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Interview with Jasper TX

img  Tobias Fischer

What was the first time you really felt at home somewhere?
That’s a hard question to answer because a home can mean so much. Of course, when I was growing up, I felt at home with my parents and my brothers. Since we moved into a small, religious - and therefore very conservative - town when I was just two years old, and seeing as my parents were quite different from the other parents - and I mean that in the most positive way - we were always the odd kids in school. So my family was always very important to me at that time. Encouraged by my lovely parents, I started drawing and painting when I was quite young and I guess that was the first time I can remember feeling really “home” when doing something. I remember how I could just disappear into a world that I was creating as I went along. It wasn’t until I was nine that I started playing the double bass. And that eventually opened up a whole different world to me.

In which way?
It’s not the double bass per se, but the whole concept of learning about harmonies and how to play an instrument that opened up something in me. It’s like when you learn a new language and suddenly it just unfolds in front of you and you gain a better understanding and perception of the world we live in. Playing bass became a part of who I was. But to be honest, I was never that good of a student when it came to practising. I knew the importance of practising scales, but it was always a struggle to muster the motivation to do it. I’ve always just loved sounds and timbres and making sounds. Later, I began playing electric bass in various rock bands. It was then that playing an instrument became part of my identity and I thereby gained a bigger social network. So it kind of helped me leave my shell a bit.

So, in those years, music was not so much a place of refuge in a way, but rather a form of communication and a "social tool"?
Yeah I guess you can say that. Growing up, I had kind of a hard time finding my place. I rarely felt that I fit in. I was too book smart and strongheaded to be one of the cool kids and I was too restless (and constantly questioning authority) to be one of the brainiacs. So when I started playing in bands, all of a sudden felt I had a place where I could just do what I wanted. So in that aspect it was definitely a social tool for me.

At the time, which were some of the important albums and bands for you in this respect?
I've always been into loads of different music. I grew up with tons of jazz like Miles Davies, Chet Baker, Charles Mingus and Lars Gullin. But also artists like The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and stuff like that. But when I started playing in bands more seriously in the early 90's, I listened a lot to groups like Entombed, Deicide, Dismember, Napalm Death and Morbid Angel and many of other formations from the first death metal wave. But also bands like Slayer, The Ramones, Iron Maiden, Nirvana ... I remember being so totally blown away when I discovered Bleach by Nirvana. It was so much rawer than Nevermind. This was just in the beginning of the whole grunge era, so Soundgarden and similar bands were also something I'd listen to a lot. And my friends and I listened loads to The Doors - the movie was a big inspiration for what us back then. Remember, this was “before” the Internet and the music selection available in the stores where I grew up was pretty slim.

On an album like Morbid Angel's Blessed are the Sick, harsh metal tracks are occasionally juxtaposed with really dreamy, atmospheric interludes. It's easy to see parallels with some of the pieces on The Black Sun Transmissions. Did these influences leave a lasting impression on you?
Yeah, I think they did. And I think growing up in a home where I got to listen to  jazz, rock, punk, heavy metal, classical and whatnot really has influenced my whole musical “career”.

I think the dualism between melodic and noisier elements has always been an important part of what I do. If something gets too pretty and cute I have to do something to kind of tarnish it a bit. And vice verse. If something is too abrasive, I have to add some melodic elements to it in order to feel comfortable with it. If I don’t, then it doesn't speak to me, if that makes sense. And this specifically is very true for The Black Sun Transmissions, where I worked really hard at creating something where each part – including parts within different tracks - corresponded to the previous and to the following segment. I wanted to contrast quieter parts with noisier and melodic with more abstract, eerie soundscapes in order to create one extended piece where all five parts form a greater whole. In my mind it's like a movie: You want to tell a story with its ups and downs and you have to give each scene the time it takes to tell the story just right. You have to have the right setting, lighting, actors, lines ... Then you have to edit it very carefully in order for the scene to come across just the way you want it to. And it's hard and at times kind of tedious work but when you get it right ... there's nothing like it. And with The Black Sun Transmissions I got it right. There will always be some parts on an album that you wish you could go back and change. But this time I came very, very close ...

