In the days preceding the release of their 7th studio album, March of Ghosts, DPRP’s Gert Hulshof and Dave Baird posed a few questions to Gazpacho’s singer Jan-Henrik Ohme and keyboardist Thomas Andersen…
Band photos by Jaak Geebelen, live photo by Bart Jan van der Vorst
Missa Atropos was reviewed very favourably in the DPRP RTR (average 9+), yet I will admit I could never get into it myself. March of Ghosts (MoG hereafter) is another matter, I liked it from the very first listen and enjoy it more with every play – why do you think that is?
Jan: Glad to hear you enjoy it! Because it’s a better album? I think it is. Though I’ll always hold some of the Missa-songs dear, I feel March of Ghosts has a better flow to it song thru song. Much like the vibe you get with Night and Tick Tock, where the album kinda sucks you into a mood, a fantasy, or simply to a place you like to be. Call me an optimist, but Iactually think many will find this is a better album than the aforementioned. More mature-sounding.
I read somewhere that the whole album was basically a one day jam session, is that really true?
Tom: Yes it is. Before the Missa Atropos tour Jon, Mikael and I met up in the studio for a weekend of jamming and almost immediately we found some great moods that we continued to hammer into the songs that became March of Ghosts.
When I think of Gazpacho, aside the melancholy and feeling I think of melody – how do you keep coming up with these album after album?
Jan: The vocal part of all the melodies in our music is my humble contribution to the composing, and I’m at the mercy of the other guys’ phenomenal talents. Without their sketches, grooves and moods, I would never be able to evoke what I do. To elaborate a little; 90% of the vocal melodies comes from improvisations made the very first time I hear the sketch of a song. It’s liberating not to have heard the track before, and I can sing the first natural melody that comes to me. The first time we used this method to the full was on Night, and we’ve stuck to the method since. Some songs, like Upside Down, Dream of Stone and Hell Freezes Over are entirely composed in one and the first take. Without actual lyrics of course.
You seem to have returned to the Gazpacho “core” with MoG, there’s much of the feel of “Night” about it. Was this a conscious decision?
Jan: No. I can see where you’re coming from, though, as I feel like MoG it’s a bit like coming home.
Hell Freezes Over was originally a long continuous piece, why did you decide to split it up?
Tom: We originally intended it to be one long song but as the album progressed the individual pieces of the Hell Freezes Over songs seemed to want to have their own little spaces on the album. They are windows into very different worlds and moving them apart improved the listening experience of the album.
All the characters on MoG are ghosts telling their stories, where did this idea come from?
Tom: To write lyrics for Gazpacho is very difficult. We always put the melody and the songs first and only after the songs are written do we work on the lyrics. Everything we see, dream or read about is possible fodder for lyrics and over the course of a year lots of possible ideas come to mind. The strongest idea is elaborated upon. Ghosts and the various forms in which they appear seemed to suit the somber almost creepy mood of the album and it worked very well.
The press release mentions that amongst the ghosts are a Haitian War Criminal, an American WWI soldier and an English comedy writer – which song is which?
Tom: The haitian war criminal is in the song Gold Star. It is inspired by an article about Emmanuel “Toto” Constant, leader of the notorious paramilitary group FRAPH which terrorized Haiti in the 1990s, who is living freely among the very people who hate him most: the expatriate Haitian community in New York. I thought this man who is a ghost from these people’s recent past visiting them again is incredibly horrifying.
What Did I do is based upon the wrongful accusation of treason against the English comedy genius P.G.Wodehouse. He was interned during WWII and spent a few years in a prison camp in upper Silesia. When he was released at the age of 60, he was offered the chance to broadcast a humorous account of his life as an internee and accepted thinking it would give him a chance to let his American fans know he was ok. He was not a political man and could not have known the way the war had turned nor the consequences of an English icon broadcasting on Nazi radio. He regretted this for the rest of his life. In the song we meet his ghost sitting on his porch listening to the gramophone recordings of the broadcast repeatedly trying to understand what was so wrong about these essentially harmless light comedy broadcasts.
Golem is about a WWI American soldier who returns to his hometown to hear them play “taps” at his local stadium as the tradition was when a local boy was killed. He returns only to find that he has returned to our time. I think this song is the closest we have come to describing how I think a confused dead person might feel. Chilling.
Another song I can’t place (lyrically) is The Dumb…
Jan: The album is full of ghosts and phantoms of many kinds and shapes, alive and not. This song is about parents of children who are unable to communicate with them through medical or mental problems. For these parents the child’s soul may feel like a kind of phantom; out of reach, unable to reply. The strongest love possible mixed with variations of denial, helplessness, even shame.
You’ve brought in some different musical elements to the music this time, the bag-pipes in Hell Freezes Over II, the Irish jig on Mary Celeste and the Jazzy brushed-drums and double bass in What Did I Do, your thoughts?
Jan: Like we’ve always said: the song gets what the song needs. We once had a song that needed a Leopard tank, and luckily a great Dutch friend of ours was happy to oblige (laughs). But that’s the idea, though, that if we feel an Irish jig or Uillean pipes does the trick, we can’t help ourselves. The decade that the story in What Did I Do is from, halfway dictates the double bass and brushes. And as for the other strange sounds, we’re lucky that the mysterious “Duke” masters most instruments known and unknown to man.
Talking of What Did I Do, I can’t place the film snippet you use there, can you enlighten us where it’s from? (“the complete works of Shakespeare and half a pound of butter”)
Tom: The sample is not from a film. It is supposed to be one of the original P.G.Wodehouse broadcasts that he plays on his gramophone as the years go by. The original words are: “When preparing for internment there are some things you pack and some things you don’t. I decided, having given the matter some thought, to go with the complete works of William Shakespeare and half a pound of butter. A good choice no doubt, for brain and brawn but it presented quite a challenge to the former in devising a way to pack my suitcase without the butter melting all over the book. I also decided to let my pet parrot stay as it had a tendency to be, frankly too open in it’s views of my captors.”
