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!
Do you sometimes read or hear about extraordinary people doing great deeds, changing the world for the better and are you then thinking to yourself “Fuck! I should have been one of those guys!”
I do, sometimes. When our fans write to us, when we see them at shows and when I see the things they do for us. The way they selflessly and without ego dedicate their time and energy to spread music, it awes me every time I see it.
I’m a music fan of course. I go to concerts, I tell my friends about new bands I’ve found and so on. I have posters on my wall and I think Ennio Morricone is probably God. But I dedicate my time and my great efforts into spreading my own shit, boosting myself, telling the world about my own greatness.
The way our fans interact, showing us and everyone else their enthusiasm, giving us all the extra energy we need and at the same time spread our music, is of course great for us. But we are not the only band that enjoys this. Fans and independent bloggers, putting in ten times as many hours into finding new music than any A&R have ever done, keep fighting to introduce us to new, formally unknown, great music!
Even though a lot has changed, still a few powerful people hold more or less monopoly on the channels that spread music to the world. We often come across those guys. They generally seem mysteriously uninterested in new music. There seem to be almost nothing that tires them more than having to hear a new band play.
I don’t know how many music biz VIPs I’ve heard claim they know a hit when they hear one. And I didn’t really believe any of them. They know a marketing plan when they see one, they know a guy who knows all the right people when they meet one, they know a significant sync when they see one and they know heavy rotation on a radio station when they hear it. But most of all, nowdays, they know a youtube hit when they see one. And guess who made it a Youtube hit? You did.
Fans, we love you. Not just because you are rubbing our egos, but because you are crucial to the survival of music innovation. Fighting that monopoly, finding other ways to spread interesting music. Because you guys, if any, know a hit when you hear one!