Extra special thanks to the very kind, patient, and gracious Julie Cord of Blue Mouth Promotion for connecting me and Mattias. She is a promoter for several great artists, including Mattias and Panzerballett. Check out BMP and follow them on social media to keep up with great artists!!
Below is our interview with the hilarious Swede, Mattias IA Eklundh.
This interview was conducted on Friday, February 12, 2016 at 5AM AZ.
Interview Audio (Podcast)
(NOTE: hitting the “play” button requires a hefty download of the entire audio file!).
Or, download an mp3 .
Special thanks to Russell Muller, a long-time friend and big IA fan, for transcribing this interview. And I normally wouldn’t include the pre-interview content, but Mattias is so funny, I thought it was worth inclusion.
Mattias: Hello sir!
Anthony: Hello, how are you?
M: I am good. I do live in the Swedish woods though and have crappy internet. You can’t see me, can you? No?
A: No, no I can’t.
M: Oh, okay okay. If I turn on video, you can only see my ugly face and no sound I guess because we’re very far from… well we have broadband but it’s a mere joke. But it’s good to see you!
A: Well, thank you! Alright, well then I don’t have to record video. I can just do audio. Or I can just put a big picture of you up on my screen. If you want, you can take some pictures of yourself and I can animate them into you talking.
M: That would be great. I can sort that out. I’ve tried video before and I think audio is tough enough. And I sit very close to the wireless router anyway, but it’s really insanely crappy. We are expecting fiber in a little while but there’s nothing now. It’s just pagan territory. We should be happy for audio. But I’ll make whatever. I can make a stupid animation as well, it’s cool.
A: You know Jan Zehrfeld, he recorded himself with a camcorder and sent me the video files. So if you want to do that, that’s also an option. I don’t know if that’s easy for you.
M: Well I have all the stuff in my studio and I uh… But I’ll send you some stupid, I can even make an extra video, whatever. And say “uh hey, Make Weird Music promo, whatever” you know, in full tip-top HD. I’ll show my penis, whatever! Anything!
A: We can get you, you know you can just move your mouth around and I can just use different shots of small clips of you.
M: Absolutely! I promise I’ll get you tons of, uh, I’ll make a dropbox folder and put lots of shit in there, I promise.
M: Very good.
A: Cool! Well, I don’t know if you’ve seen any of the other interviews that I’ve done, but they’re very low-key, very informal. They’re more in-depth conversations about you as a musician, how you write music, those kinds of things.
M: Yep, cool.
A: So yeah. It doesn’t have to be promotional. We don’t have to plug anything. People seem to just enjoy the casual nature of these conversations. So if that’s cool for you…
M: Absolutely. Super cool. Tip-top.
A: Alright, great. Then I will just get started. I’ll introduce myself. My camera is over here, you can see me, right?
A: Okay so my camera is over here, and you’re on a screen over here. So I’m gonna look at the camera when I’m talking to you, but I won’t really see you… well I won’t see you in general so actually it makes it a lot easier. But I’ll just be looking back and forth occasionally. Hi, this is Anthony with MakeWeirdMusic.com and we have a special guest today with us all the way from Sweden: Mattias Eklundh.
M: Hello! Hello!
A: Hello, how are you?
M: I am good. It’s freezing cold today; about -10 degrees Celsius which is, I don’t know Farennheit, it’s pretty cold.
A: Pretty cold is what I think it means.
M: Yes, yes. I have lots of facial hair and lots of hair on my pagan skull to protect me from the evil cold, but I like it. I like winter time.
A: I hear you have quite a mane from the videos I’ve seen. Is it quite bigger now?
M: Shave it off every evening, in the morning it’s back! It’s really strange. I don’t know! Yeah, I have lots of hair everywhere.
A: I’ve also heard someone on Facebook said that there’s a great translation of your name in another language, perhaps Hindi?
M: Yes, Hindi. Very much. Well the Swedish pronunciation is “ehk-lund” but in India–the first time I toured there for three and a half weeks, it took me 2 weeks to figure out why everybody looked really really strange when I told them my last name.
“What’s wrong, what’s up with you?”
“Don’t you know what ek-lahnd means in Hindi? Ek means ‘one,’ and lahnd is one ‘penis.’ So ‘one-penis’.”
And it’s really stupid because, and I’ve said this many times, usually when you play an instrument and you’re gifted and you play that instrument, you are called that instrument. You are Mandolin Srinivas or Kanjeera Selvaganesh, or Bass Guitar Bob. But my name is “Guitar One-Dick” or “Guitar One Penis,” which is not bad. I mean, it could be Kerry King , you know. So, Guitar One Penis! Yes, yes.
A: [laughing] I don’t know if it’s because it’s super early for me or because that story is legitimately that funny.
M: Yes, probably early. [laughing] Well you look good. Yes, oh God. That’s how it is.
A: So the purpose of the site is to introduce musicians and music enthusiasts to new musicians, new kinds of music. And you certainly do some unique stuff on the guitar, and just musically in terms of production and composition. So I thought it would be really cool if you could introduce yourself and talk about kind of the evolution of your career and what makes you unique as a musician.
M: Oh boy! That’s a tough one. Well, I am Swedish born, I am 46 years old, I live in the coutryside where nobody can hear you scream. And again everyone drinks diesel in their coffee and if they buy a new refrigerator they bring out the big tractor instead of recycling it and they just make a hole and stuff it in there… it’s got nothing to do with my music but anyway that’s where I live. I like it! The hillbillies, they’re okay.
But yeah, I’ve been doing this pretty much since I was a sperm and it’s, uh… I knew from the age of 6 that this is what I’m gonna do pretty much, you know? I started to play the drums, and I started to play drums on myself all the time and I drove everybody crazy. I have different parts of my body sound different. So I have a snare belly and, you know, a kick, whatever… breast.
