Interview with Lalle Larsson in January 2009 - Frank Zappaīs Swedish stepson

Do you want to to make the acquaintance of a musician who represents versatility like no other after the tragical death of Frank Zappa? So letīs make a trip to Sweden to meet Mr. Larsson - he likes to play jazz, classical music, heavy metal etc. and every style sounds absolutely authentic. You think that is impossible ... give Lalleīs music a try, assure yourself of his abilities and be prepared for "Mission Possible"!

ragazzi: "Listening to your music makes me think that you fell in a singing bowl full of magic potion as a baby. Whatīs your composing secret?"

Lalle: "I'm happy that you don't think that my music sounds as if I fell into a large bowl of shit! (laughs) Thank you! No, I have no composing secrets I'm afraid. Apart from all the studies and practising, and most of all listening to a lot of different music ... apart from that, I suppose the only secret would be that I am trying to be myself as much as possible in everything I do. And I think that I'm getting better at it with age. I always get so inspired by people who show their uniqueness, even the ones who doesn't really resonate with my own emotions or way of seeing things. As long as they are authentic I find them fresh and exciting. I want to hear their story, see their fingerprints, not an imitation of a successful style or trend, or way of singing, or whatever. Unfortunately it's hard to make a living doing your own stuff these days so I understand why it's easier to follow a concept that is already successful. There have been times in my life when I haven't been true to myself, tried to fit in, both in music and in life, but it doesn't work for me. It eats me up from the inside, until I lose my soul. There really is no option for me than to do my thing."

ragazzi: "By the way which instruments do you actually play?"

Lalle: "Apart from the piano, which is my main instrument, I play the guitar, sing and play drums.
As a kid I studied the drums for several years and played in a couple of rock and metal bands, but at that time it was more about twirling drum sticks and smoking cigarettes than anything else. When we were in the rehearsal room me and my buddies would pretend that we were rockstars and put fire crackers in beer bottles. Then we would turn up the volume, play a song, and I would hide behind the cymbals while the glass shattered. *laughs* Now I mostly play piano and guitar, these days there are no cymbals to protect me."

ragazzi: "Which way did your musical career start?"

Lalle: "I started playing the piano at a very early age since I grew up in a musical family. After my short junior high school career as a metal drummer, I got my first paid gig as a pianist when I was fifteen years old, comping a Swedish female schlager/country singer. After that I began getting more gigs as a piano player, and when I was 16-17 years old I toured around Sweden and Denmark with a rhythm & blues band. At seventeen I went to the european American Institute Of Music in Vienna, I stayed there for two years and I was offered a teaching job right after graduation. During these two years I met people like Todd Duane (Electrocution 250) Milan Polak (J.A.M) and Phi Yaan Zek. Me and Todd recorded the track Schizoid for Mike Varney's Guitar On The Edge compilation CD in 1992, which later led to the Electrocution 250 album. At the time we were supposed to have done an album on Shrapnel Records, but that never happened. When I got back to Sweden in 1993 I formed my first jazz-rock band Ominox. I paid for some studio time and Mike Varney wanted to release our recording on his US label - Legato Records. But unfortunately his label went bust right before the CD was done, so that never happened either. No labels in Sweden were interested at the time, so I was pretty much left on my own with this thing. It was the beginning of the 90's and Grunge music was popular. I spent the next few years practising, composing and worked as a hired musician around my hometown, and that's pretty much where it all started."

ragazzi: "Does your perception change when you are composing; do you hear music in your head, do you see colors in your inner eye or something like that?"

