Roots

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Orren. Photo by Christopher Anderzon.

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.

18575744_10154275780167396_926097322_oI 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.

orren_blog 1My 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.

Orren_blogJust 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.

orren_blog 3After 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

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Recreational listening

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Tony Lind, aka Gramps. Photo: Christopher Anderzon.

As I get older, I find myself craving silence more often than I used to. During periods when we are playing lots of shows, or especially when we are working in the studio, this becomes even more important. Oh, I certainly listen to a lot of music, just not every single moment of the day, which used to be the case. I would wake up to music, and have a constant soundtrack running throughout the day. These days, I have a bit of a problem with ”background music”. If I’m not listening attentively and intentionally, I often prefer not to have any music on at all. I know that this is not a very rock’n’roll thing to say, but I am rock’n’roll enough to not give a fuck.

The place where I tend to do most of my recreational listening is in the car. Before long drives I often prepare a playlist of stuff I intend to listen to, albums and artists I’ve been meaning to check out. I also have several go-to playlists, one of which is my ’Singalong’ collection, which are tunes I enjoy singing, and that give my voice a good workout. Since I often do the high harmony parts with Billy Momo, I try to work on my upper range, and have songs that stretch me a little bit.

We also have a joint playlist in the band, ’The Billy Momo toolbox’, where we all add songs that we feel somehow relates to what we do. Now, when I say ”relates to”, I use that term very loosely, and the playlist is sprawling as all hell, but it’s got a lot of great stuff in there, and we sometimes crank that playlist in the PA before our shows.

I also listen to a lot of music that doesn’t really appeal to most of the other guys in the band, so when I’m alone in the car, I try to enjoy that stuff, lots of Prog Rock and Metal, Zappa, Jazz/Fusion, Classical, and, of course, sugary sweet ballads.

Traditionally, Friday night is Movie Night at Club Purjo, but I often listen to music as well, and then I turn on the smoke machine and the colored lights and blast cool, moody music into the night, Miles Davis’ ’In a silent way’, or ’The Rite of Spring’, or Pink Floyd.

Oh, and for that hungover Sunday mornin’ comin’ down, there must be Country music, what else?

Here are some tunes to carry you through the week:

Monday: ’Breakdown’ – Prince
Tuesday: ’You Suck’ – Strapping Young Lad
Wednesday: ’Wings Of Love’ – liv
Thursday: ’Lungs’ -Townes Van Zandt
Friday: ’Echoes’ -Pink Floyd
Saturday: ’I-95’ – Fountains of Wayne
Sunday: ’The Blower’s Daughter’ – Damien Rice

What are your listening habits, folks?

/Gramps

Shut up, already! Damn!

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The Head. Photo by The Coffa. 
Tell me who in this house know about the quake? Well, we do!
It was 30 years ago, today. – Well almost. I was on a school trip to some canoeing place and while some went out for a second round, I hung out with my favourite girl friend, Tina. No, not girlfriend, (we were passed that) but girl friend.

She lent me her brand new cassette tape with the latest Prince album on it. I popped it into my yellow Sony Walkman, inserted my earbuds, pressed play, and nothing was ever the same again. Sure, we had all heard “Sign O’ The Times” but the album was a whole other beast! When I first heard that overly confident voice demanding everyone to “Shut up, already” I was blown away! Those drums, man. I was heavily into hip hop and metal at the time and hadn’t fully fathomed the awesomeness that was Prince. I hadn’t even realised how good his earlier records was, until that magical, mystical moment in the sun on that floating pier. I remember I had to sit down, it was all just to much. “I mean really!” – I was listening to the worlds greatest party, and I was invited! The music took me places. Lunch was served and I had starfish and coffee, maple syrup and jam. I got to bathe with Dorothy Parker, with my pants on! I was 15 and believe me when I say, I thought about “It” all the time.
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For the first time I could relate to the androgynous singer. His beats were hitting, his riffs were hard. His voice was punchy and raw. He was singing about me, to me. I was mesmerised. It was as if he was inside my head. All those times I had wished that I was your girl friend! Lately, in school, I had turned into the guy they all came to, with their older-boyfriend-issues. I had gone from king status to geek status. I had become the nice guy in the friend zone and summer could not come fast enough! And suddenly here was Prince! He got me. He understood. He gave me comfort and a sense that I was destined for something else – the afterworld. For me, that afterworld was whatever was gonna come as soon as school was over.
Safe to say, Tina didn’t get the tape back. Not until I had had the chance to make a copy of it anyway. (Don’t worry, I’ve bought it three times since).

PrinceStrangely though, as the years have passed, I haven’t listened that much to the album for maybe 20 years and as I saw that it was time for its’ 30th anniversary I started wondering why? So the other day, I sat down and put my headphones on. Wow! Immediately I was back on that pier in the sun. But something else hit me. The reason why I haven’t listened to ”Sign O’ The Times” for so long is probably because I am listening to it everyday! Every time I put on Miles Davies, it’s thanks to that album. Every time I listen to Frank Zappa, it’s because of Prince. Every time I enjoy a great pop song it’s because of how that album taught me music, production, sound. Suddenly I realised, that moment on the pier was the starting point of my career as a producer and mixer. Had it not been for ”Sign O’ the Times” I might never have dared to venture into all those obscure jazz albums and fusion groups. Maybe I wouldn’t even have understood the rest of Princes catalogue. The album is full of exciting counter point, intricate chords, weird sounds, and advanced theory, but done in a way that you never realise the complexity of it. It’s a true masterpiece and maybe the highlight of a brilliant career. It’s also a rare gem for musicologists that is far to often overseen. On a more serious note, if it wasn’t for ”Sign O’ the Times”, I would never have had the balls to build my studio. I would never have learnt how to make a properly gated reverb. I probably wouldn’t have been asked to produce Orren and Barbas earlier group, King Kong Crew, and we would maybe never have met. I certainly wouldn’t have been Grammy nominated, and Billy Momo wouldn’t have sounded the way we do! In a way, I owe it all to a purple-loving man in heals, wearing Peaches and Black! (Oscar Harryson, aka ‘The Head’, guitar + producer)