An interview with
Jimmy Ågren

By Beppe Colli
Dec. 26, 2004

I suspect that being a beefheartian blues guitarist in Sweden ain't easy (and I doubt it would be easier somewhere else). Jimmy Ågren tries to do his best, with excellent results: Get This Into Your Head, Glass Finger Ghost and the recently released Close Enough For Jazz are all fresh-sounding albums rich in inventiveness and full of musical implications that would make them appreciated guests in many a home. Odd time signatures, spicy timbres, blues that for once doesn't sound mannered. And then we have his participation to the albums by the dynamic duo Mats/Morgan.

In my opinion Close Enough For Jazz - and Jimmy Ågren's work - deserve a lot more attention than at present. Hoping that a more visible distribution will help alleviate the "selective attention deficit disorder" symptoms that at present plague even the most "self-centered" (yeah, right...) media. Qs/As via e-mail, last week.

I really don't know that much about you, so: Would you mind talking about the way you started developing an interest in music, what kind of music you first liked, your first approach to the instrument and so on?

Well, I'm 33 years old, took up the guitar at the age of 14. A friend of mine played an AC/DC tune for me on his guitar, and I was totally hooked because I had listened to AC/DC everyday since I was about 8 or 9 years old. So that made me pick up the guitar. Then I listened to B.B. King and Ry Cooder for a long time. Later on came Zappa, Beefheart and King Crimson. Quite a mix, but those 5 bands are my main influence.

And right from the start the composing of music was my main interest. Not sitting practising scales up and down all the days on my guitar.

On your records you demonstrate a very good familiarity with the blues idiom. Would you mind talking about your approach to the blues?

May seem strange, but 90 % of the blues I hear I don't like so much. It has to be something different. And I'm afraid that's not so common, most blues bands sound all the same for me. For me, I always try to make it bluesy but with more different grooves, patterns and chords. I want to be satisfied with a tune before I feel that there is something different with it. And that usually means a lot of work.

A propos of which: Have you seen any of the movies about the blues (i.e., those directed by Martin Scorsese, Wim Wenders, Clint Eastwood, et cetera) that came out not too long ago? What was your opinion about them?

Yeah, I'm afraid the only movie I remember watching was the one with Jeff Beck, and I liked it very much.

Would you mind talking about the project that gave birth to the CD titled The Music Of Captain Beefheart?

Morgan was asked to put together a band to play Beefheart's music along with an exhibition of his paintings located in my and Morgan's hometown, Umeå. We did 3 shows, and one of them resulted in a live CD. It was great to meet and play with ex Zappa guitarist Denny Walley and my old time hero, Freddie Wadling.

You have been a part of the line-up called Mats/Morgan, at whose core are your brother Morgan and Mats Öberg. Would you mind talking about this experience?

Sorry, don't understand this Q. But I like to play with them, and done so since 1996. Just been to the US on a ten days tour, and that was great fun.

On Glass Finger Ghost you had some outside help, while on Close Enough For Jazz you did almost everything yourself. Would you mind talking about those different approaches?

Well, on my first CD, Get This Into Your Head, I also played everything myself, and Freddie Wadling and Eric Bibb did the vocals.

It's mostly because of 2 reasons. First, everybody I play with lives in Stockholm, and I live way up in Umeå with my family, and it's hard to get everybody around for rehearsals. And it's a small town and hard to find the right musicians for me here.

And secondly I like to play everything myself and I think it affects the way it sounds in a good way.

But I wish in the future I can do more live recordings with a band. It takes a lot of energy and time to do everything yourself.

I seem to detect some folkloric airs on the instrumental tracks called Who's Lennard and Fifty Thousand Notes. Am I right? And: What's your relationship with the (traditional) musical heritage of your country?

Well it's not anything I thought about. I think it was just the spur of the moment it came out like that. Can't say I listen to folklore. But I like the Band of Gypsies Taraf De Haidouks... My father and grandfather played the violin, maybe that got something to do with it.

Are you familiar with the recorded output of people like Jukka Tolonen, or groups like Samla Mammas Manna, or the solo releases by Lars Hollmer?

Only a little, mostly Lars Holmer I've heard some good stuff from. I know that Jukka is good but for some reason I never heard him, same with Samla.

I suspect that being a blues guitarist in Sweden it's not easy. Tell me about it.

Well it is for me anyway, since I don't play traditional. A lot of blues clubs only want traditional blues and covers and that goes for a lot of people too. I often get very surprised how for example friends around me can't listen to music that's different. They can't or won't even bother to try to listen to it. For example, Fifty Thousand Notes makes my non musically friends think I've lost my mind.

Future plans?

I've done most of the material for the next CD, Various Phobia. Hopefully it can be released before the end of 2005. I've just got to know that Border Music is going to release Close Enough For Jazz, and hopefully also my next CD, on their label. And that's good.

© Beppe Colli 2004 | Dec. 26, 2004