What lies between Norwegian jazz and Scandinavian folk?
You'd have to ask FatDog, whose adventurous debut, the aptly-titled New Found Land, treads on the territory between the group's two main influences, jazz and folk. But don't worry, you don't have to make the journey alone.
We talked with FatDog saxophonist Hallvard Godal about collaboration, work visas, and FatDog's unique sound. Tag along and follow the chat below, no waiver required.
Gabe Pollak: Can you tell us about the first time FatDog played together?
Hallvard Godal: I usually never remember dates, but I will never forget the day we met. It was 22 July 2011, the same day as the terror attack in Oslo. We'd just gotten the news about what was happening in Oslo when Fattigfolket (me, bassist Putte Johander and trumpeter Gunnar Halle) were supposed to play at the Classical Koster Chamber Music Festival in Sweden.
For some reason, there was a long delay, and we met Doggerland, who were supposed to play after us. We just sat down in a cabin and started to play together without any thoughts or ambitions. Doggerland taught us some of the traditional music from their repertoire, and it worked out well. So, when the concerts started later, we decided to play together. Afterwards, we thought that this could be done again someday...
GP: Definitely a thought worth holding onto! So FatDog went from cabin in the woods to New Found Land, the group's debut disc, which sounds like a whole new genre. Or at least a fresh blend of sounds. Had you been looking to go into a new style or did it just happen?
HG: We were not looking to go into anything in particular; it kind of just happened, much in the same way that other projects or groups I have started or been a part of. It has often been, 'hey, let's try and play something together one day and see what happens.'
I have almost never sat down first with an idea like, 'It would be nice to try and combine this kind of music or instruments with that kind of music and instruments, and then find the musicians, and then play together.'
GP: That would seem a little forced, wouldn't it? On the other hand, it might yield some interesting sounds. Have you ever tried purposefully mashing together two different styles to hear what they sound like together?
HG: I have now just started to work on my first solo project, inspired by different kinds of world music with my own background. This is the first time I have started by writing the music before having some particular musicians in mind.
GP: What musical instincts does each member of FatDog share?
HG: Openness, curiosity, and going with the flow without too many thoughts.
GP: Readers might not know that before FatDog, each of you worked on many other collaborative projects. Richard plays traditional English music and Anders plays local Swedish tunes, but these differences didn’t stop them from forming Doggerland, FatDog’s folky half. You and Putte play in the Riverboat Records group, Monoswezi, who combine some Western influences with traditional music from Mozambique and Zimbabwe. How did previous collaborations prepare you for FatDog?
HG: My experience from previous collaborations with all kinds of different musicians and styles of music is that it is not the instrument, style or background that are the main limits in getting a collaboration or band to work musically, but how you play and relate to music and playing together. I guess it is much like with people; sometimes you find out you have more in common with a person from the opposite side of the world than your neighbour next door. Usually it seems like collaborations like this work best when there are no very strong ideas of how the sound should be before we start to play.
GP: And anything that makes it difficult to work with musicians from many different backgrounds?
HG: By far all the office work, problems with visa and work permits!
FatDog are the musical torchbearers of a new found land – a mythical island in the North Sea, where musicians from Scandinavia and Britain meet to play and swap stories.
GP: Of course! Luckily, music can cross borders without a work permit. What similarities do you see between Norwegian jazz and English and Swedish folk?
HG: Swedish folk is related to Norwegian folk, and some part of the Norwegian jazz tradition has been inspired by Norwegian folk. There is some connection (between Norwegian jazz and Norwegian folk) melodically, harmonically, rhythmically, and in the use of traditional instruments. But English folk seems very different when I start to think about it; I really don’t know...
GP: Norway is famous for its innovative jazz scene, which is supported by generous grants from the Norwegian Arts Council and other arts foundations. These organizations tend to prefer the cutting edge over the conservative. How has playing within this climate affected your music?
HG: The Norwegian jazz scene has been very innovative, and generous funding and grants have helped a lot to make the music and bands visible on the international scene. When living and visiting different countries both in Europe and Africa, it seems to me there is a lot of innovation happening everywhere. But, unfortunately, not everyone has access to the same kind of funding to help to promote the music and to help bands tour. So it is very important that there is World Music Network, with your Battle of the Bands and everything. I have been listening to so much new music through that.
GP: Speaking more about Norwegian jazz, legendary Oslo-based saxophonist Jan Garbarek dabbled with World Music in the 1980s. What influence has he had on your music?
HG: Garbarek has been a huge inspiration, all the great music and collaborations. I've been listening to his collaboration with musicians from Pakistan on the album Ragas and Sagas lately. It is so nice! His sound is so strong it could go through a mountain! Personally, I am looking for something else in my saxophone sound, more an airy and woody character that I want to blend in with the other instruments.
GP: So Garbarek is a definite influence. What music were you listening to while recording New Found Land?
HG: I was listening to Anders, Patrick and Richard trying to adapt some of their playing. But also completely different music like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and some music from North Africa and the Middle East.
GP: I want to ask you a question about your solo in the middle of 'Polonäs Frän Sexdrega.' In a typical jazz context, this might be where you’d show off your chops, but within this setting, you hold back. How else did you adjust your playing to make the saxophone sound more like a folk instrument?
HG: These traditional songs are so strong, so (there is) not always the need to add or change it too much in this context. On the concerts we have played after we recorded the album, the music has developed further, and now we probably play more freely together and take more chances.
GP: What has been your favorite part about playing with FatDog?
HG: Getting to know so much new music, playing with Anders' hurdy gurdy, Richard's honest singing, and Patrik's beautiful clarinet. It is the first time I have been playing in a band with another reed player too. I have learned a lot from Patrik!