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The tall smart long-haired Swedish genius I met on the grounds of Guitare en Scene Festival in France is the man who invented his ‘Freak guitar” style being absolutely hilarious and free with the instrument he loves. His name is Mattias Ia Eklundh, the chief cook behind the tasty music unit named Freak Kitchen. We are in late July of 2013, in the calm little place in France that is brought to life annually with the guitar aficionados festival. Mattias has just finished a 3-hour clinic on Indian rhythms and uncommon musical timing, a very mind opening piece of inspiration and theory that was equally very insightful and completely entertaining!
At first I wanted to talk to you about the clinic you just did. What are your impressions?
Oh, the students were great! They were brave to show up and even braver to stay. I mostly went into Indian rhythms and stuff like that, clapping and transforming it into actual guitar playing. The thing is I never do what I’ve planned, I’m just doing what I’m interested in. In that sense, sometimes the participants suffer in a way. They come thinking like I wanna learn shredding or I wanna know how to do this and that, but I say: not now! Because I think there is stuff more important than that. But they fought a good fight, I think. They were really trying to get into this system. And that’s what it’s all about: to give some inspiration and encourage them to grow their own mustache, as I like to say. To give them some positive attitude and show that you can live in this strange business now and do your own thing. I’ve done my own thing for quite some time now, so I can share something.
I guess that’s the best approach to teaching: when you share what you are most interested in at the moment…
Absolutely! Because otherwise you have to write some stuff down and I never write anything down saying like: show some picking here, some shred there, different techniques. It’s not funny! You, pretty much, have to show yourself and what you are interested in. And if you have an interesting self to show, the students stay with you and stay alert to what you are saying. Besides humour is a powerful weapon too. I say stupid things once in a while. I’m dead serious in what I intend to show them, but humour is a good way to get your message through, to bring them in and give them a big hug!
In creating music humour is also essential..
Yeah, many people don’t think so, but I do! I am from the Frank Zappa generation and he was asked once: does humour belong to music? Well, of course, it does, it belongs to life. Humor is a good way to frame life and to make it understandable, laugh at it, because it’s hard! Really, it’s a nasty planet in many ways, we live here for a long time and then we die. But humor helps to have a good time while you are here, ’cause what the fuck! I’m a middle-aged man, I have some good years left for me, but then, hey, I’m actually gonna die! What can I do about it?
Yeah, have fun and do your thing! That’s what it’s all about! Don’t worry about tomorrow that much, it’s really in the now! Live in the now! Anything else is irrelevant.
And your music is very much about living in the now and exploring the utmost of the moment with your guitar…
Yeah, thank you! I try, but because I have a passion in it myself, I never sit down and calculate what I have to do to be different or unorthodox or super special. I don’t think about it. I guess I actually took many times a road less traveled. I could be much bigger than I am now and so could Freak Kitchen, my band. But we have chosen to do it our own way and explore stuff! Sometimes we fail and sometimes we succeed! It’s ok, because at least we do our own thing, we have our integrity intact. That’s what it’s all about: to do your own thing and be proud of it. I make a good money doing what I’m doing, and if I want a bit more than I have to sell a bit of my soul, you know. But as long as I’m a family provider and I own my house and maintain my studio, that’s my sort of retirement plan to just own it, because it’s worth a lot of money. It’s good to have all this! As for me this is the nicest kind of success to do what you want to do (not what someone else wanted you to do) and actually benefit from it, be able to have a good life!
Yeah! Enjoying the flow of life. Feeling this freedom is what brought you to being special in music and doing fresh stuff, isn’t it?
Yeah-yeah! Because everybody says: oh, that crazy Swedish guy Mattias Eklundh, but I don’t see myself as a crazy guy! Though people know that I would constantly explore. So nobody is surprised if I play my guitar with a chopstick or dildo or whatever! I do it because I want to and I don’t really care is it appreciated or not. If I do it with an open heart, saying: yeah, this is what I am now, I know there are people who appreciate it. There would always be someone who say: “yeah, but I liked your precious record much more”. Well, good for you! But I need to move on! Or people saying: “the first Freak Kitchen record was the best”. Sure! Because you lost your virginity to it! I can never compete with that first impression when I do a new album. So you do what you do and you keep doing it! Jesus, I talk too much…
Hey, that’s what interviews are about!
Oh, that is what we are doing here, I got it 🙂 Ok! (laughing viking-like)
What was your most recent discovery in the music universe?
