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Morten Qvenild - "Music by instinct"

His music might be called jazz. It might as well be classified as pop or rock. Looking at the list of Morten Qvenind's favorite albums you'll find classical recordings like Glenn Gould's "Goldberg Variations" side by side with Radiohead's "Paranoid Android" or Wilco's "Spiders". The sometimes impetuous piano trio "In The Country" of the Norvegian musician could be mistaken as followers of E.S.T. In fact they are not.

Morten Qvenild

Qvenild has a past beside In the Country, worked with Jaga Jazzist and Solveig Slettahjell as well as with Susanna Wallumrød as the impersonification of her Magical Ochestra. In some way magical is also the sound of In The Country's current album "Sunset Sunrise" together with drummer Pål Hausken and bassist Roger Arntzen...

Carina Prange talked to Morten Qvenild for Jazzdimensions

Carina: On your website you write: "In the Country is the jazz outfit that seems impossible to decide to which musical world it belongs." Where do you feel rooted in music?

Morten: As mentioned on the website, it's difficult to put a tag of genre to In The Country, because we're inspired by so many different things, and we try to incorporate our personalities in the music rather than using a specific outlined genre as the basic musical building blocks.

I guess this is also a very positive thing about the Norwegian jazz scene, that we're not concerned with genres or conserving an old style of playing. When we recorded our album in LA, the producer just laughed when we said that our music was put in the "jazz department". To him our music was more rooted in singer songwriting and instrumental pop/rock.

We're mainly interested in inventions, and to be personal. This points us towards a music that's not easy to put in a certain cage.

Morten Qvenild

Carina: If all musical doors were open, how do you decide for one of them, as you cannot really go through several doors simultaneously?

Morten: I guess this is a matter of personal taste and the gut feeling you get when working with the music. Stravinskij once said: "Instinct is in-fallible. If it leads us astray, it is no longer instinct".

I believe in this quote. If I have my inspirations and my background as a starting point, there's already some doors being closed. There are lots of music that I aesthetically don't like. If I act instinctively on my inspirations and aesthetical background I believe that the music that comes out will represent who I am and tell the stories I want to tell through music.

Morten Qvenild

Carina: You are known for being "the orchestra" in Susanna and the Magical Orchestra and usually play a variety of keyboard instruments and electronics. For "Sunset Sunrise" you limited yourself to grand piano and electronics. Does that fit better for the trio? Or, in other words, is there a limit for personal experiments in the trio situation in regard to the other band members?

Morten: No limits! That's important, and I want the band members, including myself, to experiment. But the experimentation also needs to have limits. We decided together that this ensemble is for now at least an acoustically based ensemble.

And then we try to push the borders for what the traditional trio can sound like by adding some electronics and different playing styles. It will always taste acoustic, but I hope that there's also always will be a twist to it.

In The Country- "Sunset Sunrise"

Carina: Would you have believed ten years ago, that you'd found a piano trio one day?

Morten: (laughs) Actually, 2013 is In The Country's 10-year anniversary as a band, so I'll have to say: yes. And I love this setting!

There are just enough people to set up complex soundscapes, but still not too many voices, something that can possibly disturb the creative process. This year is hopefully going to be a party with lots of gigs and wonderful audiences. And champagne.

Carina: How did you meet Roger Arntzen and Pål Hausken? Is there something special about your musical communication on stage and in the studio?

Morten: We met in music school, and know each other very well now. We experience that our need to talk is less now than ten years ago, because we have played so many concerts and had so many rehearsals together. And we have eaten lots of food and made lots of hiking trips and running tours together too!

My experience when we play and stay a lot together is that we develop a certain sense of timing and direction in the music, and this is a truly great feeling to have on stage, and sets light to one of the really magical aspects of being a band that works closely together over a longer times span.

Carina: Do friendship and musical connection go hand in hand in your case?

Morten: Not necessarily, but I find it very inspiring when I share some of the same interests with my fellow musicians when we're touring: For me this is mainly running and good food and wine. It's a perfect combo, you get to see things and one can enjoy the nightlife with a clean conscience.

We often have just an hour to see the town we play in. The time is limited…The running also makes the job easier in terms of physical condition. When you're travelling long distances and playing every night, it really takes an effort to be 100% focused and mentally/physically fit to present at your best every concert. The runners were hard to find in the music world, but now I've convinced Pål, the drummer. Roger is coming up slowly...

Carina: You were on Rune Grammofon Records for several albums. Now you switched to ACT music. How did that go forward?

Morten: I worked with Siggi Loch and ACT when I was playing piano with Solveig Slettahjell Slomo Quintet. ACT released her albums, and I noticed the thorough job they did on every album, really getting the music out there and making the audience aware of this band. I liked their attitude.

Now, after ten years of touring and four albums on Rune, it felt right to go forward with a bigger record company that really knows the German music scene by heart, something which is very important to us.

I met Siggi again in April 2012, and I told him about this LA recording. When it was recorded I sent him the mixes and after a few days we agreed on working together. This kind of determination is also very rare in the record industry these days.

Morten Qvenild

Carina: As you certainly know, until the death of Esbjörn Svensson one of the most important piano trios was under contract with ACT music - E.S.T. Do you feel somewhere near or related to the music of E.S.T.?

