Morgan Ågren interview from the June issue of
Batteur Magazine 2003

By Patrick Buchmann. Special thanks to Jean Bisello, Jean Baptiste Mechernane

What's your history, how did you learn playing drums (self-taught, teachers, schools etc.)?
' I started to hit things in the kitchen when I was about three years old. I was hitting cans and buckets. My parents bought me a drum set when I was five. I am pretty much self-taught. I had some nice teachers, but I learned most from listening to good records and concerts. I saw Buddy Rich play when I was 10 years old, and that opened up a lot for me. Cause inspiration was, and still is one of the most important things I think. When I heard Buddy play, I wanted to play like him, I didn't ask any questions, I just ran to the drum set and tried to do something close to what he did. Later on, I found drummers that were even more appealing to me. I also discovered great groups that inspired me a lot, like Return to forever with Lenny White on the drums. Their album 'Romantic Warrior' opened up a world of lovely music for me. I didn't copy the drummers note by note so much, I was more trying to get the sort of attitude that they had, and the compositions were even more amazing then the drums in a way. That whole process from listening - to getting inspiration - to wanna play and compose things on your own, is a great thing. I came in contact with good music, and started to play the drums very early.'

What equipment do you use (brand, sizes, electronics, endorsements, etc.)?
' My only real endorsements are by Shure microphones and Vic Firth drum sticks. I play Pearl drums at the moment, different sizes and setups. Sabian cymbals, hand hammered ones, big sizes usually. No electronics, although I spend a lot of time working with computers.'

You seem to be using quite small sizes or rather short and crisp sounding drums and cymbals to help you have a very precise sound in your busy parts. ?
' Actually, all my crashes are 20 inch, the ride are 21" etc. For a long time I even used a 24" bass drum too. But at the moment I use 8"10"12" tom toms, and 15"16" floor toms, 22" bass drum, one extra 10" snare too. I think that what you hear as "quite small sizes or rather short and crisp sounding" can be a sound thing that is created while mixing the drums and the music. I do the whole mixing process by myself. I am not necessarily always completely happy, but I know how to do things in order to work out a sound that I want.
The problem with some drummers, is that they seems to be lost in the mixing process. Many drummers spend a lot of time and money on specially hand made cymbals and drums that sounds good acoustically, but if it sounds crap in the studio, you need to able to communicate with the sound engineer, or fix it by yourself. The drums and the cymbals never sounds the same after going through sound boards and different boxes. So it is very good to know what the tube compressors and eq's does to the sound, as well as were to put the microphones etc. Anyway, I have used compressors and limiters quite a lot on the latest Mats/Morgan CD 'ON AIR WITH GUESTS'. That can give a nice crisp and clear sound. I've been mixing in Pro Tools 001, and a Ramsa digital board, with some analog devices as well.'

What are your influences? I can here a lot of stuff, tell me if I'm wrong: Cobham, Vander, Bruford, Chambers as far as drummers; Zappa, Fripp Crimson as far as composing.?
' Some of my favorite drummers are also inspiring composers, like Christian Vander, Daniel Denis and Bill Bruford. Other drummers would be; Ronald Shannon Jackson, Narada Michael Walden, Gary Husband, Terry Bozzio, Buddy Rich, Vinnie Colaiuta, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Billy Cobham, they were/is my first choice. My early favorite groups/composers use to be; Beefheart, Crimson, Zappa, Holdsworth, Mahavishnu etc.
Most recently I have been listening to Hermeto Pascoal A LOT, for three weeks in a row actually! I found some old records with him, that has been re-mastered and recently re-released on CD for the first time. Hermeto is incredible! It seems like many people does not know about Hermeto Pascoal so much.. His albums use to be hard to find, but try! I love some of Hermeto's albums!'

Jean (Jean Bisello, editors note) told me you weren't using any sequencing or loops either live or in the studio; tell me about it.?
' Almost all of my composing is done on a sequencer. But when we play live, or in the studio, the sequenced parts are always replaced by the band. Live we have never used sequencers.'

How do you compose; is it 'computerish', fooling around with ideas on the PC, based on drum parts that you've developed, based on riffs and gimmicks that you elaborate in your mind?
' I need good sounds in order to get my ideas across. I can't play keyboards, so I create my sounds on a sampler, and I make music out of it. The musical ideas are usually in my mind, I just need to get it out through something. Samplers and sequencers works for that. (Inspiration is needed too!)'

