Ågren interview from the June issue of
Batteur Magazine 2003
By Patrick Buchmann. Special thanks to Jean Bisello, Jean Baptiste
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,
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 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.'
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
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
should...you could...I mean...meet 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!"
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.'
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!'
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
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!).'
tell me about your:
TRENDS AND OTHER DISEASES (96) THE MUSIC OR THE MONEY (97) RADIO
DADA (98) THE TEENAGE TAPES (98) LIVE (01) ON AIR WITH GUESTS"
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.
' 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
' 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
- tours (Jean tells me you just returned
' 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
THANKS A LOT, and hope to see you in France!
My time with Frank Zappa
:: Back to interviews