When did your interest in metal and grunge turn into something more refined and sound-oriented?
I think the turning point came when I started discovering post rock bands like Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor back in 1998 or 1999. They had the same energy as the metal bands that I used to listen to and the same melodic sense as some of the grunge bands that I liked during the early 90’s, but it was much more abstract. And that was something that really appealed to me: the whole idea that music can be whatever I want it to be. Initially Jasper TX was me trying to make post rock all by myself and I realize now how very moronic and silly that is ... But I just knew I wanted to make something along those lines, where sounds, not melodies or rhythm, carried the music and where I could do whatever I wanted with it. And all of a sudden I felt I had found my way of creating music. Of course it took a while to get the hang of it.

Did music, at that point, turn into a sort of space, in which you could "deal" with certain issues or express certain sensations and perceptions?
I think it became a way to deal with things. When I started out I was very political in my approach so making this music was my way of dealing with everything that I felt was wrong with the world we live in. But gradually it became much more personal, dealing with things that I experienced in my everyday life and things I had to go through. For a couple of years it was basically what kept me going and I remember being so immersed in it that I occasionally forget to get dressed and stuff like that. I could just get out of bed, turn on my studio equipment (which at that point over flooded my bedroom) and then all of a sudden realize that the sun was setting and I'd been sitting there for an entire day ... Nowadays I have a bit more balanced approach towards making music.

What were you "rebelling" against?
I don't know if rebellion is the right word here. But for most of my life I've always felt kind of out of place. And even though I'm a pretty social guy, in general I don't really like people. But I'm not complaining or feeling sorry for myself or anything, I just don't care that much about mankind as a whole. I love my family and my friends and that's enough for me.

Did this sensation of "feeling out of place" become stronger or less pronounced when you moved to Gothenburg?
I don’t think it changed that much to be honest. When I started making music for real, I had no connection to a ”scene”, at this point I didn’t even knew there was a scene for this kind of thing in Gothenburg. And you have to keep in mind that at this point I didn’t even own a computer and so the only time I was ever on the Internet was when I visited the local library - which feels very archaic thinking back now. So I wasn’t really in contact with anyone that way either.

But I think the positive thing for me was that this enabled me to kind of make my own thing and explore my own ideas without too much distraction. Sure, I was influenced by other bands, but what I wanted to create I had never heard anyone else do. When I eventually started playing my music to people they immediately started making references to band and artists that I’d never heard of. And so another musical universe opened up once again.

On the cover of I'll Be Long Gone Before My Light Reaches You , it says "compiled, performed, recorded, and mixed at home, 2003-2005" - so was the "home" this was referring to already Gothenburg?

Yes, that was my old apartment where I lived for maybe six or seven years. I started working on it late 2003 and finished it late 2004 or early 2005, I think. On a personal level, I wasn’t doing well at all. I worked at a job I hated and went through a break-up from a pretty long relationship. So I kind of skipped job whenever I could and just sat home and recorded and drank beer. So it's a very personal and difficult album. I can't really listen to it, partly because of this whole state of mind I was in but also due to the fact that it's so ... poorly executed. I had pretty poor recording skills and barely any good quality equipment at the time so I made use of what I had. But that said, I am proud of the album and I know a lot of people who love it. And I appreciate that, but for me it's ... complicated.

So is isolation a double-edged sword?
I don't think that isolation is a good thing at all, not that kind of isolation at least. It's not a good thing when you have too much time to think of certain aspects of your life. You just end up becoming self-obsessed and kind of egotistical. But I do think that in order to make this kind of music you need some kind of isolation. Nowadays I go to my studio and I'm there for a full day, without distractions or interruptions and I've noticed that the more I work, the more the music opens up to me and I perceive it better. But then it comes to a point where the actual physical fatigue sets in and your hearing becomes impaired and at that point I just have to go home for the day and recuperate. So yes, I think that for me some form of isolation is required to actually come up with ideas for arrangements and to kind of let the music “speak”. But then again, when I'm doing rough mixes, I often sit in my bedroom at home with headphones on while my wife's watching TV in the next room. And I think one of the reasons that this works is because I need interruptions at that stage of the process. I need to get up and talk to her for a bit or put on some coffee or just put on a record while thinking over mixes and the general structuring of the tracks. I think for me, a good balance between studio-isolation and social interaction is what works best.

