In August 2016, we did a lengthy interview with Morgan Ågren and he mentioned a couple new releases to be released later in the year. Well, it’s December 2016 and the releases are–well, released. I thought it’d be cool to hear Morgan himself tell us about the new CDs:
Special thanks to Morgan for chatting with us again.
Interview Audio (Podcast)
(NOTE: hitting the “play” button requires a hefty download of the entire audio file!).
Or, download an mp3 .
AG: Hi, this is Anthony with MakeWeirdMusic.com and I have with me today, all the way from Sweden, Morgan Ågren. Morgan, thank you so much for joining. I really appreciate it.
MA: Well, it’s my pleasure. I saw some other people that you have online here, so it’s my pleasure.
AG: So you have two new releases out and I thought it’d be cool to hear in your own words what they are and what they mean to you. So, go ahead!
MA: Yeah! Actually, two albums happened just very recently and neither of these albums were really planned as a regular release. One of them is this one [holds up the CD], which is called Through the Eyes of a Morgchestra and it features the music that we performed with the symphony orchestra two months ago. I started to compose for this project a year ago, like in October 2015.
While doing that, in order to be able to do music for the symphony orchestra, I needed to have sounds to allow me to hear how it could possibly sound later. So, I installed good string plugins and bassoons and all the orchestra. Then slowly I started to try to build up the music and 6 months later, without having even thought about it, I just realized one day when I went through the material, “Hmm, this sounds like an album.” When I realized that, I started to work on the music so it would be good for release.
At that moment it was almost good enough for release, but I did some more changes. I replaced some programmed clarinet, bassoon, and stuff with real bassoons, clarinets, violins, upright bass, and some other instruments replaced by real musicians who came to my studio. I wanted to give that extra push to everything. In one way, it’s the best work I’ve done in my life, I think.
It’s quite different from what Mats and I do regularly or my own stuff. When I composed for this, I had to think about the fact that it’s an orchestra that will perform it. It’s a bit different because the sound from an orchestra is fantastic. Even when they tune, you have this incredible sound. Then there are some limits rhythmically speaking. You don’t want to do anything too complicated, rhythmically speaking. That’s one thing to think about.
I added my strings in Pro Tools and then I started to fool around with clarinet. Simple sounds, like standard clarinet sounds, and then the music came out. I didn’t really know that I would be able to end up with material because this is not the typical way for me to compose. I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.
AG: That’s great! Through the Eyes of a Morgchestra is available now through BandCamp and through your website, right?
You should purchase Through the Eyes of a Morgchestra via BandCamp.
MA: Yeah, there are hard copies to get through my home page and I have a box ready for Steven at Cuneiform Records . He will sell them and make them available through Wayside Music . And sometime in late January, it’s going to be out on all the iTunes, Spotify, and stuff. I also gave up the good and bad thoughts about streaming. Finally I just–well, never mind. I’m going to put everything there, finally. I don’t know if that’s good or not. It’s probably good beacuse people are going to be able to hear it and people don’t buy that many CDs, but some still are. This is a separate discussion for, like, a 2 hour discussion on streaming or not. I decided to use it. It’s going to be there in the end of January.
AG: Excellent. And then you have a second release, the 35th Anniversary Collection.
MA: Yeah, this is the anniversary collection [holds up the CD]. This was very natural for me to put together because I realized last year that next year is going to be 35 years that me and Mats have played together. Then we wanted to plan some cool things to do because of that fact that we’ve been playing together for 35 years. So, we had only a couple weeks ago, we had two concerts in Stockholm in this old, super-nice theater.
Usually, we used to play at the local jazz club called Fasching . We played there for 25 years and it’s easy and it works. I would just call them and then we’d play. You know, 330 people maximum, so usually we’d set up and play and it’s super nice. But this time, having an anniversary, we wanted to have a little more like a celebration edge to it. So, I got in contact with this theater and we had two dates there.
Then I started to try to put together a “best of” collection. That took quite some time, actually, because it was not easy. There is quite a lot to choose from and you have to use this “kill your darlings” thing. There’s stuff you maybe want to have, but it’s only 77 minutes per disc. It’s a double CD, but it was still really hard to pick. After finding which songs to use and after putting them in a nice order, it’s like a new album. Track number 1 fits well with track 2 and there might be 10 years between them as to when we recorded them. Now I think it’s like a new album.
I spent time with a really expensive guy doing remastering. He got me a really nice deal and I think that now it’s a 6-page digipak and a 60-page booklet. Super good and remastered. I would say that this is the only Mats/Morgan album you need. If you want only one album, this will be pretty much everything you need.
You should also purchase Mats/Morgan 35th Anniversary Collection via BandCamp.
AG: That’s really, really cool. When does that come out?
MA: The physical copies are all ready. They’re available on my homepage. I’m going to send Steven at Wayside some copies, too. That one is also going to be available on iTunes and Spotify and stuff in January. I should also take the opportunity to thank Steven at Cuneiform because all the releases have 5-year contracts and a bunch of the tracks that I really wanted to have on this collection–I printed both of these myself, so I needed to ask him permission to use different songs on the album. He was fine with that, so I’m happy because of that. Now it’s really good, I think, and it has some nice pictures inside. I had to go through a lot of hard disks to find photos and stuff.
AG: That’s excellent. How was the Morgchestra show? We talked last time and it was shortly before the shows, so we wanted to wait and talk again. So, how did it go?
MA: I was very happy. It’s a mixed feeling because when I came to the rehearsal hall the first day, I heard the orchestra rehearsing my music even before I got to the stage. I was leaving my bags and stuff behind the stage and while doing that I heard my chords played by them and that’s a really unreal feeling. It’s huge and it’s fantastic and all that. At the same time, it’s scary because you want this to be–it must be good. I would prefer it to be perfect, but it must be good enough for me.
