Suffering for Art – or – the Art of Suffering.

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Gramps, aka Tony Lind. Photo, as always, by Christopher Anderzon.
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.

/Gramps

What’s on your mind?

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.

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The Head, Orren and Gramps – photo: Marcus Landström.

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.”

/Gramps

Recommended listening:
Henry Rollins – gig mishaps
Rush – The Big Money (live)
Frank Zappa – Tinsel Town Rebellion
The Band – Ophelia

Ordinary Men

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I don’t know how much you guys know about Billy Momo and our albums. But we are actually celebrating our 10 year anniversary this summer. I thought I’d tell you where it all began and about our first album, Ordinary Men.
The title comes from me and Orren having toured for what felt like forever with other artists and groups. An endless streak of airports, buses, hotels and backstage areas. Life on the road is fun, super fun! Don’t get me wrong here. But it is a strange world that can be quite disconnected from real life.
And there came a point when we just felt that we wanted something real and closer to what we really were. Be a part of real life with our real friends and family. So that is why we went home, started Billy Momo and named the first album Ordinary Men.

But we took our time finding what we wanted to do. We wouldn’t rush this. We started writing songs together in 2007. But we didn’t release our first album until 2011. It wasn’t 4 years of constant recording. We were going through everyday life at the same time. I opened a bar with Preacher Man and had a daughter. Orren met his future wife and was doing his thing. Like we sing on the track Billy Slomo. “We’re coming up slow, ’cause we’ve got time to grow”.

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Tomas Juto (aka Barba) and Oskar Hovell (aka Orren).

It all began with us packing a car with instruments and going to a house in the woods for a few days. We didn’t really have a plan. We just knew we would write something. Not sure what. The first song we came up with was Come my way. And that kind of set the course for where we wanted to go.
I think we wrote like 10-15 songs that weekend. We really wanted to do everything ourselves. Write everything, play all the instruments and record it and mix it. But our knowledge of studio recording back then was modest to say the least. So after a while we realized that we needed some help. My brother-in-law had a studio and we had worked with him before in other bands, so he was an obvious choice. You probably know him as The Head (Oscar Harryson), electric guitarist in Billy Momo by the way.
And as he began listening to what we had recorded it became obvious that not everything we had recorded was as good as it should be. So we added auxiliary players on a few of the tracks. Most of the guest musicians we found through the bar. Some of them played at the bar. Some of them just got drunk there. And most of them are now full members of Billy Momo.

The music publishing company Hype Music found our album 2 years after its first release and they wanted to help us out. So we re-released the album through Hype and MTV Networks in 2013 with a bonus track, They fuck you at the crossroads. And that is probably when we started realizing that this was something that maybe other people would want to hear and not just something we did for our own creative pleasure. So from there on we kind of stopped playing with other people and started really focusing on Billy Momo. It was a slow process getting that first album out of our system. But that process really laid the foundation for what we are today.
(Tomas Juto, aka Barba)

Grooves

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Billy Momo. Photo by Emanuel Sahlström. From night in Jönköping, opening for Manfred Mann’s Earth Band 2016. 

A Billy Momo song usually contains a lot of stuff. A lot of different influences, different sounds and instruments you may not usually hear in the same tune. We do enjoy the picking and choosing of different sounds that inspire us and boiling it down.

The one thing that it always seem to revolve around, though, is groove.

We’ve all grown up listening to all kinds of styles. There’s really no common theme there. We’re all totally schizophrenic with our taste in music and have always been. But me and Barba did start out together as bass player and drummer and that means you have to groove. We were both pretty much into hip hop at the time. Still are, but we were young then. We didn’t have to mumble the best parts of the lyrics when rapping to ourselves in the kitchen just to avloid the “daddy, what’s a motherfucka?”
We had been playing a lot of different styles together by the time we started Billy Momo, but RnB, hip hop, funk was dominating.
And most of all, I think the basic structure of rap tunes appealed to us. A beat, some attitude and whatever the hell else you wanna add. That’s the content of a hip hop song. So long as there’s a beat, you’re good. The rest is anarchy.
We don’t always have a beat, we sometimes settle for the “whatever the hell else”-part. But usually, we work alot on the groove part.

One of the things that made it clear to me that Barba is the best songwriter partner I could possibly wish for, is how we refer to the same music in the same way. We hear the same things.
We could be writing a country ballad and one of us could go:”mayby a little more
Wu-Tang here?” and the other one would know what to do.

These are some of the grooves we often refer to, plus a few that I’ve kept secret:

Satisfy my soul – the Wailers
Family affair – Mary J Blidge
Da Rockwilder – Methodman/Redman
If you want me to stay – Sly and the family Stone
Eyes on the prize – Mavis Staples
Hey boy – Teddybears STHLM
Billy jean – M.J
For U – Bilal
Minor swing – Django Reinhart
Lemouima – Orchestre National de Barbes

Characters

Billy Momo is a seven-piece band, which does make certain things a little more difficult than for, say, a trio. Logistics, for instance. Several cars are required at all times, which isn’t exactly cost efficient, especially since it often includes a van or minibus of some kind to bring gear and personnel to the gig.

Communication can be a tough nut to crack, as well. We tend to do most of the talking through a group chat, just so we can make sure that everyone receives all pieces of information, and even this way it sometimes fails, not the least since not everybody in the band are, how should I put this, keen on social media. But it’s the best solution we have come up with so far.