So it’s, uhm… this is what I do and I’ve been doing it for quite some time. And I’ve lived on it for I think 28 or 29 years, only my own strange music. And to me, that’s one thing to be able to do what you really want–complete freedom and have nobody else deciding for you. And that’s great. So basically a working day could be a cup of coffee, I take my son to school, take the German shepherds into the woods and, you know, wrack my brain a bit what to do with the day, and the wife makes breakfast and I light the fire. And then I take my strange mad scientist haircut and my strong coffee into the Applehorn studio and make strange music. And it’s a beautiful life. I adore it.
And then eventually I travel the planet and spread the Viking diseases and so on. But the main thing is I knew that I was going to do when I was a little child, in my teenage years. I have 4 elder sisters and Mom and Dad tried to, of course, you know, raise them as decent human beings and everything. And of course they failed. And, uh, I was a mistake that fell out of my mom 8 years from my closest sister. And it’s like “Oh good God, it’s a male sex organ! It’s a boy!” So I was spoiled to death in many ways. You know, lots of love and attention, occasional Ace Frehley dolls and all kinds of things.
So, the thing is, I put in second gear in my mid-teens and I realized that well, I’m going to do this! This is what I’m going to do! So I walked up to Mom and Dad, and we have something “gymnasium” I think… what is it, high school or, well, somewhere in between. And I said “I’m gonna quit school and I’m gonna spend 10 hours with my instrument every day. Is that okay?” And they said “Sure!” “What?! You’re okay with that?” So I hope I am going to be as liberal if my son finds something that he’s REALLY into. You know, “I want to collect stamps! 10 hours every day!” “Ah, yes, of course!”
A: Probably makes more money than a musician.
M: Yeah, certainly! But again, I was a mistake. So it was like “Yeah, but you’ve been doing the same thing since you were 6 years old anyway so we can’t really stop you. It will backfire in a monumental kind of way. So yes, please do go ahead.” And so I’ve lived on this since, I was 16 at the time when I quit school and I’ve been living on it since I was 19 and only making my strange music. And of course, I’ve had my share of shitty years. But little by little I started to understand the business, how to make decent money from it and how to make the money return to you. Even if it’s really wacky stuff from time to time.
I also make slightly more commercial music with Freak Kitchen , although it has a twist and we try to put various elements lurking. You know, it’s not obvious what’s happening but if you want to dig deep you can find south Indian reduction structures in a fairly commercial song or a nasty lyric. So that’s what I do.
I try as much as possible to grow my own moustache, as I say. I really want to, ah… if I compose something, for instance, and I feel “this is a decent song” but it doesn’t have the smell of Mattias “IA” Eklundh from Sweden, it doesn’t have that typically “heathen” kind of smell, I really think long and hard to sort of dig out who I am and how to get that through in my music, and how to make it sound like ME. You know? So that’s what I’ve been doing quite a lot.
Listening back to myself, when I was in my shredding teenage years I was, you know, flabbergasted when I heard Steve Vai, or Yngwie Malmsteen , or Tony MacAlpine , or whatever you know. It’s like “I want to play like that.” And then I realized that, well I have to refine myself–my persona and my playing. So listening back I realize there is not a single original note here! All this is somebody else’s! You know, throw it out! You cannot play an interval that anyone else is doing. So I’ve been really focusing on trying to be me, for better or worse. Sometimes it’s like “Aw shit, this is me as well. But that was bad.” So, but that’s really how it is. That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing all the time.
I had a 3-month kind of part-time job that was terrible. That’s it! Otherwise I provide my family a tip-top life in the Swedish woods where we live and have a good time! God, I talk a lot.
A: No, actually, it’s funny… Everyone I interview says that, but the point is to get you to talk a lot. So please talk as much as possible, that’s what people want to hear.
M: Goodie goodie.
A: So you’re a 19 year old, making a full-time living at that point.
A: You were playing in a metal band I think at the time.
M: Yeah. I moved to Copenhagen. I was desperate for some kind of action in my teenage life, and I had a band that was going nowhere at the time which was, you know, just my teenage band. But then I had an opportunity to audition for a Danish band called Fate . When there was a band called Merciful Fate featuring King Diamond with an upside-down cross on his forehead and everything, you know, blah blah blah. And when that split, one band became Fate, which was a pop band. You know, big hair, all that stuff. Kind of 80’s pop stuff. And then the other one became King Diamond which was, you know, satanic diabolical stuff.
And I had an opportunity to… and I didn’t really like Fate the music they did, but they were signed to EMI , they were touring all over the place, and I thought “well, whatever!” As long as I get on with it! So I moved to Copenhagen, I got the gig. 25 other players had sort of auditioned. They played their over-produced demo cassettes, you know. And I thought that everything I had recorded up until that point was utter crap. So I brought my guitar instead and just went to the drummer’s place and played a lot in his living room. And they were just, you know “Eh! Tip-top! You got the gig!”
So I basically moved to Copenhagen and learned how to tour and the nasty side of show business. I got to puke in limousines and run naked in Munich, and drag innocent Swiss women up in their hotel room. You know, all kinds of stupid things that you had to do when you’re 19 or 20. And when I turned 21, I said “Well that’s it. I now understand what not to sign when it comes to a contract. I realize that this will make money, this will not make money.”
It was a good learning period. And then I moved back to Sweden, and in ‘92 I …[founded]… Freak Kitchen. And that’s it. I’ve been building this strange, I dunno, mausoleum bit-by-bit, you know. I could have made a thousand decisions along the way if I’d said yes to all the offers and this and that could make me a much, how should I say, you know, a bigger, more famous musician. But the thing is I am in quite good control of my music, and you can make, again, a nice living if you are, first of all if you adjust to new technology and you are aware of what’s going on, you know. And so on.
