Brothers in arms

tony_tomasYou know, I see my little brother almost every day. 
It wasn’t always like that, but these days we both live in the suburbs of Stockholm (albeit on different sides of the city), we have been working together since 2003, and oh, lest I forget, we also play in the same band. 
Siblings playing in the same band aren’t really that unusual. Ray and Dave Davies. Alex and Eddie Van Halen. Karen and Richard Carpenter. Malcolm and Angus Young. Duane and Gregg Allman. Ann and Nancy Wilson. Vinnie Paul and Dimebag Darrell. Not to mention the Staple Singers, the Jacksons and the Beach Boys. The list is endless when you start to think about it. 
Barba, as he is affectionately known within the ranks of Billy Momo, is five years younger than me, and growing up, we really didn’t hang out much due to that age difference.
In his between-song rants, Orren often relishes in pointing out my trailer park white trash credentials, as I married and had kids at a fairly young age (not to mention becoming a grandfather in my early 40s). This also meant that I was preoccupied with family life and being a dad at the same time that my brother grew into his rock’n’roll-lifestyle-era. And as my kids got older and more independent, and I became more ”accessible to frivolous social encounters and activities” as it were, that’s when he started a family and the responsible-dad-thing. We just always seemed to be out of phase, although we got along great whenever we’d see each other. 
We are both drummers, so we spent many years playing in different bands, never actually playing together. The first time that changed was when Barba started his RockSteadyEddie solo project, where he was the lead singer, and thus needed a drummer for live performance (he still played on the recordings). I was drafted for this task, and this was the first time we performed together. It was also the first time I played with Orren, who was the bass player then. It was not too long after this that Barba and Orren morphed into the early stages of Billy Momo. They started writing and recording songs, discovering a new direction different from anything they’d done before. In the beginning they played most of the instruments themselves, with auxiliary players added whenever needed. I was one of those players. And I played the drums with the band live from the very first gig, so I was the first +member added to the then-duo, nowadays a septet. Growing pains much..?
So, what’s it like to play in a band with your younger brother, especially as he is one of the two bandleaders, you ask? (Or maybe you don’t, but I’ll tell you anyway.)
In a seven-piece group where the dynamics pretty much resemble a dysfunctional family on a alcoholic binge anyway, with sibling rivalries, squabbles and inside jokes, the actual blood relations between Barba and myself doesn’t really seem too obvious. In fact, we are probably the two guys who argue the least among each other in the band. We both like to be on time, none of us is a snob in our tastes (although our tastes often diverge quite a lot from each other), and we are both pretty easy-going (out of the two of us, I’m the moody, difficult one).
One of the funny quirks is that initially we both found it really hard to do vocal harmonies together. Our voices have really similar timbres, and if the harmonies were tight (as they should be), it would be very difficult to differentiate between us, so much that we’d sometimes not know which parts we were singing! I’d find myself having to do a little pitch bend to find out which voice was me! Over time, we have learned how to tell ourselves apart a little better, but sometimes it’s still difficult. One of the band’s inside jokes is that the most pointless gag imaginable would be if I started to sing lead on a song instead of Barba, as most people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
Barba is the organizer of the band, the disciplinarian father figure as well as the worrying mother, while the rest of us are the unruly kids driving him crazy. But that doesn’t mean that he’s boring and stiff. In fact, he’s one of the most fun guys I know to hang out with. If you’ve ever partied with Billy Momo, you are keenly aware that we all know how to have a good time. 
On a strictly personal note, while we have obviously been family our whole lives, it’s very precious to me to find that in our advancing years, my little brother is also one of my very best friends, and I love him like crazy. 
As today is his birthday I’ll raise a toast to the man who was happier than anyone else when the VHS era ended. Here’s to many more years of brotherhood and bandmatery! Cheers, little brother! Love ya!
/Gramps
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Billy Momo on the road

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Orren. Photo by Christopher Anderzon.

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.

 

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PreacherMan and Hotlips, Askersund. Photo: Christopher Anderzon.

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.

Oh! And we won that competition too!

(Orren)

Can’t we all just get along?

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Tomas Juto, aka Barba. Photo: Christopher Anderzon.

I’ve always been fascinated by music scenes.
Seattle and grunge, New York and hiphop, L.A. and 80’s rock, Laurel canyon and singer/songwriters, San Fransisco and the flower power scene and so on.
Those are all American of course. But England had Bristol and trip hop, Norway had black metal and Swedens Umeå had the hardcore scene in the 90’s with Refused and similar bands. I’ve never been a part of a scene like that. I think I would love it. I get super inspired when people I know get a break and make it big or make a super obscure but amazing album that gets good reviews in underground blogs or whatever. It pushes me to try harder at whatever I’m doing at the moment.

But these days it’s really hard to reach through the noice with your music. And whenever people manage to carve out a spot in the limelight for themselves they don’t want to share the space.

I can understand that ’cause I know how much work it takes to get ahead. I can see why people tend to be a bit defencive of their spot. But it’s still a drag. I’m not saying I’m not a part of the problem. I’m probably just the same as any other musician. I just wish that I could somehow change the attitude in the business to a more collective kind of focus. Let’s make something really cool, together. Even though we’re not in the same band or whatever.
Let’s do a tour, a collaboration on a track, cameos in videos. Not because it’s a career move or looks good on the CV. Let’s do it ’cause we all love this thing. It’s fun!
Maybe by writing this I can remind myself to be more open to it. And at least that’s a start, ey?

The magic of physical presence

Photo: The Coffa.

These days it’s very much possible to start a band, with a musician you’ve never met, on the other side of the planet. Super super cool and it opens up possibilities for collaborations that probably never would have happened without the technology we have today. I think it’s awesome and I’d love to make more use of that possibility.

But I can’t help thinking it doesn’t come close to the satisfaction of getting in a room with some friends and jam out or write a song together. The feeling when Hotlips hit a magical note on his harp in a solo and it puts a smile on the faces of everybody in the room. Or when I mess up on the piano with my poor piano playing and somebody just loses it and starts laughing. Or when everybody in the room gets into the zone all at once and you get the chills from what you’re building together.

I haven’t been able to reach that feeling from writing songs and sending them by email or whatever to somebody. Even if the person really loves the song and get super inspired by what I’ve written. It’s a good feeling indeed. Just not as good at being in a room together.
It’s sometimes easy to forget that when you’re able to work with people from your sofa in front of the tv.

Don’t underestimate the magic of physical presence. (Tomas Juto, aka ‘Barba’)