In which we learn all about the best way to use quinoa. And will a frustrating situation turn The Head into Preacherman?
We have started recording a bunch of new songs lately, and you will no doubt see a lot of footage from this project on MomoTV in the weeks and months ahead. But here are some personal reflections after the first week of recording.
Each Billy Momo album has had its own approach and recording process. ’Ordinary Men’ was done very much as a duo with auxiliary musicians.
More of a band sound started to emerge with ’Drunktalk’, although it wasn’t quite there yet. And it was still largely put together one instrument at the time, the separated recording technique used by most smaller studios.
’Seven Rivers Wild’ was the first album recorded entirely as the seven-piece band that we had grown into, and we also started to record a little bit more as a live unit, with at least the rhythm section being recorded at the same time. It had happened on occasional tracks before, such as ”The Weekend”, but this time around that was the overall approach for most of the tracks. On SRW we also began experimenting with double drums on some songs, with me and Barba playing together on separate drum kits to get a lively, swampy feel to the grooves. With this approach we could also introduce more interesting sounds into the rhythm tracks, junkyard percussion, stacked cymbals and other sonic experiments. SRW was quite ambitious, a glossy, rich production, Billy goes Fleetwood Mac, almost. The final enhancement to this album was the amazing artwork, which made it ideal for the vinyl format.
But these days, we are living in a world where streaming services and downloading individual tracks constitute the norm, rather than oldskool album listening, where you with a sense of pride, joy and even duty listened all the way through the album you had just purchased (yes, there was a time when you paid money to the creators of the music in order to listen to it). Today… not so much. And so, why not try some different approaches to platforms and formats?
With this in mind, we are now experimenting with different approaches to recording, not necessarily working towards ”an album” as the desired end result. It might still end up being that, of course, but we try not to have that as a preconceived notion, but rather approach a handful of songs at the time, consider some creatively interesting method of recording them, and see what happens. They may be released as individual tracks, or as parts of a bigger, cohesive whole, but we’ll see what it is when we get there.
The first and most obvious difference this time around is that we have started to work in Barba’s new house, part of which has been converted into a recording facility (again, MomoTV will bring you up to speed on that) which gives the whole working environment a more homegrown feel, which suits the band perfectly.
During rehearsals in the past couple of years we often found that some really interesting things happened to the groove when we were playing at lower volume (the decision to turn it down was probably more due to hangovers than intentional improvements of musical nature, but hey!) and so we wanted to try recording some songs while playing softly and more delicately. So this has been a deliberate change for this particular batch of tunes. Oh, there are still some viscerally exciting, rambunctious, slamming beats going on (oh, man, you have noooo idea what you’re in for, people!), but there is a different sonic quality that comes out of drums and percussion when played slightly less forcefully, and the interplay between players gets more dynamic, so this we feel is a huge improvement.
We are also expanding the idea of the junkyard percussion setups, with both myself and Preach having some deranged setups to work with. Trashcan lids, wooden crates, fucked up cymbal combinations with applied chains, drums filled with quinoa, and the list goes on. The Billy Momo sound is getting deeper, grittier and sweatier than ever. We can’t wait for you to hear these fucking songs!
The first week of collective recording finished on Friday (some individual overdub sessions proceeded over the weekend), and we had a traditional Swedish crayfish party on Friday night, right there in the studio! It was the usual Billy Momo joint, with way too much booze, and so, the drunktalk began, as expected. One member of the band kept insisting that most fears that people refer to as “phobias” are actually just a part of ones personal image and public relations-package, or something along those lines. The verdict from the jury is still pending on that one. And at some point during the wee hours of the morning, we hazily drifted into listening to terrible 90s Eurodance music (although some of us insisted it was FUCKING AWESOME!!!) and eventually some of us got wild and crazy behind the drum kit for a bit at 4:00 a.m.-ish, presumably to the immense enjoyment of the neighbors, but, you know, what price art, eh?
Stay tuned here and at Momo TV for continuous updates on the recording process.
Have a beautiful fall, all you crazy kids in love out there!
I have always been deeply suspicious of the notion that the only ”real” or ”good” or ”important” art is one created out of misery, pain and suffering. That concept always smacked of unchecked ego and inflated self-importance to me.
A lot of unbelievably great art was created out of sheer joy, the pleasure of the creative process and loving inspiration, and is in no way less valid than the art born out of pain and hardship. But for some reason, a lot of people seem to perceive depressed and/or depressing artists as ”honest”, an idea I find dubious at best.
I personally never trust an artist who takes themselves too seriously. They may take their art as seriously as a fucking heart attack, no problem there, but when they allow their sensitive minds, bleeding hearts and fragile little baby souls to demand that you laud them for the suffering they have endured, rather than the quality of the work they produce, fuck it, I’m outta there, faster than a paycheck.
Those ”artists” are often whiny little pricks who should have a therapist rather than an audience. They are often also dismissive of and even indifferent toward their fans, which is a cardinal sin in my book. Like when Morrissey scoffs that he doesn’t perform. ”Seals perform.” Yeah, right. If that’s the case, get off the stage, you have no place there.
