- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
You need to go to Iceland to understand what makes a country like that so magical and the people living there so truly unique and open-minded. The darkness of their landscapes, the majesty of their glaciers and even the feisty, cold winter wind that blows from Rejkjavik to Eskifjordur is all part of one of the most special countries in the world.
All those aspects certainly must make an impact on the artistic creativity of the Icelandic people, given how much this country has gifted the music scene with artists like Bjork, Sigur Ros or Emiliana Torrini, just to mention a few of them, through the last four decades.
When in 2007 four young teenagers from Rejkjavik, Kjartan Hólm on guitar, Guðfinnur Sveinsson on guitar too, Elvar Jón Guðmundsson on bass and Jóhannes Ólafsson on drums (then replaced by Andri Freyr Þorgeirsson) got together to record in few hours their debut album, totally instrumental, called Reistu Þig Við, Sólin Er Komin Á Loft... (meaning Rise and Shine, the Sun's Up...), nobody would have expected the impact that their sound made not just in their native Iceland but in many countries worldwide. Their music is instinctive, raw, travelling in the same way a locomotive may do, with sonic acceleration and deceleration executed with the heaviness of an experienced rock band and the ethereal fluidity typical of the Icelandic music sounds. The band decided to call themselves For A Minor Reflection.
Opening for Sigur Ros in their 2008 Tour, gave the opportunity to the band to have global exposure in the music business, something that allowed them to create a more sophisticated second album, a year later, called Höldum í átt að óreiðu" (Heading in the direction of Chaos). Their second record did, commercially, very well too and the band continued their career as For A Minor Reflection until 2013, by releasing the live EP Live At Iceland Airwaves.
The band, although not officially dismantled, has stopped their activity since that live album and the band members have all gone for separate ways, getting involved in new music projects but still maintaining a great relationship and, who knows, maybe the doors open to the future for another release as For A Minor Reflection.
Bluebird Reviews meets one of the main creative forces of the band, guitarist Kjartan Holm, to talk about the career of such a seminal band like For A Minor Reflection, in proximity of the 10 years since the release of their debut album. Holm has just released a new album with his new band called Tofa, a highly interesting post-rock music project. the album, their third as Tofa, is called Teeth Richards and, despite the pressure for the ongoing promotion of Tofa's new album, Holm kindly accepts to take us through the history and career of an extraordinary collective like For A Minor Reflection.
For A Minor Reflection - 2007 circa
BBR - Kjartan, welcome to Bluebird Reviews, so good to talk to you. For A Minor Reflection is one of the most original instrumental rock band of the last 10 years, recognised as such by the worldwide music press since your debut in 2007. Was the choice of creating music through instrumental suites a deliberate choice for the band since Day 1 or were you initially thinking of adding a singer to the band's line-up but then things just changed?
KH - Well, originally we thought about having vocalists in our band but, as we started playing together, we found ourselves increasingly more comfortable just being an instrumental rock band. So yes, initially we had other plans but when we realised that we were feeling more comfortable expressing our music in that way, we said "Hey, this is the way that works for us, let's keep it that way". Funny, when I think about it, because currently I am working with a band that includes vocalists and I feel very comfortable as well working with music in that way. I just enjoy exploring different sides of music and have an open mind. I think it helps me, as a musician, to be constantly challenged.
BBR - Your debut album Reistu Þig Við, Sólin Er Komin Á Loft... (Rise and Shine, the Sun's Up...) sounded so immediate. It was the work of 4 creative forces improvising on the spot and able to carve music in continous movement, with changes of tempo that then defined the band's style for years to come. Who have been yours and the band's music heroes that fired up the extraordinary creativity that the whole band express in their sound?
KH - It's interesting that, within the band, we all liked different type of music. I remember, back in those days, to be listening to a lot to artists like Blink 182, mainly that kind of College Rock Music. Gudfinnur instead was very much into Coldplay, Andri liked a lot of metal kind of stuff while Jon was listening to a lot of material of the English band The Smiths. As you can see, none of the bands I just mentioned had anything to do with the music that we were playing, which is kind of ironic. We shared though, within the band, a common love for the sound of bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and given how different were our music preferences, our inspiration was really coming from many different musical directions. Which is what helped our sound to be constantly on the move, rather than being static, which is not the type of art making we wanted to create. We just plugged in and away we went. As you said, our music was really a genuine combustion of four musicians carrying their own backgrounds, amalgamating them and creating something that we thought it was truly unique, back then.
