A Certain Togetherness - interview by Declan O'Driscoll
Swedish percussionist Raymond Strid has, in recent years, become an important member of the improvising community, working with, among others, Barry Guy, Roger Turner, Evan Parker, John Butcher, Mats Gustafsson, Sten Sandell and Marilyn Crispell. The most notable aspect of his playing is an ability to clarify the essence of the music as it develops, creating a sense of space with great subtlety within the most complex of settings, often holding back where another might blur the details. These qualities are also evident in his playing when he substitutes his drum kit for "table percussion" and amplified and processed instruments and objects; for example, on the album Gushwachs with Gustafsson, Sandell and Philipp Wachsmann.
We spoke in the café of Books Upstairs in Sligo where, as part of this Irish town's Contemporary Music Festival, he played in a trio with Mats Gustafsson and Barry Guy.
You might begin by telling me about the improvised music scene in Sweden. Are there many people involved?
RS Since the early 90s there are some musicians, not very many. Most are based in Stockholm. I don't know why, but Stockholm has a history of free improvised music. One of the oldest groups, Lokomotiv Konkret, has been going for 20 years now. They are more into the field of energy free jazz music. But there are now younger musicians who show an interest in improvised music. I feel very positive about this because I am already playing with these younger musicians.
Is there an audience for the music?
RS It depends on which place you are playing. There is a very young audience coming up now. I wouldn't have said that five years ago, but I think many of these things happen in waves. It's not like a fashion but I think they are getting tired of very conventional music, and then they hear improvised music and they get interested. It's not a big audience but, for instance, if Gush [Strid, Sandell and Gustafsson] play at the jazz club Fasching in Stockholm, five years ago we would have had maybe 40 to 60 in the audience, now we have probably 80 to 150. That's the new interest.
How did your own interest begin?
RS I had an interest in music generally when I was a teenager, and I started to listen to jazz and classical music when I was 14 years old.
Through the influence of your parents?
RS No, through my own interest. I thought jazz was very boring, but because other people liked it I thought I should also like it. So I forced myself to listen to some on records over and over again, and then after two days it hit me. After that I was very much into jazz. I sometimes skipped school and stayed home to listen for eight hours or more without breaks. I remember once I was literally vomiting because I was so exhausted. So after that I thought: "If you are going to do this you have to go further." So I decided that I had to start to play music. Already at that time I had been listening to the free improvised music from Germany and England. When I was about 17 or 18, I was familiar with the work of Evan Parker and Peter Brötzmann.
Did you have easy access to their recordings?
RS Yes, there was a jazz magazine and a guy there who reviewed those records from the early 70s, and I bought them because of that. There was one shop in Stockholm where a guy was selling records from Incus and FMP. From that point I started to play. I had played guitar before but my pitch was bad. In fact, I still can't pitch a melody. So I thought drums would be easier. I started to play drums seriously when I was 21, and I was only interested in playing free improvised music, so I never learned how to play rock or jazz. But I had some classical percussion training at school, so I've got some basic technique.
Some free players argue that technique is not essential. Do you think it is necessary?
RS I believe it is. You need the technique for what you are going to do. You don't have to be able to play everything technically, you only need it for what you want to do.
So having started to drum I presume you began to meet and play with other musicians?
RS Yes, and it didn't sound very good. This was 1977, when I was 21. We were playing something like American free jazz but not very well.
You and the musicians had to feel yourselves into a new area of music?
RS Yes, it took a lot of time to work. This music now has a long tradition, but at that time we didn't have that, and we were not able to collaborate with those experienced musicians from England or Germany. It's different for people now, but I think I'm probably very slow. For me it started to happen 10 years ago when the music came to a point where I could feel that I had control over my instrument, and I could have ambitions and begin to achieve those ambitions. I was interested in listening to different drummers and to how they did things. When I knew how they did them, I could relax and start to try to do my own things. I reached that point maybe only four or five years ago.
How did you meet Mats Gustafsson and Sten Sandell and begin to play as Gush?
RS It happened in 1987. I had a project in a factory building. I did a piece called 'Three Days At The Factory'. We had 15 musicians and it was three floors and six rooms. I made up this game where you used the dice and then you had to change positions, and musicians had to move on to another room. I was given Mats Gustafsson's name by someone there and I called him up and asked him if he wanted to join in. That was the start of our work together. Later we met up with Sten Sandell and formed the band Gush in 1988.
When you're playing, what is the most important aspect of the music for you?
RS I think it's the communication. You feel a certain togetherness. It could also be that I'm playing against someone, but you can feel that everyone has the right sound together. The sound is very important. If you go in with a group like Gustafsson/Guy/Strid or Gush you get the sound, you have a definite group sound. But if you're playing with new musicians it takes time to get the common sound together.
Some musicians like the first improvised encounter more than any other. Do you prefer when you know the musicians for some time?
RS No, no. It's not a contradiction for me. It's the two things, and I prefer both! R
Raymond Strid's new CD is Live At Fasching (Dragon DRCD 313) with Gush (Mats Gustafsson, saxophones & fluteophone; Sten Sandell, piano & voice). Dragon Records, Box 4068, 102 62 Stockholm, Sweden.
Gush, From Things To Sounds (Dragon DRCD 204 CD); Gush with Sven-Ake Johansson, Tjo Och Tjim (Dragon DRLP 192); Gush, Live At Fasching (Dragon DRCD 313 CD) Gush with Philipp Wachsmann, Gushwachs (Bead 002 CD); w Paul Pignon, Far From Equilibrium (Alice In The Air ALCD 013 CD); w Marilyn Crispell & Anders Jormin, Spring Tour (Alice In The Air ALCD 007 CD); w Marilyn Crispell, Barry Guy & Mats Gustafsson, Gryff Gryff Gryffs (Music & Arts 1003 CD); w Barry Guy & Mats Gustafsson, You Forget To Answer (Maya MCD 9601 CD)
This interview was published in Rubberneck 27, June 1998
Text © Rubberneck; photo © Declan O'Driscoll