Exclusive Interview with Mezzoforte

Exclusive Interview with Mezzoforte

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How long should a band sustain the test of time to get the label of a strong, solid band? The answer may vary, but 35 years should definitely be more than enough. Here’s a band that has passed that long years and still going on strong until today, Mezzoforte, a dynamic, energic jazz-fusion band from Iceland.

Their success story started in 1983 with their huge hit “Garden Party” blasted the whole world and received praises everywhere, the song even still played in many radio stations up to this day. That big success made them coined as one of the Europe’s most famous fusion bands, and certainly they have a lot of loyal fans around the globe, including here in Indonesia.

When we talk about their Indonesian fans, they seemed to know that they do have a solid fanbase here. That can be seen by their various visits to Indonesia such as at the JakJazz 1993 and Java Jazz Festival 2006. They just greeted the fans again at the previous JakJazz Festival 2012 last October (click here to see their action from that festival: http://jazzuality.com/jazz-event-report/jakarta-international-jazz-festival-jakjazz-2012-day-2-report/ ). From what we saw, Mezzoforte still has it all. They are just as energic, passionate and delightful as how they were before. Gulli Briem (drums), Eythor Gunnarsson (keyboard), Johann Asmundsson (bass), Oskar Gudjonsson (sax), Sebastian Studnitzky (trumpet and 2nd keyboard) and Bruno Mueller (guitar) came to give another memorable, all-out fired-up performance. Other than (of course) playing their all-time popular “Garden Party”, they also promoted their new album “Islands” released just several months ago in June, 2012. What’s great about this album is that they still have some new things to give, such as surprisingly went to more acoustic approach.

We didn’t have the time to officially meet them at the JakJazz 2012 for a one on one interview, but lucky for us we met them off stage and then established a connection to them. Bruno then opened up the door for us to be in touch with Gulli, who was kind enough to answer our questions. Without further ado, let’s get on with it.

 

First of all, it’s great to finally watch your live performance again in Indonesia at the JakJazz 2012. Since you had performed here several times like in 1993 and at the Java Jazz Festival 2006, what’s your impression of having a gig in front of your Indonesian fans again?
It’s always very special for us to come to this part of the world, since it’s so different from ours. Warm and humid, when Iceland is cold and dry with few people. We have made some friends in Indonesia and we are grateful for the support of the Indonesian fans. Our trip was not easy to Jakarta this time, because we missed our first flight in Oslo and therefore we didn’t have much time to rest for the first show, but we enjoyed it nevertheless and the crowd was exited.

It’s never easy to keep the band running well for more than 3 decades, it’s even more difficult to keep the sparks on. Yet you guys manage to do it. What’s the secret?
The secret is the music itself, our friendship and respect for each other plus the fact that people come to see us play. Sometimes they travel a long way in cars, trains or even on planes to see us. Another important thing is that we understand that we need to evolve and explore different musical energies and not being stuck in the 80’s. Oskar, Bruno and Sebastian create much additional energy, being outstanding musicians. They encourage us to try out new ideas that are important for the “old guys” to enjoy playing and being together. It’s not always easy, but when we see the smiling faces in the crowds and people singing along to the music, thats whats makes it so special.

There had been several changing of the personnels for these past 35 years. For some bands it could be like being hit by huge storm. On the other hand, it could give fresh breath and color towards the band. What kind of impact does Mezzoforte feel from it?
It’s allot about the people that are on stage, how they perform and what kind of musical statement they make that gives us opportunities to grow and expand our musical awareness. We try to improve as individuals and as a band and as long as there is that will, we can go and play our hearts out.

 

Your song “Garden Party” became an all-time popular hit around the world. 24 years ago that song was all over the radio, even now we can still listen to it being played once in a while. Such a great song, lively, joyful, festive and most of all, ear catchy. Where was the inspiration came from?
The song was written by Eythor Gunnarsson (keyboard player).  The inspiration for the song´s mood, groove, joyful feeling & melody came from the fact that we listened to this funky music, like George Duke, Earth Wind & Fire, George Benson and lot of the funky fusion jazz that came out of USA, as well as checking out bands like Level 42 in the UK had something to say. Further more we were very young and open to influences and we came with this record “Surprise Surprise” at the right time, first released in London.

