"Sorry, we haven't got much experience with this, so please bear with us". Those were the words Jan-Henrik Ohme said to me before we were about to start this Interview. I remember my response was something like: "Don't worry, there's three of you. I'll feed you some easy questions and hopefully we just get some conversation going from which I can extract the answers I need."
I guess I got a bit more that I could have hoped for, as I got as far as saying "hi, how are you?" and the three lads (singer Jan-Henrik Ohme, guitarist Jon Arne Vilbo and keyboardist Thomas Andersen) took over from there. For the next two hours they spoke about all that drives them, their music, their inspiration, the recording progress, their successes on the Internet, their collaborations and of course, a lot about their new album, Bravo.
Gazpacho in its current form was founded in 1996, as Thomas describes: "after a long night in the studio and a lot of Gin and Tonics. It was a summer night and we had teamed up to see if there still was good music in us after we had been away from each other for a couple of years. Jon had gone off to study economics in Scotland while I stayed behind in Norway to set up my own studio. While doing Radio spots and Jingles in this studio I met Jan-Henrik who came in every once in while to sing a radio Jingle or a song for a commercial.
In our teens, Jon and I had been in a band called Delirium, which we took very seriously. However, the band had whittled away as we went through drummers, bass players and singers. Anyway, on that night in 1996, we fooled around with a simple 3 chord riff, and the song Scares Me started to develop, and when we emerged blinking into the sunlight the next morning we knew we had something special. Especially with the outstanding vocals of Ohme. We never decided to play a specific kind of music, we actually went through a lot of different styles until we realized that the only thing that worked for us was letting the songs go where they wanted to go. "
Jon "We were trying to find a name for years, and couldn't quite see anything that would define ourselves and fit our style and music. We are a very unlikely mixture of people really, not the average types you'd expect to see in the same band… so we thought 'Gazpacho', which really is the bastard of soups (meshed up vegetables served cold), was the perfect name for our group. Not that I'm soup obsessive or an expert in the field... but you would usually expect soup to be warm. However, with Gazpacho you get a surprise, something unexpected, something out of the norm, a 'positive' contradiction. We feel this describes our band very well."
They spent most of 1999 and 2000 working on a concept album, called Random Access Memory, which was then discarded because the band felt it wasn't good enough.
Jon: "It's actually recorded in demo format, the whole thing. And then we had about five songs I think..."
Ohme: We went up into the mountains, basically in the middle of nowhere, not even a village. In a living room, where we had brought the mixing desk, Thomas' mixing desk, and lots of gear and I was sitting in the ironing room, sitting on an ironing board, with very ugly curtains, and there we did that stuff."
Jon: "Random Access Memory is about that split moment when a man, let's say a man walking down the street, it's that split moment where is fainting, collapsing and he falls to the ground, and he gets these flashbacks.
Thomas: "Your brain is like a hard drive, it picks memories out, and if you get all your memories of all your experiences at the same time you get this huge overload. So it's about falling really to the ground and in that one split second all these memories, this internal hard drive starts picking certain bits out."
Jon: "Ignoring all the programs at once."
Ohme: "It's really not devised, it's bits of it, random bits of it, that make the thread all the way through the album. Impressions and bits that are taken out of order, which we think is really exciting really... "
Jon: "It's a good concept and we will re-visit it at one day. We have developed a lot musically..."
Ohme: "...and lyrically a lot as well..."
Jon: "We're gonna re-do the whole thing, but the actual concept, we have all agreed that one day, we're gonna do it."
Thomas: "The great thing with RAM is that the important things in life, are always the little things. The real memories you have are all these little moments that don't really mean anything. Like when I was a kid my dad came home from work one day and he bought me a toy car, and it wasn't even my birthday. And that's one of my big moments in life. A toy car has no value at all, but it's moment like that that really stick with you I think.
And if you can have a flash of all of those at the same time, you get a really strange experience.
And that is something that's very interesting to look at musically, and lyrically. And if it can be done -correctly, 'cause the version we've done isn't finished- but if it could be done, it could be very interesting. "
So, with the intention to revisit it in the future, do they have any idea when?
Ohme: "Actually if you look now, there are great bands in the world that have a third album a concept album..."
Jon: "Yeah, well we've been working on that!" [laughter]
Make A Star
In May 2002 the band hit a maelstrom of publicity when they entered the online song contest Make-A-Star. They entered with the song Sea Of Tranquility and they won!
Jon: "We introduced the song to Make A Star, really just to hear reviews..."
Thomas: "We thought they'd be terrible!"
Jon: "Yeah this is one of the reasons, just to hear their opinions and see if it had potential."
Ohme: "Or what was wrong with it."
Thomas: "We thought everyone would hate it..."
