Jaga Jazzist: Interview
Guitar with Fuzz, Bass with Fuzz
Jaga Jazzist has, during its nearly ten years of existence, developed a unique
musical expression and established a solid reputation in Norway. Despite the
"jazz" in the band name, it sure isn't easy to categorize Jaga Jazzist. They
have throughout the years been a frequent participator on most stages and
festivals in Norway. They have been honored with the "Oslo Prize '98" in the
category for "Best Live Band." They are, essentially, a musical institution --
members of the band are and have been producers, arrangers, and musicians in a
great number of other groups: Briskesby, Big Bang, Euroboys, Ricochets,
Motorpsycho, Bobby Huges Experience, Cato Salsa Experience, and Cloroform.
Their debut album, A Livingroom Hush, was released in early 2001 by
Warner Brothers -- in Norway only. While the critical accolades began piling up,
the band busied themselves with a handful of EPs and work on the next
full-length while remaining virtually invisible outside of their homeland. In
2003, they released the album The Stix on Ninja Tune Records. With no
boundaries and an arsenal that includes trumpets, trombone, electric guitar,
bass, tuba, two bass clarinets, Fender Rhodes, vibraphone and a rack of
electronics, Jaga Jazzist create timeless music. At the Philly stop on their
first jaunt to the States, I got a chance to sit down and have a nice, long chat
with drummer Martin Horntveth.
So what do you
do in Jaga Jazzist?
the drummer in the band.
Drummer. Cool. Is that how you pronounce the name?
MH: My name?
No, the name of the band.
MH: Oh, it's
pronounced YA-GA YA-ZZIST
Oh, okay. YA-GA YA-ZZIST. What does it mean exactly?
means... kind of a... chased jazzist- like a chased jazz musician.
Oh, okay. Glad we have that cleared up. I was reading the bio on
your site and it said that you had the number 3 record over in Norway at one
point. How did something like that happen?
MH: A couple
of years ago -- I think it was 2001 or 2002 or something -- the music industry
in Norway changed so much because there was a band called Röyksopp, which is
What's the name?
It means, like, magic mushroom. Yeah, they sold 800,000 in the UK and they're
getting quite big. And then [there's] another band called Kings of Convenience.
These two bands got more famous and the music industry and music press looked to
Norway and were very interested in Norwegian music. Then the Norwegian audience
also started to love Norwegian music [chuckles]. So, after that everything
changed. I think it was the next week or maybe two weeks later, we were in third
place on the top list. There was a Norwegian black metal band called Satyricon,
who are also quite famous -- they were in first place. Norwegian black metal
selling the most in one week in Norway is crazy.
Is black metal really popular over in Norway?
it's popular, but it's much more popular in the rest of the world.
Would you say that Norway has been more receptive to instrumental
music or jazz than the States, for instance?
MH: No, not
really. I think it's quite similar all over, actually. Maybe since there are
only a few really big pop stars in Norway, it's more like everybody gets a
chance if it's good. These days there's like a Norwegian folk
music/singer-songwriting guy who's selling tons of albums in Norway. Then there
are the pop bands and suddenly we sell music... everything changes.
What's it like touring with so many members?
MH: It can
seem really stressful and everything but it's good because you can always choose
what you want to do. Like if you want to hang out on the bus, there are always
two guys there. If you want to go have a beer, there are always five guys there.
You can do whatever you want all the time. You can hang out with who you want.
We have so much fun traveling together and so many people and so much humor
and... yeah, it's great being so many, actually.
Have you forgotten anyone in another country?
MH: Not in
Europe, but it happened twice in Norway, I think. Some people had to take the
train [chuckles]. The funny thing is that we always and I mean always have to
count everybody. So we have to count the bus when we leave and when we get up in
the morning and when we load and when we go onstage- there's always somebody
missing when we go onstage. So, we have to count.
How many people do you tour with? I know there are ten people in
the band, but how many others come along?
MH: Just two
others -- one sound engineer and one tour manager.
Could you give me a little background on the group?
MH: We got
together... when we started the band ten years ago, the idea was to just have a
very big band, which is quite normal in the jazz tradition. But, playing not
that jazzy music, more music influenced by rock, hip-hop, drum n' bass, all
kinds of music- electronic music. And try to put that together with a lot of
people with different musical backgrounds- people have listened to rock all
their lives or grew up with jazz, grew up with classical music- and we wanted to
make a band with all kinds of members in it. So, that's how we started. In the
beginning, it was just for fun... I think my brother was 14 when we started. So,
it was more like "let's try something new." But, it just worked out so early so
we just started rehearsing every Tuesday. It went really quickly, actually.
Have you guys maintained a consistent lineup over the years?
no. But I think there are 6 or 7 members who have been in the band for all 10
years. We had three different keyboard players and two different flute players.
