After forming in 1999 as a Don Cherry recording project and taking their name from a track by the legendary trumpeter, Scandinavian garage jazz trio The Thing, Mats Gustafsson, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and Paal Nilssen-Love, soon established themselves as one of the most important European jazz groups of today.
Beside their own compositions, they play a wide range of energetic covers, from Albert Ayler to The Stooges, from Steve Lacy to PJ Harvey, collaborating with different artists (Joe McPhee, Pat Metheny, Neneh Cherry…). With dedicated fans in the rock, noise and jazz communities, The Thing continues walk the new, uncompromising paths. Finally, we get to see them at the Belgrade Jazz Festival, on October 28th (10:30pm) at Americana Hall of Belgrade Youth Center. Concert is supported by Royal Norwegian Embassy in Belgrade. Tickets available via EVENTIM service.
Photo: Petra Cvelbar
You have been performing with The Thing for 18 years now. Could you have imagined that you would stay together for this long?
Mats Gustafsson: No one knows ever what is going to happen not even tomorrow. I like it that way. The Thing was important for us at the start and still is. We started as a recording project, but quickly understood that there was more to it. It is still the same vibe! New shit going on at every gig. If our music would be on repeat, we would stop it all, for good.
One of the main qualities of your music is energy, alongside improvisation. How difficult is for you to maintain a balance between improvised parts and composition flow?
Mats Gustafsson: It is ALL connected. It all gives power to each other. Feeding each other. It needs to be that way in order to be interesting. We need friction in life. And in music. We need material to work with. In music. In life. And we need to improvise. That is how it all works.
How much is the saxophone important for jazz music? And how you decided that sax will be your instrument?
Mats Gustafsson: I think the sax has been a dominating instrument somehow, over the course of the jazz history. For good and bad reasons. I love the horn and the sound of it. But I dont expect anyone else to love it like i do. I heard Sonny Rollins play the tenor sax in 1980. live in my hometown Umeå. After that everything changed for me. No more football, no more rifle shooting. Just tenor sax playing!
Photo: Kim Hiorthøy
What can the audience at Belgrade Jazz Festival expect of The Thing performance?
Mats Gustafsson: We don’t know ourselves what to expect. You should never expect anything. Expectations are stupid. It can only go wrong. Ideally you come to our concerts with an open mind and open ears. And you go with the flow and let the music take you (somewhere!). Music is to be experienced live – in the moment it is being played. Expect nothing. Expect the unexpected. Expect nothing.
Please tell us more about (jazz) musicians who influenced you during your career?
Mats Gustafsson: Way too many to mention. I am a discaholic. I collect music for my archive. I can’t get enough. I need the sources of information AND inspiration close to me. IN my archive. To move on! And my focus shifts every day. Some musicians have had a huge impact on me over the years. And some to a lesser degree. But they all affect me – in one way or the other. I can only advice people to go and check different things out. Life is full of music that can change the path of what you are and want you want to be. Different kinds of music. We need variety and we need change. We need frictions. In music. In life.
But OK, please don’t miss out on the following artists. Just go with their flow and contents and life will be different and richer: Bunk Johnson, George Lewis, Napalm Death, Warne Marsh, Anna Högberg, Mette Rasmussen, Entombed, Giacinto Scelsi, Ty Segall, Oh Sees, Bengt Nordström, Helmut Lachenmann, Karen Dalton, Mauricio Kagel, Herman Sonny Blount, Terje Rypdal, Meshugah, 54 Nude honeys, Sofia Jernberg, Polly Bradfield, Frank Wright, Kauro Abe, Mototeru Takagi, Masayuki Takayanagi, Takao Haga, Refused and of course Duke Ellington and Lars Gullin.
What are your other ongoing projects, besides the thing with The Thing?
Mats Gustafsson: Many… way to many. But the new working groups THE END and ANGUISH – is kicking my mind brutally at the moment!!!
New things and old things have to happen parallel all the time. One thing feeds the other.
This year’s slogan of Belgrade Jazz Festival is “No limits”. How do you feel about limits in modern jazz music? Is it important that there aren’t any?
Mats Gustafsson: Well, it actually works the other way. We need limits in order to brake them apart. To fuck around with them. To change it all. We need limitations in order to find friction. And without frictions I loose interest for the music – or the art. If there were no limits there would be no life. No music.
But I totally agree of the idea of fucking the limits up! We will do our best!
Peace & Fire —— here is The Thing!!