When I walk onstage in front of an audience, I feel a huge responsibility to make sure that these people are entertained in some way, and I feel disgusted when I see bands who obviously don’t give a shit. I was raised on artists who know how to put on a show, in their own different ways, and I took those lessons to heart (at the end of this rant I’ve put together some clips of bands who know how to treat an audience). That doesn’t mean that your act has to be all out party animal energy, that’s not what I’m saying, it would be really boring if everyone was like Angus Young all the time, but there should be an effort to communicate with the people who bought their ticket for your show, and the least you can do is to acknowledge them and let them know you appreciate them coming to hear and see you.
Michael Stipe was absolutely right when he sang that everybody hurts. Everybody does, sometimes. And just because you have the creative outlet to vent your pain, which is fantastic and beautiful, that does not mean that you hurt more, better or deeper than anyone else. I love that you have the gift of touching people in a way that allows them to understand their own struggle a little bit better, ease their pain for a moment, or just recognizing that they’re not alone. But that gift does not entitle you to be a primadonna. Art is about sharing, so don’t be so fucking precious about what you do.
A lot of people suffer from depression and anxiety, and I think it is a very positive thing that we as a society are starting to unstigmatize mental health issues, although that process is still way too slow. And in that sense, it is also a very positive thing that people create art about their struggles, to show that not only is it ok to acknowledge that you have this burden in your life, it is essential to do so in order for things to change. But that doesn’t mean that the Suffering Artist should be put on any sort of piedestal. And to perpetuate a lifestyle of misery, as some would at least like to give the impression of doing, just to make ”better” art, is stupid as shit.
Sometimes people come up to me after a show and say, ”You look so happy up there on stage. Your joy is really contagious! What’s going on in your mind when you’re performing? What are you thinking about?”
I am usually quite the brooder. I think a lot about stuff, and some would say I think too much. But not when I am on stage. I don’t think I am ever more ’in the moment’ than I am while playing music in front of an audience, except maybe while fucking.
Yes, obviously I do think about stuff when I play, but it’s like the world outside the venue disappears, and none of the everyday issues matter. My entire focus is on the performance, and the music. The most important advice I can give anyone who wants to play music live is: pay attention! Really be there. I listen to what my bandmates are doing, and I watch their body language for cues and clues as to what they might be doing next. When you’ve played with the same people for a long time this process is almost a telepathic thing, you are not really consciously thinking about it, just reacting.
If The Coffa plays something cool on the bass (which he is very prone to do) I like to be supportive, play something that enhances what he’s playing, or complements it. And it’s the same way with all the guys in the band. You pay attention, you listen, you respond. I don’t think too far ahead, my mind is rarely on the next song, unless there is a segue of some sort that needs to be focused on. If my mind starts to wander too far down the setlist, I find it distracting, and I don’t enjoy it as much.
Sometimes even a ”mistake” can lead to a very wonderful musical interaction, and it’s not unusual that songs are altered because of some unique event that took place, everyone thinking ”That was really fucking sweet!” and so we incorporate it into the arrangement. Serendipities like that are what makes live performance so exciting and joyous.
I am also aware of the audience, and the way they respond to the show. Often when you are on stage with bright lights in your eyes, it can be difficult to pick out faces in the crowd, but you can usually see a few, and I try to pay attention to them, and if possible make eye contact every once in a while. To me, a live performance is about communicating with the audience in every possible way, and I really dislike it when artists act as if the people in front of them don’t exist. I want the people who paid for a ticket to the show to go home thinking they really experienced something cool on a personal level, and acknowledging their presence by looking them in the eye is a very effective way of achieving that.
Also, I try to be transparent in my reactions to what’s going on. A lot of time funny shit happens on stage that the audience might not even be aware of, but I’ll laugh out loud, and they will understand that something happened, even if they are not sure exactly what, and they will sense that they just witnessed something spontaneous and special. It’s little details like that that make their experience special and your performance memorable.
So, in essence, the question ”What are you thinking about onstage?” can be answered with: ”Nothing. And everything.”
Today, I will expose one of my main character flaws. At least, it seems to be a flaw whenever I read a book or an article about how to succeed in life, in work, in love, in anything.
As a musician, and as a person overall, I am deeply motivated by passion in everything I do. When I am passionate about something, I thrust myself into it with everything I’ve got.
On the flip side, it’s very hard to get me to do anything that I don’t feel passionate about. I’m not a very goal-oriented individual, I’m not a strategist, I’m not an entrepreneur, and I never consider ”smart career moves” or maneuver Machiavellian schemes to advance myself. I don’t make five- or ten-year-plans for my life. I can hardly make a ten-hour-plan and stick with it, for fuck’s sake!
For me, without passion, there is no ambition. None.
But when I get fired up about something, or someone, I am fiercely dedicated. Always in the moment, but applying myself as if that moment has no end. For a guy who’s been playing music for 30 years, I haven’t been in all that many bands, but the ones that I’ve been in that I was passionate about, I’ve stayed with for a long time, in some cases more than 20 years.
