Interview Lalle Larsson

“If music is powerful enough you can capture an audience with just a few notes if you do it right”

(April 2013, text and pictures Lalle by Henri Strik, edited by Peter Willemsen)

When The Flower Kings (TFK) went on tour to promote their latest album Banks Of Eden (2012, see review), Lalle Larsson managed to warm up the audience before TFK hit the stage. I was present during their gig at venue De Pul in Uden, the Netherlands and I saw Larsson playing on only one keyboard (see review). However, this Swedish keyboardist is capable of doing much more like being a band member of the successful bands Karmakanic and Agents Of Mercy (AOM) or recording his own music with his band Weaveworld. I thought the release of Nightscapes (2012, see review), the new album by Weaveworld, to be a good reason to get better acquainted with this talented musician!  

Lalle Larsson

I would like know a bit about your musical background first. Are you classically trained?

Lalle Larsson: “I grew up in a musical family so as far as I can remember there was always music around. My first professional gig was at the age of fifteen. I quit school when I was sixteen and I played about a year with a rhythm & blues band before studying music in Vienna. I can't really say that I'm classically trained in the traditional sense. In Vienna I studied some Czerny, Chopin and Bach as well as music theory, jazz improvisation and so on, but apart from that I'm mostly self-taught. I've read a lot of books on composition and music theory. I have always been more of a jazz player, an improviser who could play a few classical pieces. Notated piano music is great for practising technique and reading and there's some really beautiful music written for the piano that I enjoy playing, but foremost I'm a composer and an improviser.”

Which keyboard players have influenced you?

“To be honest I haven't really listened much to keyboard players, so I don't have any big keyboard influences. Right from the beginning I was more influenced by guitar and saxophone players. People like John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Cannonball Adderley and Allan Holdsworth. However, I find many keyboard players inspiring like Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul, Art Tatum, McCoy Tyner and Jan Hammer. They inspire me to do my own thing.”

How did you become a member of bands like Karmakanic and Agents Of Mercy?

“In the nineties and in the previous decennium I played on a lot of different jazz-fusion albums as well as doing my own recordings. Bassist Jonas Reingold of TFK heard one of those recordings and he called me up when he needed a keyboardist for the first European tour ever with Karmakanic. Since then we have done about ten CDs together with different projects, and several tours around the world with AOM and Karmakanic. I'm very grateful to have been able to do that. Over time Jonas has become one of the most important people in my life, a great friend and a wonderful musician. When Roine Stolt (TFK) put together AOM, Jonas recommended me as a keyboard player, and the rest is history as they say.”

When did you decide to start Lalle Larsson's Weaveworld?

“Actually some of the music on Weaveworld goes as far back as 1992 when I was still a teenager. At the time I didn't have the means to record the music properly, so when Jonas started Reingold Records I thought that it would be fitting to rework and realize some of this material and writing some new music in that style. The more guitar driven rock energy in this music seemed to go over well with the prog rock audience as well. In my future back catalogue I guess that the Weaveworld trilogy will be seen as my three rock albums. It feels good to finally have this material out of the way, and I think that those three albums have a certain sound and mood that comes across as a whole.”

Why did you ask Richard Hallebeek (guitars), Stefan Rosquist (guitars), Walle Wahlgren (drums) and Jonas Reingold (bass)? Did you know the first three musicians?

“I didn't want this trilogy to be just three solo albums with a bunch of session players. I wanted more of a band and have all the players add their sound to the music in order to become the continuous thread throughout the music. In the past I had recorded and toured with Richard Hallebeek in the Netherlands so he was my first choice to play the guitar solos. He is a jazz guitarist so he can play over changes and he can really phrase a melody with great timing and tone. He has done a remarkable job throughout this trilogy. I also played the keys for his excellent RHP Pain In The Jazz album (2012, see review). Richard is also a great friend of mine. I have known Stefan Rosquist for over twenty years now; we both grew up listening to the same rock bands. We like the same type of whisky and British humour. He can really play these rock riffs with a great sound and I needed him to get a bit of hard rock edge in the band. Jonas Reingold was the natural choice on the bass; he's the most all-round bass player I know. He's able to play a mean distorted riff with a pick, beautiful lyrical melodies on the fretless bass and he's also a jazz player who can play over changes and phrase with great timing in any genre of music. Jonas also did a wonderful job producing the albums. I first met Walle Wahlgren when he was about sixteen or seventeen years old. He was a student at Mega Music where I was teaching. Even back then he was really serious about practising the drums. Later when he got back to Sweden after spending one year at Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, we begun playing together and I decided to use his skills on the Weaveworld recordings. He added a great feel and sound to the trilogy; we have been working together ever since. After the first Weaveworld album I recommended Walle for AOM and we did Dramarama (2010, see review) and The Black Forest (2011, see review) as well as several tours.”

