Name: Jo Berger Myhre
Occupation: Basisst, improviser, composer
Current Release: Jo Berger Myhre's solo debut Unheimlich Manoeuvre is out via Rarenoise. He also contributed to the new Nils Petter Molvær album Stitches.
[Read our Nils Petter Molvær interview]
Recommendations: The Abu-Ata Concert by Mohammad Reza Lotfi and Mohammad Reza Shajarian. Two of the greatest masters of classical Iranian music in a live recording.
The Mark Rothko room at Tate Modern in London, displaying the Seagram Murals. I try to go there every time I´m in London, it overwhelms me every time. Immersive experience.
If you enjoyed this interview with Jo Berger Myhre and would like to stay up to date on his activities, visit his bandcamp page. He is also on Facebook, twitter, and Soundcloud.
When did you start writing/producing music – and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you in?
I started writing music when I was about 12, with my first band after a period of playing britpop and Red Hot Chili Peppers covers. We made songs like that together.
Around the age of 14, I had become better and more into playing the bass guitar, and I was really into funk and flashy bass players like Flea and Jaco Pastorius. I started an instrumental funk/jazz band and wrote songs for that band. Wrote – as in note sheets and pencil, proper scores for the whole band, writing out all the parts.
I remember that we recorded some of those songs to ADAT with an older guy who had a small studio next to where we rehearsed. It really fascinated me, and made me realise I could tape my own music, so I started doing that on a cassette player through the mic input.
By starting to write and tape music like this, it really opened my mind to the idea that anything is possible with music. There are no rules, any combination of sounds can become a piece of music if intended. A huge revelation for a teenager, and I was hooked after that.
In high school I was simultaneously playing funk, jazz, noise rock (Sonic Youth was a major influence), gospel and classical double bass, learning a lot of different styles of music and also realising that breaking them and making new combinations is the key to creating something unique. I´ve written music for all of my projects since then.
At the age of 16 I got Cubase and later Logic for the computer we had at home, and I was starting to use recording and editing as a compositional tool. I still do that for the most part, and when I write sheet music I still use pen and paper. I never got into computer scoring programs like Sibelius. Recording and paper is a quicker workflow for me.
For most artists, originality is 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 you own voice?
Exactly, I´ve had different ideals up through the years, and not only bass players or people doing the same as I do. I´ve tried not to look for what came out similarly to my influences, but to look for what came out differently, because that´s where my voice should develop from. Then I take that with me onwards, and find a new obsession to bring something from. Through the years, I´ve had so many different influences that it´s bound to come out as something personal in the end.
I´ve also trusted that my personal voice will form over time if I don´t force it. This way I also hope that I wont stagnate, that my voice will continue to grow and shape in the future, becoming more complex and at the same time more and more unique.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
It´s important to me that what I create feels honest and like something that only I could make. This mindset has also led to me getting asked to do stuff based on my creative identity instead of the fact that I happen to play the bass and being skilled in the studio.
Which again puts me in a great place to develop my creative identity further. I experience that people ask me to contribute because they want my voice in there somehow.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I think trusting my own expression, and being worried that I wouldn't´t find my own voice.
In Norway where I live, and in the jazz scene that I´ve been connected to especially, it´s been very common that musicians establish their aesthetic expression very early and very strongly. When I started studying jazz at the music academy, I felt this pressure a lot and was trying to hard to find my voice, but at some point I became more relaxed about it and trusted that openness and time would help shape and develop me. This also made it easier to keep going and open the creative portals for me.
Now I trust my own creative decisions more and feel that I can be focused and wide open at the same time.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
Most of my instruments through the years have come to me quite randomly, stuff that I stumbled over that felt good to play.
The only double bass I ever bought I got at the age of 18. I started to use it and figured out how to make the best of it. Same goes with my amplifier and the few bass guitars I own. Common for all my instruments is that they have a lot of character. They are not neutral, but they challenge me and I feel we develop my music and my voice together.
To me this is more fruitful than constantly being on the lookout for something «better». I never owned a lot of stuff, but every now and then I bought a new guitar pedal that I came across and found inspiring. Then I make sure I use and exploit it to the max before getting anything else.
This also goes for my recording equipment, from a 2-track cassette recorder, to a hacked version of Logic with only the internal mic input on the computer and some random plugins. After my hacked Logic version finally crashed some year ago, I made a conscious decision to start working in Reaper. This is my go-to DAW now, but I also use ProTools from time to time. It´s a flexible way to work, but the unlimited number of choices in the digital realm can for me stop the process sometimes. But I grew up in a world of the analogue, so I use hardware a lot and also track to tape still, analogue tools force me to get on with things and make decisions.
Now I have much more knowledge of what is available and sometimes search wide for a very specific piece of equipment or musical instrument. This search most often comes from a creative place; I have a specific idea in mind that I want to realise, then I figure out what I need to get to make the vision come through.
Over the past few years, I´ve built a hybrid digital/analog studio setup with a few, but really good pieces of equipment. I need to feel that I know what all my stuff can do, so now I´m picky about obtaining more tools and I also never really sell anything because if I´m stuck I find inspiration in playing around with a pedal, some sheet music, a bass I haven´t used in a while.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
When it became possible for me to self-record onto a computer and edit the audio itself, that quickly became an integrated way of composing for me. Ever since I got my first DAW at the age of 17, I started making music based on actual recordings of my own playing.
And as mentioned in the previous question, the instruments that came to me over the years have very much shaped how I play and perform music. Instruments in particular has been a Fender VI, the hollow body Gretsch bass guitar I mostly still use, and in the later years when I started studying Iranian music and began using the kamancheh bow on my double bass.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I definitely prefer to be together physically in the same room with my collaborators. Much of what I make stems from improvisation and interplay, and in my experience the musical output always gains from playing together. There are so many levels of interplay and intuitive decision making that will be lost if I don´t work like this. Also communication about ideas, discussion, listening together is much easier. And this work method contributes to a shared feeling of creating something unique together, which to me is the whole point of collaborations.
That being said, I also do quite a lot of overdubbing from my studio. People send me stuff to work on, play on etc. I like this method when writing an arrangements, because I can spend the time I want and need in peace. If I´m straight up overdubbing bass for a track, I try to put myself in a mental state of imagining it´s actually a live take.
Before taking on file sharing jobs like this, I always make a phone or video call to discuss ideas to make sure we´re on the same page, otherwise we might be wasting each others time.