But also, if you [audio drops out] in an honest way and make good music just because you love it and, you know, play it like you mean it. People will listen to you. People will pick it up, although it’s a lot of white noise out there and everything is a blur, and there’s overkill. You know I’m a dinosaur. I’ve done this for a million years, you know. So thank God I didn’t start out today. That would have been tricky. I would have to show my penis, just to get some quick attention. I’ll do anything! You know?
But yeah, I have a freak following. And they’re everywhere from Indonesia to America to, you know, I don’t know, to Brazil to Norway. And that’s great, because I’ve been doing it for such a long time. I usually say I’m like herpes. You know? I’m gone for a while, and then I come back, you know? That’s how it is. I never quite go away. You think you got rid of me? You did not. Dang!
A: Did growing up in Sweden, listening to primarily American instrumental rock music, was there an effect being in Sweden, being away from a lot of your influences geographically? And in a… I don’t know anything about the Swedish music scene or the music industry there. Could you describe what that was like for you and the kind of challenges or the ways it might have helped?
M: Yeah, I think it helped in many ways that first of all nobody lives in Sweden. We’re 9 million people in a pretty big European country. If you’ve seen it’s really wide stretched, you know. So there are some people who live in Gothenburg and some in Stockholm, which is the capital, but otherwise there’s nobody here. And that’s good. And it’s cold as heck, so you have to stay inside and practice on your Flying V . And that’s what I did! I looked like the Hunchback of Notre Dame after 10 hours of sitting like that. But I think it was good. And it was really super duper when you managed to get a hold a Guitar Player with a flexi-disc, remember those?
A: Oh yeah.
M: With uh, say a Steve Vai demo of a Carvin amplifier . You know, and you had that little song Blue Powder. And I would freak out, you know? There was a new Frank Zappa album, I remember when Jazz From Hell was released I was standing hours before the store actually opened, and so on…. So I think it really, really helped. There was no Internet, you know? People read magazines. So yeah, I think that being in Sweden helps and there’s lots of great Swedish bands you know, because we practice, we take it quite seriously and there’s nothing else to do. Chop wood! Chop wood and play sweep picking! That’s it! Stupido, sorry.
A: No, no, it’s perfectly fine. What are some of the other, um, like, do you know many musicians in Sweden? Do you know almost all of them as a result of being there?
M: Yeah, well I know many. But as my son said the other day, he said, “Dad,” and he’s 8 years old and we were quiet in the car and I was taking him to school and he just looked at me and said “Dad, you don’t really have any friends. You only have fans.”
And it’s like, “What do you mean? You’re my friend! And the band, and a few others.”
“Yeah, but they’re not really friends. That’s almost like family, you know? We don’t have any dinners with friends.”
“Yeah, well Dad is traveling a lot and when I’m home I want to be with you.”
You know? And so on… So uh, but Sweden is small but I never go clubbing. I never, ever, you know people have to drag me to other bands’ gigs and so on. But we are very much aware of who we are and we know one another but I never hang out. Never ever, because when you travel like crazy, say you visit 28 countries in one year, well… the first thing you do when you want to come home is not to go and watch some live act. I hope I don’t sound arrogant, but I’d rather you know, light a fire, glass of white wine, blu-ray movie, whatever, you know? And then I charge my batteries, and then I travel the planet again and spread my strange music.
A: How did you get hooked up with Panzerballett?
M: It’s a good question. I think there was some freaky Zappa-esque kind of festival in Germany where I did a guitar clinic and they performed before. And I thought “What a band! What a band!” You know? Amazing, amazing guys. But I think that Jan Zehrfeld actually wrote me, I can’t remember, but I said when I hear the stuff I adore it. I think they’re really really cool. And um, but I also said that, “Hey, you’ve got to work on a few things. You’re just too good to have this anonymous kind of lame jazz-smelling artwork. You need to build something.” You know?
I met him at the Frankfurt Messe , which is, it used to be this big trade show and everything. And we had coffee and I said, “This and this you do right musically, you’re just top notch and insane, and I love you! But this and this is utter shit, you know? Nobody understands what it’s about. You have to have some kind of, if not image, at least some output. Pictures of the band! A logo! A cool record cover! A video! I’d be happy to help out.”
Then a few records later we did this Ikea Trauma kind of thing. Which is, well that’s my Ace Frehley doll! It’s featured in the video! And when my mom actually forgot me at Ikea , and so therefore I don’t like Ikea. And I was a young man you know, and she was so into shopping, checked out and everything, and there I was alone. So, well, she figured out after a while that, “Hey, I’m missing little boy with penis. Where is he?” That’s a lot of penis talk now. I’ll shut up about this, sorry. So anyway, that’s it. I don’t remember how it actually started, but uh, I was invited to Jan’s wedding last year. I couldn’t go though, I was on tour though. But he’s a tip-top chap. A mad genius.
A: Absolutely. We spent probably 2 and a half hours together doing interviews for this website, and we’ve been emailing each other for quite some time. So I was quite pleased to be able to talk to him about this stuff. Tell me about how the impact of technology. You started 30 years ago or so, and things have changed over time. How has technology affected how you write music and how you recording it, and how you release it?
M: Not super duper much. Of course when we started out it was all tape machines and everything, and now you have… I’m looking at my studio outside, it’s a different house in my garden, and I have goodie goodie equipment there and of course I record digitally. But the process is kind of the same anyway. But I bless today’s technology if used in the right way, so to speak.
Of course, you know, I use the social media stuff as everybody else. But I try not to check it too much. I don’t want to live my life through it, I’m not going to post pictures of a family vacation in Greece, stuff like that, you know? But on the other hand it’s nice that I can sit in a hotel room after walking around in Kathmandu with my nice HD cam and so on, edit it, and throw it out on YouTube. That’s the beauty of it, you know?