Weaveworld band

Why didn't you use any singers for this project?

“I have always written instrumental music and as I mentioned before, my listening references come mostly from jazz, classical and fusion music. The easiest way to explain the difference between vocal genres and instrumental music is probably to put music in a historical perspective. You know, the music we hear today somehow derives from the music that was written about four-hundred years ago. Throughout history we have had the composers who wrote notated pieces for different instruments and orchestras, music that later on could be described as 'art music' for lack of a better word. On the other side we had the storytellers, the lute players and poets who put their views on life into words and music, sometimes political and sometimes just for entertainment. Pop and rock music derives from that vocal based troubadour tradition. I feel that I belong more to the composer tradition. That doesn't mean that I don't appreciate vocal music, I really do, but in my own music I feel more connected to twentieth century artists like Miles Davis, John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny, Chick Corea and Joe Zawinul than to pop and rock music. What I find interesting with some progressive rock music though, is that it sometimes becomes a crossover between the troubadour and the art music traditions. Frank Zappa is probably the best example of that. The lines between traditions and genres are melting away more and more. We're living in interesting times; music students of today learn the vocabulary and the improvisational aspects of jazz. They can read music which opens them up to the classical and the more advanced repertoire as well. This crossover started already in the sixties with, what Gunther Schuller called, 'the third stream': jazz improvisers like Eric Dolphy who also performed classical pieces from composers as Edgar Varèse. The difference today is that our generation grew up with rock music so you'll hear that sound, as well as electronica and all kinds of other styles of music from different cultures. One day I would love to make a vocal album with vocal music you've never heard before, but as it is right now I just don't hear it in my head.”

As far as I know you write all of the compositions yourself. Have you ever considered to write with other musicians or to use classical compositions for this project?

“Yes, I had a very specific vision for the Weaveworld trilogy; it all comes from my pen. Like Seven Deadly Pieces, to me Weaveworld works more like a painting or a movie. When I compose I already have a very clear vision of what I want to hear and then I try to get it out of my head onto a piece of paper, as close to the original vision as possible. Of course when you're working with other musicians they will always add their own interpretation of the music anyway, especially when there's room for improvisation. When you work with great musicians you can trust them to come up with something that will lift the composition. Sometimes the result comes close to the original vision; at other times it becomes better or worse, or just different. I'm not against the idea of composing together; it just demands a totally different mindset. When you compose with someone else you can't have a fixed picture in your head; you'll have to go with the flow and have a more stream of consciousness approach to composing. See where the music goes. Kind of like action painting where every line and colour in the end creates a whole and the art will tell you when it's ready.

I actually used Adagio, an old classical piece on the first Weaveworld album. It wasn't my intention to have any 'covers' on the album, but around the time of recording I was feeling kind of sad and miserable and wanted a piece that would reflect that emotion. When I sat down by the piano I started to play the Adagio because it had that melancholic emotion that I wanted to express. In the end I decided to use it on the album even though I hadn't composed it myself.”

Why did you come up with a trilogy?

“Early on I felt that I would only have material for three albums with this particular sound and style. Any more than that would just be repetitions or variations of saying the same thing. Now that I have done this I can move on to other things.”

Weaveworld Poster

What are the differences between Weaveworld (2009), Infinity Of Worlds (2010) and Nightscapes (2012)?