Jon: "...and the feedback was actually splendid and we were very excited about the feedback. It was not anymore that just we enjoyed it, but other people enjoyed it as well. And as you know we won."
Thomas: "Jon called me every week, or every day even, going 'oh, now we went up to fourth place! And now we're gone', but no we went to second, so we thought, 'that's it, now we're gone', but we won! 'What?' 'How?!?'
Jon: "Yeah, that was awesome"
Ohme: "You have like these viewers top 10 charts on some telly or radio station and they're like 'send in your votes for the top song this week' and we know, from the industry, that if you want to top the charts you have to have like 500 fans and they all vote for you, or else you don't win. It's not just a question of quality, it's just a question of the size of your fanbase. And we won, and we were just baffled."
Jon: "And we didn't do anything like that at all at all or rig it"
So with the band's proper debut album out just a day before the interview, I figured I had best let the guys just talk me through the album.
Ohme: "Desert? I think that's Thom's actually. He has a vivid..."
Jon: "... imagination!"
Ohme: "Yeah, imagination, and description of it, haven't you."
Tomas: "Desert, has some quotes in it. It has one quote from John Wilkes Booth, the guy who's shot Abraham Lincoln. He wrote in his diary... I think he was shot, after he killed Abraham Lincoln... but in his diary, he's written a sentence that's 'How famous would a man be if he could pull down the Colossus', which is one of the seven wonders of the world, and then he shot Lincoln. And I thought that was a really cool sentence, and then I wrote the lyrics."
Sea Of Tranquility
Jon: "There was this track called Minsk. Which was actually about a little mouse..." [laughter] "There is this little mouse, that jumps from a train..."
Thomas: "An American Tail!"
Jon: "Yeah that's what it's called, Fievel, it's about a mouse leaving Minsk on a train, and that's the picture we use when we're in the studio."
Thomas: "The Sea Of Tranquility, in real life, is really about that movie. "
Ohme: "But he landed on the moon. The sea of tranquility is on the moon."
Thomas: "So it turned from a Mouse Leaving Minsk, a picture of it, and then we did the 'nobody' chorus of it."
Jon: "what it really is, was that in the writing process we had this movie/scenario in our head, but the
end result turns into a much more serious story..."
Ohme: "I had a quite unsuccessful love affair at the time, so I was in *that* mood. And they went from 'oh, it's not that bad' to 'oh, we love the chorus'." [laughter]
"Sometimes, or a lot of times actually, they make music, and they is Thom and Jon, and I come in on one day and do this and say 'oh, I'm quite happy about that' and the next time I'm in and we go back to that track to make new vocal melody and I'm in a completely other phase of mind. My mind is... you got 7 days a week and 365 days a year and I'm absolutely, utterly unstable. Like mood wise, I can come in the studio and make clips of kind of things like happy, joyous music, and next time the same piece of music can be really a depressive song. With the same backing track, but just a completely different mood.
On some songs like Sea Of Tranquility, Thomas and Jon made the backing tracks, and they always have this idea of what it turns into, and their anticipations or hopes of what they want it to sound like. Maybe I'd be in like the blue corner, and they'd be in the red. And they go 'maybe you'll do that chorus one more time, it kinda kept a bit more floaty kind of thing' but then I say, 'no, this is *exactly* what it's supposed to sound like, this is my...' not this is my song, but this is my version of it, and I'm 'oh no, you can't go and change that!' and they have to give in.
The thing is they've made the backing tracks, they've got like 'it has to be like this and that kinda thing' and I go completely different and they have to give in.
And then one week after that they say 'oh fantastic, this is the best one yet!'" [laughter]
Thomas: "Nemo is about Enron, and more about the whole scam that Enron was involved in.
The image of Captains of industry as high flying Captain Nemos was appealing to us at the time so we used it in the chorus of this song.
By the way, did you know Nemo is Latin for 'Nobody'?"
Thomas: "Ghost is a relationship"
Jon: "A very obvious lyric, really. And with Make-a-star we thought all-right, Ghost is a more of a commercial potential, but we were kinda wrong in that sense. We discovered we should just 'do your thing'..."
Thomas: "We're not sitting there to write a song that is catchy, or commercial, we just write the song and we write the song that we all like. And when it's done you can sit down and see if it's good, or if it's really really bad."
Ohme: "That's actually the most important thing in all this interview, is what you just said. That's what we're all about, we do what we do and let the song make itself. We have this unity kind of think like 'us guys'.
And it's all about our moods. "
California was written right after the 2002 summer holidays and you can hear the summary feel
Thomas: "California is about the stoner type that went off to California and try to make it."
Thomas: "The Secret is about a woman who kills her husband at a party"
Jon: "...nice transition there."