How did this new, more balanced approach translate into the pieces on Black Sun Transmissions?
One result of this approach is that the album took a very long time to complete. I started making sketches for it already 2007 and it took nearly three years to finish it. And I worked a lot on it over these three years. It is without a doubt the hardest album I’ve ever done and to be honest, it left me quite drained. But listening back to it now I can definitely say it was worth it. And I’m sticking to this more balanced approach towards recording. Looking back on the whole process of it now I realize how much has happened in my life since I started working on it, both good and bad. Feels like a lifetime has passed.

What made it so hard?
I think it was due to the fact that I had such a strong vision of what I wanted to do this time. Even before I had recorded a single sound I knew what the album was about. And as soon as I had that initial image, a story started to unfold in my head and my job then was to basically create a musical score to that story. And that proved very, very hard …

Because I had the story and I knew which kind of moods, images and emotions I wanted to portray, it all boiled down to fitting sounds and structures into this large framework. I would sit endlessly with minuscule sounds and noises that probably aren’t even audible on the finished album. But they’re there and I think that without this obsessive attention to detail, the finished album would have sounded completely different. Everything was either accepted or rejected in relation to whether they fit into the story or not. And everything had to sit just right in every aspect; both individual sounds and larger structures. And that of course also goes for the ebb and flow of the album as a whole. It’s been constructed as a whole, as one piece of music with individual segments depicting the different chapters of the story. I actually made a first draft of the album quite fast, but the only thing that I kept from that was opening track “Signals Through Wood & Dust”. After that I pretty much knew how I would approach the rest of the album. And with the addition of the amazing guest musicians the album really came into its own and everything just fell into place. Then there was the whole manufacturing debacle but I won’t go into that now. I think I’ve been bitching enough on the Internet about that over the last year …

I'm getting the impression that making music, on the one hand, is a valve. On the other, it seems to be creating its own conflicts for you, regardless of how "happy" or "secure" the period of time was when it was created. Would it be correct to say that this process is never-ending, because it isn't aimed at "resolving" anything?
That pretty much sums it up I guess. Making music, recording and tweaking sounds are some of the best things in the world. It’s something I love and that I basically have to do to feel good and balanced. If it goes too long between my visits to the studio for instance I get really frustrated. But making music is a complicated thing for me. I can never take it easy and just “go with it”, it has to be perfect and it never is… I have periods where I have problem sleeping because I keep going over arrangements, mistakes, sounds and ideas in my head. And there are periods - like now for instance - where I kind of feel spent and basically have no ideas and everything about making music just feels complicated and hard. And then it’s really a struggle. I don’t think this will ever be “resolved” and I don’t think it’s meant to. I think it’s a thing that I will both struggle with and love for the rest of my life. And I guess that’s both comforting and frightening all at once.

By Tobias Fischer

Jasper TX Discography:
I'll Be Long Gone Before My Light Reaches You (Lampse) 2005
Feberdröm/ w. Rutger Zuydervelt (Self-released) 2006
So Now We’re Ghosts No More (Kning Disk) 2006
Vintermusik/ w. Rutger Zuydervelt (Odradek) 2007
A Darkness (Lidar) 2007
D + A EP (Self-released) 2007
Harrisburg (Self-released) 2007
In A Cool Monsoon (Pumpkin Seeds In The Sand) 2007
Pilgrims (Self-released) 2007
Black Sleep (Miasmah) 2008
Closet Ghosts (Fenêtre Records) 2008
This Quiet Season (Slaapwel Records) 2008
Lungs (Under The Spire) 2009
Singing Stones (Fang Bomb) 2009
The Bending Of Light (SMTG Limited) 2009
Untitled Nr. 7 (Dead Pilot Records) 2009
Waverly Cemetery (Sound & Fury) 2009
Replica Archipelago/ w. Bue Nordström (Bokbandet) 2009
A Voice From Dead Radio (Under The Spire) 2010
Hills/Mountains (Under The Spire) 2010
Mute Harbour (Rural Colours) 2010
The Black Sun Transmissions (Fang Bomb) 2011

Recommended Jasper TX interviews & articles on the web:

Extensive Japer TX interview about a wealth of topics at City Paper
Interview with Jasper TX and Simon Scott about their Conformists collaboration

Jasper TX / Dag Rosenqvist

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