What's the most interesting place you've played both on this tour and in the
Interesting... ? I don't know. I think in the States- now we've played just
three gigs in the States and they've all been cool. But, New York and Chicago-
for me, the concert in Chicago was even better than yesterday's in New York
because the venue was bigger and had a bit more space. But it's so hard to rank
because it's been a dream of ours to play in New York since we started. So
yesterday was amazing with just the feel of being in New York and playing a
concert. So, I think maybe New York is the peak for the band so far. But, in ten
years, I don't have a clue. We have done some crazy shows in Belgium and the
Netherlands with 7-8,000 people actually coming to the concert to hear us on the
festival. People were clapping and shouting for encores after 45 minutes. So,
that was probably our peak [chuckles].
What's it like playing to 7-8,000 people and then playing a
we've done everything; we've done all kinds of places. It's so funny because it
changes so much every day. I remember last spring we played somewhere in
Ireland, some small, small... not a pub, but a small place. And then the next
day, or two days later we played for 60,000 people in
Haarlem outside of Amsterdam. And nobody actually told us
because we had just seen the line at the gigs and we didn't know what the
festival was. It was actually like the national day of the Netherlands. There
were like 150,000 people at the festival. So, we just wake up and it's like,
"where are we going to play today?" "Okay you're going to start in half an hour,
there are about... 60,000 people here at the concert." "Whoa!" So, we're kind of
used to going up and down from big venues to small venues every night.
Is this the first time you've been to the States?
Do you feel like Norwegian ambassadors whenever you travel to
other parts of the world?
not really. For us, it's just unbelievable being here because when we started
the band we were thinking, "okay, maybe some beautiful day we'll maybe go to the
States or Canada or Japan or something but it won't ever happen" but now we're
here, so it's just unbelievable for us. When we go back, we'll have 30,000 minus
-- like we're minus that for this tour because it's so expensive being here with
this big band. But it's so worth it. It takes about a year to pay back
everything but we're building up slowly.
How is the U.S. perceived in Norway and, likewise, how do you
think you guys are perceived here?
MH: I think
most Americans I've met are either very focused and know a lot about Norway and
the other part doesn't know where Norway is in the world- maybe some people
think that Norway is the capital of Sweden. There's been much focus on Norway
lately, so press people and interested music people are into all kinds of bands
in Norway. People can come up to us on the street and say, "you guys are from
Scandinavia or something." So, I know we look different in a way and we were
talking about this when we were walking the streets. I think maybe it's the hair
because we have beards and, like, long... bad hair.
So, I guess you can tell that we're not from the States.
What I meant, though, from maybe a political standpoint how do
you perceive us? Do you think we're maybe trying too hard to police the world?
yeah. We just saw the Fahrenheit movie and I almost started crying
because it's just horrible. I think people in the States have to wake up now.
It's horrible if Bush becomes the president for four more years -- it's horrible
for the whole world. I hope for all the people who are working to get rid of
Bush that it really works and... I mean, if you see the movie how can you vote
I know, man. I saw it last week. It was really intense.
So, what's next for Jaga Jazzist?
MH: It's so
funny because we're home in four days and we're playing a festival in our
hometown of Tonsberg, which is some hours outside of Oslo. Then, the day after
we're going directly to Germany to record the new album. So, we've been together
for two months now, rehearsing one month, touring one month, and then it's three
weeks in the studio. So, this summer is like 24/7 Jaga.
Are you playing any new songs tonight?
Yesterday we may have played maybe five songs, so maybe we'll play more new
How do the new songs compare to Jaga's previous albums?
quite different. The sound is maybe more... open, bigger in a way. It's much
more rock sounding, too -- guitar with fuzz, bass with fuzz, more... not
straight-forward rhythms and not dance rhythms, but more rock rhythms in a way.
I think the new music is quite different. I'm not sure how people will react to
it, but we think it's quite different, so I'm looking forward to recording the
new album. We have a totally new producer who have actually never met -- I mean,
we've talked to him, of course, but we haven't worked with him. And we're going
to record it in a new studio in Germany. So, everything is new for us and we're
quite excited about everything because we don't know how it's going to turn out.
What are some bands from your part of the world, or any part for
that matter, that you want people to know about?
Sure. Or from anywhere.
MH: Well, if
you like Jaga music... you should check out Cornelius from Japan. You can kind
of hear what we listened to on the two previous albums. Of course, there's My
Bloody Valentine- the Loveless album, which is-
They have a new box set coming soon.
Yeah, it's supposed to have a DVD and all new material.
cool. All right, let me think... people should check out some Norwegian black
metal music, it's really cool. Any particular band? I don't know -- I like
Mayhem. We listen a lot to Radiohead and listened a lot to Bjork and
Cornelius... Spiritualized, the Flaming Lips... I can't remember more right now.
Who brings the jazz element to the group?
some of us don't bring jazz elements to the band at all. My brother, who writes
50-60% of the music has sort of a jazz background, so he brings a lot to the
group. And the trumpet player is a full-time jazz musician in Norway working
with all kinds of bands and people. Like when he plays solos, trumpet solos and
upright bass, there's a lot of jazz in what he does. And my drum rhythms are a
bit jazzy in a way. Just the instruments- horns, vibraphone, Fender Rhodes,
saxophone, you can hear jazz in all these instruments.