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Progressive Rock Interviews

Pontus H.W. Gunve

Interviewed by Larry Toering

Interview with Pontus Gunve from 2013

MSJ:

Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music?

The history of this project began about eight to nine years ago. I had graduated from NYU in music technology, had just left my current rock band I had been part of for three years. I needed an outlet for my creative side in music, and spent the next few years locked in my house composing all kinds of music. I spent late nights experimenting with guitar riffs, sound design elements, electronic music, percussion riffs and fine-tuning my sound. I would also develop videos to go along with my music. Eventually I would release Great Wall of Sound – completely recorded and produced in my apartment in Jersey City, a mix of different styles and experiments. Great Wall of Sound was released in 2006. This was also when I started toying with the idea of performing these pieces in a live setting. I knew that what I really wanted to do would be really complex for my budget – trying to score a ten-piece to play at the local NYC bar / clubs would be tricky. I knew I wanted to replicate part of the media experience of bigger live shows and began crafting a live show that included video, and that would be possible to perform at smaller clubs and bars. My first gig was at Bar Sputnik in Brooklyn – the concept was simple, basically just me and my guitar while having video projected behind me. I kept developing this for about a year – and released Movements in 2008 – this time bigger production, but still all produced in my apartment. It was from here that I decided to make this a band project. I first decided to use a five piece – two guitars, bass, drums, and tabla. It was a little later that I also switched one of the guitars to a cello player – which pretty much is the band I have now.  

MSJ:

If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?

Would love to be a chef. . . I worked in a restaurant kitchen when I was a teenager (mostly peeling potatoes!), and would really enjoy doing creative food in a restaurant. I always try to find time in the week and at least cook one thing – or get the grill up.

MSJ:

Besides Jean Michael Jarre, who would you see as your musical influences?

There are many  Basically my first impression of a musical event that I can remember is seeing Jean Michel Jarre’s large scale events across the globe. Watching Live in Houston (1986) on TV had a huge impact on me. I was at this time really big into Star Wars and there was something about his music and performances that felt really extraterrestrial – sort of out of this world. That really grabbed me.

The second moment of musical epiphany was seeing and hearing “Thunderstruck” (AC/DC) I basically decided right then that I needed to play the electric guitar. There was something about that instrument that was way more expressive than the electronic keyboards I had been noodling with before. AC/DC was my gateway into heavier stuff: Iron Maiden – Metallica – Megadeth – Slayer – Sepultura – Entombed. I sort of stopped there – never got into the satanic metal. But yeah, AC/DC lead me to Entombed.

My interest in electronic music (like Boards of Canada / Chris Clark etc.) only came a few years ago. And my progressive introduction was sort of through Tool in some ways (even though I was listening to Meshuggah for a bit)  I didn’t get into Pink Floyd until a lot later in life. I also went through a heavy classical period – and was really into Philip Glass’ work for a while.  

MSJ:

Your songs run together very well on the new release, but they also play very well as separate pieces. Was that intentional, or did it just turn out that way?

The pieces are written separately but always with the idea in mind to put it together into one album.  I wrote a boatload of songs before picking these eleven tracks that I felt fit the album. I wanted to have the intro and first two tracks be quite cohesive – and I also wanted to leave the listener with a conclusion, an ending of sorts. I personally like albums that tell a story – that take you on a journey of sorts.

MSJ:

Can you explain what The Observer is about, in title and concept?

The Observer came from the concept of being both a musician and an observer - as in taking influences from many styles of music – without necessarily being a specific type of band or musician. I didn’t feel like I wrote a rock album or a fusion album; rather, I went to tons of musical concerts of different events and observed and absorbed the style.

It also is part of the compositional style I feel like I do. I often take images, experiences, videos, and write about that in some way. I observe events, experiences and put that into music.

MSJ:

How did the idea of fusing Indian themes with death metal, complex percussion and other sounds come up?

I have been specifically drawn to the complexity and expressive nature of the Tabla as a percussive instrument. There is so much you can do with the tone and quality of it and I feel it really brings a rush and an energy to the music. It sort of sits with everything and gives it a different life. If the drums (kick drum) is the heart beat – the Tabla is the blood rushing through the veins – speeding through the whole body giving life to all parts of the piece.

I’ve always been intrigued by many different styles of music, but heavier music always gets me up – gets me going.

MSJ:

What's ahead for you?

