but we just did it.
AAJ: It sounded like that, but it was such a great contrast to everything that had come before that it made an excellent conclusion to the record.
MG: Yeah, a proper way to end the evening.
AAJ: That set was released on LP, and there was no editing involved. Did you purposely make sure the pieces would fit on LP sides? How easy is it to have that much self-awareness when playing improvised music?
MG: Well that's not quite how it was. We talked about the fact that it might be coming out on vinyl, so we mentioned that we shouldn't make a 45-minute long run. That was the only thing that was said. There was no clock and no understanding that we should just make 10-minute pieces. It was more that we should avoid the 40-minute bang. Nothing more was decided. Because, if you start to do just really short pieces, then it limits the music. It could be a nice sort of compositional element, but my experience as an improviser, dealing with free improvised music, is that those kind of limitations usually stop the flow of energy. But it was such an amazing evening with Barry. Barry's ears are huge, so it was one of those extremely easy occasions where everything just worked. There was just a flow of things, and it felt like a ten minute concert, but it was a rather long concert.
AAJ: You have had a long and productive relationship with Guy, how did that first come about?
MG: That goes back to a festival I produced, along with my colleague Thomas Millroth of Olof Bright Editions. We produced a festival in Stockholm called Solo '92, inviting solo artists in contemporary music or creative music, or whatever you want to call it. In a way, it was half contemporary music and half improvised music. So [guitarist] Derek [Bailey] was there, Barry was there, [pianist] Marilyn Crispell, a lot of other amazing musicians. [Bassist] Joelle Leandre. I got the possibility to also play, to make a recording with Barry and [drummer] Paul Lovens at the same time, which came out as a record called Mouth Eating Trees and Related Activities (Okka Disk, 1993). Barry has always been a hero of mine, one of the masters of this music. Like with Neneh it clicked from the very beginning. The way he interacts and the way he makes you play better is amazing. He is a super supportive musician, with no ego. It's just about the music. Ever since then we have played a lot, in a trio with Raymond Strid, duos, Barry Guy New Orchestra...yeah, he's one of the masters. I'm extremely grateful that I can still work with him. In a way it was kind of an unlikely pairing with the instrumentation to invite him to join with The Thing, but I'm very happy that we did that because it made us play in a different way as a group. So he really added some very vital and creative ideas to the group.
AAJ: He made the group quieter, to grossly oversimplify, and there was more space than on some other occasions.
MG: Of course, for me it's really hard to analyze what's actually going on, other people can do that, but it put a different perspective on the music. His way of playing, but also his way of thinking in a compositional way is very, very special. For me it is just the way he can shift between super abstract, super high energy, super fast interaction and extreme melodic beauty. I don't know anyone who is so fast, in thought and in practice. And the variety in dynamics is fantastic. I mean no other bassist can roar like he is doing, and be so brutal, even on an acoustic instrument. And at the same time play in such a fragile lyrical way. I found the way he combines those two extremes very unique. And I think that was a real challenge for The Thing to deal with, and a pure joy to play. Sometimes it's hard to listen to yourself when you work with the music afterwards when you are making a master, but it was amazing to listen to the music with Barry.
AAJ: To change tack slightly, what have been the big turning points in your career over the last ten years or so?
MG: Yeah, meeting my wife. That would be the first and biggest step towards a more creative life. That is total 100% true. But when it comes to meeting with musicians or artists it's hard to pick out specific meetings. They all mean something and they kick you in different directions. They give you new perspectives on what you do in music, but also in life. It's extremely important for me to meet new people all the time. To start from scratch with people. Those two things, to have a couple of working groups that you can develop a long time, to deepen the music in a way that you can't reach in first collaborations, is extremely important. With The Thing, or with the works with Brötzmann or Barry Guy, those long running relationships, they still develop. So that's one thing. The other thing is to have those first meetings and to see where they take you. I need both. It is necessary. In the last ten years I have been meeting a lot of new people, not just in music but also in visual art and theater. I need those kicks in order to develop myself as a person and as a musician.
AAJ: It's interesting the dichotomy between long running groups and new meetings. Derek Bailey was renowned for always seeking out those new contexts which would provide stimulation as much as he possibly could. But you seem to get the best of both worlds...
MG: Yes for me it's completely necessary that you try new things out, that you dare to try, that you dare to fail.
AAJ: Is it easier to fail with new people?