BBR - In 2010, on the back of the huge impact of the 5000 copies that your debut album sold, you recorded the follow up to Þig Við, Sólin Er Komin Á Loft at Sigur Ros' studio in Iceland, in Sundlagin and mastered the new album, Höldum í átt að óreiðu" (Heading in the direction of Chaos) in Los Angeles. Given the more substantious budget you had at the time, do you feel that your second album shaped up the band's sound in a slightly different way or was the album just a natural progression of the band's musical path?
KH - I think that the way our sound shifted, on our second album, was due to the fact that it was planned in the recording, rather than doing it in the same way we did the first album. As you were saying, the success of our first album, touring a lot, partly with Sigur Ros, made possible that we could get the right financial platform on which we could build our second record. Whilst the first album was written in two months and recorded in just about 5 hours, in a garage, with a raw sound, full of improvisations and somehow also mistakes here and there, (if you really listen carefully to it), the Komin Á Loft album was instead super clean, in a way. Recording in a proper studio, with fantastic equipment, made certainly an impact on the way our second album sounded. You are certainly right about the fact that working in a proper environment changed the shape of our sound but I also thought that, because we wanted really to give to it a proper stab, like other bands out there were doing, we might have sounded a bit too refined, borderline commercial. In retrospective, I enjoyed much more working instinctively on the music in a more raw way as we did on our first album, because it's the same way I like to work right now with Tofa. In my opinion, it also captured more the essence of our art as a collective, while on the second one we were colouring our sound a lot more, by building some layers on top of our music and making it sound far too polished for my personal liking. We spent three months in L.A. making that album and that timeframe sounded like an eternity for someone like me, used to write music and record it on a much faster pace. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy working on music adopting many different approaches, including the way we did on the Komin Á Loft album but the way we sounded on our first record was more a clear mirror of my idea of making music.
BBR - The band has not recorded new material since the 2011 EP and there has not been a new release from FAMR since the 2013 live album Live At Iceland Airwaves. Is the band planning to surprise their fans with a new album anytime soon, to celebrate your 10th anniversary together?
KH - We were just discussing this the other day, it would be really fun to do something about it together next year. There are some logistic issues, though, due to the fact that we are now all living in different countries and we are all focusing on our individual projects with other bands. All that I can say is that we are not making any new music at the moment but we have a lot of unreleased material that we have accumulated through the years. It might be possible that, should we be able to find the time to get together and work on this yet unreleased material, one day we may release it on a new record but, at the moment, we are all focusing strictly on our own projects. To be honest with you, the material for a new For A Minor Reflection album could be already there to be released but, call it maybe being lazy or any other way you want, at the moment to work on a new For A Minor Reflection album is not our priority. We will see what happens in the future, anything is possible.
BBR - Kjartan, we are aware that the best part of the tunes written by the band came from your inspiration. What does help you to put you in the right state of mind when it comes to create new songs?
KH - When we made the first album, all the songs came from a very emotional part of ourselves, as a band. You know, coming from a country like Iceland where the weather is never really great and sometimes it's a bit depressive, it kind of triggered the state of mind that brought us to record the album in that way. I guess you may call it "atmospheric", in terms of general mood but I felt it was very simple and straight forward, in its lyrics. The second album was a bit more warm, not just in term of sound but about the style of the lyrics too. As I said before, we tried to apply to our sound a bit more colors that might have somehow, influenced also the general mood on the album. Thinking about your original question on writing songs, I guess that the real answer to you would be that I really don't know precisely what my state of mind was, when I wrote the songs on both the studio album. Maybe there was just an unconscious wish to express my happiness to be alive through the songs! (chuckles).
For A Minor Reflection - 2009 circa
BBR - Yourself and Andri, your drummer, are currently involved in another side project with a different band, right now, Tofa. How different is the sound of such bands from the For A Minor Reflection's one?
KH - It's a lot different from the FAMR's one. The current project in which myself and Andri are involved to, as you said, it's called Tofa. It is certainly full of energy, very noisy, almost brutal in its rawness, that's for sure! (chuckles). We record our songs ourselves in the way we like the most, without pulling any strings or spending too much time on mixing or adding any trickery. We have just released our third album, called Teeth Richards and, in comparison to FAMR's music style, with Tofa we have vocals through our singer, Allie Doersch. The songs are much shorter and faster and it took me a while before getting used to leave time for somebody within the band to sing, rather than blasting my guitar all the time. But in the end I got the nag of it. (chuckles).
BBR - Kjartan, in the last 10 years the music industry has suffered the biggest blow ever in its history. How difficult does it get, nowadays for young artists to self-finance and produce themselves and therefore to be able to express their artistry?
