A cross-cultural, musical meeting of the minds rocked the house at the House of Culture in Halmstad in December 2005. Isildurs Bane (SWE), Mick Karn (bassist, UK ), Jerry Marotta & Tom Griesgraber (drums/percussions, Chapman Stick , USA ), Metamorfosi Trio (trumpet, guitar, ITA) and Sounds of Eternity (SWE) packed the house with an eclectic mix of music-lovers. The international ensemble was brought together by the members of Halmstad's own world-renowned, progressive rock band, Isildurs Bane in what is now an annual tradition, IB EXPO.
While doing my research before interviewing the IB EXPO guest-musicians, I became slightly nervous. The guys coming over are pretty big guns in the business. But upon meeting them, my nerves disappeared. The attitude at the Isildurs Bane studio that Thursday afternoon was calm, yet enthusiastic and almost spiritual. It became clear to me that these musicians have a calling in life: to play and inspire.
We mingled a little and I took some photos while the different musical constellations rehearsed. During a break I was given the opportunity to ask Mick Karn, Jerry Marotta and Tom Griesgraber a few questions:
D: How would you describe the sound that you're creating with IB?
MK: Well, I can only answer for my own material and the stuff we're improvising together. We're not actually playing on their material. Um, but I mean, for me it's a real luxury to have so many musicians playing along to songs that I wrote just for four pieces, so it's sounding very full. And it's a real luxury to be able to choose the soloists… they're all just such great musicians--that's one of the reasons I wanted to do [this] once I heard the CD's… you never know if it's a serious offer or not until you've heard the music… and they've been going a long time. They can really play J
TG: I don't know why, but the first word that popped into my head when you asked that was “scary” and I don't think that's even appropriate, but… but [it was] my first response looking around a room full of people. Um, in a weird way it reminds me of something we used to do when I was in college… you know, college that had thousands of musicians, so that when they would do shows the bands would very often be very big and you'd have a bunch of people playing small parts. In the real world that doesn't happen, I mean, Jerry and I tour as a duo, so it's kind of a very different mindset for me, but I really love it. I love being able to use my instrument and not have to try to play like two or three parts at once… to be able to just do one little part with them and fit it in somehow. It's fun. It's nice to have just the variety there and the different personalities and things.
JM: Well, it's a great experience in many ways. It's the kind of thing that rarely happens… that you get this many people together. I think it's really even nicer that people have come from different places: Italy , Cypress , Encinitas, Woodstock , you know, and it's a phenomenal thing. I mean, I feel totally comfortable with everybody here. I just feel like I've known everybody. I think I've known everybody here three or four days! But I just feel so connected to everybody here, and there's such a wonderful sense of, you know, sharing, like “Can I help,” and “I don't have to play, but if you'd like me to play…”
And the egos, there's just very little ego going on, not a lot of challenging. But everybody feels, I feel confident about my part, what I can do, you know, how I fit in. I think everybody fits in so wonderfully. It's quite a nice thing.
MK: I think that's often the case when you bring in musicians that don't know each other. If the atmosphere's good between everybody then the music's bound to work.
JM: And, of course, you have to say something about, as an American, Sweden . In general, I sense that there's a little bit of subsidy from the government. We just don't have that at home. It would be very hard for us to pull something like this together. And the guys, of course, in the band, where their heads are at, I mean it's amazing. It's a fabulous thing. It's a fabulous thing.
D: Great! That actually answered my next question which was, “What's the mood like here?”
JM: It seems like when we're not playing, we're eating.
MK: Yah, yah… with the Italians in the band…
JM: There's a very Mediterranean sort of sensibility here… it's playing and eating!
MK: Yah, it breaks down the language barriers. You know, there's a few things you can talk about with the language barriers, one of them is music, but food is definitely another one!
D: You guys have been in the business a long time and have played really big venues… what brings you here to Halmstad to such an intimate audience, which it will be, with around 166 people?
MK: I don't really think the audience size matters at all or if it's one concert or a whole tour. If the initial interest is there… if you actually want to play with those people… I'm happy just rehearsing and not playing for anybody, really. I'm really enjoying it, it doesn't really come into the picture, how big the audience would be.
TG: I can't say that any better.
JM: Yah, I mean, this is what we do and we're dedicated. We're working class musicians, really, and, you know, Tom and I have been touring Europe , and 166 people would be a big turnout, would be a big venue for us. I mean we've played for anywhere from 10 people to 100 people and people are just very enthusiastic about what we're doing. We're an unknown group... the thing that we're doing, our own thing. This is the third time we've been back in Europe this year and there's more people coming to these gigs now than when we first came, so, it's kind of exciting and fun. And I know Mick and I have both played big venues, big concerts, and uh, there's really no difference. To me, there's no difference. What Tom and I have been playing has been so well-received, but 10 people are just overwhelmed by what we do and they're generally apologetic about the 90 other people that didn't show up. But, you know, it just really doesn't matter. The reception has been so great.
MK: I mean, if anything, I'd say it's more--I tend to get more nervous playing in front of a few people than I would if it was a big audience.
JM: I gotta tell you that when we played today, when Tom and I just played five or six pieces and everyone was sitting on the stairs and they sat there and listened to the entire thing, that's like such a perfect example of… I can't even, I really, truly can't tell you how good I felt. I was just like, I can't believe they sat, they listened and genuinely enjoyed it and it just felt so good to me. In a sense, it's also the good thing about having a lot of people here. No matter who shows up tomorrow night, we're gonna be there for one another! You know, that'll be great.
D: What has it been like working and playing with Jonas?
TG: Well, I wasn't really sure I was gonna come and do this until I looked at his website. And when I learned more about Jonas, I said, yah, this is worth doing.
JM: Why, what was it about his website?
TG: I don't know, I've never seen it.
JM: Hah, you had me going, like “He wasn't gonna come?”
MK: Right, you Americans!
MK: No, I must admit, I was a little bit the same with the first contact I had which was from Thomas and he explained the situation. I wrote back and I said look, I'm not the improvising kind of musician. You know, I haven't played for a long time for an audience, you know, are you sure you want to do this? Um, [I gave them] the option to change their minds, basically, but, they're all very giving in that sense. There's absolutely no pressure at all. They're very giving in the sense that, if there's a part that I hear that's missing from one of my pieces, they'll all jump in “well, I can try this, and I can do [it]…” and as Jerry said, there are no egos, there's nobody sitting in the back saying, “No let somebody else do it, I'm tired.”
They are very giving. So, it's gonna work fine.
JM: Yah, I mean, Jonas, he's been such a tremendous, well, they all have really, but he's been even more so the goodwill ambassador, the Henry Kissinger. You know, his English is very good, he's got a lovely car that he likes to chauffeur us all around in. Everybody's the same really. Jonas' playing is really great.
TG: Yah. It surprised me that he'll talk of himself as sort of an uneducated musician because I couldn't hear that in his playing at all.
MK: Hmm… that was it, that's what I also said, that I can't read music, I play by ear, and Jonas said, “Well, me, too.”
So, I thought, wow! That's a good start!
D: Well, that raps it up! Thank you!