Praten: Robert Moses

Foto: Ketil Hardy

Robert Moses er amerikaneren fra Chicago, Illinois som har gjort nordmann av seg. Født og oppvokst i et område av byen som kan skilte med katolske innbyggere såvel som kompiser av Tony Soprano og Vito Corleone, var han godt rustet for møtet med den jevne Oslo-borger. Oak Park, som området heter, har fostret andre størrelser som Ernest Hemmingway, MacDonalds-hjernen Ray Kroc og selveste Dan Castellaneta, stemmen til vår alles kjære Homer Simpson. Oppvokst i et hjem der kunsten stod i høysetet var det aldri overraskende at unge Robert tidlig fant interesse i musikken, og han drev på med rock'n'roll i hjembyen helt til Den Store Eventyrlysten tok ham før trettiårskrisen fant ham. I 1993 tok han turen til London for å studere andre kunstretninger som tegning, diktning, skuespill og andre kreative retninger der det å bruke hendene kom i fokus. Tre år senere la han ut på en lang sykkeltur, endte opp på danskebåten til Oslo, og resten er historie. The Wilhelmsens er fryktelig fornøyd med at livet hans tok den vendingen det gjorde. Hvis ikke hadde ikke følgende prat funnet sted...

J: Gratulerer med albumutgivelse, en lenge etterlengtet oppfølger av den vakre Self-Developing Country. Er du spent på mottakelsen nå?

R: Thanks! Yes, I am excited and a little on the edge of my seat about what people will make of it. You never know what people will hear or how they will interpret the music or the lyrics. I guess that is one of the things that I am most excited to hear about - what the lyrics say to them and how the music I wrote and the way we play it as a band supports what I was intending to say. And I am looking forward to hearing about how people take in the entirety of the record itself and what we as a group have to offer.

J: Tekstene har definitivt fanget meg, og jeg har tolket noen av tekstene på mitt vis, sannsynligvis på et vis du ikke hadde i tankene. Men, sånn er heldigvis lyrikk. Du skriver veldig poetisk, og skaper bilder i hodene til lytterne, på et vis jeg forbinder med diktere. Er du opptatt av poesi, eller har du utviklet et språk som står seg til musikken din?

R: I am glad to hear that is how you took in the lyrics, and in a way I would like to hear other people's interpretations. I do like poetry, especially when it is playful with language and the poet bends the language around. I don't think that there are 'wrong' things you can do with language, at least not in this context. But I would say that I have tried to develop a usage of words and language more in relation to song writing and painting pictures or creating moods with words that are to be sung and heard first and foremost. I enjoy combining images with what the melody and rhythm is doing so that they support one another and hopefully convey a certain meaning. There are countless things you can do with music to give the words different shades of meaning and most often I choose the words and theme in the lyrics to fit what the music is saying.

J: Ja, nettopp, det er noe med at enkelte ord gjør seg ekstra når de synges. Selv er jeg jo blodfan av Tom Waits, en kar som virkelig vet å utnytte det du sier. Jeg aner dessuten et aldri så lite slektskap med Waits her, selv om tematikken ikke nødvendigvis er den samme.

Debutalbumet ditt synes jeg var veldig stilistisk og enkelt å plassere i sjangeren americana/country. Plutonic Friends derimot er deilig eklektisk, og spriker i mange retninger. Var dette ei retning du ønsket å ta før dere gikk i studio?

R: Yes, I wanted to make a record that had quite a bit of variety in it and that showcased some of the different things the band could do. I wrote some of the songs with the strengths of the band as a group and as individuals in mind. I think there is a lot of talent and a great creative ability for expressing themselves musically in this group and I thought that on this record we should let it shine through, along with our joy of playing together.  I had a pretty clear idea of what I was intending for each of the songs and I was also trying to allow a lot of space for the others to have the freedom to do what they felt fit.

I was even thinking that it would be interesting to try to make a record where each song 'erased' the one before it in the sense that the listener could be pulled or immersed into a new, different mood or atmosphere with each successive song. And maybe that would contribute to the listener wondering what was going to come next.

