Sunday, June 7, 2015

Stein Urheim 13 Questions

Photo by Jonas Boström

Stein Urheim (born 1979 in Bergen, Norway) is a Norwegian Jazz musician (guitar) and composer. In 2009 he released his debut album Three Sets of Music and the following year he received the Voss Jazzfestival-Award. He was a member of Gabriel Fliflet´s band Åresong, and participated on The Last Hurrah´s debut album (Rune Grammofon). On Kosmolodi (Hubro) Urheim showcases his many different faces, in cooperation with bassist Alexander Grieg and drummer Nils Arne Drønen. The blues is the cornerstone, but influences from Musiq concrete, Chinese and Norwegian folk music and jazz are also present here. His last album also in Hubro label is the eponymous Stein Urheim (Hubro 2014). Like a Don Cherry playing a crazy guitar and a big palette of different world instruments, this new album open the ears and the vibrations to influences from Lou Harrison to Ornette Coleman, in a kaleidoscopic watercolor from an imaginary and personal country.


He has toured and released 2 duo albums with singer Mari Kvien Brunvoll, Daydream Communtiy and Daydream Twin, on the Jazzland label.  He also wrote for, arranged and played on 3 albums by the Bergen-based rock band Steady Steele, as well as numerous other music projects.

with Mari Kvien Brunvoll. Photo Eirik Lande

What's the relevance of technique in music, in your opinion?

You need the technique to be able to sound the way you want to sound and do the stuff you want to do.
To have the music come out the way you wish for, depending on the ear and subjective opinion of what sounds good.
In a more freely improvised or experimental context it´s very open, you can more or less create your own technique and make it work.
In traditional folk music from around the world, or say bluegrass, blues or jazz you have to have a certain technique to play and bring on the tradition with dignity and tribute to the people who created all the tunes.

And of course, if you´re an interpreter of western classical music, you have to be able to do whatever the sheet or the composer wants you to do, to fulfill the vision of the piece.
Indian classical music seems to be some of the hardest when it comes to technique. Kids needs to start early on to get good, and maybe, if they have the right kind of talent, they´re able to play the tradition the right way after maybe 20 years or so.
I think it´s a combination of personal and traditional esthetics.
And to be able to play or sing the things you want in a way that´s not hurting your body.

Why do you need music? Can we live without music?

I need music to think, to work, to get inspired, and to be made aware of things that happened in the past, to remember how rich the human culture and history is, to be opened up and be refreshed on a grey day. It can heal you, make you forget problems and illnesses. It can even cure really sick or disabled people for the moment, make them react with their environments, sing, move and dance.

We probably could have survived without music, but life would obviously be way less meaningful for most of us, so I don´t think a lot of people could live the life they do now, no.

Which is the main pleasure ot strings? What are their main limitation?

That you can tune them in all kinds of different tunings, which can open up all kinds of colors, but then, at the same time you have to tune all the time, which can drive me crazy…

They also don´t have that breathing sustain quality of the voice, like a horn has for example.
Sometimes I wish I just played harmonica. Or flute.

What do you recall about your playing learning process?

I learned my first three chords on the guitar from my dad when I was 10, and a little later, my first guitar solo from a neighbor who played in a band.
Quite early on, when I had the basics and could play simple melodies, knew open tunings, and the chords and riffs to songs by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, I started learning how to play like the old blues-players; the finger picking of Mississippi John Hurt, the slide playing of Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters and so on.
I spent almost a year just to get that boogie sound of John Lee Hooker,  and to get a vibrato like B.B. King.

I learned how to bend notes like Albert King, and how to get that snapping ice-tone of Albert Collins.
I learned Peter Green's interpretation of Freddie King, and Ry Cooder´s adaptations of tunes by Joseph Spence, Blind Blake and the bottleneck guitar of Blind Willie Johnson.
Some of these things I learned from guitar-players I met and took lessons with, but most of it I learned from recordings.
In that period I also started playing the harmonica, listening to Sonny Terry, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin Wolf, Big Walter Horton and so on.
I learned a lot of the Hendrix-material through Stevie Ray Vaughan-records,
and his brother Jimmie Vaughan was a great influence on my rhythm guitar when I played in different blues bands as a teenager.

Later, I got into the jazz of Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, and guitar players like Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, more modern players like Robben Ford, Mike Stern and John Scofield, and later Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot.
We also played a lot of funk in bands when I was a teenager, inspired by Red Hot Chili Peppers, George Clinton and James Brown.

In my twenties I got quite tired of the guitar, the whole guitar-hero thing, and wanted to learn other instruments, other approaches to music, different musical styles.
I spent a lot of time songwriting, recording albums and touring with different rock and pop bands.
I started studying folk music, both from Norway and other parts of the world.
I also started doing free-improvisation and mix styles in non-traditional ways.
I studied jazz-arranging and improvisation for a couple of years in my mid/late twenties at the Grieg Academy i Bergen, where I met a lot of great musicians, both students and teachers.
Later, in the more recent years, I took lessons from both traditional Norwegian, Chinese, Indian and Turkish musicians.
I became influenced by the flute-playing of Rakoto Frah, Don Cherry and Norwegian folk musicians.
I get a lot of inspiration these days from composers like Eivind Groven, Bjørn Fongaard, Lou Harrison, Terry Riley and Harry Partch.
Also from Wayne Shorter´s compositions, which I been really into for about a year.

