INTERVIEW: Hedwig Mollestad Thomassen (co-publication with Citizen Jazz, France)

Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen
Photo credit: Ketil Hardy

HEDVIG MOLLESTAD THOMASSEN played with her trio in Oslo at the 20th edition of the by:larm festival, where she played two impressive, fast, complementary shows on 3 and 4 March. The first show was at Kulturkiken Jacob, a church built in 1880 and now a place of culture welcoming art performances, the second at Victoria Nasjonal Jazzscene, the Oslo jazz club. Anne Yven of the Citizen Jazz (France) interview, and shared her interview for this co-publication with LondonJazz News.(*)

LondonJazz News: Tell us about your relationship with the guitar? Was it “love at first sight”?

Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen: I started to play guitar when I was not even 10 years old, I think. There were a lot of instruments at home: a piano which I would also play, and my father played the flugelhorn, and the guitar was just there. I do think there’s a relation between what people would like to do and what they do well, or at least what they learn fast!

LJN: So is it a matter of pleasure or work? When did you decide to become a musician?

HMT: When something seems to fit your skills it’s easy to like it, of course! Therefore I did practise a lot because I enjoyed it. The most important thing is that my parents encouraged me to try everything. As a mother and as a musician I’m really interested in this issue of our growing-up environment. It has so much to do with who we are today as adults. How it shapes us.

LJN: And I guess it also has to do with the many musicians and bands who have influenced your music? Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Chet Baker, Jim Hall. What about rock bands like Motorpsycho, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath? Are their influences coming from your teenage years?

HMT: No! I wasn’t exposed to the hard rock scene until very recently. When I was a teen, I was into the grunge rock wave, Pearl Jam, Nirvana… Plus, there were jazz “bacteria” in me when I grew up. The whole 1970s rock came much later, when I met musicians of my age who had been listening to hard rock, like Ivar (drummer of Hedvig Mollestatd Trio) who said to me “You’re so lucky you don’t know them! There’s so much music you’re going to love!”

LJN: “Hedvig Mollestad Trio”. The name of your band is also an artistic choice, isn’t it?

HMT: Definitely. We thought a lot about it. It was when I won this award at the Molde Jazz festival in 2009, which allowed me to put together a band and do concerts the year after. I had one year. So the first thing most people would do is put together a big band with all the great musicians you know because there’s money for it, but sometimes nothing more happens. I saw it as an opportunity to build something that can really last. You can’t pick the musicians that are already too busy, because then you cannot really create a unity.

LJN: The name is important for you. It’s your trio, your name, but you insist on the fact that it is a band.

HMT: Yes. The idea of having a rock band with a jazz name was not so calculated. There are so many guitar trios. The guitar trio is more powerful than the name. In our first record the songs are more structured in a jazz way: in the melodies and the harmonies, the schemes, a lot of solos and loose things in the writing. The music is changing, although we still look a little weird in the jazz festivals and a little weird in the rock festivals.

LJN: Your record label, Rune Gramofon, is also a reference in promoting fine music with jazz and rock influences. Do you consider it as a good support?

HMT: Absolutely. I like to stick with people and Rune (Kristoffersen) has been with us since the beginning. It is sometimes hard for him, hard to make a living with this. Selling records. He’s doing it out of love for the music. He gives us so much artistic freedom.

LJN: All Of Them Witches, Evil in Oslo, Blood Witch, Kathmandu, Code of Hammurabi… The titles of your albums and songs often have magical, esoteric or spiritual references. Are you looking for a sort of trance state?

HMT: We are not, our music is not, about getting high, doing drugs, and so on. We’ve never been into this. But what we do chase is this particular moment in music when it feels right for everyone at the same time, the three of us on stage and the audience. And when it happens it is still hard to describe why! Why this particular moment or version of the song or entire gig was just so perfect for us? If you want to call that a trance, this chase, you can.

Ellen Brekken
Photo credit: Ketil Hardy

LJN: For seven years now you’ve been writing for this trio with bass player Ellen Brekken and drummer Ivar Loe Bjørnstad. How has your writing evolved? Do you think about them when you write?

HMT: It’s not a real conscious procedure but when I sit down and feel like playing, finding new material for the trio, I hear them. They are here. On the first record I was more focused on the melodies and the riffs of the guitar, trying to express my own different languages. Now I want to work on this thing that binds us together.

LJN: Do you feel more powerful when you express yourself through this unity?

HMT: Well, there’s a time for everything you know. I also do solo concerts and that’s something else. It’s human relationships anyway. Each relationship is unique.

And there must be room for chance in our music. A gig does not necessarily work the way you thought it would. It might sometimes surprise you and make you think differently. It opens your mind when something like that happens.

LJN: Is this the jazz side of your trio?

HMT: Yes, in a way. The thing about this music is that it is supposed to be free, whatever we put in the word “free”. We can almost do whatever we want. Almost. This music is about building a conversation so if someone starts to talk badly, to be rude in a way that it doesn’t make sense, nobody knows how to respond and it can’t work. You can do whatever you want but the intention must be good!

LJN: Finally, I would like you to talk about something you don’t like to talk about. Women in music. I have a few names in mind like Matana Roberts or Joelle Léandre. Both artists refer to their fight, because they’re still a minority. Do you feel concerned by this fight?

HMT: I can talk about it! I used not to talk about the subject because I thought it was important to be a female instrumentalist and play without focusing on the subject. It was more important for me to talk about the music, the band, the project, the trio. Of course if being a feminist means to demand equal rights for men and women then sure I am. And everyone should be. But when I perform music I’m only concerned about the music.

Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen
Photo credit: Ketil Hardy

LJN: You’re a live band, you’re offering something powerful, interacting with the audience, paying attention to details – you have a red dress code –, and the way you behave on stage. To me HM3 is a visual experience! Would you agree?

HMT: We did start as a jazz band, playing dressed in jeans and T-shirts… But I always felt like when I offer something on stage, I want to change. Not necessarily a big costume change, maybe a little lipstick or a dress. This is something every rock band would do, and I think, yes, the people who go to see a live band, deserve to have a visual experience. Jazz musicians are very focused on the music. I think to dress up a little more does not necessarily take the focus away from the music. It might actually give more focus and fun to the music!

It’s like the high heeled shoes I’m wearing on stage. I’m playing with codes. I actually have a double feeling about that. These are feminine objects developed, produced, for women, when they want to “dress up” but they make me move in the worst way on a stage! The red dress also. You can’t actually feel comfortable wearing it. But at the same time, the shoes make me taller, the dress makes me sweat but you don’t see that! The point is not to look better, the point’s to say to the audience “Look, here: we prepared something for you.”

(*) LJN has published an edited, shorter version of the Citizen Jazz interview
Nicky Schririe’s 2014 interview with Hedwig Mollestad

Categories: miscellaneous

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