But you always have to have something to say. If you have something to say with your music or whatever, you know, then it’s great. But I feel today that a lot of people have lost their cool. They post for the sake of posting. They share the most lame stuff, you know? Stuff that takes away all the magic of following an artist. I don’t want to see your living room. I don’t want to know this stuff. I don’t want to see your bad morning haircut. You have beautiful hair this morning, you washed yourself.
A: Thank you.
M: So stuff like that. You have to take it for what it is, as a wonderful tool. And it really is, you know? And I love editing video and making stupid stop-motion animation, and hey I’m gonna buy a new macro lens for my camera, whatever, and go really crazy and do strange LEGO animations and so on. Or put my son in front of the green screen, or my penis in front of the green screen. Sorry, there it went.
And that’s great, that’s amazing. But writing a song, I sit with usually my acoustic guitar or my 8 string guitar and noodle around, and then I start working with it. Even if I see the music in actual waveforms nowadays it’s still the same thing. Because you can cut and paste, you can edit like crazy but what I try to do as much as possible is learn something from start to finish. Of course you make mistakes, but the listener can tell if it’s all chopped up in a million punch-ins and so on. I like it a little dirty every once in a while, so yeah.
A: You sound a lot like Steve Vai and Frank Zappa in terms of maintaining control of your brand, your personal brand, and maintaining control of the business of your music. It sounds like you had kind of an awakening about 30 years ago in terms of the business. What does that look like? Is that a big part of your everyday life? Of is that just something that you’re very attuned to?
M: You know my music is kind of out there in many ways. But I remember when I did the first Freak Guitar album . I have done 3 solo records with just guitar music, and nobody believed in it, and I didn’t believe in it. I was really happy to have it released in between two Freak Kitchen records, which is vocal-oriented and so on. It’s a band thing and it has much more commercial potential. And it sold like, it was insane, you know? Southeast Asia picked it up, everybody loved it, and it was recorded in a bathroom on 8 channels, you know? And it generated a lot of money because the money returned to me.
So I bought myself a house. My wife was smart enough to say, “Hey, this is the time in life where you actually invest in something.” And so on, and so I did. So what I do is, I want to frame my life with good stuff. I want to have freedom. I don’t want to sit, spend my morning in a traffic jam and so on every day and be miserable. And so I try as much as possible to shape it up and make sure that I am not signing this piece of paper if I am not super duper aware of what it means in practice, you know. So that’s what I usually do.
I spend my days turning things down, and saying “no, no, no, thank you, no, thank you, that was very kind but no.” Because I want to maintain control and I want to make money from my music because, again, it’s a small planet and I’ve been doing this forever. So people are aware of it. And if it doesn’t, if I’m not super happening in Taiwan, well maybe Turkey is cool then, or Tunisia, or Brazil, you know?
So it’s always working somewhere. And there’s always a tour, or a gig, or a clinic, or a hoodie sold or a cap sold because I have a merchandise company as well and so on, you know with organic clothing. And sometimes it’s like “hey, do you want to write a guest column for some magazine, or do you want to do a guest lead here, or so on?” So money comes from different places, but the main thing is it returns to me and I have my own company.
But I try to, you know, in order to be creative you should not have to worry about bills, and “oh I have to do this” and so on, you know? So I try as much as possible to be independent, to invest in things. For instance, just building my studio it took me 3 years because I was doing it from the ground and paying along the way from just playing, meanwhile keeping the family afloat and happy and providing food on the table, you know? So it took me 2 years and 7 months but then it was paid for, and it’s mine! You know? No mortgages or whatever.
And that is also freedom. You don’t cave in, or sort of drown in bills and monthly expenses, you know? And again it comes back to being creative and free to do whatever I want, because it’s life! Every day counts! That’s really how it is. So the business side is boring and I find it super duper boring to do bookkeeping and invoicing, but it has to be done. And I try to sort of work really super duper intense for an hour, and then really shut it off no matter where I am, and then make music for five hours. So it has to have a balance, you know? Otherwise you will just, again, drown in it you know, so yeah.
A: It sounds like there’s no shortage of opportunity for you. How did you go from… was it primarily the first record from Freak Kitchen that made you a big enough name to generate that much work where you’re turning things down on a regular basis? Or has this just been a natural evolution over the last 30 years? What has that been like?
M: I think it, again, about growing your own moustache. For instance when I was joining Fate, the early, the Danish band, late ’89 when I was 19 and moved there, I immediately realized that is opportunity to show all my freaky teenage licks when we were doing a major company, you know, record release and everything. So I really grabbed the opportunity to show “this is what I can do!” Of course I overplayed and it was a complete guitar overkill. But the Japanese, they picked it up and they said “Oh this is great! This is a new guitar hero! Blah blah blah!”
So when I quit the band I went straight to the Japanese and I said “Hey! You really liked what I did on this previous record? I’m gonna put a band together where I will sing and play. How would you like to cough up some money?” At the time, that was very possible. You could get, you know, $15,000 in advance and that would finance the entire recording, and maybe a support band tour, and everything, you know? Because I did some mistakes when I was 16 and 17. We signed some, you know, whatever, Chicken Brain Records for 94 records and so on, in a row. And you signed it in blood.
And it took me forever to get rid of that. And I said “I don’t want to be the dumb musician, I want to actually be in control.” And in the early days of course I was starving like everybody else. It was really tough, you know. You didn’t have any money and you couldn’t pay any food. But I still kept on going. Instead of “Hey, I’ll play in a bar band.” You know, top 100 stuff. There’s nothing wrong with that, I don’t want to be arrogant. But it was not for me.