In my music, you mean? Oh, I guess that was grooming the strings with my cheap Air France comb! Like in the song “Musth”. I never seek any kind of inventions, I just do things that come into my mind. What else… I play with my son’s pirate balloon in a song called “Trumpet Lesson”. It’s basically balloon, guitar and amplifier. It sounds like someone learning to play the trumpet! (Mattias imitating the sound hilariously) There are other stupid things, my wife, when she comes to the studio, always says you can’t put this on a record, but no, I can! I have 16 remote controls in my studio and I used them all in a song “Infrared Jed”. That’s a special piece of music, but still nobody ever tried to play 16 remote controls at the same time on one song! And I also have a song “Sexually frustrated fruit fly flamenco”…
Oh, I love this title!…
Yeah,yeah! I have read an article about fruit flies which says that if they are sexually frustrated and have access to alcohol, they drink themselves out almost to death. But if they go out a lot and make a lot of sex, they don’t touch alcohol. I found it fascinating that someone has just made this discovery! So I was inspired and I thought about sexually frustrated fruit fly trying to learn the flamenco! So I have a flamenco guitar in that song, but that’s not all. The guitar starts and then it’s “eeeaing” becomes annoyed and very frustrated. So what the hell, I don’t really care how it is perceived, I just do it! Sometimes it´s good and sometimes the worst piece of music known on Earth.
So being eclectic is natural for you…
Yeah, I think it is. Not for the sake of being it, just because I have this urge to explore. I actually have a very good time while doing it. Like with “Sexually frustrated fruit fly flamenco” I just love what my brain is saying to me: what is this? This is really stupid! Again, creating something out of nothing it’s a real kick! It’s better than drugs and alcohol, and anything like that, it’s like: wow, I just made something out of nothing! It’s making me laugh and it’s good enough for me. Some people would laugh and some people won’t understand it, but it doesn’t matter. Somebody has to do it! I’m living on this professionally for 25 years, surviving with my music. I find it amazing how can you do it in this strange business! Thanks God I have a guy like Steve Vai who supports me and releases my albums! We have a great american record company with Freak Kitchen as well.
How is it for you working with Steve Vai?
He is a lovely person! He showed up in my Inbox early 2000, I think it was at that time. I was in Japan, I released my first solo album and he loved it! He drop me an email, because he just brought together this Favored Nations company. I always thought that would be a kick-ass company to be with, but I am not the guy who is walking in somebody else’s door. People would come to me, because I‘m just Swedish. Swedes don’t do that: “Hey, can I have this? Can I take that”. He just wrote me an email saying I love your stuff, I think you are insane, can I work with you? And I didn’t think it was Steve Vai, so I didn’t reply. I mean, hey, nowadays I got emails from Jimi Hendrix every day, you know. So he wrote another one and another one. Then after a while I realized: may be it is Steve Vai?! We have a great working relationship. I do what I wanna do, he puts records out worldwide and we split 50/50, he takes all the costs. We are having concert together in October 2013: great concert with Freak Kitchen and Steve Vai. He’s been really good to me! All the big guys are very supportive, once they bring you inside the big circle. I’ve never asked for anything and a lot of stuff was handed to me, so I’m very grateful about it.
That’s because you are giving out a lot too..
Yes-yes, just start giving out energies and all the good vibes are coming back to you! It’s nothing calculated, just following your heart!
So what would be your G3, if you are the main man in the list?
My G3? Hmm…Oh, I would bring Bireli [Lagrene], but he would only play a third of the show, then suddenly we go fishing. So that won’t be very good for promoters. (Laughing) I think Guthrie Govan would be a good choice, with me and Christophe [Godin]. There are many many great players…Dweezil Zappa may be. We work together from time to time. It would be my G10 or GWhatever, because there are so many good players!
Yeah, it’s actually a good name – GWhatever (both laughing)
I feel a lot of metal in your roots and soul of your music. What does it give you?
Oh, I grew up listening to KISS and then Frank Zappa came and screwed it up a bit for me, quite a great deal was to understand how can you do this. Then it was a lot of Metallica when the first album came out, then I’ve discovered Slayer. At the same time I’ve discovered Django Reinhardt and Miles Davis. But for me…I think it was Duke Ellington who said that: there are two types of music: good music and bad music. So my roots would always be metal, because I like that beefy chunky raw power. I fool myself every once a year saying I am a jazz player and then I plug in, turn it on, play 2 seconds with Freak Kitchen and I realize that I would always be a metal man! Nothing wrong in jazz, but my approach to melody and rhythm is completely different, I like jazz, but I also like distortion, I like volume, I like smoke machines and explosions.
This mix is what actually makes you musically unique!
Wow, thank you very much, (making the funniest face) I am so unique! So are you! You’ve just put your iPhone in a flower pot in France to record a Swedish man talking a lot! (laughing out loud)
Oh, yeah, that’s a unique experience! What do you think is special about instrumental guitar music? What does it have that a song with lyrics does not?