MG: I think you can fail in any situation. if you want to play safe you should stay home. This thing of wanting to play with new people all the time is something I think I got from Derek. I was so fortunate to play with Derek very early on. The first time was in '88, when I was 23 or something. I've never been so nervous in my whole life. But it went pretty well. He was extremely kind and supportive his whole life towards me. I learned so much from him, not just in music but in the ways of thinking about music, meetings and interactions. If you hear the kind of collaborations he did over the years , he brought his music into new situations. He would never compromise, no matter whether he worked with a Japanese noise group or a DJ or a jazz band, it was always Derek Bailey that came out. And it works or it doesn't work. But funnily enough with all his collaborations, I can't think of one that didn't work. I really like those unlikely pairings, playing with gospel or DJs that on the paper, so to speak, it shouldn't work, but it really does because he is just adding his voice to the situation. In a way that's what I'm trying to do as well. I'm not interested in playing behind someone or riffing. I'm not good at that. Someone else can do that.
AAJ: You have a very personalized sound, whether on baritone or tenor, what did it take to develop that sound? Did you take lessons? Did you find things through practice?
MG: That was also something I got from Derek really early: to develop your own sound, your own techniques. It was a struggle, but for me it was a pretty interesting journey because I never went into the music conservatories. I'm totally uneducated with music, and I think for me that was a help because I had to explore not just basic techniques but all the extended techniques on my own. You hear something on a concert or on a record-I'm a pretty bad discaholic-so collecting records and listening to records has always been a very big part of what I'm doing. And I got so much inspiration for finding new techniques. For me it was a lot of work figuring out stuff and that really taught me a lot.
For me one of the keys to develop your language is to control your mistakes. That seems to be a strategy that still works [laughs]. I love practicing and something happens when you practice. A noise shows up, an unwanted sound and you think, "Oh what was that?" And then you try to find it again because it appeared once and in theory you should be able to find it again. Then when you can control the mistake, you can alternate the mistake with the other techniques, with fingerings or the way you blow. So that's been the strategy from day one and I like that analogy that I'm dealing with my mistakes.
AAJ: Did you ever ask people to show you how they got particular techniques or sounds?
MG: No. I spent some time with [saxophonist] Evan Parker when I was young. I went to London to see him, but that was more like talking about Coltrane and African music, not much saxophone technique. It was more of a social visit and him talking about essential stuff. I always wanted to find out things on my own, and that's what I try to teach the pupils I have. Whatever I say they shouldn't care. They should just find out for themselves. That's the only truth there is, the truth you find out on your own. Your teacher can tell you stuff but you shouldn't just swallow the bait, you have to find out for yourself. I think that's a good way to develop your own language yourself. Because teaching music, teaching art is a very complex thing, very difficult. You can see that it went the wrong way in many schools around the world where teachers just wanted pupils to produce instead of create. So I'm very happy that major influences on me, people like Derek, Barry, Evan, Lovens, they showed me the doors. They didn't open them for me, but they showed me where the doors were located and I'm very grateful for that.
AAJ: When you play in concert, you move around a lot. Do you do that when practicing as well?
MG: I don't jump around like I do on stage. But the movement is partly because my ex-wife is a choreographer and dancer and I worked a lot with dance over the years. That collaboration with dance went on a pretty interesting level where I picked up unconsciously a lot of ways of moving and dealing with your body and that just became part of my language. So a phrase can start with a movement and then the sound comes after a while or vice versa. So moving for me is part of the music. When I practice it's not the same tension, but I can't really stand still when I practice either [laughs]. But it helps the flow and the energy for me and it would be very hard to stand still. It's a very interesting experience to sit down when I play. I think the only situation when I do that is with the Barry Guy New Orchestra, and I sit because Evan is sitting and I would feel embarrassed to stand up next to maestro Parker. It's OK, but it's very hard because I am jumping around on the chair. It amuses Evan quite a lot, but I try to sit.
This whole thing with dance is really interesting. I split up with my ex-wife six years ago and after that I haven't worked with any dancers or choreographers, because she was just simply so great and so good, so I haven't really found anyone that I found interesting to collaborate with. And I just came back two days ago from Italy, where I was working with an Italian dance company, doing free improvised action with them, in Puglia in southern Italy, and it was amazing to have that meeting with an art form for the first time in six years. And also have the experience of losing all sense of time and just being there and interacting. They were extremely good, this dance company called Vergilio Sieni, based in Florence, and I worked with a couple of the dancers there. There was no talk about what to do or how long or short. It was outdoors in a huge olive tree field, completely beautiful, like a dream. And just going in totally blank and just interacting. I don't know if it was because it is so long since I've worked with dance, but it was just fantastic to share the moment in that way.