Morten: I feel related to E.S.T in terms of being a band and a musician that tries to break the boundaries for what jazz and improvised music are, and at the same time trying to link up the philosophy of jazz to other musical expressions that is more "up to date", like for example the contemporary music and the pop music of our time.

I really feel that E.S.T were groundbreaking in this field, and that's a great inspiration. Musically I don't feel at the same way related. I had a very close relation to the "From Gagarins Point Of View" album, I loved that album, but after that I haven't been that close to their music. I guess I moved in a different direction.

Carina: Do you think it's possible that you might in a way follow in their footsteps some day?

Morten: E.S.T followed their musical vision, and now we follow ours. We're not trying to go in anyone's footsteps, we just try to be true to ourselves and make our music the way we like. It might be a similarity of instrumentation and the fondness for melodic material in the music but I don't think that the result is very similar or related in a very clear way.

I hope that we will continue to make good music, and that many people will be able to experience it live and through the records. Now it can even be experienced on a wonderful LP-production of the new album.

Carina: Feelings, emotional expressions how central are they for your music? Or do they even form the special ingredient in the music of In the Country? How are feeling, sound and movement related from your point of view?

Morten: For me music is a powerful emotional tool, but I'm not really sure why. I like to think of music as a secret language, a place for me to express myself and set myself in connection with other people in a very intimate and meaningful way. I get to say things to the audience that is difficult to express with words.

For example the tempo in our daily lives; I like to think of the band and myself as agents for slowing things down. We're often aiming at a slow pace and an expressivity in our music that calls for slowing down, focusing and taking a few minutes to digest what's heard in the music. And I also think that music is giving people an opportunity to getting in touch with their feelings more in depth than in the regular up-tempo life.

Morten Qvenild

Carina: Your participation in various band projects like Jaga Jazzist, Susanna and the Magical Orchestra, the Slow Motion Quintet and The National Bank is evidence of a large amount of creative energy and versatile musical orientation. Does each of these projects you are involved in stand for a certain way of musical expression?

Morten: I think that each project has a life of its own, and that in every band it's very important to listen to what's genuine about this band, this combination of people and the instruments. Then the band can start developing into an own way of musical expression.

With Solveig it was a combination of musicians with a big love for playing slowly, and this really affected the way we solved the different compositions. The music really got lots of friction from this.

In Jaga or National Bank it was more the urge to make big and catchy music that drove us, in National Bank we even said to ourselves that we were going to make stadium pop! even though we played for 1000 people or less...

But the keyword was important to the musical development, and I think that a band develop a sense of it's own aesthetics by playing and talking about what they like and where they want to go.

Carina: How do you describe in your own words what you want to express with In the Country? Which aspects of yourself come to show here the foremost?

Morten: Slow pace, maximalism, minimalism, nature, snow, lightness, moss, grass, wild animals, light, progressive rock, singer - songwriting, mountains euphoria, melancholia, earth, energy, distortions, beauty, darkness, melodies, vulnerability.

Carina: In what way does the music on "Sunrise Sunset" differ from the previous albums of the band and maybe from everything you did before?

Morten: I think that our music has grown steadily in terms of complexity and form the last 5-6 years. What used to be a five-minutes semi-melodic song with a fairly simple form is now an 8 minutes even more melodic song with more unexpected turns and bigger contrasts.

You can say that we're painting with a broader brush and with more colors now than when we started out. And also the sound of the album has to be mentioned. The fact that we decided to do the album in Sunset Sound studios in LA with maybe the best sound engineer working in the indie scene today, Ryan Freeland, also made a huge impact on the music.

The album sounds big, with a large depth, but also it's a very direct feeling to it. It's probably the most direct album I've ever made in terms of sound and the musical message coming out of it.

Carina: And why the title "Sunset Sunrise"?

Morten: For me the title says something about a cyclic movement, from light to dark, from hard to easy etc. We find these movements everywhere in our daily life and thoughts, and I find this fascinating.

Carina: Are there any plans or dreams about the band you'd like to speculate upon for us?

Morten: We would love to be able to play more in Europe. We've been playing a lot in Asia and the US, but we really feel that the European audiences is perfect for us. Our plan is that the collaboration with the wonderful ACT people will help us to spread our music so we can meet all the music lovers in their hometown club. The live shows is our biggest enjoyment and we love playing live!

Carina: In the press text we can read words like the "chromatic minor scale of the north" that could be discovered in your music as well. Could you please decipher that for us southerners?

Morten: This phrase is maybe reflecting upon another fact: that we seldom speak directly in the north. We use lots of indirect sentences and detours around the truth. Metaphors are widely used.

Presented on this way; the minor scale of the north, it's maybe a metaphor upon the feeling that the Norwegian jazz imposes, and maybe also the melancholia found in some of the Nordic music.

Carina: Do you have something like a philosophy for life?

Morten: Sunset. Sunrise.

Carina Prange

CD: In The Country- "Sunset Sunrise" (ACT Music ACT 9548-2)

In The Country im Internet: www.myspace.com/inthecountrytrio

ACT Music im Internet: www.actmusic.com

Fotos: Pressefotos (Jørn Stenersen)

© jazzdimensions 2013
erschienen: 24.5.2013
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