I have a live show at Sullivan Hall on May 31st  in New York City. Then planning a smaller tour on the North East Coast in the summer. And hopefully keep writing more music this summer.
MSJ:

Do you see yourself going in the same musical direction on future recording projects?

I will most likely evolve this direction I took on this album for the next. I'm hoping to get a solid month this summer where I can write. Usually I go through a creative phase and just write as much as I can - see what works - tweak, play it out live and assemble an album from that.

MSJ:

Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?

Many. Radiohead would be a cool band to open up for. But I love Tool concerts - their music is so powerful alongside their visual components. It's like a metal / heavier version of a Pink Floyd concert.
MSJ:

Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?

That’s a tricky one. I feel like some are digital hoarders out there – people who feel the need to just own a lot of mp3s (or other digital material). You know the guy that tells you he has a one terabyte hard drive with music. And you’ll think to yourself, “do you really appreciate or listen to even 5% of that music at all?”. But in the end you want people to listen to your music – you want someone to take the time to sit down and listen to it. I guess that most of the illegal downloading is for bigger acts. The key thing in it all is that if you want good music, then you are going to have to pay for it. Otherwise you’ll end up with people who simply can’t dedicate time and money into music.

MSJ:

In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?

I have no problem with fans recording my music live. I want my music to be heard and experienced. If you are at my show and you really like it - please feel free to record it / video and trade it with friends

MSJ:

If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?

It would be Hendrix, Steve Vai, Robert Moog, Bonham, Zakir Hussain, Philip Glass and Frank Zappa perhaps – that would be one wild combo. Zappa would be needed to glue this ensemble together, and who knows what would come out of it. . . pretty cerebral, I guess.

MSJ:

What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?

Ghost (I guess they are really called “Ghost BC””) Infestissumam, Mastodon - The Hunter. And still waiting for the new Tool album. . . When is it coming out?

MSJ:

What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?

Been to two New York Philharmonic concerts this year. It’s really something to be honest. I’ve seen my share of rock shows in my days (and love it of course), but when you see/hear a symphony live it grabs you. Every single musician on that stage is an absolute expert on their instrument, playing pieces that have stood the test of time. .

MSJ: .Do you have a musical "guilty pleasure?"

Guitar solos (what — a guitarist saying that?). I usually don't write music with a guitar solo in mind - but sure love them and love playing them. I remember there was a stigma against lead guitarists - especially after the flashy 80s. I never stopped loving a solid guitar solo – man, lead guitarists are like the trumpet players in jazz bands, there’s this piercing, sharp, pointy and edgy rawness to both instruments. I never got the trumpet with a mute – let the thing sing.

MSJ:

What's the live music scene like, in and around New York City these days?

New York has a lot to offer. The trick is to find your place in this giant jungle. But the longer you stay here the smaller it gets in some ways. I don’t know if I’ll ever be part of some scene or anything like that. I feel mostly on my own in my music, trying to find my place in some ways. It’s a big place with tons to offer and it’s sometimes easy to get lost in that. My favorite is to play random places and pick up fans from that – when they least expect it. I’m not a very boastful person or have a very big personality. I play and write music purely for the love of music,. I never know if my music will be anything, but keep myself as honest as I can, and just write what I feel and experience. I’ve also experimented a lot with instrumentation and styles so have really developed over time. But I like New York. It has given me an opportunity to connect to the most amazing musicians from all over. That is really what New York has to offer.

MSJ:

What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?

I guess years back when I used to play heavy rock / death metal and I took on a one man gig to play music at a senior center in my small town in Sweden. I brought my Peavey Predator and my small Peavey amp and played music while they had coffee break. Pretty sure half of my audience would have rather been outside enjoying a bit of sun than hearing me butcher the Beatles and Rolling Stones (which I thought would be right up their alley, but not really).
MSJ:

Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?

I would actually like to take this time to thank all who have made this possible. Even though it’s my name on the disc and it’s my project, this would not have been possible without so many great people around me. My wife who has put up with me for all these years – going to gigs, hearing the same music over and over again, all the weekends I’ve spent editing, writing, the random guitar and equipment purchases, and all other help. My band that recorded this – and musicians who have played with me over the years and inspired me: thank you, amazing job. Tom and Alex and Spaceman Studios (where we recorded drums). Rocky Gallo (Virtue and Vice) where we recorded strings and mixed this album. Adrian Morgan – who mastered the album. And finally all my family, friends, fans, who have come out to my shows, given me support and stuck with me for the last couple of years. . . Thank you.

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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