Lalle: "The process of composing is always different to me. Sometimes I hear the melodies, chords and the sounds of the instrumentation in my head before I sit down with the instrument. But most of the time it comes to me while playing. I've always been an improviser and improvising to me is like sped up composition, when you are improvising you are composing on the spot. I record myself quite a lot, even my practise sessions, so I find a lot of melodies, themes, ideas from these improv sessions. Improvisation and composition is a very spiritual thing to me so it's hard to explain where all the ideas really come from. Sometimes a song can come out in 10 minutes and other times it's a long birth process. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with a melody in my head that I have to record right away. When I have unfinished work or a composition in my head I suffer from insomnia and this leads to bad eating habits, not feeling hunger and so on ... so it can really fuck up my life sometimes ha,ha,ha! I'm not intellectual when it comes to music. I have studied books about modern composition and twelve tone techniques, taught music theory and stuff like that, but in practice that has only worked for me as a means of finding new sounds that can convey and resonate with a feeling I already have inside. Music to me is totally an emotional thing, universal and simple ... I'm not a mathematical musician or any kind of musical snob at all."

ragazzi: "Are there different things coming to your mind when you play different musical styles like classical music, rock or jazz?"

Lalle: "I don't really see music so much as being different styles, but more as being different emotions. Just as in life we are not one-dimensional humanbeings, I believe that we are all good, bad, attractive, ugly, sexy, unsexy, calm, wild, tough, tender, peaceful, angry, all that stuff is within us, we just have to try and balance it the best we can. When I play some romantic music like Chopin the music resonates with my feelings of sadness and melancholy in the same way that a metal song might evoke some other emotion in me. Putting a label on music have so much to do with image and instrumentation anyway, it's needed only if you want to be able to sell it as a product. As far as I know Stravinsky didn't wear leather pants, but if he would have orchestrated for electric guitars, bass and double bass-drums, his music could be sold under the metal label. To me it's all about trying to feel the energy of the song you are playing, labels doesn't interest me."

ragazzi: ""Seven deadly pieces" is an acoustical gem in my opinion, sounding really unique; how did you come up with the idea to combine two seemingly contradicting musical worlds - classical music and heavy metal?"

Lalle: "Thank you! As I said before I really don't see these musical worlds as so different. I've been listening to classical music and heavy metal most of my life so it's a natural sound to me."

ragazzi: "Do you compensate the lack of musical interplay when you are playing solo apart from your left and right hand interplay?"

Lalle: "Yes, I think that you naturally treat solo-playing a bit different from ensemble playing. As a soloist, especially on an instrument such as the piano, you have the possibility to play bass, chords and melody or at least some sort of counterpoint to make the music sound full, but it's very hard and I'm very self critical. I feel that I have to play a lot of solo piano and play a wide repertoire for a while in order to be a really good soloist. It also depends on the tune, what I feel that I can do with the piece emotionally. I have to really love the song that I'm playing for it to be any good. For a short period of time I did do some gigs as a solo pianist, both as a bar-pianist as well as playing in different churches. Then I had a good repertoire and I was in shape for that sort of thing. Haven't done that in a while. I do have plans to do a solo piano album in the future though, I have material for a full lenght album, just have to be satisfied with the arrangements for it all to be special."

ragazzi: "Letīs talk about some your projects; first there is your solo piano project. You released an album called "State Of Mind". Some of your compositions are sounding very abstract; especially "Ants" reminds me on the works for player piano by Conlon Nancarrow."

Lalle: "Yes. I am surprised that you know about that album. The magic of the internet I suppose. The State Of Mind album is actually only a promo-CD, printed in a limited edition to be given away as a bonus CD or to be sold at gigs. I paid for all this myself. It is not really an official release. I recorded that in a day or two at a friends place, mostly first takes. You are right about the Nancarrow influence, I am also paying tribute to Art Tatum on there. As I said before, I plan to record a solo album on a real label sometime in the future. Play on a proper grand piano in a good studio, playing more universal piano music, both covers and original material."

ragazzi: "Next is Electrocution 250, an avant-garde metal thing similar to Spastic Ink or The Fractured Dimension."

