#Interview with David Hansson of The Gothenburg Combo (July 2016) on #neuguitars #blog

Gothenburg Combo 01


The first question is always the classic one: how does it start your love and interest for guitar and what instruments do you play or have you played?

Well I come from a typical working-class environment, no one in my family were musicians or artists. But there was always music around! My dad had a steel-string Western Guitar and used to sing and play a lot at home. It was not on a high level technically but he was a very good singer and had an excellent feel for rhythm. He also had an extensive LP-collection that he was very proud of (Mainly psychedelic and progressive pop music from the 60’s and 70’s: Frank Zappa, early Pink Floyd and so on). So I guess music was a very important part of my life right from the beginning. And since Guitar was the only instrument available to me it all started on that one.
Soon I realized I was actually much more interested in the textures and sounds of the Guitar than in the lyrics and even the melodies of the songs! I wanted to hear what was happening behind the vocals, I didn’t hear it as a supporting accompaniment, I heard it as a beautiful landscape in its own right. And I still hear a good Guitar accompaniment as something incredibly beautiful and multi-faceted, almost divine! So thats probably why the concept ”scape” has been so important to me during the years, and still is: I just love to go inside a warm beautiful instrumental landscape and wander around there for as long as I want, getting completely absorbed by it ,letting the thoughts come and go. In fact it’s almost religious to me! The other thing that strikes me when Im talking about this is that I have always been so into instrumental music. I know it´s exactly the same for my colleague Thomas: he doesn’t really care too much for lyrics either (other then the ”sound” of the lyrics or of the voice of course which is what makes them musically interesting)!
I have focused almost entirely on the Guitar since I was a small boy, I know roughly how to play a bit piano and I sing a bit but I tend to think and dream through the Guitar: that goes for music and for life in general! I just love how the Guitar can create unique and unbelievable textures: magic landscapes. Thomas, my colleague is much more diverse and Im really glad for that!


I discovered your music because I was looking for Reich’s music played by guitars, I was surprise to read on the booklet of your “Soundscapes” cd the words of David Toop, which is my favorite music writer. When did you read his book Ocean of Sound and what impressions left to you? This book changed the way I was listening to music…

I read ”Ocean of Sound” quite late in my life: probably when I was about 24-26 something, around 2000. I mean the title is spot on and says everything about the kind of music I love: which is music to ”dive” into, ”sink” into and to ”take a shower in”: a very sensual and physical experience. The book came in a period when me and Thomas was experimenting a lot with all kinds of musical and artistic expressions. We were really into the underground electronica scene of that time. It just seemed like a lot of wild, new and fresh ideas came at that time and it was a scene without any of the academic ”un-sexiness” of the Conservatory that we had just left behind us: a sense of freedom. Perhaps we even took this sense of freedom a bit too far in both our artistic and private lives during that period. But this book was very important too me and helped me discover new musical horizons: everything from jazz, dub, early Detroit techno to -you name it. Also, Mr. Toop puts everything into a great historic and philosophical perspective. I think its a bench-mark in musical writing.

Why did you decide to play Steve Reich’s music? I have listened to your versions of Nagoya Guitars and Phase.. I think they are quite .. funky…

It’s interesting because Nagoya Guitars was the first piece that we ever played together as a duo-17 years ago! Nagoya was the reason we started to perform together when we were studying at the Academy in Gothenburg, and then we thought: well we got through that one so why not learn some other tunes! We were both huge Reich-fans so when we discovered there were actually a piece for 2 Guitars we couldn’t wait to learn it. The ”funky” parameter is interesting because actually (and I have to say love funk!), strangely as it may seem, to play something really ”funky” and groovy is often the best way to transport the audience into an other state of consciousness! When the groove is completely right then everything in life is in balance, everything makes sense and you start to feel weightless. You hear it in religious ritual music, African music, dance music of all kinds (techno, house, funk, disco) and you hear it in contemporary minimal music too!
However I have to say that the take on ”Nagoya” on the Soundscapes album unfortunately is not our best: listen to this version (yes, bad sound and video I know but the groove is there) instead:

Now thats MUCH more how we wanted it to sound! I remember we didn’t agree with the ”tonmeister” of the record company here: and I really regret we didn’t fight for our version: if we had done that I believe it would have been a complete knock-out and a reference recording… haha! We’re very happy with the rest of the album though, including Phase. And the first three tracks turned out really, really good.

We later met Mr. Reich in Stockholm when he received the Polar Music Prize. We were invited to play at the prize ceremony and we had a very nice and rewarding conversation with him.


In your last cd Guitarscapes you are still working on the “…scape” idea, why is it so important for you?