KH - I remember when we started as For A Minor Reflection. There were certain more opportunity for artists and bands to make records and travel abroad to tour, back in those days. As you said, nowadays everything is much more complicated. There is no more money left in the pot of the music industry, therefore everything is becoming much more, like Do It Yourself kind of attitude. It's definitely much harder to try and impose your art, within the business but it is not impossible. Just keep believing in yourself and do things on your own, a bit like I am doing right now with Tofa. I like to believe that there is always a way that things in music, as in life, work out in the end, as long as you keep investing in yourself and in your art.
BBR - Iceland is a magical country that has been so finely described through all its most favourite muses. Sigur Ros express through their music its nature and beautiful sceneries, Bjork all its different otherwordly, natural colours and Emiliana Torrini its mood, through delicate vignettes of Icelandic's daily life. Which of Iceland's many values do For A Minor Reflection carry through their music?
KH - Difficult to say. My first instinct would be to say that there is a certain connection with nature, as it often happens with Icelandic music in its globality. I remember when Sigur Ros released that splendid DVD called Heima, where their music was expressing all the different colors and movement of the Icelandic life. I feel that, at the same way, For A Minor Reflection's music, through its waves of alternated heavier and softer interplay within our songs, captures that same kind of vibes, although in our own way. Personally, the first thing that For A Minor Reflection's music makes me think of are the streets of Rejkjavik, the colors of the houses, the people, the vibes of our capital city.
BBR - The music genre that For A Minor Reflection has been labelled with has been often defined either as avant-garde rock or post rock. To the eyes of Bluebird Reviews, your music is just the natural chemistry between 4 skilled musicians. On an average, how many hours of jamming and music improvisations the band needs to record on tape, before deciding which material get chosen for any of your records?
KH - Well, believe or not, we never did a pre-recording session on any of our albums, to try and find the right mood for any new material we wish to record. We just plugged in and go. When we felt we had something we all liked the sound of, we were just going for it without thinking too much, just going for it. A very simple approach, perhaps old fashion, some might say but that is what worked better for us.
BBR - Kjartan, Bob Marley once said: "One good thing about music is that when it hits you, you feel no pain". Has music ever served you as a healer in any moment of your personal life or in your career as a musician?
KH - So many times. I listen to music, daily, a lot, until it gets time to go to bed at night, just to give you an idea. I can listen to stuff like, say from Bizet to Rihanna because for me there are no bridges with music, I can listen to either pop music or classical one without having to compromise with any of them. Every genre, every style creates a different connection with my emotions and it really doesn't matter what the musical source is or where it comes from. Music is certainly the best therapy I can think of. Well, perhaps that and some beers too! (chuckles).
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
When Warren Haynes, Woody Allen and Matt Abts decided to convene in June 1994 at Tel-Star Studios in Bradenton, Florida, to work on what it supposed to be the debut album of a side project that would have allowed themselves to bring their alt-rock influences to a new level, they were far from imagining that such sessions would have generated one of the most successful music machines in the world, the Gov't Mule.
Those sessions though, never saw the light of the day until now in 2016, when Warren Haynes, frontman and band leader of Gov't Mule, finally decided to give justice to what can be considered the musical genesis of the band by releasing this material that captures perfectly the essence of three highly talented musicans and the excitement of the early days of The Mule.
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
(Photo by Rob Blackman)
Summer nights are often blessed with starry skies, with some stars more brighter than others. It's no coincidence that, on this hot, summer evening, the sky on Maidenhead, south of England, has left an empty space to allow the shiniest of all the stars to land in this part of the world, Sari Schorr.
The singer and songwriter from New York City has been not just the talk of the town but of the entire blues/rock community, in the last couple of years. Her debut album, A Force Of Nature, due to be released this week, has been unanimously named by both the music press and the fans as one of the most awaited album of 2016.
Schorr has made her mark into the blues/rock circuit through her legendary live performances worldwide and by being on tour with blues/rock icons like Popa Chubby and Joe Louis Walker.
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Every music fan knows exactly what to expect at an Andy Frasco And The U.N. concert. A music party made of two hours of pure entertainment, fun, excitement and, most importantly, great music played by highly skilled musicians. But the party doesn't exactly finish when the live show ends, because Andy & Co. would spend every single night some quality time with their fans, chatting to them and having few drinks together in an afterparty that would last until the wee hours of the morning.
Fresh from releasing a brand new album called Happy Bastards, a record that sees Frasco and The U.N. approaching a more mature and compact sound in comparison to their previous records, the band leader is living one of the most prolific moments of his career, both as a songwriter and as a musician. When we finally manage to talk to Frasco, one can immediately detect the reasons why the artist from Los Angeles is so much loved and respected by fans and fellow musicians. His presence, his friendly attitude and great personality would be able to spark the brightest light anywhere in the world and in every occasion.