Lalle: "Yeah, Electrocution 250 is really a continuation of the cartoon shred demos I did with Todd Duane in the early nineties. We were influenced by Todd's spectacular virtuoso cassette demos from 1991-1992. Around that time we were offered a deal with Shrapnel Records but for some reason that never happened. Almost ten years later we were offered another deal with Swedish label WAR music who paid me to go to the States and record with Todd in year 2000. Peter Wildoer recorded his drums over here in Sweden. But with our usual luck WAR music went bankrupt so we were on our own again. We had all the tapes but we had no label. We sent out this CD to some of the biggest labels of this kind of music, but noone showed any interest whatsoever. We were really lucky that my old buddy Matt Williams had just started the small UK label Liquid Note Records and decided to release E-250. Luckily it turned out to be quite successful for an underground album like this and it was licenced by Marquee/Avalon in Japan."

ragazzi: "Will there be another Electrocution 250 album; I like this kind of music very much."

Lalle: "I'm glad you like it. If a label would show interest and if there would be some sort of budget involved then it might be possible. We have talked about it, but I don't is what it is and I'm happy with just one E-250 album."

ragazzi: "How about the Richard Hallebeek Project?"

Lalle: "Yeah, that was another LNR project. At the time the idea was to bring in some of the hottest jazz-rock musicians in Europe and also have some guest artists on there. We each wrote three tunes for that album, me Richard and drummer Sebastiaan Cornelissen, the music was more in the traditional fusion genre I suppose. We then brought in Brett Garsed and Shawn Lane as guest soloists. Tragically it became, as far as I know, Shawn's last recording before he died only 40 years old. He had been sick for quite some time. It was a real honor to be on an album with him, but unfortunaly he was in really bad shape at the time. I went to Holland to record all the backing tracks live, the guitars were overdubbed later. It was a fun recording. Richard and Sebastiaan are both close friends of mine."

ragazzi:"Not to forget Timeline."

Lalle: "That was a project I did with my friend Sebastiaan Cornelissen again. We had talked about doing a trio album and write half of the material each. Gary Willis was our first choice of bass-player for this album, and we were really happy that he wanted to do it. Unfortunately the label Munich Records didn't do anything for this album, so apart from some good reviews, it kinda got lost."

ragazzi: "Several times the release of your DVD was announced but nothing seemed to happen - whatīs the story behind this "never ending" story?"

