We just got back from a very classic, typical Billy Momo trip. Two days and four gigs in Värmland and. Närke, Sweden.
Deje was first up. A very small town in Värmland. The venue was an old power station, turned into a gallery/bar/live music venue. Super cool place, would have fit perfectly in some up-and-coming London suburb or super trendy NYC area. This is typical for Billy Momo gigs. Small towns in rural Sweden often has one really cool venue. Not two, one. There may be several bars, but only one place to go for the real art and music lovers. And those are often quite unique.
We made a lot of new friends in Deje. Only drawback was, when the one place to go in town closes, the town goes to sleep. We are not used to going to sleep at a reasonable hour when on tour. There were invitations to various after parties, but for some reason we hesitated to follow strangers into the woods, so we ended up wandering the streets (or street, rather) and then staring at the ceiling at the hotel. Gramps, with his post-gig blues, crying himself to sleep.
Next day we started in the garden outside the power station, rehearsing our first-ever busking. We were signed up for a street music competition at a city festival in Askersund. Hotlips had made tin cones to use as unamplified megaphones and we had brought Gramps Gig Pig, a perfect weapon for small venues or accoustic sets. It’s a drum kit-in-a-box.
The festival was a beautiful event. 50 something bands playing every corner. Musicians in every bar, instruments being dragged over cobblestone all over. There were fellow musicians everywhere. The whole town was out, exploring.
This is the beauty of small-town city festivals. Everyone is there. This one attracts alot of people from other areas as well. We did our busking set and two more sets later the same day. A bit out of breath after the last one, I’ll admit. But luckily for me, I don’t have a drivers license, so I didn’t have to drive all the way back. We went the same night. Billy Momo won’t waste time on sleeping.
This was a typical, ideal weekend for Billy. Perfect venues, lots of new friends and fans and strictly good vibes.
It begins as soon as we step out of the cars, just before midnight this past Friday.
The smells hit us right away. A plethora of flowers and trees in bloom. Summer has arrived in Österlen, the evening air is warm, and we have come to Franskans Crêperie in Rörum to see some friends, and play a show.
For those of you who don’t know, Österlen is an area in the very South of Sweden which is legendary for its rural beauty and easygoing bohemian atmosphere. Florida might be where Americans go when they retire, but when the Swedes do, they move to Österlen, especially the ones who have an artistic spirit. Ok, so that’s oversimplifying it a little, but you get the idea. It’s the ’get our heads together in the country’ type vibe, and the scenery is absolutely gorgeous.
As soon as we step inside the house, we are greeted by our lovely host Beatrice, as well as her various family members and friends, some we have met before, others are new acquaintances, but it feels like coming home. Asparagus soup is served, as well as crackers with Sardinian cheeses and amazing wine. Did Billy Momo just die and wake up in Heaven?
We chat for a couple of hours, the conversation increasingly slides into drunktalk, Billy-style, and then people retire one after another (well, some quite a lot later than others), knowing that we have an intense day ahead of us.
We wake up to a bright, sunny and very warm summer Saturday. Some of us are nursing the odd shrunken skull, others eat breakfast in the garden.
Then we set up our gear for the evening’s concert. We take our time doing soundcheck, rehearse a couple of tunes we are working into the setlist, all very comfortable and relaxed.
After a terrific lunch we take a sightseeing tour of some sweet spots in the area, including lush, green beech forests and a beautiful beach by the ocean that looks and feels like it could be Zanzibar rather than Sweden.
After this, we spread out a little, everybody doing their thing. Some going off to check out the local flee markets, others prefer to sip wine and beer in the garden while eating some crêpes with baked cinnamon apples, Calvados and ice cream on top. Oh, and coffee, we do have a show to consider later…
As the guests for the evening start to arrive, we begin our little pre-show warm up ritual backstage, we get dressed and sing a couple of songs to get our harmonies in tune.
Some old friends drop in backstage to say hello, beards are being oiled, the setlist is going through some last minute changes. One band member, who shall remain nameless, gets introduced to a particularly enchanting specimen of the female variety, and promptly falls in love. Or something. Suddenly, it’s 9:00 p.m. We are ready.It’s steaming hot onstage. We are sweating profusely before the first song is over, but the performance is really cooking as well. The people are having a good time, hollering and clapping. Lovely ladies in summer dresses dance wildly around us, and surprisingly many are singing along with our songs. It’s a beautiful sight to see.