I still learn, all the time, from every one I meet and every sound I hear.
Hopefully that´s going to continue for as long as I can play music.

One musical work wich has provoked a change in your music?

Change of the Century from 1959 with Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins.

That was a real door-opener into a lot of new music to me.

 And the record Trøbbel by Bjørn Torske opened my ears to electronic music, which I later listened to a lot.

Audun Waage - Trumpet + Synths + FX + Vocals, Stein Urheim - Guitars / String Instruments, Jonas Raabe - Synth + FX + Vocals 

What is your relationship with other art disciplines?

I read a lot of books. My favorite right now are the short stories by a Norwegian author named Kjell Askildsen.
He is a master. I´ve read all his books.
These days I´m reading Dag Solstad´s 90s´ novels.
I did write a little bit myself, as a critic in a newspaper for a while and some essays. I also write short lyrics to songs.
I wish I could paint, but I don´t. I think I had a talent for drawing early on, but I never worked on it.
But I love going to art galleries and exhibitions though.
Theater are not my thing, but I did see some really good plays the last couple of years.
Shakespeare´s Sonnets by Robert Wilson in Berlin.
And a great play by a Berlin theater group called Murmel Murmel.
And two Norwegian ones, Bikubesong by novelist Frode Grytten, and a monologue with actor Anne Marit Jacobsen.

Otherwise, I like to read Jon Fosse plays.

Where are your roots? What are your secret influences?
Mountain walks and hiking trips out in nature are a huge influence.
I grew up with that, and still do it as often as I can.
In holidays me and my girlfriend take longer hikes up in the mountains for days.
Movies has also been a huge influence on my music for periods.
For a while I only watched Lynch-movies. Then for a while, it was only Tarkovsky.
I like to dive into one director for a long period of time.

What would you enjoy most in an art work?

A combination of layers that somehow talk to me or tries to show me something new. That feels kind fresh.
Or sometimes I can get really drawn into something from the feeling that I´ve experienced it before, seen it or heard it earlier on, when I know I actually haven´t. A feeling that takes away the limits of time and space.
I like to compare different pieces by the same artist, find similarities and differences.
And also to learn certain things about the process of crafting the work can be really interesting.

What quality do you most empathize with in a musician?

To be able to really listen to and communicate with their surroundings, to enjoy the present, and to have a deep, personal sound, rich with ideas, that can surprise me so that I get inspired myself.
To be able to express vivid, clear rhythms, melodies, textures and sounds, and take space without the feeling of a star complex or hierarchical domination.

Which living or dead artist would you like to collaborate with?

Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Jon Hassel, Duke Ellington, Andrej Tarkovsky, André Vida, and a lot of the other Hubro artists.
I´m also very lucky and fortunate to have worked with so many musicians that I like already.


What instruments and tools do you use?
2 Fender Telecasters, a U.S. 40 years anniversary vintage model and a Mexico one which I made a fretless, I´ve had them both for about 20 years.
2 acoustic guitars, one handmade by Hanno Kiehl, guitar maker from Hamburg, and one Landola, also made fretless.
1 DeArmond semi-acoustic and a Supro from 1964.
I have a barytone guitar and a couple of Stratocaster-copies.
A little Chiquita travel guitar made fretless and tuned in a sort of overtone-tuning.
I usually use glass bottlenecks, sometimes steel slides.
I also have a lot of other string instruments I´ve used a lot; a Norwegian zither (langeleik), Chinese gu qin, fretless Greek bouzouki, Turkish tanbur, fretless mandolin, a charango, a little six string banjo, fretless, and lots of non-tempered flutes and harmonicas.
I have a Crate amplifier that´s a bit heavy to carry around too much, so if I play gigs, I usually borrow a Fender Hotrod Deluxe or something like that.
For effects I usually just use a little delay and a loop-pedal.
I keep it very simple these days when it comes to equipment.


What is the most recent musical experience that has attracted your attention?

A lot of good concerts and records more recently of course, but I went to an amazing Wayne Shorter-concert last year that made me dig into his whole catalogue.

That was such a rewarding experience. I´ve been listening to Wayne Shorter all the time since then.


What projects are you working on now and what does the future hold?

We´ve just finished a new album for Jazzland Recordings, me and singer Mari Kvien Brunvoll,  it will be the 3rd one as a duo, and will be released in august. We´re doing concerts with that project these days and will continue in the fall when the record comes out.
I recorded a new solo-album this spring for Hubro that´s due to release next year.  I´m very excited about both these albums. Right now I´m writing music for a jazz festival next spring, it´s a commissioned work for six musicians, myself included.

Besides that I´m doing freelance work and playing a few solo-concerts at festivals this summer.


2003 Steady Steele
A collection of songs (2003-2006)

2009 Three sets of music

2009 At The Festival
Collection of songs from the album Three Sets Of Music

2011 Stein Urheim & Mari Kvien Brunvoll
Daydream Community  
Jazzland Records

2012 Kosmolodi 

2013 Stein Urheim & Mari Kvien Brunvoll
Daydream Twin 
Jazzland Recordings

2014 Stein Urheim 

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Photo by Benedicte Maurseth