Lalle: "Oh, man ... well, to make a longer story long ... Right from the beginning this project has been nothing but trouble (laughs). I actually wrote most of the music for the Seven Deadly Pieces already back in 1997, over 80 pages of handwritten music. That same year I organized a recording of this with some local musicians including Peter Wildoer and Christofer Malmström from Darkane. I was in my early twenties at the time so I didn't have much money, but I managed save up for a couple of days in the studio. Unfortunately, due to limited finances, I had to compromise too much. In the end I wasn't able to use that recording, it simply wasn't good enough. All the money was wasted. Five years later I was asked to do a concert at the Culture Center in Hellsingborg where I live. They finally gave me a budget so that I could pay all the musicians. I added a lot of stuff to the existing Seven Deadly Pieces score and made it into a 192 page score.
We could only afford two rehearsals with everyone so it was quite stressful. During this time I lost about 22 pounds and I also got lumbago so my back really hurt. Thankfully the concert was a big success and it was also videofilmed with several cameras. The first year or so we finished all the concert footage for the DVD, it then took us about five years to finish a documentary that basically covers fifteen years of my music. During this time I applied every year for both STIM scholarships and I tried to get support from the swedish art-council Konstnärsnämnden but they all completely ignored me. I had to save up some more money to be able to pay for the artwork. I was lucky to find the amazing Jakob Tuchten who really gave so much of his time and passion to this project. He made the seven beautiful illustrations and the 32 page booklet plus the whole package. During all this time we have had computer problems, personal breakdowns, you name it ... I also had to wait for people because everyone involved worked for free and they had their own lives of course. I really can't thank the people enough, the key collaborators have been Per Christoffersson, Johan Larsson, Andreas Ejnarsson and Jacob Tuchten. They have all done an amazing job making this project a reality. The last year or so we have spent making the DVD even better, with more extra material and bonus stuff from my personal archives. Filling the DVD with almost 4 hours of material. Over the years I have talked to a couple of labels who were interested in the DVD, but in the end they didn't want to pay anything. So I finally decided to pay for it myself and I plan to licence it to other labels. There is more interest in a finished product I guess. I'm lucky to own my own apartment so I decided to take a loan on my apartment and pay for the DVD myself. It was supposed to have been released in November 2008, and we had everything done, the artwork and the master DVD. We even announced it in a trailer on youtube. But then all hell broke loose ... We basically just wanted to add a little extra clip before it was sent away to the pressing plant. Then the computer problems started and it took us several weeks to burn out a working master. Everytime we had burnt a new one we had to look through almost 4 hours of material. This happened about fifteen times. We almost went crazy. It was just me and editor Per Christoffersson doing all this. In the meantime the pressing plant were supposed to work on printing the artwork. I had pre-orders coming in since I was so sure that we would have the DVD end of November/beginning of December so I had already posted the order page. After a few weeks we finally managed to burn a working DVD and we sent it off to the plant. Now the plant said that they had problems with the artwork files, the colour procentage, which I later found out is a very common problem that the pressing plant should have known about. That took weeks for them to solve. So here we are thinking that everything is alright, and we are just waiting for the delivery date. Now the plant say that it will take another three weeks, I don't know what the fuck they are doing. Then a week later they say that they haven't received any master DVD at all. I told them that I had already sent them the package a month ago. Even mailed him about it then. According to them it must have been lost in the post, that had never happened before. I don't know what to believe. So we had to burn another DVD and send it to them. Oh, man...isn't music wonderful ha,ha,ha! But it worked out in the end, I actually received the DVD's this morning and it looks great!! So I'm proud and happy about it after all."

ragazzi: "Are there plans to perform "Seven Deadly Pieces" live?"

Lalle: "No, I don't think so. If the opportunity will arise then it's not impossible. Then again, a project like this is too expensive to get on the road. 15 musicians, equipment, rehearsals and everything. There is not enough interest from people or organizers to put money into a project like this. Plus I have newer music for a five piece band that I'm planning to tour with. Seven Deadly Pieces I wrote over 10 years ago."

ragazzi: "Where can music fans buy your CDs and the DVD?"

Lalle: "All the Liquid Note Record CD's should be available at most of the major internet CD stores as well as downloads on I-Tunes and so on. There will be links on my website on where to buy the DVD."

ragazzi: "What projects are you currently working on?"

Lalle: "I have just finished all the backings to my next album called Lalle Larsson's Weaveworld.
Jonas Reingold (Flower Kings, Karmakanic) has already recorded some bass, and more musicians will follow. I suppose that you can describe the music as some sort of symphonic progressive jazz-metal. It's the best stuff I've written so far so I'm excited about it. I'm looking for a good label to release it later this year. The plans are to tour with this band as well."

ragazzi: "Do you plan your musical future in a special way?"

Lalle: "Yes, I have a very clear vision in my head. I already have material for five albums that I will record in the next couple of years. I'm building a catalogue. Since I'm transcribing all my compositions into written music I also plan to release one score book for every album. It's really just a question of economy. It starts with the Seven Deadly Pieces DVD this year. I have just edited the 192 page score to that, and I had Jacob Tuchten do the artwork, so it will be printed in a limited edition to be sold via the website and at gigs. I am also looking for a manager, booking agent and a record label that would be interested in working with me and help me to release my music. If anyone who is reading this would be interested please mail"

ragazzi: "Is there a musical (or another) dream you have for the future?"

Lalle: "Well, like I said before, I hope to be able to release at least one album a year on a good label, under my own name, and tour with it. I would enjoy doing more clinics and meet inspiring students from all over the world also, teaching is something I really enjoy doing. I also hope to move away from Sweden sometime in the future, I have never really felt at home over here."

Frank Bender