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.
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.
Even though my musical background has been influenced by where I was born and when, I doubt anyone else share my musical upbringing. In modern times, where I live, there’s not much musical heritage being voluntarily upheld. We all got our own music history. This is mine.
I was three when my big brother found our parents’ Beatles-collection. This was the first time music became an activity for me. We would sit and listen for hours. Sometimes we drew, sometimes we sang along, sometimes we just listened. It wasn’t the first band I ever heard, but being the first I really listened to, it sort of set the standard for how I would listen to music.
To me, the genius of the Beatles is in the attitude. They seem to never really have cared about what people would think or what they might expect. Everything sounds so naturally free. Free of any sort of boundaries. The attitude to reality in general I guess, that’s what I think made them. And that coloured my whole perception of music. Listening to music became one of our favourite things to do thanks to the Beatles and of course, after having dived so deeply into the complete Beatles collection that we would never really get out again, we started exploring further.
My big brother was my best friend. We did everything together. And he was quite the explorer when it comes to music. Me and my brother found Joakim Thåström when I was about five. He performed on a big Swedish support gala for ANC, the anti-apartheid movement, if you remember. I think it must have been aired on TV, because I remember seeing it before we had the album. His performance was my first real musical chock. A genuine “what in the holy fuck is this??!”-moment.
He had this raw and totally destructive energy. He really was punk rock in a body. He radiated self abuse. I had, luckily, no experience of people with that sort of problems, but I believe I felt him. And since that discovery, every person I’ve met with abuse problems of any kind, have reminded me of him. He was then in a band called Imperiet. They were a sort of post-punk pop/rock band. Very 80’ies I guess. To me, the songs were beautiful and honest. And Thåströms energy felt unique in every way. Imperiet albums would now be at the top of my wish list for birthdays and Christmas for many years to come. Still love them.
I think I must have been eight when my brother found Run DMC. I really don’t know how it happened. He was ten. None of our friends were into hip hop. There was no internet and only two channels on TV. Absolutely no music videos. I don’t think we even knew about the concept. But he found them, somehow. As soon as he was allowed to take the subway into town on his own, he started going to this store called Vinyl Mania. And sometimes he took me with him. They had everything in urban music. It was a dream!
We always recorded everything on cassette tape. I can’t remember exactly why. Maybe our dad taught us to do that so we wouldn’t fuck up the vinyls, listening so frequently to music. Anyway, we had been doing mix tapes for years, but when hip hop was introduced to us, we got inspired to take it to the next level. I remember how we worked for hours on our “Mary mix”, which was our chopped up version of Run DMC’s “Mary Mary”, made by recording it from vinyl through the air, using the pause button on the tape recorder. “Ma-ma-ma-ma-Mary Mary, wh-wh-why you buggin?”
We went through most of hip hop in the next four-five years. Erik B and Rakim, LL Cool J, EPMD. I remember getting my handprinted Public Enemy-jacket when I was nine. It was summer and one of the girls in my class accused me of wearing it just because I thought it was cool and not because I needed it to keep me warm. Well, duh! It was T-shirt weather! Of course I was wearing it because it WAS cool! I remember hearing NWA for the first time. It was almost too much! I was now determined to become a classical guitarist and a rapper.
Just like the Beatles, I knew no boundaries. When I was twelve, all of a sudden we were punk rockers. Just like that! I love that about kids. We saw no shame in changing our minds. Whatever sucked yesterday can always rule tomorrow. I don’t know if I had any real revelations musically in this period, it was maybe more about the lifestyle and the culture, which I knew at this point was just as important as the actual music. What did happen, though, was that I found myself on a stage at some sort of carnival at summer camp, with hundreds of kids watching – or at least being there. I sang a Swedish punk song and it was an amazing experience. But more than the actual performance was the sound of an electric guitar through a guitar amp with some distortion. That was powerful! I decided then and there that I had to have a band.
Of course, my brother was way ahead of me. He was already starting one and they wanted me on guitar. I had played classical guitar on and off since I was eight, never really falling for it, but I knew some chords and lord! This was something different. At the youth centre they were more than happy to help us out with gear and rehearsal time. This was now our whole world. We were gonna be big. I had always dreamed about a music career. Now I could taste it.
Through the Clash and “Rock The Casbah!” we drifted into more groove oriented styles of music. Fumbling at first, with disco inspired rock tunes like Rolling Stones “Miss You” or the Clash “Magnificent Seven”, but later getting into the real thing. Earth Wind And Fire, Anita Ward, Gloria Gaynor, the whole thing. This later moved into funk. And there they were. Funkadelic. I guess those early ventures into the Beatles catalogue made us receptive to that spaced out, fucked-up-on-acid sound. We were simultaneously discovering acid house and that whole scene at this time. We were ready for some real freaks.
Discovering P-Funk is of inevitable when exploring funk music. We first hit “One nation under a groove”. I loved it, but at first I was so hung up on that four-on-the-floor disco groove, that I had a hard time with most of the rest of the material. That changed, though, the more we listened. By the time we got as deep in as to “Music for my mother”, the first single they made as Funkadelic (they were earlier called the Parliaments, which was changed to Parliament, a parallel group to Funkadelic, with pretty much the same members but a pretty different sound), we were sold.
Funkadelic was going to be my greatest influence by far. I was maybe fifteen. I was determined to become a musician, though I had not quite found myself as one. Funkadelic taught me everything. Groove, dirt, blues, guitar solos, oh my god, the guitar solos! and again, complete lack of boundaries. But most of all, balls and attitude. It is impossible to be more confident than George Clinton was in 1969-1975. There are many cocky artists out there, many to be deeply admired for their lack of fucks to give, but no one beats George.
After discovering Funkadelic, it’s all a blur, really. I never stopped listening to the Beatles or Imperiet and I got back to rap music later on, I discovered Johnny Cash, Wu-Tang Clan, Lee Perry and the Upsetters, Manu Chao, Amadou and Mariam, Ennio Morricone, Prodigy and thousands of other artists, well known or well hidden. Nothing compares to the experience of falling in love with Funkadelic. I can’t explain it, because words are futile in context. They did to funk what the Beatles did to rock’n roll. They totally ruined it. Made it something so much bigger, built a whole world of it. And once you’re there, you can’t get out. I’m still lost!
After this, there’s only two more things. First, writing songs with Barba. Discovering that I can communicate on that level with someone, was huge. Second, Prince live in Gothenburg 2007. And I won’t try to describe that one. I don’t know how exciting it is to read about all the stuff I’ve listened to. But there is no better way to know me, as a songwriter as well as a person. If you got this far reading, you know pretty much everything about me. /Oskar Hovell aka Orren
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.”
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:
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!