Of course, MoG had its pre-release premiere on Andy Read’s DPRP Radio show – did you get much feedback as a result of this?
Jan: Yeah, I got quite a few messages and e-mails from people. Good fun to hear initial reactions!
Your touring is again focused in Benelux, Germany and UK – no Scandinavian gigs?
Jan: These are the first gigs on the tour, and we’re hoping for dates in Norway, Sweden and Poland at least, for later in the year. Having full time jobs and then some, we have to scatter the live dates a bit more than we would otherwise have done.
Prog as a genre has diversified in recent years, with Gazpacho neatly pigeon-holed into the “classical post ambient nocturnal atmospheric neo-progressive folk world rock” category! Jokes aside, your style of mellow, melancholic, atmospheric Prog does appear to be gaining some popularity (I think also of your countrymen Airbag), why do you think this is?
Tom: There will always be a market for people who want the “full album experience” with songs of more lasting value than regular pop music. I think it depends on how passionate you are about music. Some people want some light stuff to listen to as they do the dishes, other people want to dig down and experience something with a little more meat on the bones. Thankfully there is room for everybody. I also believe that as the world spins faster and entertainment is media that is thrust so forcefully upon us, the moody atmospherics of bands like Gazpacho can create a personal space in the noise of the life where there is time to catch one’s breath, intellectually as well as emotionally.
When you write the lyrics, are you looking for a deep meaning, lyrics to make the listener think, lyrics open to personal interpretation, or just something that fits nicely into the music?
Jan: Yes we are! (laughs) Seriously, though, we do our best to leave holes and ambiguities in our lyrics. The free lyrical style we use when writing is necessary to let people interpret our songs as freely as we want them to, as well as keep them wondering. Keeping people interested is something many bands struggle with, and lyrics derived from “The Wheels on the Bus” wouldn’t cut it.
I’m also amazed with the quality of the English used in the band’s lyrics – also when speaking to the band members – you are not native English speakers, so where does the wide vocabulary come from?
Tom: We do not dub our TV series in Norway, so most Norwegians are very used to English as they hear it every day growing up. Jon Vilbo and I met as kids living in Kuwait where our parents worked for a few years, as he didn’t speak Norwegian at the time we have spoken English to each other since we met. It is a natural way for us to communicate.
Jan: I catch myself admiring singers who are not even remotely related to the prog scene. Leonard Cohen, Dylan… But like most people with more than three musical brain cells I really like Steven Wilson’s many shapes.
Where do you get the most pleasure with the band? studio work or live performance?
Tom: For me it is the gigs. I love travelling around Europe getting to meet like minded people who take the time from their busy schedules to come share a musical evening with us. It is very moving and we are very humbled at the thought of that. So it is gigs for me.
After seven studio and two live albums, looking back what do you see as your big moments and what are your favourite Gazpacho tracks?
Jan: Damned hard to answer. It’s like trying to decide which one of your kids you love more, isn’t it? Night, Tick Tock and MoG are in my opinion the best albums seen as a whole. Fave songs would include Upside Down, Splendid Isolation, The Walk, Black Lily and Hell Freezes Over.
Most musicians in this genre don’t make a living from their music, so the bands tend to be expensive, but enjoyable, hobbies for the members. What about Gazpacho?
Tom: We calculated that to make the kind of money we have to make to keep our homes and families we would have to tour 300 days a year and that seems a little over the top so for now we are happy as long as we do not have any costs with the band.
On the matter of money, Jan Henrik – you’re a Spotify user, right? Are you comfortable using that, given that for 1 million plays of a song the artist only gets £108?
Jan: I am indeed. The full answer to this can’t fit in this interview, but it IS a good idea, it IS the right way of going forward. It has to do with critical mass in amount of paying users. Once you reach critical mass, the money will be really good for all involved. Anyone telling you otherwise are either misinformed, ignorant or they are releasing music the audience doesn’t want. (All three are hard to realize for most). Unless we are willing to go through this slightly painful change from old to new economy, piracy will kill recorded music income, as the past decade has shown. Because of streaming, the market in Scandinavia (where streaming has come furthest) is now rising for the first time in 12 years. The market, not I as a musician, decides how recordings are monetized. I would love for people to buy all our music in album format. Ideally listen to them from start to finish every time they were put on. That’s what they’re written for. But it’s not up to the musicians, but the listeners…
Mikael Krømer always looks a bit sad and lost on stage with his little mandolin… Does he ever wish he had a bigger one?
Tom: I think if you play the violin/mandolin as beautifully as he does you have to look a little sad and lost to “sell” the performance. Don’t worry we will be extra nice to him on the tour bus. Next tour he will play the double bass 🙂
Seems you’re using our long-standing DPRP colleague Bart as tour manager once again, don’t you guys ever learn?
Jan: Beggars can’t be choosers, but bottom line is that he smells nice. And he’s Dutch. And he still laughs at our jokes. But don’t tell him all this, or he’ll want a raise…
Official web-ste: http://www.gazpachoworld.com/
24/03/12 Germany – Dresden – Puschkin
25/03/12 Germany – Cologne – Gloria Theater
27/03/12 UK – Wolverhampton – The Robin 2
28/03/12 UK – London – The Relentless Garage
29/03/12 Netherlands – Zoetermeer – De Boerderij
30/03/12 Netherlands – Den Bosch – W2
01/04/12 Belgium – Verviers – Spirit of 66
02/04/12 Germany – Aschaffenburg – Colossaal
03/04/12 Germany – Berlin – C-Club