How do you approach recording with the band. All live, one after the other over a computer demo, or else?
'Lately, we have almost only recorded live. I think that the Mats/Morgan Band has become a good live act since a few years back. The energy is so nice when we do it live. Therefore it has been natural for us to record things live. But I am longing to do some studio experiments now, soon I hope. We have worked with sequencers too, especially earlier, one by one doing overdubs and so on. Most of my compositions on 'The music or the money?' CD, was very much a studio created project.'

Tell me about the band; how did you guys meet, how old is the band, how do you work together (composing, rehearsing, recording) where do you all come from? (I know it's Sweden but more precisely where in Sweden, as well as a short description of everybody's background).?
' Here is the Mats and Morgan story; In 1981 when I was 14 years old, I received a telephone call came from a lady that was organizing a concert in a little village outside Umeå/Sweden. She asked me if I could come and play with a blind pianist, named Mats. Mats needed a drummer, but the he didn't have anyone to play with! She told me that she knew about me, that I might be the right one for Mats, same musical taste maybe, and same age! Mats had problems to find people close to his age, with any interest whatsoever in playing the music that Mats liked, (strange, huh?) You see, Mats was actually listening to Miles Davis before he could even walk! As well as Mahavishnu Orchestra and Frank Zappa etc. I know that Mats even forced his parents to buy him the latest Earth Wind & Fire record once, otherwise he would jump down the stairs at home (this was when he was seven). So, the lady that called was right, we did have a lot in common, we even wound up being THE Musical partners for light years to come! '

I told her I was interested in playing with Mats, and a few days later Me and Mats met at the venue. Mats walked towards me with his dad, and he looked like he was seven years old or something. We shock hands and started to discuss what we could possible play this night. This was only about TWO hours before our show... so we obviously had to play some covers. Mats asked me "Do you know Frank Zappa"? I said - I guess I can do 'Bobby Brown' without any rehearsal. Now we had one song ! Mats continued - Do you know Stevie Wonder? I said - I know this song 'Master Blaster', do you know that one? (Stupid question) Mats seemed to know almost everything already then, at age 10. Mats continued - Beatles? Me - I can do 'Help'.

We were only suppose to play about 20 minutes, so we had enough with material. When we started to play, I watched Mats in complete disbelief, I mean, he was TEN years old! But he played unbelievable, and sang the lyrics with perfect pronunciation, sounding like Jackson Five on crack. After we finished, my dad was almost in tears. Mats daddy was also really amazed and said something like, 'maybe you could...I and play together some more!?...We have a Drum set in our basement..' So we did, and have spent time doing music all the way since then. I can tell things about Mats for another 500 pages, but I'll just say that he is one of the most amazing musicians ever lived. He really is. I rate my meeting with Mats as one of the biggest gifts and most important of my life.
The rest of the guys in our band, who I also am also super grateful to have found, and work with, is friends we have met during concerts etc. Sweden is not so big, chances are very likely that you sooner or later run into people with the same musical taste as your own. They are; Jimmy Ågren on guitar, from Umeå (my brother). Tommy Thordsson on bass, from Växjö. Robert Elovsson on keyboards, from Nyköping. Me and Mats are from Umeå.'

Does one have to have a masters in mathematics to play your music? (just kidding). Seriously, how do approach odd meters; do you think about them in terms of groupings (2s and 3s), in terms of the whole bar, in term of melody or pattern?
' Honestly, I never 'think' so much. I just "hear" a kind of beat in my mind, and then I try to play it into my sequencer, quantisize it, and listen to it. If it sounds cool, I keep it and work something out of it!"

I particularly like the odd stuff you're doing while keeping an underlying backbeat which is cool and probably had you sitting down a while (at least I hope) to figure out how you were going to do that technique wise.?
' Sure. Most of my compositions from the 'Live' and 'ON AIR WITH GUESTS' album came out pretty 'rythm-oriented'. Those songs HAS some rhythmic patterns that CAN be explained. But still, I don't plan anything from the theoretic side. I play around with patterns without necessarily knowing what I am doing. Anyway, some of those parts took us time to learn and play.'

Was that inspired by Bruford?
' Not so much I think. But there is actually a part on "En Schizofrens Dagbok" that sounds very much Bruford. I have listen a lot to Bruford, I liked his sound, and some of his old albums too. 'One of a kind' for instance, is one of those albums that I listened to A LOT when I grew up!'

Don't tell me you didn't have to work on that!
If you didn't, if it just happens naturally for you...well!