Then suddenly, in between two songs, we are being told the sad news of Gregg Allman’s passing. As a tribute, we launch into a spirited version of ’Midnight Rider’, one of the best songs ever written by anybody.
We play a really long show, by our standards anyway, we are not Bruce Springsteen. But the people won’t allow us to end the performance, craving more and more. We fittingly end the much extended encores with ’So tired’ after almost two hours.
The post-gig blues sets in, big time. But so does the post-show party. We sign posters and CDs. We drink wine. We chat with audience members and friends. Eventually a more exclusive selection of people pour back into the private area of the house and a more laid-back party ensues. Orren and Beatrice’s daughter Lova take turns playing an acoustic guitar, and for a while we get into some drunkenly slurred renditions of Beatles tunes. The vibe is chill, although the house is still hot, and nobody’s mellow is being harshened whatsoever. Beautiful.
Just like the previous night, people retreat one by one, or in some cases twos, until only the last men standing/drinking remain. Incidentally the same two guys as the night before. It’s already light outside when the house finally is silent. Apart from snoring.
The last day. We rehearse for a little while before we start tearing down our shit and pack it all back in the van. We eat lunch outside, and give the guests at the crêperie an acoustic performance of ’The Weekend’.
Some last social calls are made, and one band member, who shall remain nameless, realizes he has another chance to encounter one particularly enchanting specimen of the female variety, and thus takes off running in her general direction. Literally. Running. Hilarious.
We say our goodbyes to Beatrice, Lova and the rest of the staff at the crêperie, and then get in the cars. We came, we saw, we played. Beautiful. We’ll be back, Österlen. Thank you.
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.”
Gig last night, in a small and extremely cosy little place a couple of Swedish miles outside of Stockholm. This is a short little clip from the gig, involving a really dark moment. The power went out. Very powerful!
A bit simplified: there are two major ways to get a breakthrough as an artist (or at least one that will last for more than 15 minutes) – a hit on the radio or building an audience performing live. Come to think of it, I would say the only way to get a real breakthrough is performing live. (Spice that up with a hit on the radio and you’re safe.)
The radio scenario is a quick fix, it can make you big in no time. It will most probably be accompanied with anxiety, because you have to follow up on that radio hit with another one, and another. The radio listening crowd might be interested in seeing you live, performing that radio hit. I use the word ‘might’, because the radio listening crowd doesn’t always attend concerts. And if you can’t follow up on your hit, and you suck at live performance, you will lose your following just as quick as they came.
The really slow (and a bit tiresome and frustrating) way to get a breakthrough is to perform live. This is where you reach an audience who really likes music. Work, work, work! Practice, take every opportunity to try out your material on the live scene. Act out, become performers, become awesome at what you do on stage. Practice to be able to feel secure and safe on stage, work on your show, practice and play until you feel sick. And when you think you’ve nailed it – do it all over again. And: get paid for your craftsmanship – if you’re good at performing live, you should get paid. Unfortunately, this section needs a totally separate blog post…
The live show performance was the thing that made me convinced to sign Billy Momo in the first place. These guys are totally awesome live and are constantly working on their live set, making it fun to watch and, musically, a feast for the ears. And the continuously growing crowd of followers that gets to see them live, agree.
I know this band is going to make it big, but one piece is still missing. A live agency or a promoter, someone who can take them outside our native country and out where they really belong – worldwide.
Ash Pournouri, the manager of Avicii, once said that a breakthrough takes minimum 5 years. We have just entered Year Two. (Birgitta Haller, management)
Billy Momo did a show yesterday, at a small bar in Nynäshamn, near Stockholm, the day after the terrible attack in Stockholm. We had an odd feeling about it. Every gig is a sort of a party for us, a celebration of a sort. And it didn’t feel quite like the time for celebration. Still, letting an act like that stop people from gathering and having a good time together seemed out of the question.
So we went and we thought we’d do the best with what we got. It seemed quite possible that few people would even show, concidering everything. But we also knew we would probably have people coming in that would have traveled for hours to get there, which is not only a great responsibility but also, it gives us a lot of inspiration. And thinking about that, there’s a lot of love there, isn’t it?