I spent weeks with my 4-track cassette kind of recording device and just recording new stuff all the time. And trying to, again, grow my own moustache. Dig myself up. I haven’t got a clue what the question was. But yes, thing are better and better looking back. It’s like, yeah, things are good. A lot of musicians, they complain their brains out all the time. “Oh, you can’t sell records.” No, but you can sell stuff on iTunes, and you can sell stuff here and there. “Oh, you can’t tour. Nobody will show up.” Well, you know if you… You have to adapt anyway. You cannot sit home and complain like “this is not at all like 1988!” You know? No it’s not! It’s a different time! But there’s money to be made, absolutely. And you’ve just got to go out there and grab it and find ways to do it.
A: Have you always had such a strong desire to be unique on your own, or did that come from influences?
M: I think it came from influences. I haven’t really… Again, doing stuff for the sake of doing it, say well “I just want to be strange for the sake of being.” Well that’s easy. You can set yourself on fire and [garbled] off your ass and record it, whatever, and you will get some likes. And then the next day you will smell funny and nobody will ever [garbled] you again, you know? Or whatever, you know. People are desperate for quick attention. The hard thing is to do something in the long run and do something that’s worth while.
Quick attention, that’s social media. People do anything. “Hey, take your car and drive over me please. And record it so we can get some likes! Kill me now! Kill me now! I want some attention!” You know, you’re not bigger than your latest post, which is a crock of shit. Of course, people are cool, you know? Leave them alone for a while. I go crazy when, again all my colleagues, they post their brains out. There’s this ooze of desperation out there. You know? “Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!” Or you don’t exist.
Well, I exist. I certainly don’t want to post every day. I post when I have something to say, or “Hey, there’s a gig,” or “Hey, look at my new record, and here’s a video.” I don’t want to post “Oh, here’s me! I have snot in my nose on the way to the tour bus. Woo hoo! Likes anyone?” Who gives a shit, you know? And again, it takes away the cool stuff. It takes away the magic.
Again, you think about that stuff when you listen to the music. So it kind of makes the music sort of transparent as well, you know? Leave it. Sometimes it’s good to shut the fuck up. Said I, suffering from verbal diarrhea.
A: Verbal Diarrhea is my favorite band, by the way. I just love them.
M: There is a band called Verbal Diarrhea? I didn’t even know.
A: No, I was joking.
M: [laughing] Okay, sorry.
A: Hey, so you’ve spoken a little about influences. You’ve mentioned a couple of names. Who are some of the musicians, or it were, that formed your musical identity and informed your sense of uniqueness and holding on to that?
M: Well, uh, it started with KISS . They had a major impact on my 6-7 year old Mattias Eklundh. Because it was blood and fire, and you know it was just big and amazing and dangerous. So that was great, I was really into KISS and I decided when Destroyer came out, and Alive! too, this is it! This is what I’m gonna do! But then Frank Zappa came along in ’81 and messed me up quite a bit.
Because I said, “I like this as well. Why do I like quintuplets and fire and explosions? Can you combine quintuplets with blood spitting?” And said “Yeah, I think you can! And I will try to do that!” So I actually got to meet Frank when I was 11 years old and it was great. I don’t think I really got it, but it was really… it was doing something to me. Then I started to pick it up even more a few years later, buying some albums.
Still liking KISS, and Iron Maiden , and Judas Priest . And then my brother-in-law he showed me, “Hey, check this guy out. His name is Django Reinhardt and he played with two fingers.” And for me it was “Wow! What a hardcore thing! This is great!” It was, you know, old gypsy jazz but I thought he could shred like crazy. And it was amazing, you know?
And then I discovered Mahavishnu Orchestra and I love that. So I started to get into odd time and all that stuff. My mom has always been interested in Indian music and my dad would play train records. Just sounds of old trains. On LP! So there would be Oscar Petersen , Ravi Shankar , Train , Sweet , [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice_Cooper], KISS, Iron Maiden, Miles Davis , Django Reinhardt, Slayer , all of it. So for me it’s pretty much good music or bad music. If you’ve got stuff to say, chances are quite good that I will like it if you play it like you mean it and so on. But of course Frank Zappa has been insanely influential on my Swedish self. Yeah.
A: What about song composition? When did you start writing music and how did it sound early on, and what has been the evolution of your songwriting?
M: Well, two of my really early hits… one was called Homework Rots My Mind, and the other one was simply called Go To Hell. We performed that when I was 9 or 10 years old, and my mom and dad had been to India and the uh… what the hell is that called? Incense do you call it? It smells a lot and some tiny smoke. We didn’t know what a smoke machine was, so we just duct taped together like a really big pack of incense in our classroom.
And I still have the recording of it. I played drums at that gig and after the first song you could hear some of my classmates saying “Could you get rid of the smoke? My eyes are running.” “Well we don’t have a smoke machine, so we need some smoke!” That classroom was never the same again. So yeah, you do what you do.
But I started to write songs very early on, 3-chord songs and 4-chord songs, and so on. Writing a song is always slippery. You never know really… a good song should be, I think you should be able to perform it on a banjo if that’s what it is. You know? I really don’t do a lot of growling. I’m still a lot into harmony. You can be aggressive, but then I like to actually hear what people are saying.
I like a good scream every once in a while, but I still work a lot with harmony and tonality and rhythm, and stuff like that. Then it’s a matter of dressing it up and arranging it, and producing it. And it’s tricky, but I love it. I love to make something out of nothing. That’s really the biggest kick. To walk into the studio with that strange cup of coffee and just “Oh, get behind the drumkit today? No, didn’t work? I’ll try the mandolin. No, it didn’t really generate any sparks.” Creative sparks, you know. Then I’ll sit with my 8 string and come up with something. And having a studio of your own is beautiful because of course you can just do something, right away. “Hey, I’ll do something today. I’ll write a song. I’ll record it. I’ll mix it! You know? And that’s great.”