Thomas: "Sun God is inspired by The Twelve Monkeys. You know Brad Pitt in that film, with the long hair? Well, that's the Sun God. It's been talked about that it's [about] a terrorist, but it's really about fanatics, of any kind"
Jon: "It's also been interpreted as something way darker than that. That it's about a pedophile, and many people do [interpret it that way]. And that's also very good with the way we write lyrics. You can interpret it in the way you want to."
Thomas: "I can see the pedophile thing, but it was never meant [to be] that, as far as I know. "
So with such intense and controversial lyrics, and Ohme's very high-pitched way of singing it, is there any way of doing this song live then?
Ohme: "Oh yes, but to sing it you have to get the mood live. It's no problem to sing it. "
Jon: "We practiced an acoustic version for it, and we are going to do it."
Ohme: "We will do it live, but we will have to get the mood and.... normally you play a gig, and half of the people, or 75% of the people are there for the gig. 25% are like, in the back in the bar going 'BLA BLA BLA, did you see football this weekend? BLA BLA BLA". You know, and Sun God is, for me at least, quite intense. Like my dream would be that everybody to stand there and pull out their ears like 'ooooohhh'
Yeah Sun God is actually more personal and more intense than some of the other stuff we've got. We will do it but I voted no so far, and that's because no, it's not right, like 'on that venue we'll most definitely do it, but on that venue, oh no, not in a million years' If you know what I mean. "
Thomas: "Mesmer is about revenge."
Jon: "This song was inspired by the painting Dance of life by Edvard Munch, and some events in our lives. It is a song about extreme rage. It's the most 'different' from the others, I'm personally extremely happy with the song but as you said before, it may be a little shock for some of our fans....
We needed to get some aggression out of the system and things just come from the heart."
Jon: "Novgorod had an interesting background to it actually. Cause it was a song that Tomas and uhm..."
Tomas: "crazy woman..."
Jon: "Yeah, whose name I can't remember. I don't know if this is supposed to go on the record or not, but the woman you hear sing da-da-da-da... when you hear it..."
Tomas: "da-da-da-da no wonder she's in an asylum right now."
Jon: "She'd sing that naked! That's why I'm wondering. I know that sound very weird there... I'm sorry"
Tomas: "She was naked in the studio."
Jon: "I was surprised! I'd not expected it. It's not a thing we actually tend to do. She didn't walk in naked, but she went into the box and did her singing. And there's no window in between..."
Thomas: "...and after recording I walked in to say, well, you know, well we're finished, and there she was... well, you know, now there's the reason. "
Ohme: "If we could choose, she would have been naked anyway." [laughter]
Tomas: "But there is a reason. When I record, I record on very high compression, I don't know if anyone knows what a compression is. It's something you use to turn down the volume of a loud sound, and turn up the volume of a low sound. And if you even get a breath or something to sound like WHROAR!!
And with this compression, you can hear everything. This was back in '98, when we did the first recording of Novgorod. And this woman was wearing ski-clothes, and when she moved her arm, you could hear this sound, so she actually had to do it topless, she wasn't naked, she just took her top of."
Ohme: "We obviously had the hidden cameras all over the place. "
Tomas: "And then she went crazy, and had to go to the asylum. And then she called me 'would you come and visit me' just say your name was "Edna" or something like that. Cause they expected her mother. So I go, 'if I say my name is Edna, they're probably not going to believe me', and she just went 'Just come on down, say your name is Edna, they're expecting you'.
And I sort of lost touch with her on purpose then, and I haven't been in touch with her since then. And I can't remember her name for some reason, cause I was working with her for a couple of weeks... but she is on there, in the chorus of the song.
The rest of the singing is Esther Valentine, an American, a singer-songwriter from California. We found on the Internet, she's got a great album out Can't Watch Yourself Dying. And Jon and I just got hooked on her voice. She's got an expression that is just fantastic, fabulous."
Jon: "It's not a copy of Kate Bush, but more the flavour of Kate Bush."
Ohme: "It's like the atmosphere that Kate Bush puts into your head, turning your lights of and hearing it. I wanted to sing with her and Thom really wanted to work with her and we thought it would be a good thing being on the Internet and since we are not signed [raises his voice, into the Dictaphone] SINCE WE ARE NOT SIGNED YET! it would be a kind of good thing to have a web-project, if we had an interactive environment, in which we upload and in which could... interact!
She could sit in Sunny California, and we could actually interact and get the same vibe and work on this thing together. And this thing worked really well. Of course I did stuff that we rejected, and she did stuff that she and we rejected in the end, the mix we got from sending files to eachother."
Thomas: "MP3 files!"
Ohme: "It's all on MP3"
Jon: "We actually use high resolution MP3 files."