' I must say that the members in our group are very much NOT into mathematics, or theory at all. I am very happy the way it all works in the band, cause it is so easy to work together. I have never been able to explain too much about what I do theoretically anyway. I just compose and play without knowing what I am doing theoretically so much, and when the guys in the band are listening to a new piece, they approach it in a very natural way. It is hard to explain... I have most of my stuff on music scores too. I use to print it out from the computer. Mats and Jimmy can't read music though.. (Mats is blind too!) Anyway, we have played together for such a long time, so many things happens very naturally, in terms of HOW to do things.
The piece 'En shizofrens dagbok' (first track on the 'ON AIR WITH GUESTS') is something that can be explained as 'odd times signatures, being played on top of a 4/4 beat', stuff like that. When I played with the Zappa projects, we played 30-40 songs, and I have no idea on what the time signatures are in those songs... I CAN find out if I want/have to, but I just have them in my mind from listening to the albums for many years, so I don't need to know the theory in the songs in order to play them. Same goes for our own material off course.'

Cultural intermission: how do you pronounce your name (I suck at Swedish)!
' Oh, how can I explain that? I need phonetics I guess. You say it the same way as Morgan (the car!).'

Finally tell me about your:
- Discography:

With Mats/Morgan:
With others:
Fredrik Thordendal: SOL NIGER WITHIN (Meshuggah lead guitarist) Jimmy Ågren: GLASS FINGER GHOST, CLOSE ENOUGH FOR JAZZ Denny Walley: SPARE PARTS (X Zappa/Beefheart guitarist) Simon Steensland: LED CIRCUS. Dweezil Zappa: SHAMPOO HORN, AUTOMATIC. Kaipa: NOTES FROM THE PAST. Zappa's Universe: LIVE etc.

- Record company:
' I decided to start my own company in 1996, cause as you know, it ain't easy to get a contract with a company that releases music outside the MTV world... I have released 15 titles since 1996, and I am very happy with most of the CD's. It is just tooooo much work for me... I am responsible for too much... not only composing, it is mixing, mastering, cover lay out, webshop-orders, distributors, booking, mail orders, taxes, book keeping etc. I wish I had a real distributor worldwide. A booking agency would be good too. The best thing would be if a bigger company could support me as a sub-label, and give me free hands with the musical direction, and help me release and distribute the CD's.
You see, I get emails from a lot of places, were people wants to get a copy of a certain CD! It is great, cause I am always wondering how someone in let's say Ontario/Canada found out about us! Some people even sends cash in envelopes, with a message 'I want your CD, here is money, ship it to me!' So, people wants this kind of music for sure. It is great when the quality of an album can reach an audience without any promotion AT ALL. It's like 'good music' gets to the people sooner or later, by it's own power!'

- web site:
' The web site and the whole internet is a great chance and revenge for all the people who wants to do things by themselves. People that are not supported by a 'Coca Cola system'.. It is so easier now. The need of the record business industry are getting less and less important for the artists. But as I said, I WOULD need help too, but without the Internet I could not work like I do now, not at all. I bought a web shop system a year ago, so now you can order our CD's with credit cards, safely. And you can read about concerts, interviews etc. Artists don't need to ask the 'Coca Cola world' to release their music any more, we can do a lot on the Internet by ourselves.'

- projects:
' New music for the Mats/Morgan Band, new CD's. A tour in France May-June 2003. And when I get time, I will continue working on my long time project that I have called 'LE BATTERIE'. Le Batterie will be an album with a lot of drums, maybe not too much 'regular compositions', it is more of a groove thing, with a lot of dark hypnotic beats going on and on. Le Batterie might even wanna make you dance! I had to dance myself a little bit while recording it (laughs!).'

- tours (Jean tells me you just returned from Japan):
' It was our first time there. We played two concerts, Tokyo and Kyoto, and it was fantastic! Full house, and we sold 260 CD's at the venues in a few minutes! I even sold my drum book (written in Swedish..) So we felt very welcome! As soon as we have a new CD done, I am sure we will go back! Japan has a great interest for music. France too, by the way. Mats/Morgan Band played in France at the Nancy Jazz Pulsation October last year. And we met some really nice enthusiastic people there, who now have organized a French tour this coming May and early June. GET-SMALL.COM is the name of company that are helping us out. Just check my homepage for more information:'

THANKS A LOT, and hope to see you in France!
:: Reviews
:: My time with Frank Zappa
:: Interviews

:: Back to interviews

Modern Drummer
Readers Poll

:: Read more
Want to get Morgan
on your recording?

:: Read more
Morgan Ågren free drumsolo, France July 2010 (part 1)
Morgan Ågren free drumsolo, France July 2010 (part 1)