We all have our own roots, don’t we?
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