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Progressive Rock Interviews

THEO

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Jim Alfredson of THEO from 2015
MSJ:

Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music – both individually and as a band?

I've been playing music since about the age of six. My father earned his living as a local musician and wrote over 1,500 songs but he never recorded professionally and switched to tuning pianos in the early 1980s to support his ever-growing family (I am number four of seven children). He never lost his love of music, and there were instruments everywhere in our tiny, two bedroom house out in the country. Pianos, organs, drums, guitars, woodwinds, synthesizers, microphones, recording gear, you name it. It was a great house for a creative musically inclined kid like myself to grow up in. 

I started playing in clubs at the age of 16, which is also when I discovered my love of the Hammond organ. I sang in high school and college choirs. I joined a local blues band called “Root Doctor” in 1999 after studying Electrical Engineering in college, but not graduating. I stayed with them for ten years and made three albums with them. I formed my Hammond jazz trio organissimo in 2000 and we're still together, putting out albums every two years or so. After leaving Root Doctor in 2009, I joined the Janiva Magness band in 2010 and toured across the US and overseas for four years. I left that band at the end of 2014 and now I'm focusing on THEO, organissimo, my new jazz group Dirty Fingers, and other musical projects while supporting my family as a local piano technician as well. Like father, like son.

MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
Something with my hands, like woodworking and something with my mind like writing novels
MSJ: How did the name of the group originate?
My middle name is Theodore. I wanted a name that was easy to pronounce, unlike organissimo. I also like the dichotomy between the Greek origin of "theos,” meaning “gods” and the German "theud", meaning “folk”
MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?
Too many to list but the major ones are Tony Banks of Genesis, Jimmy Smith the great jazz organist, Stevie Wonder, Pink Floyd, Dave Brubeck, Peter Gabriel, Ravel, Vangelis, and the Beatles. That's the very short list.
MSJ: What's ahead for you?
In the immediate future, a new organissimo album is in the works and I want to do another project with Dirty Fingers. I hope to tour more with organissimo and perhaps some other artists in the blues world including one of my blues heroes Curtis Salgado. I also hope to do some festivals and shows with my friend Greg Nagy. I produced and engineered his latest album Stranded, as well as played keys, sang, and wrote some songs for it.
MSJ: I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
I think there are a lot of paths yet undiscovered within certain directions of music. What I mean by that is that the emphasis for much of the latter part of the 20th century musically was on constantly pushing the boundaries and coming up with completely new directions. That's a great thing to do but when the focus is continually on innovation, sometimes certain branches are cut off before they fully flourish. I think this is true in the organ jazz category for sure and it's something I've been trying to do with organissimo since its inception; to explore that format and expand on what was left behind. The same thing is true of the classic era of progressive rock. It seems like in the 80s, everyone abandoned ship and yet there is still a lot of territory to uncover there! So I wouldn't necessarily call myself an innovator but rather a refiner.
MSJ: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play in the future?
I would love to sit and talk with Peter Gabriel sometime. Playing with him would be amazing but I'd be happy just to pick his brain.


I love playing with any musician who is serious about their craft yet retains a good sense of humor about everything.

MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
Unfortunately it doesn't matter whether it helps or hinders because it cannot be stopped. So all we can do as creators of content is to find ways to use it to our advantage and/or find ways to go around it. Crowdfunding is one way to circumvent the loss of money from illegal filesharing. And it works very well if you respect the process and the supporters.
MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
I don't have any issue with that at all.
MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
If I had been asked this as a young man, I could have listed a thousand names. Now that I am older I don't waste any time disliking other musicians or artists. There is plenty of stuff out there that is not my taste but there is so much else that is, it seems silly to waste time thinking about the stuff I don't like. And really, as long as people are creating that's a good thing, right?
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?
Because I play live so much and am so busy in other areas, I don't have enough time to catch the “real” bands that are out there already. For example, I want to see Steven Wilson and Opeth but every time they play Detroit, I am playing, too. I missed Peter Gabriel's last tour for the same reason. Steve Hackett was in the area not so long ago and I missed that. So the idea of fantasy bands is completely outside my spectrum. I'd just like time to see the bands that really exist!
MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?
Herbie Hancock, Buddy Guy, Snarky Puppy, and a Genesis reunion with Hackett and Gabriel, one after another.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
The Steven Wilson remaster of Close to the Edge in 5.1 surround - amazing. I've been listening to a lot of jazz lately, getting myself in the mindset to write some new material for organissimo. I've been revisiting the classic Hammond players like Don Patterson, Larry Young, and Jack McDuff. I've also been gathering ideas for the next THEO album both lyrically and musically.
MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
I just finished the first three books in the Dune saga. Before that I read River of Gods by Ian McDonald, my new favorite sci-fi writer, and Reamde by Neal Stephonson. I'm also reading a book on creativity called “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention.” I'm fascinated by how our minds work.
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
The last concert I went to was the Roger Waters: The Wall tour in 2012. It was an incredibly emotional experience for me and influenced some of the pieces on THEO.
MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
In my hometown of Lansing, Michigan there is an AM station that plays "easy listening" music. They play some really great stuff from the classic crooners like Sinatra and Bing Crosby, but they also play some fantastically cheesy stuff from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Some of it is truly awful, but it makes me laugh.
MSJ:

What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?

Hopefully those are yet to come!
MSJ:

If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?

Richard Feynman, Ludwig Beethoven, and Mark Twain.
MSJ:

What would be on the menu?

Whatever Beethoven wants! That guy was surly!
MSJ:

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

Thanks for the interesting questions! I did my best.
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2015  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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