Mats Gustafsson: Share The Moment
AAJ: To change tack slightly, what have been the big turning points in your career over the last ten years or so?
MG: Yeah, meeting my wife. That would be the first and biggest step towards a more creative life. That is total 100% true. But when it comes to meeting with musicians or artists it's hard to pick out specific meetings. They all mean something and they kick you in different directions. They give you new perspectives on what you do in music, but also in life. It's extremely important for me to meet new people all the time. To start from scratch with people. Those two things, to have a couple of working groups that you can develop a long time, to deepen the music in a way that you can't reach in first collaborations, is extremely important. With The Thing, or with the works with Brötzmann or Barry Guy, those long running relationships, they still develop. So that's one thing. The other thing is to have those first meetings and to see where they take you. I need both. It is necessary. In the last ten years I have been meeting a lot of new people, not just in music but also in visual art and theater. I need those kicks in order to develop myself as a person and as a musician.
AAJ: It's interesting the dichotomy between long running groups and new meetings. Derek Bailey was renowned for always seeking out those new contexts which would provide stimulation as much as he possibly could. But you seem to get the best of both worlds...
MG: Yes for me it's completely necessary that you try new things out, that you dare to try, that you dare to fail.
AAJ: Is it easier to fail with new people?
MG: I think you can fail in any situation. if you want to play safe you should stay home. This thing of wanting to play with new people all the time is something I think I got from Derek. I was so fortunate to play with Derek very early on. The first time was in '88, when I was 23 or something. I've never been so nervous in my whole life. But it went pretty well. He was extremely kind and supportive his whole life towards me. I learned so much from him, not just in music but in the ways of thinking about music, meetings and interactions. If you hear the kind of collaborations he did over the years , he brought his music into new situations. He would never compromise, no matter whether he worked with a Japanese noise group or a DJ or a jazz band, it was always Derek Bailey that came out. And it works or it doesn't work. But funnily enough with all his collaborations, I can't think of one that didn't work. I really like those unlikely pairings, playing with gospel or DJs that on the paper, so to speak, it shouldn't work, but it really does because he is just adding his voice to the situation. In a way that's what I'm trying to do as well. I'm not interested in playing behind someone or riffing. I'm not good at that. Someone else can do that.
A Personalized Sound
AAJ: You have a very personalized sound, whether on baritone or tenor, what did it take to develop that sound? Did you take lessons? Did you find things through practice?
MG: That was also something I got from Derek really early: to develop your own sound, your own techniques. It was a struggle, but for me it was a pretty interesting journey because I never went into the music conservatories. I'm totally uneducated with music, and I think for me that was a help because I had to explore not just basic techniques but all the extended techniques on my own. You hear something on a concert or on a record-I'm a pretty bad discaholic-so collecting records and listening to records has always been a very big part of what I'm doing. And I got so much inspiration for finding new techniques. For me it was a lot of work figuring out stuff and that really taught me a lot.
For me one of the keys to develop your language is to control your mistakes. That seems to be a strategy that still works [laughs]. I love practicing and something happens when you practice. A noise shows up, an unwanted sound and you think, "Oh what was that?" And then you try to find it again because it appeared once and in theory you should be able to find it again. Then when you can control the mistake, you can alternate the mistake with the other techniques, with fingerings or the way you blow. So that's been the strategy from day one and I like that analogy that I'm dealing with my mistakes.
AAJ: Did you ever ask people to show you how they got particular techniques or sounds?
MG: No. I spent some time with [saxophonist] Evan Parker when I was young. I went to London to see him, but that was more like talking about Coltrane and African music, not much saxophone technique. It was more of a social visit and him talking about essential stuff. I always wanted to find out things on my own, and that's what I try to teach the pupils I have. Whatever I say they shouldn't care. They should just find out for themselves. That's the only truth there is, the truth you find out on your own. Your teacher can tell you stuff but you shouldn't just swallow the bait, you have to find out for yourself. I think that's a good way to develop your own language yourself. Because teaching music, teaching art is a very complex thing, very difficult. You can see that it went the wrong way in many schools around the world where teachers just wanted pupils to produce instead of create. So I'm very happy that major influences on me, people like Derek, Barry, Evan, Lovens, they showed me the doors. They didn't open them for me, but they showed me where the doors were located and I'm very grateful for that.
AAJ: When you play in concert, you move around a lot. Do you do that when practicing as well?
MG: I don't jump around like I do on stage. But the movement is partly because my ex-wife is a choreographer and dancer and I worked a lot with dance over the years. That collaboration with dance went on a pretty interesting level where I picked up unconsciously a lot of ways of moving and dealing with your body and that just became part of my language. So a phrase can start with a movement and then the sound comes after a while or vice versa. So moving for me is part of the music. When I practice it's not the same tension, but I can't really stand still when I practice either [laughs]. But it helps the flow and the energy for me and it would be very hard to stand still. It's a very interesting experience to sit down when I play. I think the only situation when I do that is with the Barry Guy New Orchestra, and I sit because Evan is sitting and I would feel embarrassed to stand up next to maestro Parker. It's OK, but it's very hard because I am jumping around on the chair. It amuses Evan quite a lot, but I try to sit.
This whole thing with dance is really interesting. I split up with my ex-wife six years ago and after that I haven't worked with any dancers or choreographers, because she was just simply so great and so good, so I haven't really found anyone that I found interesting to collaborate with. And I just came back two days ago from Italy, where I was working with an Italian dance company, doing free improvised action with them, in Puglia in southern Italy, and it was amazing to have that meeting with an art form for the first time in six years. And also have the experience of losing all sense of time and just being there and interacting. They were extremely good, this dance company called Vergilio Sieni, based in Florence, and I worked with a couple of the dancers there. There was no talk about what to do or how long or short. It was outdoors in a huge olive tree field, completely beautiful, like a dream. And just going in totally blank and just interacting. I don't know if it was because it is so long since I've worked with dance, but it was just fantastic to share the moment in that way.