And I wanted the record to capture the sound of a band that really plays together and is bouncing ideas off each other while the tape was rolling, to capture the kind of energy and interplay between musicians who really like to work with each other. That is one of our strengths.

J: Dette har dere definitivt lyktes med! Self-Developing Country var 10 sanger på 35 minutter, mens du denne gang har "nøyd deg" med åtte låter, som til gjengjeld varer i bortimot 40 minutter. Akkurat dette har gitt de dyktige karene i The Harmony Crusaders mye luft og rom å fylle ut. Jeg må si at jeg har hatt mange imponerte øyeblikk etterhvert som jeg har blitt kjent med skiva.

Du har fått med deg Anders Møller og Torgeir Waldemar som produsenter denne gang. Hvor mye av æren for det spreke og fete soundet vil du gi dem?

R: Thanks for saying that!

How much of the honor or credit do they get for the sound? All of it really. Mainly Anders Møller is responsible for the way it sounds and I think he did one hell of a job. Not only did he have a number of great ideas that he was able to implement both for the individual performances and the sounds of instruments and the songs throughout the entire process, but he is also tireless in his work ethic. He worked for hours and hours non-stop to get the songs to sound the way they do during mixing, not stopping until he got a song to where it needed to go. I can't say enough about his contribution - I could go through each song and point out what he, along with Torgeir, brought to each one. In that way he became another member of the group, and, like most everyone I work with, he was free to do what he wanted to do as far as I was concerned.

I enjoy it when people take what I am doing into a direction I could not have imagined on my own. I may not understand it at first, but that’s ok. I might later on. Sometimes the best things are the ones I don’t understand at first! Sometimes I will say, ‘If it looks like I don’t understand what you are doing, then that could be a sign that you are on to something good.’ It can be much more interesting when I get the opportunity to be around things I don’t quite understand initially, especially when they stick with me a little afterwards. And sometimes the things that I do understand initially or see through without them resonating a bit more deeply are not incorporated because they can be predictable and obvious. Making a record for an audience to hear, I suppose, is to blend some elements of both, though. They come for the obvious but stay to scratch their heads! That will be the name of the next record ‘Come for the obvious, stay for the indecipherable’. Or maybe ’Obvious Head-Scratchers for Today’s People’.

Anyway, it is a privilege to watch people create and to be present while their talent is at work. That is a big part of why I am doing this, to experience and be a part of this. I am a big fan of connecting and mixing talented people together, letting them do what they want to do and seeing what great things come of it. That is a role that I can contribute to the making of a record. And one of the things that has driven me to develop as a singer and songwriter is to be able to get into situations where I can interact and create with highly talented people and where we can learn from each other.

Torgeir worked more with making suggestions in connection to our performances or approach to a song and some of the arrangements of the basic tracks, along with arrangements of vocal harmonies. Torgeir made a great contribution in those areas. Together those two make a really good team. I am very happy that we made this record together.

J: Amen! Det var et klokt valg å lande på disse to herrene.

Jeg synes jo at åpningssporet, Alive In the Flood, en slags honky tonk-blueslåt, kan minne om noe Waldemar kunne ha gjort. Kult låt, fett sound.

Malin Pettersen må jo óg nevnes spesielt. Har vi vakrere stemmer her til lands? Det hun gjør på "Lost Lullaby" er jo bare enestående. Dere har sikkert fått slengt Gram & Emmylou-sammenligninger mot dere tidligere, og det lever du vel godt med?

R: Torgeir had quite a bit to do with Alive in the Flood actually. He rearranged a couple of things in it. It is interesting that you picked that up. 

Yes, Malin is a great singer, for me she is the best around, and she has such an incredibly wide range of things she can do with her voice, such as singing "Lost Lullaby" the way that she does. I am very fortunate to sing with her and I think we work really well together, and I like how we play off of each other. I haven't heard that comparison, but it is a good one to have someone say!