“I guess that the first album is the darkest one. The opening of Marionette and Dance Of The Dead has a much darker guitar sound and the whole album has that fresh experimental vibe to it. It was also the first album we did so I was still looking for a sound that mixed fusion, jazz, metal and classical music. The first album is still very special to me and it kind of set the mood for what would come next. The second album turned out a little more safe with a more traditional vintage guitar and drum sound. Infinity Of Worlds is definitely the most commercial of the three. In hindsight I don't think that it is as unique as the first album. I can feel that the album is a bit streamlined and maybe not hundred percent me, but it has its moments. On Nightscapes I didn't want to make the same mistake again, so I took what I felt was the best of both previous albums and made the grand finale, still within the Weaveworld sound. A bit more guitar and keyboard solos to let the soloists shine, more notated orchestrations. Jazzy in the way that we play over chord changes and I was using a bit more elaborate compositional tools with twelve tone counterpoints and polyrhythms in Nightscapes Suite. The album also features the longest Weaveworld track of 24 minutes which has all the typical Weaveworld elements but also refers to the more experimental music of Seven Deadly Pieces and my previous work. Since Weaveworld isn't intended to be an experimental or avant garde project, I composed it as a very balanced album with some softer, more accessible tunes like Nocturne, Rainbow's Gold and Dawn Sheds A Final Tear. Even though this kind of instrumental music is considered to be difficult by some, I still think that these recordings have enough emotional impact for it to be pretty universal if people only give it a chance.” 

Infinity Of Worlds

Why did you include a nice musical extra at the end of your latest album after the final track had finished?

“Sometimes things just happen by themselves as if it was meant to be there. It came about by accident when Jonas and I were mastering the CD. He put all the tracks on eight separate tracks and when he pressed play he forgot to mute the other tracks, so all the tunes were being played at the same time. I really liked the sound, a cacophony of noise but still melodic in some weird and twisted way. It also fitted the whole Weaveworld concept I think. So we got this idea: why don´t we put it as a hidden track? I've always enjoyed little hidden tracks, a mysterious surprise. I also like the idea of leaving the trilogy with some questions unanswered, almost with the feeling that the music continues somewhere else, maybe in a different dimension. It's a more open ending than a definite ending chord.”

Is there any chance that one day you'll perform the music from Weaveworld live on stage with the musicians who play on these albums?

“I would love to. We have already talked about it, and everyone would love to play this material live. It would be a dream come true to do a tour with the best material from the three albums and maybe do a live recording or a DVD. But I don't have any money at the moment to put into a tour like that. I'm a poor starving musician, but let's hope for the future. And if anyone out there has any ideas, I'm open to it.”

Your musical style has many different influences. Above all I like the way you blend jazz-rock, fusion, metal, progressive rock and classical music into a very enjoyable musical melting pot. Which style do you prefer most?

“Well, thank you. When I sit alone at home playing the piano I tend to feel most at home when I get to improvise over some nice chords, so I guess that my heart is really in the jazz-fusion type of stuff, but I don't really like to put music into genres. Good music is good music. I enjoy doing things I haven't done before. You know, when I joined Karmakanic and AOM I had never played in a prog rock band before, so that was new to me. Weaveworld combines the sounds that I've had around me since I was a kid, the distorted guitars and energy from the hard rock and metal, the jazz-fusion and the classical composition. In a way it's like a musical diary of the music I heard early on in my life.”

How was it to open for TFK during their European tour and to perform only on one keyboard?

Lalle and his keyboards

“It was a fantastic opportunity to be able to travel in a big tourbus to all these beautiful countries that I had never visited before. We played almost every night, eighteen gigs and my own music. Just to be able to play instrumental piano music in front of hundreds of people was amazing. I can't thank Roine Stolt enough for giving me that opportunity. It's the best touring experience I've had so far. Roine and Jonas have been so supportive to my music and I feel truly grateful for that. And the audiences were great; they really welcomed me even though they were there to see TFK. It was also a great learning experience to know that I could entertain an audience for 25 minutes by just playing the piano. No stand-up comedy, no fireworks, just pure music. After the tour I came back a little bit more confident. I learned that if the music is powerful enough then you don't need much, you can capture an audience with just a few notes if you do it right.”

Can you mention which keyboards you use during concerts and do you use the same ones during studio recordings?

“I have a Nord Stage EX 88 as the main keyboard and I'm also using a smaller midi keyboard connected to a MacBook Pro laptop with Logic plug ins. That's pretty much what I use both live and in the studio.”

When I compare your pictures from the early days as a professional musician to the pictures shot recently I almost think I have to do with a different person. Do you agree? How come that your appearance have changed that much?