I think for the same reasons that I described earlier in the interview: We just love the concept of music as something physical, sensual, almost erotic: a pool of sound to dive into. It should be just like walking in an amazing landscape full of scents, colors, sensations and movements. And you just stroll around this sonic landscape, taking in the full scenery for as long as you like. It is a landscape that existed before you came there and it will continue to exist after you leave. You’re just there for a certain period of time. And while it may be true that nothing really ”happens” in the traditional dramaturgical sense, at the same time everything ”happens”! Also ”scapes” is something we really know how to write, and we’re quite good at it! It would be much harder to call our compositions ”Preludes and Fugues” or ”Sonatas”, but ”Scapes” feel just right. A ”Scape” can be a very classical and formalized composition too: just without the historical luggage attached to many other forms.

Can you tell us about your suite America? How did you composed it? Have you ever listened to John Fahey and Robbie Basho music?

Yes, we’re actually very proud of that suite. It started as it usually does: more or less clear ideas, grooves, melodies, harmonies which we improvise upon.The important thing is to find ideas that immediately says something to you. I mean when you improvise, about 98 % are clichés, things that sound like ”everything else”. But then all of a sudden you hit upon something that feels completely honest and that nobody else could have come up with except you. And you need to be good at realizing when you have ”dug gold”. It doesn’t happen often, but when it happens you need to take care of it. For us the most important thing is: does this phrase say something to me? Does it ”burn”? If it does then you have a small seed that might turn into a good tune. We would never go through with an idea that we felt was ”dead” or lifeless” it has to have its own life and personality. Then we improvise a lot on the material, try all kinds of crazy ideas and we always record everything we do. Listening back to the recordings we can hear what works and what doesn’t. Then we continue to work with the ideas until they find a shape that feels right. So it is all based on ”ear” really. I mean we have studied at the Academy, we know our musical theory well and have studied counterpoint but mainly we write what we ”hear”. So in that respect the process is quite different from the typical contemporary composer who may work out a piece intellectually before he or she tries it out acoustically on a real instrument. We always want the physical and sensual directness, the same you get from good jazz, or rock/pop, soul/funk etc. Then we find the right form for each piece and then we really don’t change much: the piece is ready!
In the case of ”America” we are very happy with the result and I think everything came together here: the mourning yearning fragmented melodies of Nebraska, the ”wall-of-sound” explosions of ”Zauberberg”, the pumping adolescence of ”10 Seconds Left”, the ”tandem” mechanics of ”Twin Cities” and the sun-drenched, hypnotic ”Highway One” which has turned into one of our most popular pieces on our live concerts.
I think the reason why it became so good is because we didn’t care about anything when we wrote it. We just wanted to write music that we wanted to hear ourselves, music that meant something to us.
I know of Basho and Fahey but Im afraid to say that we haven’t listened to them much at all! If anything’s behind the inspiration its more the Austrian Guitarist Fennesz and British ”shoe-gazers” My Bloody Valentine. Plus Riley and Reich of course and (which may surprise you) the magical Californian musical language of the great Brian Wilson (of the Beach Boys).


Why did you decide to record Terry Riley’s In C and how did you played it? Did you use overdubs? I think this is the first recorded version for guitars… am I right?

In C is one of the greatest musical works ever written and almost ALL the music we love is either directly or indirectly influenced by it. Its an amazing, uplifting, positive and spiritual journey every time you listen to or perform the piece. So, we thought: lets try! And for this version, which is indeed the first version ever for acoustic guitar, we recorded and overdubbed 22 Guitars. It is the first and only time we have ever used overdubbing! Everything else that we do on our albums are performed live, without any ”fill-ins”, ”sweetenings” or overdubs at all. But in this instance we chose to work with overdubs in a way that’s reminiscent of Electric Counterpoint by Steve Reich. It was insanely difficult and took a loooong time but the result became very interesting we think: really groovy, ”raw” and almost ”bluesy” in a way we have never heard the work being performed like before. A bit like a ”blues-jam in the middle of a desert on smashed Guitars”.
We got excellent criticism for the album and most importantly of all Terry Riley himself really liked it! In fact we got along so well that we did a tour in Sweden and Lithuania with him and his son Gyan (who is a also a fantastic guitarist) last year. Playing together with him was a true revelation and we learnt so much from it. He is 80 but you can’t tell! His musicality, his instrumental and improvising skills are beyond belief. At the Uppsala International Guitar Festival me and Thomas also conducted and led a version for 40 live Guitarists and Terry himself participated in the ensemble: he played melodica, piano, synthesizers and some magical vocal chanting. We got some of Swedens best Guitarist to participate in the ensemble: both Acoustic and Electric Guitars and they all played brilliantly! One of the magic moments of our career so far I would say.

What does improvisation mean for your music research? Do you think it’s possible to talk about improvisation for classical music or we have to turn to other repertories like jazz, contemporary music, etc.?

Absolutely! Its a normal thing for any musician. Earlier in the centuries all classical musicians improvised and were actually EXPECTED to improvise. This is something that we have lost but I think its coming back slowly, thank god. Me and Thomas improvise a lot both when we play classical works and when we perform contemporary music and as I described in the previous question our own compositions are often built upon improvisations that are later formalized into well-structured pieces. But often we leave room for improvisations in certain parts of the pieces even though the overall structure is determined.