Somebody decided that we were going to get this request, it costs money, there are lots of people involved and it’s a big thing. Very few people get this kind of request at all, so it’s not something that you take lightly. It has to be good. Even a year before when I started to compose it, I thought, “This has to be good.” Everything has to be good in order for it to be worth it for the people who asked us and in order for us to feel that we can do this.
There are limits, rhythmically and there’s a rock band with an orchestra, so it can be loud and all these possible problems that can happen. But, I think I would definitely say that the orchestra in Umea called Norrlandsoperan is a very good orchestra. The conductor told me that he works with tons of orchestras and this is one of the top 3 that he’s worked with. The median age is quite young. So, the typical 60-year-old Mozart-only guy won’t want to do anything other than Mozart wasn’t there. There were maybe a few, I don’t know, but it was a very positive vibe with happy faces.
The volume wasn’t as big an issue as a month before when we were in Germany. Mats and I went to Germany to do a separate project with the orchestra in Leipzig . That was different because then you can feel that as soon as they saw the little Marshall combo and the drums, it was like they put their fingers in their ears. But, this was really good here.
But then there is three short rehearsals and there’s always very few hours to rehearse and there’s tons of music. Also one thing that I noticed was that I know this music in my sleep because I spent so much time with it. But, when we started to rehearse, everything sounded different. My own computer versions I know, but the real thing with all those sounds that were supposed to give me cues to the next part weren’t there any longer. So, suddently I was feeling unsure where we were in certain parts of the songs.
The timing is different and there is always the conductor “thing.” You have a conductor and there’s always a delay with “one.” [Conducts in the air.] The delay is incredible sometimes. The orchestra is used to that. They just play. For me, I played exactly on the one, but the orchestra played with a delay. There is a balance. You might have some patterns you’re supposed to play with a tuba guy fifty feet away and you can’t hear each other really. All those kinds of things. It was better than I dared to hope for, I think. It was really good.
AG: That’s excellent. So, for anyone who is just getting exposed to that, the Morgchestra CD is a recording of you and musicians in your studio and your computer. But, the show was a live representation of that music and more, right?
MA: Yeah, it’s the same exact compositions in form and themes and everything, but performed by a full-sized symphony orchestra.
AG: And I imagine you recorded it and, hopefully, will release it at some point.
MA: Yeah, that was another thing. When I decided to release the pre-production, I thought, “It doesn’t really matter if we end up having a good recording of the live thing. We can release that later because it’s going to be different with a full orchestra.” So, yeah, I did record it. That also required some telephone calls because this was performed during the jazz festival in Umea and Swedish radio was there to record most of the stuff that happened during the festival. Then there is always this big radio bus outside the festival house that records everything and there’s no way they’d give you a hard drive.
If you know some people, though, you can always try to have a split cable and record your own audio files on your own hard drive. Then there is a different situation. But, yeah, so I have 64 tracks and I have everything on video. At this moment, I don’t dare to listen to it because I want to keep the memory alive. I worked so much the last couple of months I don’t have the energy to even go into it yet. But, I will open it up next year, for sure.
AG: That’s excellent. Man, congratulations Morgan. That’s really fantastic.
MA: Tom Trapp was a super nice conductor who also was the arranger. We did another project this year with this symphony orchestra. It was a George Duke tribute. So, same symphony orchestra and then a big band, me and some other guys. Byron Miller on bass (George Duke’s old bass player), me and Mats and some other guys. Then for this George Duke project, it was also the same conductor and we liked him.
After the first coffee break at the first rehearsal, I said to Mats, “This guy is easy to follow.” He plays guitar also. He goes down to his rehearsal space and puts the Marshall amp on 10 and he plays. Not every conductor does that, you know? He has a little bit of both sides, both worlds. So it was a great decision to involve him on this, I think. He did stuff with the Metropole Orkest in Holland. He did some stuff with Adrian Belew , Steve Vai, Mike Keneally, Todd Rundgren , and people like that . And George Duke, by the way.
AG: Oh, that’s cool. Did you capture the 35th Anniversary shows?
MA: Same thing. Yes, I did. So, there were a couple of cameras and 36 channels recorded. Same thing there. I’m going to open that up sometime early next year. It was great, because the 35th anniversary concerts were so nice. In the 1990s we were a quintet, so we had a different bass player, keyboard player, and guitar player than now. We haven’t played together in quite some time, but I called them up and asked them if they wanted to join for this anniversary thing. They did!
So, the quartet that started about 3 years ago kicked off the show and we played for an hour and a half or something, then the keyboard player and bass player left the stage and then I brought in the three other guys from the quintet. We played some old stuff, like three or four songs and then at the end, all of us played together. Then we had another guest that no one in the US knows, I think, but he’s a famous stand-up comedian, super super weird guy, Peter Wahlbeck . He did a couple of projects that Music Für Alle.
AG: What does that mean?
MA: “Music for everyone” in German, I think. He did some cool things, super underground. We performed two songs with him at the end. All seven of us plus him and again, this really nice theater. People came from a long way. I had people from France and Germany that came to see us. My first teacher from school, who is now 92 years old, she was in the audience. She came there in a wheelchair. Parents from people in the band, my parents. It was a really, really nice thing.
AG: That’s excellent. Cool! Well, thank you so much for your time and for the update. I really appreciate it. I think there’s some really cool information here. I’ll make sure to get the links and stuff and your promo stuff out on Make Weird Music. Cool, thank you Morgan!
MA: Thank you!