Name: Eva Klesse
Nationality: German
Occupation: Drummer, composer, improviser
Current Release: Creatures and States on Enja
Recommendations: I can’t do just one … sorry! :)
books: "Fruit of knowledge" ("Der Ursprung der Welt") by Liv Strömquist or: anything by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie
painting/drawing: anything by my friend KENDIKE (great artist from Dresden)
music: at the moment for example Chika, Sookee, "Finding Gabriel" (Brad Mehldau)

If you enjoyed this interview with Eva Klesse, visit her excellent personal website. The Eva Klesse Quartett has its own website, too.

When did you start playing your instrument, and what or who were your early passions or influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

I started playing the drums at the age of eleven. Early musical influences were for sure created by my parents who made me listen to the whole world of classical music, Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and all those guys. Afterwards I discovered rock & pop, hip hop and stuff on my own - the first band that I founded with my friends at the age of 13 was a rock band :)

Besides, I think I was always drawn to sounds in general. Everyday sounds, even "noises", like clapping sounds on your body, on wood, stuff like that. I used to drive everybody around me crazy because I was always clapping/drumming around …

And then I guess I always had and have an emotional connection to music. I felt that there was a representation of no matter what feeling in music and the other way around - that I could turn my emotions into music.

For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?

I guess that really is a life-long journey. Of course I - probably like any other jazz student in the world - took some time studying, transcribing, imitating some of the giants and legends of our craft. At some point I was even told that I look like my - at that time - hero, when I play. And then you proceed to your next hero and the next hero and at some point you’re looking more for inspiration and growth on your inside than on the outside or in some other person, I guess.

During my studies I was lucky to be encouraged by some of my teachers to start writing my own music. I had worked as a sidewoman with countless bands before and then, when I had some music ready of my own, finally started my own band. That process - writing my own music and picking the people I would love to play with and starting this project had a huge impact on me (still has) and our journey together (that lasts for more than 7 years now).

Long-term relationships in music are something special, just like relationships in the out-of-music world. It is a lot of work, but also an incredible inspiration to grow and learn together.

What were some of your main artistic challenges when starting out as an artist and in which way have they changed over the years?

I felt that there were and are internal and external challenges/obstacles on my way as an artist and the inner ones are more difficult to battle :) What is most difficult to deal with (but at the same time is the biggest inner motivation) are the doubt(s). Is this really what I want to do? Am I good enough? Does my art/what I create have any relevance? Does it do any good to society/the world? Does it make sense to do art in these times?

These doubts are always there, though constantly changing. They may have changed in a way, that - in the earlier years - I thought I could get better by - above all - training my hands, my feet, my body and now I’m pretty sure that almost any significant/relevant change in my music is created by a change of mindset.

And of course there are tons of other challenges in an artist's life: the irks and quirks of a jazz musician's nomad life on tour, basically no separation between ones private life and your profession and of course the general unstable/precarious working conditions in the independent art scene.

Tell me about your instrument, please. How would you describe the relationship with it? What are its most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results – and possibly even your own performance?  

For me, the drums are - together with the voice - the most primal instrument there is and I guess, that is why people are often especially touched and moved by these two. Everybody can connect to rhythm, even on a very physical way. We start our lives hearing rhythms like the heartbeat of our mother, we dance to rhythm, we move to rhythm.

Also the drums - in any context - are often a source of energy and dynamics. I guess these two aspects are the ones I love most about my instrument. I also love that it is an acoustic instrument. When I touch and hit it, it immediately turns into sound. I love this direct result. I wouldn’t wanna deal with a whole lot of electronics/amplifying, etc.

How is playing live in front of an audience and in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?

For me it’s two different worlds, really. But when I’m recording with my quartet, we’re trying to connect these two worlds: we’re always setting up in a concert space that is at the same time a recording studio (the Loft in Cologne). We play a live concert in front of a real audience and the next day we keep recording in that exact same setting: everybody in the same room, close to each other, no headphones, no chance to edit afterwards.

For us, playing live is the key experience of jazz music. It needs communication, between the band members, but also with the audience and a certain vibe that is difficult to recreate in a „normal“ studio setting.

