June 21, 2024

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Interview with Mattias Malm։ At least in the Nordic countries, the blues is actually quite alive

Interview with Blues guitarist Mattias Malm. An interview by email in writing.

JazzBluesNews.com: – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music. How exactly did your adventure take off?When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?

Mattias Malm։ – I grew up in a farming town in the southern part of Sweden and I cannot say that I was surrounded by music. No-one in my family played an instrument, but my dad was very much into 50’s rock’n roll. So going from and to the village my dad always put on Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Carl Perkins etc in the car. My mum wasn’t too happy about loud rock music, but in the car we could crank the volume to the max.

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I know exactly where I heard blues music for the first time. I must have been about 12 years old and it was at the local cinema where they showed commercials before the movie (at that time commercials were forbidden in Sweden, except at the cinema). And there it came, the Levi’s commercial with Mannish Boy by Muddy Waters. It was not like any music I had ever heard before. Right after that I started buying all blues records I could find and I also got my first guitar. I played that guitar day and night and after only a few years I was good enough to join the local blues band. My dad had to drive me to the gigs since I wasn’t old enough to get a driver’s license.

JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound? 

MM: – Not knowing a great deal about blues and the blues history in the beginning, I started like many others to dig back in history. The impossible question about how the blues started and evolved allured me. The only thing that seemed to be certain was that the blues is afro-american music that emerged in Mississippi. But how, when and why were questions that I will probably never understand (it doesn’t make it easier that I am a white guy from the polar circle either)․

But why give up so easily! So I listened and tried to copy the old blues masters like Skip James, Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt etc.. Stowed away my electric guitar and started to play in an acoustic blues duo with Steve Grahn, Sweden.

Years later, by sheer coincidence, I saw a Lomax video of RL Burnside sitting out in the fields playing Jumper on the Line, recorded in the 1970’s. I was completely mesmerized by his power and rhythm. I had listened before to Burnside’s albums from the 1990’s on the Fat Possum label, but never really liked it. But this was the real deal. After listening to all the old recordings (there are not so many) I started to suspect that I was listening to a time capsule. The songs he played were at least from the first years of the 1900’s or even older. And the way he played them was most likely how he heard his parents / grandparents play them. What was even more striking is how he played them live.

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By the few videos that exist you can see how he hypnotizes the crowd by changing tempo and polyrhythmics while keeping the droning guitar riff. It was more like a seance than a music performance to be honest. To my ears, recorded blues have never sounded as close to its African origin as in these recordings, even though it was recorded decades after e.g. Robert Johnson (with the big reservation that I do not know how West African music sounded in the 1800’s).

Knowing that I could not duplicate the big master of droning blues, I still wanted to play the songs but in my way. But that would require an enormous amount of practice. The pandemic was a disaster for the world and for my gigs, but one benefit was that I could spend a lot of time rehearsing his songs over and over. So by mixing in influences from everything from Tony Joe White to Elmore James into the North Mississippi style- I believe that I have created my own sound.

JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?

MM: – Being an old rhythm guitarist, I have always been more into practicing rhythmic figures than speed and solos. And even more so now when digging into the North Mississippi style of blues.

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JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

MM: – In general, blues music is only about the soul. If there is no soul the only thing that is left in blues is the very simple frame work. Blues can truly be the most fantastic or the most boring music, depending on how it is performed.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?

MM: – I have always been a working man and never made a living out of music. It is extremely hard to do so, at least in Sweden. So that makes that part a bit easier for me. I play only what I feel like playing.

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?

MM: – At least in the Nordic countries, the blues is actually quite alive. In the town where I live there are blues jams every week with a lot of young musicians showing up. There is a blues club closeby in Copenhagen that has live music 365 days per year. The music style is by no means fading away in this part of the world

JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?

MM: – Maybe it is universal, but locally in Sweden I can feel a certain protectionism when the same bands are playing the same festivals and blues clubs over and over again.  It would be so much more fun for everyone, including the audience, if we could mix it up more. Exchange bands with other countries, expand the horizons.

JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?

MM: – I tend to listen to one artist at the time… Right now I am rediscovering Elmore James that is so much more than the slide lick on the 12th bar!

JBN: – Have you ever given a free concert during your entire concert career?

MM: – I have given quite a few free concerts during my life, mostly for charity.

JBN: – By editorial։ Since its inception in 2012, JazzBluesNews.com has become the leading Jazz and Blues platform in Europe, United States, Asia, Latin America, Australia, Nordic countries, Afro – Eurasia.

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Interview by Simon Sarg

Steve Grahn & Mattias Malm | FESTIVALPHOTO

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