AAJ: You've spoken a lot about European influences. I wonder did American musicians hold a similar importance for you?
MG: Oh sure. Those scenes for me have never been separate. It's always been the stuff that I'm interested in. It's more the people than where they actually come from. I always get that question about what is "Scandinavian" in your music. For me it's not about where you come from or your religion or whatever. It's about who you are and what you put in your language and how you put your language into the situation. I never separate the European free improvised scene and the American free jazz scene. It's more of a theoretical distinction. But of course since I grew up in Europe, I heard many more European musicians, so with the American tradition it is more from my experience of listening to records. When I was 14 or 15 I heard Albert Ayler and Peter Brötzmann, and the late Coltrane stuff at around the same time and it was like "Whoa." Playing in a local punk rock group and only playing electric piano, I was in shock. So for me it has always been try to explore, understand and feel what Albert Ayler did, and at the same time trying to understand Peter Brötzmann and Derek Bailey. Among the American players, Joe McPhee has been one of the major influences, both musically and personally, and [saxophonist] Steve Lacy, of course. It's always hard to mention just a few names because there are so many great players and humans out there who give you so much inspiration.
AAJ: Did you hear Joe McPhee on record before you met him?
MG: Yeah, yeah. I had all his records. We met the first time when the Chicago Tentet was formed in 1997. It was originally intended just to have Chicago musicians in the group, the Chicago Octet. Then I think John Corbett was the one to blame here. He came up with the idea of adding me and Joe McPhee to the mix. So I think they played one or two gigs, then we flew out to Chicago and we joined them. From then on the Tentet has been pretty active over the years. So that was the first time I met Joe. Of course I had all those Hat Art records which confused and inspired me a lot.
AAJ: That's right, they could be very different from one to the next.
MG: Yeah, exactly. And he put all his soul and his language into the situations and the music that came out was very different, but it was still always him. I couldn't understand how this worked, because he was always such a strong emotional player, but he always puts all himself into whatever situation he finds himself in.
AAJ: What makes a good performance for you and has that changed over time as you've played more and more?
MG: It's still the same. It's the meeting and if you dare to share the moment. If you are willing to take a risk, if you are willing to fail. If you are willing to step forward and say, "This is me." And, at the same time, if you are willing to take a step backwards and give the other players space if the music needs that. If you start to take things for granted or play safe then it doesn't work. You have to be on your toes. And that's what I love with this music, you can't play safe or you're fucked [laughs]. But I mean it on a very deep level. It's the same thing with life. If you want to play safe, maybe you have a safe life, but you are facing routines and patterns that might wear you out. And people are different. Some people need the comfort in routines and that works for them. But I am a very curious person, and I want to find out and I want to explore stuff. And if I feel that I've had enough, that I'm full, then I will stop playing and sit at home with records or work in the local gas station. It's so important for me. It's not just about the music it's on many different levels. So when a performance works it's because people have been willing to take risks.
I had lunch today with Paul Lovens, and he's one of the first masters that I met and worked with, in 1990. He is someone who can really make you understand things onstage. He's great to talk with about music and the mechanics, but it's all on stage and what you do, and he gave me some extremely good lessons. Some were painful and some were beautiful, but they were great lessons very early.
AAJ: What sort of things do you mean?
MG: The whole thing of repeating yourself or playing on your own, instead of listening to what others are doing. Paul still has a unique talent in making you understand that you are in deep water musically [laughs]. When you share a stage with him you understand. I haven't really analyzed it, but I think it is a lot about not playing your ego or something related such as trying to sound louder or better or faster. But unfortunately that's part of the jazz history, to just produce something. And that's what I learnt from Paul, to listen and interact rather than trying to produce something.
AAJ: I wanted to ask about life on the road. As a listener, Ken Vandermark's facebook blog is one of the few places where you can get an honest view of what touring is like. Sometimes, perhaps even often, the schedule is grueling. How can you consistently produce art under such circumstances?
MG: Well, if you are sharing the stage with people who are willing to take those risks it's not a problem. The problems are the travelling and the lack of sleep and the lack of food, the lack of understanding from certain promoters. That is very tiring and time and energy consuming. When you are up onstage, all that shit is gone. And I hope I'm not facing the day when I stand onstage and I think, "Oh my God, I'm so tired I can't play." I mean, that has never happened, and I for sure hope it will never happen.