It depends! If it’s a bad song with lyrics than an instrumental song is better. It may easily be the opposite. It really differs from song to song. I hear a lot of instrumental crap music and some really good too. But human voice is the one that grabs you the most, regardless of what the instrument is. It’s really hard to resist being grabbed by it. You don’t need to hear each time Michael Bolton kind of voice, it’s enough to have just someone with the voice that grabs your soul. Good voice and good rhythm are two things you would immediately strongly react to. Guitar is beautiful if it is played by someone, like Jeff Beck, who really makes it sing! Or Derek Trucks, I’m a big fan of his work. He can do slide that is just devine! It’s very close to the human voice. But still! Again it is trying to imitate human voice. Or John Coltrane: when he played it was almost like talking and singing.
Do you prefer instrumental music to singing?
Not always. With Freak Kitchen I sing all the time. I guess I’m having the best of both worlds. Sometimes I just feel: oh, no, I don’t wanna sing right now, so I do some Freak Guitar music. But I always go back to good song-writing, riffing and being in a band. That’s the coolest thing for me: to be in a band and go out there! I find it hard to play only instrumental music. Just playing becomes not enough. After a while I feel that I want to sing, scream and so on!. Sure, ok, I would do that G3 tour we were talking about, but still… (laughing on a joke about imaginary G3 tour)… I would sing during the G3 tour anyway! Yes, I would insist on bringing Freak Kitchen and singing! (keeps laughing)
I would love to see that!
So would I! That’s never gonna happen, but that could be beautiful!
Does the new generation of guitarists give you hope? I mean with all the possibilities of the Internet and numerous guitar camps, do you think in 20 years we will have a lot of guitar heroes? Or may be in 50 years the kids would just switch back to Beatles and Bob Dylan and that´s it?
Well, a few years ago I was really a bit worried. I felt like: Come on, where are all the new guys?! Because me and Bumblefoot, and Guthrie [Govan], and Andy Timmons, we are not the new guys! We are middle-aged man, we’ve been around forever. But where are the new guys? Yes, today is hard to get yourself heard, if you are new. You are shouting “Hey, look at me!” on Youtube or Facebook, but you are drowning in the information overkill, so to speak. But thank God there are new guys coming up, so I think there is hope for the future when it comes to guitar! For example, tomorrow he will be the workshop of Alex Hutchings! And he is fabulous! He is probably 10 years younger than me and Christophe [Godin], he is amazing and absolutely stunning! So guitar heroism is going to survive, because it’s a cool thing! But of course, as always, we need more girls! Well, there are some really-really promising women out there that would kick a lot of the male guitarists, which is good! Jess Lewis is one of them. She’s very young and plays her heart out. She is super shy and almost excusing herself for what she’s doing, but she’s playing great!
And what Swedish bands do you like?
Oh, we have so many…Opeth, Meshuggah…
Diablo Swing Orchestra?
They are a great band, yeah! And imagine, there are only 9-10 million people in Sweden and so many good bands! We all know one another at some point. I’m good friends with the guys in Meshuggah, guys from Opeth comes to my camp as guest teachers, and the guys from In Flames. So Sweden is a small world. Well, it’s a big country, but nobody lives there in the nature, it becomes small when it comes to music, everyone is close. I think the music industry is maybe 3-4th biggest industry in Sweden. We have many song-writers, like Max Martin who writes for Lady Gaga and guys like that. So music generates a lot of money for the Swedish government.
What are your plans on touring your recent album “Smorgasbroad” or playing with Freak Kitchen?
I’m basically doing clinics and gigs all the year for my solo record, yeah, but with Freak Kitchen we do some sporadic shows, like India or Indonesia or we do a short German-Belgium tour with Panza Ballet. Then we release a new album in 2014 (As for the April 2014 the album is into mixing and we already know it is called “Cooking with Pagans”- K.M.) and we plan to tour it! It would be really great to come to Moscow actually! Let’s do it, it would be great!
Mattias is playing May 18б 2014 at the Guitar Player Party 40 in Moscow club Mezzo Forte!
Oh, I have a feeling that we can talk like for ages, but I guess we have to wrap it up or we’ll be late to listen to Bireli [Lagrene] show.
That’s a huge pleasure for me talking to you. Yeah, I don’t lack words. Argh! I just got the message from Christophe [Godin] “once you are done, join me to the left of the stage”. This man is a messaging demon. So we go! And see you in Moscow, for sure!
Guitare en Scene, France. 20/07/2013
Thanks to the team of Festival Guitare en Scene and Christophe Godin for help in arranging this interview.
Mattias IA Eklundh. Guitare en Scene festival. St.Julien-en-Genevois, France. July 19-22, 2013. Photo by Katerina Mezhekova for InRock.
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