Scheduling rehearsals, recording sessions and shows can be tricky, and making group decisions can sometimes take a long time when seven people (eight, when you throw our manager Biggis into the mix as well) must all have their say.

It’s a good thing we are a fairly agreeable bunch, for the most part. Some are more opinionated than others, or we have different areas we feel strongly about, but we have no bullies in the band, and everyone’s opinion is respected.

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Barba. Photo: Robert Eldrim, Medljus.

Barba is sensible and pragmatic usually, although he can be a bit testy when something rubs him the wrong way. But for the most part, he can be relied on to have a level-headed and practical view on the things at hand. Also, if he wants to settle a matter by arm-wrestling you, you’ll lose. Every time.

 

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Orren. Photo: Robert Eldrim, Medljus.

Orren is visionary in scope. He is often the guy who comes up with concepts for videos, and listening to his between-song banter on stage is one of my favorite things these days, but he can be a bit of a snob in his tastes, and he worries a lot about credibility.

 

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The Coffa. Photo: Robert Eldrim, Medljus.

The Coffa is ever the heckler, and you have to be able to put up with his jedi-level skills in Sarcasm at all times. But then he pulls out his camera and takes the most beautiful and artistic photographs, so we know there is a sensitive soul somewhere inside him, and all is forgiven. Just don’t let him order the shots, or you’ll be drinking Fernet all night!

 

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Preacher Man. Photo: Robert Eldrim, Medljus.

Preach is perceived as the Grumpy Guy, with his demeanor and speech patterns, which are combinations of various expletives, usually four-letter ones, though he really is a sweetheart if you know how to scratch him. But if you need a quick response from him, don’t use social media. Smoke signals would work faster.

 

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Hot Lips. Photo: Robert Eldrim, Medljus.

Hot Lips might seem like a very even-tempered chap, but when he gets angry, you really don’t want to be the guy who set him off. Just check him out in the upcoming video for ’Following me, following you’. There’s a wild thing inside that mellow man. But usually he is our cute little eccentric, and one of the band’s fashion police squad enforcers.

 

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The Head. Photo: Robert Eldrim, Medljus.

The Head is always enthusiastic about something, a new piece of gear, a guitar, an album, something. And boy, will he tell you about it. I struggle to think of one instant when I’ve seen him in a really bad mood. I’m sure it’s happened, but… When I think of him, I think of a big smile, and an attitude of anything being possible.

 

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Gramps. Photo: Robert Eldrim, Medljus. 

And what about me? I’m not sure, it’s kind of hard to describe your own character. I’m probably the guy who doesn’t seem to take anything too seriously, until I do, and then I’m serious as a fucking heart attack. Also, I will send pictures of scrotums (not mine) in the group chat when I’m bored. And, occasionally, I will pee on The Head’s jacket.

/Gramps

 

Passion

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Gramps. Photo by Birgitta Haller. Or was it Christopher Anderzon? 

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!

/Gramps

Recommended listening:

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

Love songs

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Gramps. Photo: Christopher Anderzon.

In this day and age, I find genuine kindness to be a very underrated personality trait. There, I said it.

We are becoming increasingly guarded, skeptical and cynical. When someone performs an act of kindness, we automatically look for a hidden agenda. Generosity is viewed with distrust. Being polite and giving compliments in a conversation is often mistaken for flirting. We never take anything at face value, we assume everything is said ironically.
This is fucking bullshit.
When did kindness become a dirty word? And why? Because a kind person is seen as being vulnerable, naïve or a dupe? While sass and sarcasm is supposedly cool and intelligent? Fuck that shit.
Ironic detachement is not a sign of someone being smart and savvy, it’s a sign of fear of being a sincere person.

I think this is why I enjoy schmaltzy love ballads so much. Oh, I’m perfectly aware that they are often insincere on the writer’s part, and cliché-ridden beyond belief, but their sentiments still speak idiomatically to the soul. Once you have fallen in love for the first time, and once you’ve had your heart broken for the first time, love songs speak a language you understand with every inch of your being. No matter how calloused and jaded we may be, or at least think we are, the heart yearns for sincerity, kindness and love. And those songs can bypass many of our mental barriers, and soothe our souls.

Most lyrics about love are fairly straightforward and simple, and that usually works the best, since love is straightforward and simple. You don’t kind of love someone. You do or you don’t. The complexities we associate with love are not about love itself, but disturbances that interrupt love, like jealousy, pride and power struggles. But love itself is simple, ’pure’, to use another word that is openly ridiculed these days.
That said, I do take great pleasure in songs where the writer really puts in an effort to be eloquent, and takes an intelligent approach to the subject matter. Some of the sweetest love songs I know are smart, some are even funny.

Frank Zappa once said; “There are more love songs than anything else. If songs could make you do something we’d all love one another.” This is true. Listening to love songs will not automatically make us more loving creatures, but hopefully they can remind us of the way we really want to feel, and at least for the brief few minutes the song lasts, we can surrender our insincerity and cynicism, and allow ourselves to experience genuine emotion.

Recommended listening:

XTC – The Mayor of Simpleton
Chaka Khan – Through the fire
Fountains of Wayne – I-95
Jethro Tull – Slow marching band
Don Henley – The heart of the matter
Jars of Clay – Safe to land
Billy Joel – And so it goes
Björk – Unravel
Marillion – No one can
Alannah Myles – Sonny say you will
Francis Dunnery – What’s he gonna say
Warren Zevon – Reconsider me
Tom T. Hall – Tulsa telephone book
Fish – Cliché