Friday, November 2, 2012

interview #3 - anders nilsson

The Mr. Becos interview series continues with Anders Nilsson, a Swedish guitar master and greencard lottery winner living in NYC. Anders' new solo guitar album is available here. You can watch a video from the album here.

Mr. Becos: So you won the lottery to become an American citizen and shortly thereafter you had sudden and serious heart problems. Were the two events related?

Nilsson: Your memory is almost right mister....In 2003 I was a lucky winner in the green card lottery, giving me the right to live and work in the US on a permanent basis. Should I stay out of the country for more than a year at a time I waive that right. Interestingly, when you apply in the lottery they don't ask you why you want to live in the States, only for your country of citizenship, home address, age and a passport photo. I'm not an American citizen and haven't taken the steps to become one. In the process of getting my green card there were several documents one needed to present from the homeland; criminal record, financial situation etc, and a health report. Included in that last one was a lung check. I guess they want to ensure nobody enters with tuberculosis.... I always felt fine and had never had any known problems with my lungs or respiration but a spot the size of a ping pong ball was detected in my left lung during an x-ray check. Upon trying to analyze it the doctor says he isn't sure what it could be but it looks like a tumor and must be taken out in order for him to state I'm healthy. So it was removed and I stayed in the hospital for 2 weeks, dealing with the healing and the pain. The tumor was benign, but left undetected it could potentially have caused me serious harm in the future, should it turn bad. I now have about 85% lung capacity and it doesn't feel any different, except I get fewer colds. So I'm a lucky winner alright! 

Mr. Becos: Why, in your opinion, do Scandinavians play such great metal? This sounds like a joke, but I seriously want to know.

Nilsson: Good question....I don't know what the consensus is, or what he truth is, about the origins of metal. It is probably unanswerable. The history books and folklore might have interesting things to say about it. When I was growing up in Sweden and starting listening to various types of metal bands in the mid 80's, the national scene seemed to be pretty strong, there were already a lot of bands playing it I believe. I was too young to go to shows but the National Radio was airing both well-known and unknown bands at the time. I really wish that still would be a common occurrence for uncommercial music there, here and everwhere else.... So metal has been part of the culture stream, although narrowly accepted for a long time. Of course it had more of a taboo and dangerous, threatening counter-culture character in the beginning like so many other fresh art forms and styles, in its customs of presentation etc. The most well-known and exposed band in the 80's were American and British. I guess the old "imperialists'" always took charge and marketed/advertised the hell out of whatever they thought could sell. So Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer, Megadeth, even WASP were the most popular bands over there, purely based on exposure in the media. The Swedes are much less aggressive about presenting what it's sitting on and I don't quite know how the Nordic region has earned the status of metal mecca. The Swedes don't really govern their own heritage, when it comes to the domestic folk music for example - it's largely treated as cobweb-covered museum pieces, like antiques. When I was studying at the Malmö Academy of Music back home we learned about it in class, but the general public has very little awareness and understanding of this tradition. Perhaps metal could be seen as folk music; people gather 'round to play music in the homes, garages etc and the music tends to speak to the youth, and be impossible for the elders to ignore. Through longevity it has become a cultural facet that won't be ignored.
It's easy to bring up superficial cliches such as the lack of sunlight during half the year as an inspiration to go make energizing, dark music often singing about pagan-era concerns but I don't know.....    

Mr. Becos: You played a good deal with the great and extremely under-rated drummer/improviser Tom Bruno, who you might call a "free thinker". In light of his recent passing is there any esoteric Bruno knowledge that you think should be passed along to all of us?

Nilsson: I met Tom Bruno through Matt Heyner about 10 years ago. Matt took me to play with him at their usual spot - the subway. Tom's thing down there was way out for a lot of people walking by, some dug it. We were improvising freely and not concerned with pleasing anybody by playing familiar things. Sometimes Sabir Mateen would join us on horns, the band TEST (Tom, Matt, Sabir & Daniel Carter) often played down there before I knew them. From about 2003-2005 it tended to be just Tom and I, once or twice a week. He would roll a small drum set through the subway mazes. We would barely make any money, but I thoroughly enjoyed making music with him in that setting. I learned to project a lot better playing with him. He was all about doing whatever you wanna do and be free, and having fun while doing just that, an artist. Be a free person, and remind others to feel free! His playing has its own unique character and there's no way I can describe it in words really, perhaps only as humane. Certainly, he made me feel encouraged to do the same, my way. We also used to get together uptown at the Hint House to play, and there we would sit around and talk about stuff more. You're right, he was extremely underrated, even though he used to play with jazz names long ago - Sonny Simmons for one. Tom kept saying he's looking to play totally free, play how you feel, if you're in a funk, play that, if you're happy, play that. He told me a lot of stories and was quite the charmer a lot of the time. He liked saying "merry and bright" which is a quote from his (I believe) favorite writer Henry Miller. He was mostly cheerful, always kind and no bs. and he got a lot of feeling out of playing. My favorite quote being: "If it ain't fun, fuck it."

Mr. Becos: You just put out a solo guitar album, which is pretty creepy. How did you creep yourself up in preparation?

Nilsson: Thanks for listening to the album! I named it "Night Guitar" as the common thread and mood of the pieces on it suggest nocturnal vibes, at least to me. I think the polar relationship between pliable opposite characteristics such as; slow-fast, active-passive, organized-chaotic etc. is used pretty clearly on this particular album. The pieces were realized using overdubbed electric guitar parts with a compositional scheme in mind during a few long days and nights in the studio. The tranquility, feelings, and clear vision of ones own mind and soul at night are powerful ingredients in life that I find inspiring as a human being, and a good starting point for solo music. To me, the music has a tension that holds up throughout the album, and the narrative-like tune structures come from watching a lot of film noir, reading "pulp" fiction and living in this crazy, beautiful world right now. I'm pleased you find it creepy.... I've always found myself attracted to harmonic dissonance. Stark contrasts, sudden, unexpected eruptions of distorted jabs rubbing against a basically tranquil, thoughtful mood speaks to me. It's released on the Soundatone label

Mr. Becos: I probably have my facts wrong. Again. But I seem to remember a story about you getting separated from your band mates in Angelblood on the freezing streets of Paris with no money, not knowing the way home and not speaking French. How did you survive?

Nilsson: Dear Mr. Becos, where do you get your questions from? Ha ha! It's fascinating how the mind can and sometimes will fill in exaggerated fabrications of distant memories. I'm not 100% sure I'm not distorting the truth myself but this is what I remember; the episode you are talking about took place in Paris in 2004 or 2005. Angelblood had just played a show at a lovely place in Poitiers, France and had taken the train back to Paris where we spent the final night before flying out the morning after. It is true that I don't speak French and it might have been chilly. In any case, the band members were all invited to a fancy art opening that night; a big party at some nice-looking place with a lot of well-dressed art connoisseurs. Somehow Matt Heyner and I were separated from the other band members who might have had more of an interest getting ahead, and in, to enjoy themselves. By the time the two of us got to the entrance there were "security" staff questioning who we were and where we were going. We weren't trusted, nor let in, and so we got a little pissed off at the establishment and the forerunners in our band. Instead we tried to get in through an alternative way, and somehow ended up walking up some stairs to an apartment building, knocking on a door where there was a party going on, perhaps this is part of it we thought. Turned out it was a private little dinner party of nice french people, and we found ourselves basically invited to stay for dinner! However, we went back to the main entrance and I forget how but we did get in eventually. Later that night all the band members and a related child slept on the floor of a tiny apartment, I fell asleep instantly.