With “Garden Party” you reached your fame internationally. Was it a surprise for you or you have anticipated it before?
It was a big surprise, because no one was thinking about fame or that we would become successful outside of Iceland, but it’s a dream for most musicians to play around the world. We were happy with the album Surprise Surprise because it was a big step, musically, in songwriting and production wise. We were not prepared for the success, so it took a long time before we learned about the business and how everything works in the big music world and we STILL make mistakes (smiles)!

 

Now let’s talk about your new album “Islands”. This latest one suprisingly appears in more acoustic treatment than your previous albums. Why did you decide to go more acoustic this time?
We decided to dig deeper into the acoustic world in order to make a true natural sounding album with more dynamics and allow room for different flavors in song writing and song structures. It was a new experience for the band and we really had to be on our toes to get the right feel and put the songs together. Again the younger guys, Oskar and Sebastian also encouraged this change. We wanted to use more of grand pianos and dig deeper into our heads.

Besides more acoustic approach, what were the other things you put into consideration when you were making the album?
We wanted it to sound more straight in your face, dry, groovy and direct… be more 2012, more adult sounding. So the sound was important in making this record.

Standing artistically between fusion and smooth jazz made your music widely acceptable for audience in general, even to those who are not really into jazz. Do you consider the band as a jazz/fusion band or you prefer to be called something else?
I don’t think we are good to answer that question, we come from a jazz/funk/pop background and we got mixed into the dance scene in the 80’s which crossed over to the pop charts. From there it’s not an easy place to go from, because the pressure was always to produce more hits. We tried different things, like using vocals, drum machines and synthesizers, changing our clothes and hair. Every period was special in it’s own way. Now we would just like to be a great band, play some great music with great people… and drink lots of cappuccinos and espressos in airports (smiles).

 

This year you’re celebrating your 35th anniversary. Do you still have unfulfilled wish? What do you aim for… let’s say another 5 years period from now?
I would like to see more development in the sound of the band, deeper songwriting, experiments with rhythms and flavors and let things grow and mature as we grow and mature as people at different tempos though (smiles). As Mezzoforte continues to create something new and having offers to play shows around the world, I think we will carry on. We play around 30-40 shows every year and we can do this for quite a few years more, but no one knows the future. All I can say is from my personal side that I see myself as being in service to the world of music, to the audience, carrying a light of inspiration to as many as possible. As long as I’m able to do that, i’ll carry on until I’m ninety-eight. AT LEAST!

That’s what we wanted to hear! Now, let’s talk about your homeland. Iceland is very far from our standpoint. But we’re curious to know about the music scene in Iceland today. How is it?
Its vibrant, creative and eccentric. Young talents are coming up with new sounds, weird song writing and a will to share it with everyone. The music scene has opened up so much for the last 20 years, since people can make records at home on their laptops in their bedrooms. Therefore creativity has no boundaries anymore. Everyone has the chance to create something, wether its music or other art forms.

 

Last question, do you have any particular impression about Indonesia, and is there anything you want to say to our readers/your fans in this nation?
To me Indonesia is a calm place in some weird way, even with all these millions of people there is certain calmness to it. I took at trip to Chinatown after our second show with my friend Taufan Goenarso and another guy that I forgot the name of. It was a special to see Jakarta at night seeing children in the streets playing together and others selling something at the sidewalk, plus we had some great food at 02.00 am (smiles)! What a spectacular city! Thank you friends for your love and support over the years, without you we would be nothing.

See more pictures:

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Interviewed by: Riandy Kurniawan and Apey Idris
Photos by: Wowo Wahono and Apey Idris

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