Thomas: "We sent her an instrumental, she'd go into her studio and record her tracks and then she'd send her MP3 back to us, with added vocals and everything, and then we fit it all into the song."
Ohme: "So I'd done my bit and she'd get a vibe from that, she did her bit and I got like a new vibe, like 'Oh god, we need to do that'. And of course we did that a couple of times."
Jon: "Novgorod was actually in the beginning very happy, but we changed it completely."
Thomas: "Theres a lot more drum 'n' bass going on than originally. And (based on) the original opera called Sadko, by Rimsky-Korsakov, a Russian composer. Da-da-da, the melody of the chorus is taken from that opera. And that was actually originally that crazy woman, sung in Russian.
So the original is in Russian, with a girl singer. Then we changed it a hell of a lot to Gazpacho style - this comes automatically.
Lyrically Novgorod has a very interesting thing going on about too, because it's about the sea trying to pull someone in. It's about the deathwish in anyone. Like if you go up on a mountain, a part of you wants to jump off. "
Jon: "To add on to Novgorod, Peter Kearns was actually involved as well, so it was a three-way thing. We worked all the way across the continents. Not only California, but also New Zealand, which is were Peter Kearns lives. "
Ease Your Mind
Thomas: "Ease Your Mind is supposed to be a musical description of walking into the water with your girlfriend...
It is actually... to kill yourself. The relationship at the time and he wants to preserve it. It's actually about two things: he actually wants to preserve the relationship, to preserve it the way it is. If there's a wave coming, she's supposed to walk off, into the sea...
Jon: "And there is Peter Kearns, this guy from New Zealand, and he co-produced Ease Your Mind, but he played a bit of strings on Novgorod as well."
Thomas: "He's a reviewer, who sent us a fan mail, and he had written this review, which was a rave review on Misfits UK, and he really loved the stuff. He was getting in touch with us all the time, and eventually turns out to be a producer, and he sent us his stuff.
It evolved about having a lot of opinions about the songs. And eventually we realised he was actually co-producing our song. "
Jon: "The ending actually. The ending part of the song got extended a bit by him, it's like two songs in one. And he came up with the ending where Ohme goes 'alive and wild and frightening'."
Thomas: "Not with the line though..."
Jon: "No not the line, but the harmony vocals, at the ending."
Ohme: "If you don't like it, you can blame him.
Peter Kearns is, uh, we call it this weird reviewer from New Zealand, he even sent us some MP3, with his own voice, as if saying 'you guys will have to know me' but New Zealand is a bit far away to just pick up the phone. So instead of just sending us an e-mail with the subject 'open this MP3' and when we did it was [sporting a kiwi accent] 'Hi Guys, it's Peter Kearns!' [laughter]
He has this kiwi accent, and we all laughed our heads off. But he really did say a lot of sensible stuff, and he really knows what he's doing. He's been working with people from Manfred Mann's Earth Band and the likes. And he really know what he's doing, having worked also with some top-notch -saleswise- people. It's not something that I realised actually, if you know what I mean. But now we were like, 'oh, he's a professional, now that's another story'. "
[Jon hums in agreement]
"And so we started working with him, just sending him files and he kinda suggesting stuff. [does a kiwi accent again] 'can I do that string section here' or 'I have decided here for a vocal harmony for Ease your Mind' and we kind of swapped [Thomas: "the chorus!"] some of it, or lots of it actually, and by doing so he had actually co-produced the song."
Jon: "And he's working with us a lot more right now on our new stuff."
Thomas: "Calling the album Bravo, that title is actually sarcastic. Because we didn't expect anyone to like Gazpacho at all. And Bravo, the song, is still ironic, like [applauds in a fake sort of way] 'bravo sonny, well done'."
Jon: "And as you notice the way on Bravo itself is very like that. The guy who didn't go for what he actually dreamt of. He had that opportunity for fifteen minutes of fame, but he didn't do it. And that's really it you know."
Thomas: "It's like going for it, if you have a chance, go for it, and not jump out and press eject at the last second.
Well, the lyrics are rather self-explanatory isn't it? "
And then they played the song opening for Marillion, in a venue called 'Centre Stage' - speaking of irony!
Ohme: "It was the first thing we saw, our 'grand performance', in a venue called 'centre stage'. And I was singing [sings the lyrics] 'grand performance, the opening night, a sold-out crowd' that was so fantastic!"
Click to go to Part 2
All artwork by Jon A. Vilbo, © Gazpacho
Band photos by Lisa Nilsen, © Gazpacho
B&W live photos by Clive Hewes, © Gazpacho
Interview photos by Derk van Mourik, © DPRP
Colour live photos by Bart Jan van der Vorst, © DPRP