A: I’ve heard you talk about boredom being a great source of inspiration. Can you talk about that?
M: Yeah. That’s Sweden for you. Sweden equals boredom. Nothing happens. Nobody is here. No, but I think it was somebody… there’s some video out there with a guy who shot, when I think I was asked during a clinic somewhere in Holland somebody asked “Do you have a special app that you practice to?” And I started to… there’s a slight fury inside there, because this is exactly what I do not like about today’s technology.
It’s because I make rock music. That’s really what it is. It’s a twisted version of AC/DC in a way, you know? And I plug in to my amplifier. I play very loud. I don’t like really racks of Line 6 stuff. I’m very very old school when it comes to that stuff. A lot of people think I have a lot of gear and effects. I do not. I plug straight into the amplifier and do everything with my passive volume pedal. No batteries or adapter. The rest are my fingers, you know?
What was the question again? I can’t remember… yes! Boredom! Boredom, boredom. Anyway, so I got this, “Do you have this practice routine, and have you heard about this app, and you can slow down, and you can do this, and…” And I just went crazy and said “There’s no bloody app for this! Spend 10 hours every day like me and give yourself the time, you know, and give yourself the opportunity to actually be good at something.”
Today everything is super fast, you know? Everything has to happen in a second, and if you’re not a top-notch player by the end of the week, you do something else! And everybody has a restless leg. I sit next to them in old planes, and just “Sit the f… still! Still! Be still! Breathe! Relax! Read a book! Spend an hour watching the clouds, you know?” But everything has to be “(gasp) Half way through the movie I’ll skip to another movie, or I’ll check the phone in the meanwhile. Oh, there’s no wifi on the plane? We’re fucked!”
So again, long walks in the Swedish woods with the dogs really helps. You know, I need it. I really need it to block things out. I never bring my phone when visiting nature. And living in the countryside is good as well. I was much more confused when I was living in the city. Not everybody of course can live in the countryside, that’s how it is. But for me, it’s importanté really to clean my head and cleanse my brain. So boredom is important, you know. Allow yourself to be bored. It’s tricky, but it’s good for you, and it’s good for creativity.
A: Are you a trained musician? Did you go to school ever in your career to study music or receive formal lessons in music theory, harmony?
M: Not at all! I’m a complete schmuck! I had a flute lesson when I was 10 and I hated it, and that’s it. I quit school, as I said before, when I was 16 and that’s it. And one day, one of my older sisters who, she was in big trouble years before that, but then she grew up and became a conductor. Which is obviously the way to do after sniffing super glue is to conduct an orchestra.
She walked in to me and she asked me to play an F major 7 chord. She was into some Stevie Wonder song, I think Sunshine Of Your Life . And I was shredding my brains out. I could sweep and swoop, and riff, and so on. But I didn’t know what an F major 7 chord was. And the most humiliating thing is when you are 15 – 16, and your older sister is moving your flying-V fingers around. You know, heavily distorted, and says “No no no, THIS is an F major 7.” No it’s like, FUCK YOU!!! So I just crawled away to the library and really just smashed all these books about musical theory and everything inside my head.
And really it was this eureka moment. It was really “I got it! I understand what is called a major 7, or a flat 7, or this is a Lydian scale. I can play the Lydian scale at warp speed, no problem! I just didn’t have a name. And if I don’t play the major 7, if I play a flat 7 and play the Lydian it’s called the Lydian dominant, also called the overtone scale, also used by Bela Bartok ,” and so on…
And that was a really cool thing! And if I put this dot here, that means it’s an F sharp. Great! So I educated myself all the way, and now I have since 18 years… this is the 18th year I have my Freak Guitar Camp where I sit on my guru chair, which is a bit higher than everyone else’s for ego boosting, and also they can see my playing, and so yes. And we have 70 players from all over the world every year. And I started to take registrations for this summer last weekend, there are a few spots left, and then it’s sold out again!
You know, and I’m really grateful. But I write so much music. Really, practicing stuff. There’s a lot of, I have this FreakGuitarTV YouTube channel , there’s a lot of stuff called Growing Your Own Moustache that’s leftover kind of camp stuff. But this is also, of course, put down in notation and tablature. We explore Indian tonality and Japanese tonality, and all kinds of rhythms and reduction structures, and how to write a good song, and they get to meet a lot of people from all over the place, and lots of other guests and everything that I fly.
Jan Zehreld has been there. Guthrie Govan and Bumblefoot , and Jonas Hellborg , and lots of Indians… it’s a tip-top thing, you know? And I’m honored to be able to do it. I cannot remember the question again, I’m just talking.
A: It was about being formally trained in any way.
M: Yes, yes. No, I’ve educated myself. That’s the answer.
A: Do you write out your music after you write it or as you’re writing it to remember the idea? Or is it you’re recording audio snippets here and there? How do you go about this?
M: Usually it’s just recording. Walking into the studio or recording it on whatever, the cell phone or whatever, really quickly. Then I have a right hand, he’s a former camper, he’s so fast when it comes to music notation. So sometimes it’s like, “can you? This is a complicated tune and I’ll explain what I want to do… “ And he’s like, writing an email. He’s that fast. “Can you do this for me? I’ll give money. Just do it!” You know? So sometimes you have entire song transcriptions and everything, and sometimes I do it myself as well, of course.
A: I’ve heard you use loops in some music, modified loops. I know that that’s played some kind of Carnatic rhythm type stuff going on in your music, and I’ve also seen you completely destroy the use of other things and turning them into musical elements. So do you get a sense of melody and that drives a song? Or do you start with chords, or do you start with a sound? Or what do you seem to favor and how does that lead to a song?
