Thursday, 15 November 2012

EXCLUSIVE: Erik Norlander interview Part Two

I am very fond of Erik Norlander. Not only is her a very talented musician and composer, but he is a damn nice guy as well. It is always a pleasure to chat to him, because we can talk for hours on a variety of musical and philosophical subjects such as curry (for example). 

My dear wife removed our long discussion about Vindaloo from the current interview on the grounds that it was completely off topic and not interesting to anyone apart from me and Erik, and as she is the poor dear who has to transcribe these chats, I have to do what I am told. Just in case you missed it here is part one..

JON: You know about Gorillaz don’t you?  The band with Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett – the hiphop band.  They’ve been one of the massive bands in the UK for the last ten years.  Well they made three albums properly in a studio and the fourth album, which has got good bits on it, other bits are terrible, he did on tour on his iPad.  And the idea of a respected artist basically doing doodles on his iPad and then releasing it, I don’t know if I like that or not.  I don’t know if I like that idea or not.

ERIK: It’s certainly challenging.  Although I have always said that – let me put this in context.  You know I play these huge keyboard rigs and I am an avid – I don’t want to say collector, because I’m not really a collector – and avid disciple of classic keyboards and it’s not because I’m pining for the 60s and 70s, you know I don’t want to sit down and worship the Mellotron, I just happen to love the way it sounds.  

And I love the way the MiniMoog sounds and the Hammond organ, and no-one would ever, you know, accuse a guitar player of being a fetishist for saying he loves his ‘50s Les Paul, but somehow, if I show up with even a MiniMoog at a gig, I’m this vintage keyboard enthusiast. <laughs> But, as I’ve always said, would you rather hear Rick Wakeman on the worst Casio keyboard you could find or just some guy from the pub on, you know, a million dollar keyboard rig of the best keyboards that money could buy?  Well, you know the answer is the obvious; you would want to hear the artist. And there’s a very folksy American expression that I really like and it’s “It ain’t the fiddle, it’s the fiddler.”

JON: <laughs> I’ve not heard that before.

ERIK: What we really want to hear is the best artist on the best equipment, but in the end it’s really the artist who matters, and I feel, with all the equipment that I use, all the exotic equipment and flashy equipment and all that, it’s almost a greater responsibility to make sure that every sound from every one of those keyboards is as great as they could possibly be and that I’m not just relying on kitsch and nostalgia, you know to somehow gloss over the fact that I haven’t really done my homework or given all I can in the studio so I kind of take is as an obligation.  If I am actually going to play a Mellotron live, which I’ve done, in fact I did a few gigs this year with Asia featuring John Payne, where I’ve brought a Mellotron out, that it can’t just be for the sake of the visual spectacle – that I have to have a musical use for it, and that the audience can see when I’m playing it, and appreciate what that instrument is all about, I take that all very seriously.

JON: Don’t the audience know though?  I know what a Mellotron is, I’ve never played one…if I ever get out to California I am damn well coming to play on yours … but I know what a Mellotron is and I respect both the idea and the reality of the Mellotron  but the guy in the street, the guy who has brought his six pack of beer and is coming to sit and watch Asia featuring John Payne with you on keyboards, does he know what a Mellotron is?  Does he realise what a piece of musical history you’re bringing up to him?

ERIK: Well, I think in many ways it comes down to whether the audience member cares.  I mean if he is just there to hear some pop hits, maybe he doesn’t care whether there’s keyboards  at all on stage, but if someone is the least bit interested din that sort of thing, he will have seen something like a Mellotron it’s a very distinctive shape – it’s a kind of odd keyboard, it’s kind of small and kind of big at the same time.  It’s this weird little box, so it immediately stands out on stage as something odd, and then when you see me play it instantly you’re going to hear a sound that’s not like any other sound I am using.  It isn’t a string sound or a choir sound – it isn’t that string or choir tone, it’s going to have a kind of beautiful screechy analogue quality that no sample ever has and I think in that regard I am really able to deliver the whole experience of that instrument.  And the same thing goes with the MiniMoog, whether it’s a ‘70s moog or a modern MiniMoog Voyager.  You see an instrument and you go, well that looks quite a bit different than most of the keyboards you see nowadays, especially with the fold-up panel, and then when you see me playing it, you know moving the wheels on the left that I do quite a bit – the pitch and mod wheel – you are kind of immersed in the experience.  It’s like you see what I’m doing and then you instantly hear the results of it. So I really try to do that, I really try to make it obvious what I am doing with these instruments.

JON: Well I think that is really important, because in a way you are an educator as well as a musician.

ERIK: I think so too, and you know…..I’ve had several people, including my friend Michelle Moog-Koussa  Bob Moog’s daughter, say you should go out and teach and take this stuff to universities and all that and teach and I’ve thought well that’s not really my thing, but I’ve actually fond myself in that position.  In fact there’s a festival in the US called MoogFest, and it started 2003 I believe in New York  City, in Manhattan,  It was this kind of small event at B.B. King’s Blues Club, so you’ve got maybe, I don’t know, 5 or 600 people come, and I first played it 2007 and then in recent years they moved it down to Ashville, North Carolina where Moog Music is located, and where Michelle lives and where Bob Moog lived in his later years, and they’ve now turned it into this huge town event, which basically the whole city is behind  and I think they have something like 100,000 thousand people visiting, so they have concerts and multiple venues and it’s just like a city event.  And I actually participated a couple of years ago in panel where I brought my modular Moog synthesise out and I played a song on it, and then I lectured for an hour, about here’s what this does and here’s why this is special, and why you use this versus this …that sort of thing, and I actually recorded a few video segments actually for another educational series that Michelle and the Bon Moog Foundation that she set up has recently released, so more and more I am finding myself in this kind of educator position, which is something I never really expected but it seems natural to me.  It’s just sort of like sitting at the pub having a nice dinner just kind of talking about the things you love, without the Guinness unfortunately…

And this is where the long conversation about curry took place, and so it seems an appropriate time to leave Erik for today. We shall be back again tomorrow..
And check out the dedicated Gonzo artist page for Asia featuring John Payne, and for Erik solo

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