But, just as an example which is quite funny, we had a tour with The Thing two years ago. It was a two-week tour and the first week we had a gig every day, and we were travelling and the travelling was extreme. We had to get up at 5.00 a.m. every morning and we had to travel 12 hours to get straight to the sound check. And there were delays to the trains and cancelled flights, and it was unlucky as well. In the whole week we didn't sleep more than two hours any night. It was completely brutal, and the food situation was terrible as well. And then we decided to take some new promotional photos, because there is this amazing photographer in Ljubljana called Ziga Koritnik, one of the best jazz photographers on the planet. And since we were playing in Ljubljana we asked him if he could come and take some photos, and he did. But the result is, of course, you can see that we had been touring a week with no sleep and no food. They were terrible photos. It wasn't his fault but we looked like shit [laughs]. In a way, we should publish those photos because it's scary. Ken and me and Brötzmann, whoever is touring, can tell many, many horrifying stories. But it's part of what we do.
AAJ: Do you ever hear it in the music?
MG: No. Paal Nilssen-Love, who is the hardest working of us all, I mean he is on tour 300 days a year or something, I have never heard lack of focus or lack of energy in his playing. I know the way we are living and I know how brutal the schedules are on traveling and late nights and everything. And still I haven't heard a slight dip in energy or focus. If that happened it would be terrible but no one is using any drugs, so if you start to talk about that kind of thing which has completely destroyed such a big part of jazz history, then you have a real problem. We are trying to keep healthy, but that abuse is a different story. But of course we know people who have problems and then you can tell by the music as well immediately. If that gets too much, it affects the music. But the people we work with are extremely supportive and generous. And if someone has a drink problem or whatever, or a family related problem, people are there for you. It's actually a very, very amazing community, in my experience, and that's part of the music and why it works the way it does.
AAJ: That tells me that the kick and charge you get from the music must be massive.
MG: You get so much back. We talk about that all the time actually, especially with The Thing, you get so much back. And all the new people you meet during touring, all the new cultures. I was down in Ethiopia with Paal Nilssen-Love about a year ago, with The Ex [Dutch punk band], and I had a big smile and was shaking my head all the time for those ten days. What am I doing here? Born up in Lapland where there is no sun, and cold weather. Then bang! I'm in Ethiopia working with this amazing Dutch group and all the local musicians. The kick you get out of such collaborations you can't comprehend. So then it's not in question. OK, we complain a bit, and maybe it looks pretty bad on Ken's accounts on Twitter and Facebook, but what we get back is so much more. There is no reason to complain about it. I understand why Ken is doing what he is doing, but that's not my cup of tea to expose details. That's something that's between me and my colleagues. I totally respect what he is doing and it gives a unique perspective. It's very interesting what he's doing but I know that a lot of people have different opinions on his Facebooking and Tweeting.
AAJ: I like it. I like the insight. I like the honesty.
MG: Yeah, he is totally honest about stuff, and I admire him for that.
AAJ: Is life on the road different now than it was ten years ago?
MG: I don't think so. Of course I'm more experienced now, maybe more stupid too [laughs]. But I love it. I love being on tour. I love being home too. And in a way I need both. It's the same thing with working groups and new collaborations. The one helps the other. The one feeds the other. And as soon as you recognize that, it's not a real problem. It might be hard for my four year-old daughter to understand the concept of time when I'm gone. When she was smaller she didn't understand a week or a day. But now she gets sad when I leave. It's a matter of communicating what you are doing and why you are doing it, so she can understand why I have to be gone. Also when I come back, that I can just be home. That's one thing I learned over the years as a private detail; the way for me to make this life work, because I love my family so much that I wouldn't risk anything, like touring too much. So one key for me is to work while I'm on tour, like emailing or applying for Arts Council money, putting projects together or listening through master tapes or whatever; I bring everything on tour. So when I'm home I can just be with my family. And that's something I didn't do before, and then it gets very tricky to have a working life at home I think. So that is different with touring nowadays.
Another thing that is different on a totally different level is that in the last few years the scene has changed slightly geographically. So there is much more activity in the former Eastern bloc countries, as well as touring in more exotic places likes Brazil, New Zealand or Ethiopia, which has been completely great on a different level. In the past five or six years there has been a lot of activity in Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Romania, the whole of the Balkans. I love it. The audiences are amazing. There's a hunger, there's a need for creative music and you can really feel it. And the audience is much more mixed by gender also, which I think is a very important thing. Every gig is a challenge and every day is a new day, as Joe McPhee says, but I find it more interesting to play for a mixed audience in age and gender in Poland say than to play a gig at a club in Holland for thirty 50-year old men dressed in black with beards.