I’ve talked about it before, how much we admire our fans and fans in general. The way they take our music to heart, the way they seem to stop to nothing in order to support us and the way they keep looking for new exciting acts to support. Now, Marvin Gaye is not the only dude who’s said it: only love can conquer hate. It might sound cheesy, but it’s true. Somebody went ahead and killed four innocent people for very vague reasons to say the least. Shit like that tends to fill your head with dark thoughts. It is what it’s designed for, I guess. Anger that should be directed to one guilty man often widening it’s aim somehow, pointing out all kinds of people that often need everything but more hate and accusations. In the long run, some of those people might even turn into the enemy that our anger tried so hard to make them. And that’s when we’re in really deep shit.
Now, Billy Momo didn’t save the world yesterday. It was actually more me being saved. The reception we got from that audience was overwhealming. It blew all dark thoughts right out of me. See, the problem is, even though you know Marvin and all the others were right, it’s so hard not to give in. That devil inside you can’t be beaten down without an emotional reminder.
Today, I went to a manifestation for love in central Stockholm. Tens of thousands of people gathered just to feel unity, solidarity and love. Because it makes us better people and that makes it a better world. So, the message is the same, fifty years later. All you need is love. (Oskar Hovell, aka ‘Orren’)
The best ten seconds of my life (while still having my pants on) are the ten seconds right before my foot steps onto the stage. It’s been like that as long as I can remember.
Many performers are terrified of getting onstage, even though the audience would never be able to tell. I know a lot of famous, brilliant and seasoned artists who cry backstage before a show, some even throw up. Full blown panic attacks, baby. I never understood why someone would subject themselves to that, over and over again, and pursue it as their path in life. Even if the feeling lifts once you get into the performance, I would still not think it was worth it. No fuckin’ way.
I never had this problem. To me, the stage is my home, it is my element, it is the place where I am most comfortable.
Is that because I am an Extrovert? A narcissistic exhibitionist? No. In fact, if you know me somewhat well, you know that I am a pretty classic Introvert, uncomfortable in social settings like parties where my only function is to mingle and make small talk. I hate that. I try to be as invisible as possible, merge with the wallpaper, quickly drink myself into what the mighty Pink Floyd would call ’comfortable numbness’, and get the hell out of Dodge as soon as I can. But point me to an imaginary square on the floor, and tell me that’s the stage, and I will get on there and own that room like it’s my bitch.
I’m pretty good at hanging out with my true friends, at least in smaller settings, but even then I usually need a lot of recovery time afterwards (and not just for the hangover). Human interaction is draining, even when it is good. But the stage is different.
There is definitely an interaction going on between performer and audience, but when I am on that stage, I control the environment. I never fake onstage, what you see is totally me, but it is the part of me that I feel good about showing you. I truly feel that I can do no wrong up there, even if I make a mistake, miss a cue, hit a flat note, or whatever. I just embrace it, move on. Most of the time those things only help the performance anyway. The audience get to experience a very real, human moment, and that’s usually an endearing event, that will make them feel closer to you. So it’s a win-win deal; if I play everything perfect, it’s cool, if I don’t, that’s cool too.
During a performance, my communication skills transform completely from how I am in private. I enjoy connecting with members in the audience, making eye contact (which I am very uncomfortable with otherwise), enjoying the emotional exchange of those little moments. I am confident, assertive and playful. I often laugh out loud onstage. It’s just an expression of the joy I am feeling, and also, there is usually something funny going on anyway, even if it isn’t always obvious to the audience.
But then, the show ends. The music is over. And I switch off my ’stage mode’. I’m sure some people have been a little confused when they approach me after a show, thinking they’ll be talking to this barely contained bolt of lightning, an affable socialite. No can do. I always try to be friendly and I don’t want to be rude, but that guy you saw onstage 30 minutes ago is dead tired now, and now all that is left is the other part of him, one you didn’t see before. Sorry to disappoint.
That hour on stage is an hour of being in tune with your purpose. Which is why the ten seconds right before showtime are the best of my life (while still having my pants on). (Tony Lind, aka ‘Gramps’, drums)