Also, jazz recordings always capture the moment and would sound completely different if they were being recorded on another day, at another place, with other circumstances, etc. That’s also due to the importance of improvisation in our music. We cannot play several takes and try to recreate what just went well in the take before.

Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?

There is no routine. And I’m still not sure if I like or dislike that fact. I try to establish things like morning routines, but it’s quite difficult to stick to them, if every day is happening in a different place, shape, maybe even time zone.

A normal touring day is waking up in a (hotel) room somewhere, trying to figure out where you actually are, maybe having breakfast with my colleagues (maybe skipping it due to a short night), then leaving to the train station/airport, hanging on the road for a couple of hours, maybe working a bit on the computer, talking to the other musicians. Arriving in the next town - going for a quick run if possible - soundcheck, dinner, concert, after show hang, hotel and starting all over again.

A normal teaching day is filled with various encounters with my students and colleagues, very inspiring and very energy-draining at the same time. Teaching-teaching-lunch-teaching-teaching-dinner-bed. When I’m at home (it doesn’t happen very often, in non-Corona-times), I often work from home and on my sofa, writing emails, talking on the phone, organizing the next tour, preparing new musical materials, giving interviews, conferring with colleagues on conference calls. Then I take some time to practice in my rehearsal room, go for a run, meet friends. But it’s never the same. When I got an idea and I’m hooked, it’s possible that I stay awake all night until 6 am in the morning finishing a new song, for example.

Generally I guess people imagine an artist's life different from what it’s really like. Often we spend much more time organizing stuff than really working creatively. I try to fight this, and fight for more time for really working on my music and my instrument, but I would need a private secretary to make that happen :)

Could you take me through the process of improvisation on the basis of one of your performances that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?

That’s almost impossible to answer for me. Music is a very ephemeral kind of art. It happens in the moment and is gone afterwards. Even if it is recorded it will never be the same listening back to it than really being in the moment where it was played.

For me, performances that are very dear to me, are the ones where I can turn off the upper parts of my brain that are responsible for "thinking and judging activities". The most beautiful concerts are the ones, where I feel like really being in the moment, being one with the other musicians up to the point where we almost forget that there is an audience and yet still feeling their presence. I compare it to the feeling of flying actually.

One of my dear colleagues and friends always compares the ideal mindset for improvisation with the mindset of a kid in a sandpit: trying out stuff, building and destroying, researching, no other thoughts, no judgment, being totally present without analyzing at the same time what you’re doing.

There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?

For me there are different ideal states of mind depending on what exactly you want to do, whether it's writing music, practicing, playing a live concert, etc. The ideal playing state of mind for me is to stop analyzing constantly, to stop questioning yourself, to deal with (imaginary?) expectations from the outside, that allow you to identify mistakes as mistakes, to stop the routine of what you have been practicing for the last 23 years.

When I manage to silence the judgmental parts of my brain, I feel free. These are the rare moments when you have the impression of flying. I’m still in the process to find out how to access that state more often.

How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?

I don’t. At least not in my music. I love that I’m playing a completely analogue instrument, that easily works without any form of amplifying and stuff.

Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?

My tools are my hands, my feet and my drums (and maybe a piano for writing). Nothing fancy. The only computer-related tool that I use music-wise is a notation software. This has really helped me in my composition process, as my piano chops are very weak. To be able to play the stuff I wrote back to me on the computer is really helpful.

Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?

For me the sense of hearing (music) especially seems to be connected to the part of my brain where I keep my memories. When I hear a certain song/album, it directly shoots me back to the time where I was discovering it (I often spend a whole month listening only to one specific song or album), connected to a surrounding, feeling, even smell of that specific time in my life.

Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?

Even if art should of course just stand for itself, I more and more get the feeling, that we as artists cannot NOT position ourselves and remain silent, also in a political/social sense. Jazz for example has always been political music, a music of minorities and a form of art fighting injustice. I guess, now - more than ever - it’s time to pay tribute to this heritage.

It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?

Music was, is and will always be the essence of humanity. No matter what kind of craziness we’re surrounded by, and especially in difficult times, human beings are drawn towards music. It was and still is a force of bringing people together, a source of love, power and reflection.