AAJ: That's me! [laughs]
MG: [laughs] That's me as well, but you know what I mean.
AAJ: I know. I feel better as well when there is more of a mix of those people in the audience.
MG: My intention is not to offend anyone. But it's a very interesting new perspective.
AAJ: What's your take on why Eastern Europe is so supportive now?
MG: It's a lot of reasons, but a lot of those countries, their economies are growing stronger, especially Poland. Without going into the European Union discussion, it is slowly getting better I think for creative art and music. There is, with the help of the internet and other things of course, a much larger interest for this kind of music. We've been very fortunate with The Thing for instance to be able to travel a lot in those countries and we met amazing people with pure energy. In a way the scene has never been as creative and interesting as now, to be honest. I like to be positive about things. Of course, at the same time, it's a struggle because, I don't like to use the word competition, but there are so many more active musicians now than 15 years ago. You can't even compare. And you have all the previous generations still going. If I was 20 years old now and trying as a newcomer to get gigs and to make records it would be so hard. It's almost impossible. So it's a double-edged sword. On the one hand it's extremely difficult. On the other the scene is bigger than ever.
The big downside is the whole economy in Western Europe, when it comes to culture, has been cut down so brutally. If you look at Belgium and Holland and Sweden as well there were major cuts in culture. In Holland there were a whole handful of clubs that just closed down the day after they made a major cut in the budget. So there are some very negative things going on. But on the other side I think the audience has never been as big as now. The only country that has a different trend is Norway. Over the last ten years the amount the government has spent on culture and music especially is overwhelming. I think it is a really good decision, because younger musicians get the opportunity to travel from an early stage. If they can build their own networks internationally, if the money and oil disappears from Norway, those guys still have their networks going. If they do good stuff then they can continue to do good stuff. The Norwegian government is thinking long-term, but everyone else is just thinking short-term. Let's cut culture, but also childcare and hospitals. It's all very political, it's all about money, and it stinks. Sorry, but it is very upsetting what is going on.
AAJ: To finish, you are a famous record collector: there was a program on UK TV, How To Get Your House in Order, where a guy had to drastically slim down his record collection-are you ever worried you might face a similar situation?
MG: Yeah, I'm sick. I have the bug. But also, I think the older you get, you get a different perspective on it. I live with my collection and I love to refine it, to make it better, to find more stuff that inspires me. I like to have a complete Derek Bailey collection. But when I look at it I would rather spend time and money, if I have money, on records and art, something I can be inspired by, rather than having money in the bank, or buying stocks or making stupid investments. If there is any money left over at the end of the month, then I would rather spend it on a record than something else. Then if I have the record, if there is a situation where I need money then I can sell it. And then I have it for ten or 20 or 30 years and I've been enjoying it, then it's gone. Maybe now I'll be excluded by the Discaholics Anonymous Association, but it's a very important thing to have.
Also, collecting records for me is an important part of my life when I'm on tour. You have a couple of hours left, sometimes. Sometimes [laughs]. Some people go to the museums, some people take long walks, but I try to go to the local record shops. For me it's a chance just to be in my own little bubble. To have my own moment so to speak, almost like a therapeutic effect. And I enjoy it very much. Also, to buy records for other people; I have a lot of collecting friends and I know pretty much what they are looking for. I found a cassette with Little Jimmy Scott in New Orleans a couple of days ago, and I know how much Paul Lovens loves Little Jimmy Scott, so I bought it for him. I love doing that. And I love when other people think about me and find something I want and give it to me. So there are a lot of levels and I can talk forever about this [laughs].
The Thing with Neneh Cherry The Cherry Thing (Smalltown Superjazzz, 2012)
The Thing with Barry Guy, Metal! (No Business Records, 2012)
Sonore (Brötzmann/Gustafsson/Vandermark), Cafe OTO/London (Trost, 2011)
Tarfala Trio (Gustafsson/Guy/Strid) Syzygy (No Business Records, 2010)
The Thing Bag It! ( Smalltown Superjazzz, 2009)
Barry Guy New Orchestra Oort-Entropy (Intakt, 2004)
Sonore, No one ever works alone (Okka Disk 2003)
Gustafsson,/ Håker Flaten/ Nilssen-Love The Thing (Crazy Wisdom, 2000)
AALY Trio + Ken Vandermark Live At The Glenn Miller Cafe (Wobbly Rail, 1998)
Peter Brötzmann The Chicago Octet/Tentet (Okka Disk, 1997)
Gustafsson/Guy/Lovens, Mouth Eating Trees and Related Activities (Okka Disk, 1992)
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