M: I think it’s different every time. Sometimes obviously it’s a hook, it’s a melody, it’s a riff… that has a melody, or it’s a cool riff from a cool rhythm. Sometimes it’s these unorthodox devices. You know, printers, and (clears throat) dildos, and combs, and hose clips, or whatever. But again, I find it very important not to, again, be weird for the sake of being weird, you know? All the stuff I use, it may be a chopstick or whatever, is because you can only get that sound from a plastic chopstick. It’s not because “Hey! I want to be super-duper special! I want to use a chopstick today. Woo hoo!” or I walk around looking for things to use.
It’s… almost everything is by mistake. And therefore I feel it’s much cooler, and I don’t know. You know, it works. The comb, for instance, I was alone in a Spanish hotel room and my luggage was somewhere else, no WiFi. 10 hours til sound check, and then you have this Air France survival kit, and everything, and I just started to comb the strings. And it was just, “This is great! I’ve never heard this before!” And so it has to have some kind of musical point. You know? Some kind of sound that you can only do.
Same thing with the dildo. It was a sort of “Hey! Hey! Funny birthday gift!” And of course “Hey! It’s got a motor inside! I’ll try it on the guitar!” And it was woo-hoo! You know? I used to do it in a very overkill kind of way. I used to have like 10 or 15 dildos strapped onto my Swedish body and the guitar would come down from the light rig, and I would rub myself, and with the dildos going at different speeds, and the audience would love it. But it became too much because I threw them out. So nevermind! But you have to have some kind of point. That’s what it’s all about.
A: The life of a musician is very different in reality than people think from looking at magazines. Was that something that you realized early on, and does that impact you in the way that you look at yourself as a musician?
M: Well, for me it’s that the travel can be quite harsh. And again when you… I’ve been all around the planet, you know. There was one year, I think 2 or 3 years ago, I visited every bloody continent. It was insane. It was just too much. I remember the last trip before Christmas I was, ah, did some performance in Germany, then I went to Abu Dhabi, and then I went to Australia for a week. Moved every week, you know? Different stages every week.. And then I went to Indonesia, played Jarkarta, Bandung, then I went to China, then I went to Nepal, did Live In Kathmandu, back to Dubai, and then back to Europe. And this was in two and a half weeks!
I was just dead meat. It took me a month to recover, you know? Different time zones every day. “Oh, we have to get up early, Mattias, to get the plane to Shanghai.” And so on, you know. It was madness. You sleep 3-4 hours a day, and you’re also supposed to be a superhero every time you walk on stage, you know? You do a 2 hour clinic or a beefy gig or whatever. And it’s tough. It’s really really tough. And people when you talk to them, “Oh great, so you’ve been to Australia! Did you see any kangaroos?” Yes, I did, from the cab to the hotel or from the air. So basically you spend your time in lobbies and airports, and you see that stuff that nobody wants to see.
So I have no real illusions about being a professional musician. On the other hand, it’s a great job because you get to travel the planet. You know, I’m honored that people actually show up and that I can provide my family a groovy life with doing just what I’m doing. So that’s great, but boy it’s tough. We just did a 4 gig Italian tour in November. And planning was great, logistics were fine and everything, everything was tip-top, it was an early flight from Gothenburg. But of course Lufthansa, which was the airline company, they were on a strike. So they said, “Oh there is no way we’re gonna get you to Milan in time.” And we met like 4 in the morning, and it was going to be a cool day with lots of sleep and catching up and so on.
It didn’t happen, of course. We got stuck in Dusseldorf and our backdrop was stolen, we barely reached the gig, and then for the next days we travelled like crazy. We’re 10 hours a day in the bus and no sleep whatsoever, you know. And then in Rome, while we were on stage in Rome, all the shit in Paris happened. You know, with the shootings and this terrible thing. And all of a sudden military came running and it was just madness all over the place. So you say to someone “Ah, we played Rome last Friday.”
“Oh great. Did you have an espresso macchiato? Take some time off? Did you watch the Coloseum?”
“Not really, no. I was sitting in a freezing backstage room while,” you know… So that’s how it is. Still, I don’t want to complain because this is what I choose to do and it’s great. But again I’m 46 and I’ve done it for such a long time. So we don’t want to do crappy things. It’s not super charming to always have a lack of sleep. And you age too fast in a way, you know. Overnight you get a really gray beard and “Oh good God, I look like a saddlebag. My face…” You know, some leather eyes, yes. But that’s okay,.. dead fish eyes. So it’s still okay, you know. I have seen more than people will do in a lifetime, I’ve seen in a year. From walking around in Calcutta or, hey! Live in Johannesburg, so I don’t want to change it, but it’s tough, of course.
A: You play guitar, you are a producer of bands, perhaps you even rent out your studio for people to record and you might help with engineering. How has your career expanded and evolved, and what does that look like for the future and the next 10 years for you?
M: I actually don’t rent my studio out because I built it like a 2 floor big playing ground, really. So there’s no walls to separate the drums. It’s just big, open space. And I love that to just be able to crawl over to the drums and so on. But yes, it’s a good questions because again I don’t want to tour to death. When people say “Can you come for 3 months to the states and tour?” “Haha! Are you kidding? 3 months away from the Swedish woods? Nope! We can come for two and a half weeks, that’s it. And you’ve got to pay us as well.” You know, so that’s really what it is.
So we do want to tour, but we’re all parents and we’re all middle-aged men. And in order to do good, you have to… Because I see a lot of miserable musician friends. They tour their brains out and all the money they earn, or even merchandise, it goes straight to some, I dunno, strange management account or whatever, and they return after 3 months on the road with no money. It’s not okay! They’ve been busting their asses, you know?