What’s the role of the “Error” in your musical vision? For “error” I mean an incorrect procedure, an irregularity in the normal operation of a mechanism, a discontinuity on an otherwise uniform surface that can lead to new developments and unexpected surprises…

It plays a tremendously important role! Many of the best things we have come up with were originally ”misstakes” or ”errors”. But we thought: ”wait a second-that actually sounded really cool-we can use this!” ”I know you’re not supposed to play it like this but what if we try-what will happen? Maybe it might sound even better!” So you have to be really open-minded in the process of creating and not exclude anything. I have heard that many of the most magical moments on the Beatles albums came from ”errors” that they decided to ”leave in”.
When you have this kind of creative openness everything is possible and life and art becomes one big adventure!

I have, sometimes, the feeling that in our times music’s history flows without a particular interest in its chronological course, in our discotheque before and after, past and future become interchangeable elements, shall this be a risk of a uniform vision for an interpreter and a composer?

I see what you mean and there are both ups and downs to this. However I always prefer to be optimistic about new things so I view it more as a possibility rather than as a risk. The good thing is that all the music of the history is now available to us at any given moment. That was unthinkable when I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s. Now I can read through ”Ocean of Sound” by David Toop and in just some seconds I can find all the music he’s referring to (even most of the hardcore obscure stuff). With all the music of the history available to us at any given moment you never have to be stuck with loads of shit music promoted by the major companies. On the other hand, I probably valued and appreciated the music much more when I was young and actively had to search for the music for a long time. When I got my hands on ”Hymnen” by Stockhausen in my teens for instance: what a feeling after having searched for it for over a year!
Of course nothing can replace KNOWLEDGE and HARD WORK. If you’re just zapping through musical history without a map, without any theoretical and historical knowledge you will never ”get it”. Then you will neither be a good interpreter nor a good composer because you don’t understand WHY things sound like they do. Which means you don’t really understand the meaning of a diminished 7th chord in early 19th century music for instance. Nothing can replace knowledge and hard work-there are no shortcuts!


Please tell us five essential records, to have always with you .. the classic five discs for the desert island …
Julian Bream plays Albéniz and Granados
Steve Reich-Music for 18 Musicians
My Bloody Valentine-Loveless
Beach Boys-Pet Sounds
Glenn Gould-Goldberg Variations (both the 1955 and 1981 recordings)

What are your five favorite scores?
Terry Riley-In C
Andreas Eklöf-Friday
Heitor Villa-Lobos: 12 Etudes for Guitar
L. van Beethoven: Piano Sonata op. 111
György Ligeti: Atmospheres

With who would you like to play? What kind of music do you listen to usually?

We listen to all kinds of music: you can learn so much from just about EVERY kind of music. In fact the older we get, the less ”genre” means. When you’re younger you tend to use music as you use clothes: as a way of stating your identity: ”Im a hip-hopper, screw those fuckin metal-kids” and so on. The older you get the less important it is to be part of the ”right” group. Which is very liberating I have to say! Nowadays I think of it more as Steve Reich once said to us in a concersation: ”Well you know, there’s really only two kinds of music: the good music and…the other music…”! Very true…
As far as Guitarists go, we don’t listen much to Guitar music, but we love Julian Bream for his breathtaking renditions of music from all periods. Swedish Guitarist Magnus Andersson (his recording of ”Små fötter” by Mikael Edlund is one of contemporary Guitar’s finest moments) is a musician I really admire for his very structured and intellectual approach to music. Göran Söllscher is amazing in his understated and truly musical playing. Ida Presti was truly brilliant! Stephan Rak blows us away with his instrumental brilliance, Joscho Stephan for ”Gypsy-Jazz”, there´s an amazing Peruvian Guitarist: Ernesto Hermosa, Carlos Bonell is another excellent classical Guitarist. Swedish composers Peter Hansen and Andreas Eklöf are perhaps not very well-known but are really unique and well worth seeking out. There’s so much…
Musicians to work with: Well, we’d love to do something with Brian Eno that would be really nice. Fennesz would be interesting to work with too. Kaja Saariaho, Arvo Pärt, Björk 😉

Your next projects?

Right now we’re writing music to the Swedish poet Karin Boye’s intense and fragile texts. She was an extraordinary poet but a troubled soul who acted out her homosexuality way before it was accepted and tragically she committed suicide. Her works are still immensely popular in Sweden so it has been very challenging and rewarding to work with her texts. We’ll perform the works together with the wonderful Swedish jazz singer Lina Nyberg, (another musician well worth checking out) on our chamber music festival at the Gunnebo Castle, end of May. And, yes, we got a new CD coming up, probably next year! Also concerts in Europe, Asia and South America and many many more projects in the pipeline!