(Photo by Jeremy Scott Photography)
BBR - Hi Andy, thank you for taking the time to talk to us at Bluebird Reviews. Happy Bastards, your new album, is a record that reflects the joy of life in many different ways. How long did it take for you and the U.N. to write the songs and record the album?
AF - As you may know, we do something like 250 shows a year in many countries, including the States, of course. Due to this busy schedule, we wrote this album while we were on the road, during few days off we had or through any window of opportunity we had. I would say that it took about a year to record something like 40 tracks, which we then knocked out to 12. I tried then to write almost a song per day and I think it took almost three weeks to get the best songwriting I could put down for the album. Hopefully we managed to do what we do best, which is to try and bring some happiness to the world through our music.
BBR - Do you generally plan very much in advance the making of a new album, in order to allow you to take the time you need to write the music and the lyrics or are you one of those artists that likes to work under pressure and get the album done almost on Deadline Day?
AF - Fundamentally, I like to get it done, no matter what. Every time I am in a studio, I just like to crack on and power through because if you overthink anything, that won't get the best out of you, as an artist. I rather like the immediacy of the moment and to follow my instinct. I try to give to a song a couple of stabs and if the tune is still not there, then I move on and maybe come back to it on a later stage. I am just a kind of guy that doesn't like to overthink, as I said, on the whole recording process. I just like to make music and record it, which is something that I am still learning how to do in the best way possible. I am certainly not as comfortable in a studio as much as I am in my live shows. On every album, I feel like I am getting better and better on making and recording music and I hope that Happy Bastards proves me right, in that respect. All that I want to achieve, through my music, is to get people out to come to our shows, to give it all as an artist on stage with the band and try to make people enjoy life for a couple of hours, forgetting the whole world outside for a little while. Then, if they like what they hear, they may get interested to buy the album, which means that I have done my job well.
BBR - How much has the sound of the band moved forward on Happy Bastards, in comparison to the critically acclaimed Half A Man album?
AF - I think Happy Bastards is a lot more mature of any of the albums I have ever done before. I really focused a lot on the lyrics and on the overall groove of the record. I didn't want just to make a record talking about beautiful senoritas (chuckles) but also focusing on things that become more relevant and meaningful for me as time goes by. It's kind of moving forward as a person, as I grow older and starting to get over the fat parties! (chuckles). I guess I felt ready, on Happy Bastards, to write songs that meant something a bit deeper to me and about the moment I am living right now.
BBR - This is the second time, in your career, that you worked with music producers in the making of an album. How much of an impact has made to your music formula working in particular with Rick Parker, which has been working predominantly with rock artists?
AF - It was like night and day for me. Here there is this guy, Rick, that has been there all his life making records with the cream of the music business, providing me another set of ears and showing me another side of that great art that is music. It's good to have somebody you can trust and able to make you put your ego away for few seconds by bringing his own experience in the recording process. It's something like a life experience for me, working with people coming from different music backgrounds, because it helped me to grow up as a person too. Trusting people has always been very hard for me and I have never liked the idea of allowing people to take control of the steering wheel, especially when it comes to music. But with Rick was different and, as I said, working with him has certainly improved myself as a musician and also on a personal level. I am twice grateful to him for the great job done on the album. I dedicated all my life to work, ya know. I didn't start playing music until I was 18 and I knew I had to catch up quickly with the rest of the music business if I wanted to be really successful, which it may explain a bit more why I might have been reluctant, throughout my career, to trust and let somebody else helping me out. I found this time around not to be solely in control, especially when there is music involved, something extremely powerful in my progression as a songwriter and as a human being.
(Photo by Jeremy Scott Photography)
BBR - Good Ride is, for me, one of the most inspired songs of the album. The song incorporates different music elements and shows a different side of you, a slighty more melancholic, in comparison to the happy and loud Andy Frasco we all know and love. Is the song autobiographical or purely fictitional?
AF - Well, I'm a total narcissist and that song it's certainly autobiographical (laughs)! As I was saying before, I am conscious that I am going through some changes in my life, as years go by and I am constantly trying not to be or sound as selfish as I might have been before. In that respect, Good Ride shows a little more linear side, a bit more mature side that some might call a little more pessimistic. To tell you the truth, it is mostly about the realization of how important is to support yourself as an individual and your mental health, even when you have a really bad day.
BBR - You have been studying all the different angles of the music business since a very young age, as somebody working behind the scenes at first and now as a musician. How much has the whole music circus changed in the last 10 years worldwide, in your opinion?