So um, but the thing is, we’re gonna launch this next month. It’s called No Bull Stuff or No B.S. Organic Clothing featuring the Freak Kitchen cow. I just today I have, damn I wish you could see, a beautiful hood we have again eco-clothing in India that we’re making because I have a connection with India. So that’s really cool. And it’s me and a friend who used to make the Freak Kitchen merchandise, so that’s a cool business and our wives will be involved as well, picking, you know, packing stuff and shipping it. So that’s great, and also doing something good for the planet because the clothing industry is, of course, complete caca as they say in France.
So that’s cool, and I’ve also, last year we did this lovely video called Freak Of The Week with Juanjo Guarnido and a team from Disney and a lovely Parisian studio as well. And we’re in 2014, there was a book about it. And this opened up the world of animation for me. I adore of course watching Disney and Pixar with my family, and all of a sudden a relative from very far away, called Ben Rush, called me one day and said “Hey, I’m working at Dreamworks and Juanjo Guarnido was here and showed your Freak Of The Week video, and I realized hey! That’s my distant cousin! We met when we were kids in Sweden!” And it’s like “Holy shit! I want to work together!”
And now we’ve begun, we’re gonna start this IndieGoGo campaign of financing his first movie on his own. He’s now with Pixar but he wants to make this indie film called Only A Dream , and I’m writing music for it. And that’s great as well. I’d love to take a year off and just write music for that.
But I’ve also begun doing stop-motion. I love stop-motion. It’s insane just doing these animations. And the other day there was this company, it was a friend of mine, a Freak Guitar Camper, but he has this company said “We would like five sort of, I don’t know, stir around a bit kind of videos because we want to put it on social media and create some attention. Can you make some?” Because I did a few short, I call it minimalist animation kind of videos. And it’s “I love this! Can you make 5 for me?” And he paid a lot of money and it was great! And it’s like “Sure! I’d love to! Just to see what I can do.”
So there I was, 25 frames or 24 in America per second, moving stuff around, and it turned out great. I loved it. And it’s lovely to sit down, because it’s so time consuming, in complete quiet. You know, and you do the most weird things with your body when you do stop-motion because you cannot screw it up. And I love that as well, and then I make music for it and that’s the beauty of today’s technology as well. And you throw it up on YouTube in full HD, 1080p. So yeah, it’s great. God I’m talking a lot. I’m sorry.
A: No, please don’t apologize.
A: The site is called Make Weird Music. You’ve talked about that you do KISS and Frank Zappa music kind of with a twist. Could you describe the twist for us and what that means to you?
M: I’ve always, again as I said, been trying to grow my own moustache. But I always want to sort of stay on the right side of weird, you know what I mean? I don’t want to alienate people. I don’t want to put people away. Obviously I want people to hear my stuff. But I also want to include things that you normally don’t do. Not for the sake of doing it, just because I’m interested in it.
If I travel to India, for instance, and I spend time in Chennai with just kids clapping hands. Listening to their, sort of, Carnatic rhythm structures it freaks me out! I said “Jesus Christ! I didn’t know this! This is excellent!” They could be 8 year old kids and they kick my ass so bad. They don’t give a shit if I know Dweezil Zappa or I hang out with the guys in Meshuggah . They don’t care, you know? And I’m amazed.
And I bring it back to Sweden and I try to incorporate it, again without making it so ‘out there’ that nobody would listen to it. It has to have a groove. I always go back before production and listen to Let There Be Rock with AC/DC and Over-Nite Sensation with Frank Zappa. And sometimes a little bit of Tom Petty , say Into The Great Wide Open , just good pop record. And say, “Why are these records so good? And how can I try to keep my cool and make good songs, but also incorporate all the elements that I’m interested in?”
Because Freak Kitchen is not like, say Panzerballett. They are wonderful, but they are insane. They’re just insane. I laugh my ass off every time. We don’t want to do that. We have a different audience, in a way. You know, we want people to… we have kids and girls and boys and whatever, you know. We can play a death metal festival, or we can plan an indie Brit pop kind of festival, and we still work. We don’t want to be too ‘out there’ because it has to be still a good song.
And of course Panzerballett, you know they make excellent music, you know what I mean. But Jan is really exploring the depths of madness and so on. But I always go back to this “Why is this Tom Petty song so good? I like this. I want this melody. I want something like this, but I also want to have an Indian reduction structure attached to it or a quintuplet.” So that’s what I do. But I never sit down and think about it in a kind of intentional kind of way. “Today I’m gonna write a song in 9/8 and then I’m going to use this raga.” I do not! I just sit in front of the fireplace with my acoustic guitar. You have a lovely acoustic guitar behind your head. And write music.
A: Oh I do, yeah.
M: Yes you do! And that’s how it is. It has to come natural, otherwise the song will be paper thin, you know? So yeah.
A: That’s wonderful. I love that description. Because I don’t want to convey the wrong side of weird. As much as I love Henry Cow , I’d love to make music that my wife doesn’t hate.
M: Yeah, true! Exactly. And the kids, they love it. The ultimate test is when you play stuff for 8 year old kids. Do they like it? If they like it, it’s good. You know, that’s really how it is. Do they get off on it in a way? So yeah.
A: That’s awesome. Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.
M: Thank you! Thank you! It’s been amazing. I’ll send you strange photo photo, and strange videos and all kinds of things. How does this work? Are you gonna put it live out there? Are you gonna transcribe? Or how are you gonna do it?
A: I transcribe every interview. I have video tracks for everyone. I edit the video, I put in quote highlights. So yeah, and I do custom art so if there’s a photo you’d like me to turn into a cartoon of you I can do that as well. But otherwise I’ll just find something and you can look at some of the other interviews on the site and see what I’ve done. You might get something out of it. We’ll see.
M: Very good. Well thanks a bunch. It was a pleasure.
A: Oh it’s my pleasure.
M: Let me know when it’s out there, and I will spread it like herpes we talked about.
A: Yeah, I really could use that.