“Ha, ha! Yeah, I guess you're referring to the Seven Deadly Pieces period. Actually when I first started out as a professional I had long hair and I pretty much looked the way I do today, only twenty years younger. In my mid-twenties when I tried to grow up I cut my hair and get a job, but that didn't work. I was kind of lost I guess. Now I'm back to my old raunchy self again ha, ha! During the Seven Deadly Pieces project I lost a lot of weight due to all the stress involving the project. I couldn't sleep at night and I didn't take care of myself that much. For the last six years or more I have been working out, I live healthier and I live a much happier life now.”

As far as I know you neither wrote music for Karmakanic nor AOM except for the keyboards solo during the tour they did together. Why did you never write a song for them?

“Karmakanic is Jonas Reingold's vision and I'm playing his compositions just like he's playing mine in Weaveworld. I'm pretty much playing his keyboard arrangements and then I add a few things to make it more pianistic. Jonas' demos are almost finished when I get them so it's nearly like classical music in the way that I just play the composition the way it's written. There are of course a lot of improvised parts in which I can be free. Jonas wants the musicians to add their own touch to his music. For instance, I improvised the intro to Eternally and I got composer credits for that. The same goes for AOM. Roine Stolt and Nad Sylvan write the material and we usually end up arranging it together in the studio. But I know that Roine wants AOM to be more of a band than a solo project, so he's always asking everyone to write more. I think that The Black Forest was a big step forward and I think that AOM are developing into a really good band with five different strong personalities. So far I haven't come up with any compositional ideas that I think would fit AOM, but who knows maybe it will come. Me and Roine have talked about meeting up this year and write some music together for AOM. That might be interesting; I haven't done that before, just throwing ideas back and forth and see what comes out of it all.

Nightscapes Poster

Was that keyboard solo improvised and inspired by UK?

“The live solo spot that you mention was improvised with a few written start and stop cues that I played every night. It consisted of one classical romantic piano part à la Chopin or Liszt and one electric keyboard solo over a bass note drone. Since it was the first real rock band I had been on tour with I wanted the keyboard solo to be a rock solo that you could headbang to, ha, ha! No fancy chord changes or anything. The neo-classical stuff was actually inspired by guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen who was my rock hero as a teenager, so that combined with some of my own madness made that solo.”

Why did you release the Seven Deadly Pieces DVD? Could you say that it covered the things you've done in the past?

“I had put a lot of money into that DVD and at the time when I approached different record labels, they didn't want to give me any money for it. So in the end I decided to take a bank loan and release it myself. In that way I had control over the product and I might even get the money back sometime in the future. The DVD hasn't reached the break-even point yet, but I still have about 500-600 copies left to sell. Yeah, it contains about four hours of material from all my previous projects.”

What can we expect from you music wise in 2013?

“At the moment I'm writing material for my next solo album written for keyboard, bass and drums. These compositions have a lot of chords and structures that work as vehicles for improvisation. The album will focus a lot on my solo playing. This will be recorded live in the studio to get a real live energy. I don't feel that I have really managed to capture the way I play live on any albums since most of them are recorded with overdubs, so I hope to be able to capture that feeling. I have been practising a couple of hours every day now for two months, so I feel a bit of progress and new ideas are beginning to take shape. Two months ago Richard Hallebeek released his album Pain In The Jazz on which I play all the keyboards. It's a great guitar oriented jazz-fusion album that features players like Sebastiaan Cornelissen, Frans Vollink, Randy Brecker, Greg Howe, Guthrie Govan, Andy Timmons, Eric Gales, José de Castro, Kiko Loureiro and Alex Machacek. It's highly recommended to fusion fans out there. Later this year we will also release a DVD with Karmakanic, a live show that we recorded in 2012 at RosFest, USA, which also features the great drumming of Morgan Ågren. There will also be a DVD with AOM from that same festival; you can probably expect that DVD to be released at the end of 2013. I'm also playing a few guest solos on different albums. So there's some exciting music in the pipeline. As usual I'm open to any kind of projects or tours and studio work if something comes along.”

Thanks for answering my questions!

“It's my pleasure, Henri! Thanks for taking the time to write these questions and do this interview, I appreciate it, and thanks to all the readers for taking the time to read this. People can also join my Facebook page to say 'hi' and get some updates about what I'm doing musically.”

More info about LalleLarsson on the Internet:
       Website Lalle Larsson
       review album 'WeaveWorld'
       review album 'Nightscapes'

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