AF - I think that the exact time when the whole system started crumbling big time was back in 2006, when all the big labels crashed. Realizing that no one was buying any albums anymore prompted me to change the course of my career within the business, focusing about becoming a musician myself and touring extensively. That really changed the game for me, because touring incessantly for 10 years, as I have done, proved to be the best thing for me and the band to do. After all, we are essentially a live band, therefore touring is the perfect ground for us. It's hard enough to be in a rock and roll band nowadays and if you want to survive in this business, you have got to work your socks off, get your hands dirty and try to scrap your living at the very best of your abilities. Which is something that we try and do every time we are on stage and we hope that the people realize how much hard work we put into our shows.
I grew up in L.A., dreaming to become a pop singer for a while until I said to myself: "F?&k this, if you guys think that I am not cool enough, then I can chase the dream in my own way". The next day I hit the road and it all started from there. If I can teach anything to anybody about re-building the music industry, I could gladly show them that you can still make a living out of this, purely by throwing yourself fearlessly into it and get on the road to work your ass off, because nobody will come to you and help you in any way, financially or by helping you to make music videos. How could you make up a career out of one viral video is unthinkable, a career is something that takes time and hard effort. I guess that one positive aspect of this great mystery about the music business right now is the fact that it is like a No Man's Land. You can be able to re-write the odds, re-write the rules within the business anytime because nobody has got a clue of what the hell is going on right now with the music industry.
BBR - Were your parents very much into music and did they encourage you in any way to become a musician when you were a kid?
AF - No, they were just all about business. My dad's a real estate broker and my mother is a half jewish, half italian lady very focused as well on making a good living and they wanted me to become an accountant. In my head, all I wanted instead was to create a record label and run it for about three years until, one day, something totally unexpected happened. I saw a concert of an Irish artist called Damian Rice, which changed my prospectives in life forever. I left college and the next day I bought a van, hired several musicians on the spot, in every town I was playing to back me up in my performances. Because in my mind I wanted to get as good as Damian Rice. I just wanted to make music that would inspire people, exactly like Rice's music inspired me.
BBR - You are in Tour right now around the States, then a brief stop in Europe then back again in the States. Is there a plan for a Happy Bastards World Tour in 2017 ?
AF - Oh yeah, I think we are really starting to blow up big time outside America, especially in Europe. The United States is still a very steady ground for us but Europe this summer was a real blast. We were playing for crowds of five or even ten thousands people per night and I saw the reactions of the fans, it was so overwhelmingly great. On an average, we tour five different countries three times a year and I spend my entire life between airplanes, hotels and vans. But I love it so much that it's something I wanna do until the day I die.
BBR - How much do the sounds present on Happy Bastards frame exactly the musical journey you are on right now?
AF - I would say definitely a good 80 per cent, because our sounds and our live performances are in constant evolution and growth. I can reveal to you that, before we go into the studio next year and make a new record, we are going to release via Ruf Records, our label, a live CD and DVD of a show we recorded in Germany. We will see how that works with our fans and their reaction, all I can say is that we had so much fun recording it. My gut feeling tells me that we are getting stronger and better as a band each time we play together, either in a live show or in a studio. I am confident that, next time we will be talking, you and I, should you ask me the very same question again, I'll tell you that we have reached the 100 per cent because I can just feel it. I am a perfectionist and I just have this vision in my head of what we can do, as a band. The day we can emulate that vision in its entirety on a CD format, that will be the day we will finally be unstoppable. Trust me, that day is really close!
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Blues is one of those genres that never had any frontiers and never will. From United States to England, Italy, Colombia, Scandinavia in its entirety, just to mention few places, blues has and will always have one of those music languages that speaks to anybody the best and most understandable language in the world, that sonic Esperanto able to reach everybody, no matter whether you are rich or poor or the colour of your skin.
A country like Australia, not just blessed with beautiful landscapes and amazing blue sea but also with outstanding musicians, couldn't remain, of course, insensitive to the fascination that the blues carries with. One of the most acclaimed debut albums of 2016, Blue Skies, comes coincidentally from this wonderful part of the world, thanks to the artistry of Matty T Wall, a young and absolutely formidable guitarist and singer/songwriter.
Blue Skies is a musical journey of epic proportions that allow the listeners to travel into several decades of music. An album that is a true homage to blues and all its transformations during the years, transformations that have then gradually converged into jazz, rock and roots. Wall's vision of how the blues has moved on through time is first class and the success and attention that Blue Skies is getting not just in Australia but also worldwide is very much deserved.
Bluebird Reviews couldn't miss the opportunity to talk not just to a very inspired artist and talented guitarist but also to a very friendly and polite gentleman.