I’ll invest time, money and effort into endeavors without any guarantee of reward, payback or success. This is a big part of being a musician in today’s climate anyway, you certainly don’t make a lot of money, but you spend lots and lots of it just to keep at it, recordings, gear, travel and whatnot.
Like the almighty Rush (and their drummer/lyricist Neil Peart) put it in the brilliant song ’Bravado’; ”If love remains, though everything is lost, we will pay the price, but we will not count the cost.”
That line pretty much sums up the way I’ve lived my life so far. As long as the love was there, as long as the passion was there (love and passion are not the same thing, but they work very well together), I didn’t quit, even if in hindsight I can see that sometimes perhaps I should have.
It’s a bit like the orchestra on board the Titanic, who kept grinding away at ’Nearer, my God, to Thee’ as the ship went down in the cold, dark waters of the Atlantic. At some point you start to realize that it is futile, but you stay with it, because what else can you do? You decided to board this ship, so now you go down with it.
On the other hand, when that labor of love does come to fruition, when your passion gets its reward, it’s oooooh, so fucking sweet! When that happens, being driven by passion does not seem like such a flaw after all, because the payoff is not just a box to be checked on your massively detailed ten-year-plan clipboard, it is a piece of your bleeding heart being healed, a dream coming to life and a climax for the soul. It’s really that good!
Rush – Bravado
Mavis Staples – Eyes on the prize
Van Halen – When it’s love
Rush – Mission
Peter Gabriel – Passion
King Crimson – One time
Tom Petty – I won’t back down
Metallica – Nothing else matters
Drive-By Truckers – Danko/Manuel
My bass player friend Mats, who I play with every now and then, once made a remark regarding my faiblesse for cymbals (I often tend to bring quite a few to any kind of gig). He asked, cheekily: ”How many cymbals does a drummer really need?” I answered: ”Exactly as many cymbals as the stage size allows.” After a moment’s pause he said: ”That’s really a perfect answer.” And I’d have to agree.
All kidding aside, I really do enjoy having a rather elaborate setup, not just with cymbals, but the overall drum kit. I never truly arrived at any definite setup that I felt was the ultimate one for me, I like to keep changing it around, moving pieces, and adding new ones.
With Billy Momo, I have taken this concept to a new level (for me), when I started my work-in-progress, The Purjocopter. In the early days of the band, there were quite a lot of Hiphop-influenced beats on the recordings, some played, some programmed, and the challenge for me was to try to recreate the feel of those beats live, not always by playing them exactly the same way, but to interpret the recorded version in a way that would translate well in the live situation.
I tried many different kinds of setups in the beginning, acoustic, electronic, and combinations thereof. But after a while, I decided that it would be a much more satisfying thing for me to have an acoustic kit (so that I wouldn’t have to rely on great monitors to hear myself), but to still try and have many different sounds, as if I had a sample library, and have many of those sound sources not being strictly a classic rock’n’roll-style drum set. I began by replacing pretty much all the regular crash cymbals with different effects such as chinas, EFXs, splashes, bells, and all kinds of ding-dongs and bang-booms. I also added some more snare type sounds with very different pitches (for instance, if you listen to the song ’Swim’, I played that on a 10” TAMA Mini Tymp snare, cranked way up, to get an almost drum machine kind of sound, which The Head beefed up a little more by triggering a sample on top).
And then there were various percussion instruments added, as well as roto-toms, an 18” hihat, and much more, in combination with the typical meat-and-potatoes kinds of drum sounds.
What this does is allow for me to keep some of the quirkier beats from the albums and do them justice live, even if they’re not truly identical. And also, I enjoy improvising a lot with all those different sound sources at my disposal. If you’ve ever seen us perform songs like ’All we were’ or ’Billy Slomo’ live, you know what I mean. It also allows me to be a bit orchestral when I solo.
Now, I don’t want to give you the idea that this was a concept that I came up with on my own in a vacuum, hell no! The Purjocopter was influenced by many of my drum heroes, probably starting with Neil Peart’s expansive kit with Rush, but also guys like Terry Bozzio, Michael Blair, David Van Tieghem, Tony Oxley, but more than anyone else, Bill Bruford. His different setups (and the ways in which he used them) with King Crimson were endlessly fascinating to me, and I can tell you that the Thrak album with Bill and Pat Mastellotto on double drums was life changing for me. If you can get hold of a copy of the November ’95 issue of Modern Drummer magazine, and you read the article on Bill and Pat, and you look at their setups from the Thrak tour, that’s pretty much where the main inspiration for The Purjocopter came from, I think.
So, the next time you see Billy Momo perform a full blown set with all of our own gear on a stage that allows for it, you will probably see quite a lot of drums up there. And now you know that it’s not just for show, although a big drum kit is probably among the most beautiful things you could see, next only to… well, it’s a pretty sight, let’s leave it at that.