Hearing her sing that song in the studio was one of a number of highlights for me during the whole making of the record.

J: Hehe. Bra at noen kom med den, da. Når det gjelder din stemme så hører jeg mye Feargal Sharkey (The Undertones) i den, og ikke så rent lite Chris Burroughs (amerikansk singer/songwriter). Er det vokalister du anser som forbilder og store inspirasjonkilder, eller har du utviklet en sangteknikk og vokal mindre påvirket av andre?

R: Anders Møller mentioned Feargal Sharkey to me while we were recording. I can see why he said it, but I had never really listened to him before he told me. I would say the two singers I have learned the most from are Hank Williams and John Lennon, at least intentionally. But I also spent quite a bit of time a number of years ago 'unlearning' some of the things I used to do in order to find out or experience what my voice really was when other influences were taken away, kind of like exploring my voice as something that generates pure sounds and not ‘singing’ as such. Then later I found out I could sing country or folk music more naturally than some other kinds of music. I was kind of shocked when I found that out, actually, because I grew up not liking that kind of music at all. It never occurred to me to sing it. After that I started to listen to Hank Williams and learned some things from him, and I had always been a big fan of John Lennon’s singing and song writing.

J: Alle burde lære av Hank. For en vokalist, for en låtskriver.

Jeg diskuterte The Replacements med deg en gang i tiden (uten at jeg klarer å huske hvor det var), og forstår det sånn at du er en stor fan av Paul Westerberg. På "We Can Make Things Right" aner jeg noe St.Paul, primært når det kommer til låtoppbygningen og akkordvalgene. Kan det være noe i det, eller er det "ønsketenking" fra min side?

R: Yes, I almost mentioned Paul in relation to singing. He was a huge influence during a certain period of my life. What a band the Replacements were. I wasn't thinking about Paul when I wrote that song, but I can see why you might think it. The song was more of a combination of Hank Williams and John Lennon. It was one of the first songs I ever wrote. But I have to say that the way Anders produced it and mixed it made it sound quite naked, and that vulnerability is something that I think is in Paul and the Replacements. That is a great compliment!

Anders and Torgeir actually recorded me performing that song without me knowing they were doing it. I thought I was just showing Glenn the drummer the song and then going through it with him a few times. And then I was told that that was it. Afterwards I couldn’t go back and do the vocals or guitar again. It was live and kept that way. I think it was a great idea on their part to capture those unguarded moments and it contributed to the rawness or even innocence in the song. It is the sound of me standing naked with a guitar, ‘mistakes’ and all.

J: Nå har jeg nevnt Tom Waits og The Replacements, og større komplimenter kan jeg ikke komme med. Så, du aner nok at omtalen av Plutonic Friends blir en smule euforisk? Når det gjelder tittelen; hvor kom idéen til den fra? Og, i samme slengen; kan du røpe hva som er det gjennomgående tema på albumet?

R: Honestly, I don't know if it will be, but hopefully it will good. I really don't know what people are going to make of it. It might be a record you need to hear a number of times before it starts to really sink in. Let's hope people give it that chance.

For the title of the record, there are three meanings in it:

1. Friends - I wanted to capture the sound of friends making a record together, the joy of playing together and a kind of abandonment in doing it. We really like being around each other both on and off stage.

2. 'Plutonic Friends' is a play on words with 'platonic friends', just changing one letter to make something new up. I thought it would be interesting to suggest this term and idea as being a part of our approach - loving something beyond appearances for what is essential within it.

3. Pluto - I read somewhere that in terms of the planets and mythology that Pluto represents the part of a person within that destroys in order to renew through bringing buried but intense needs and drives, ones that can no longer be denied, to the surface and expressing them at the expense of the existing order.

Put it all together and you get 'Plutonic Friends' - and that is theme of the record - especially the part about buried things coming to the surface at the expense of the existing order. I also tried to put some kind of open-ended 'existential crisis' like this, where there is some kind of confrontation you can’t turn away from nor immediately fix with an answer, into each song. And when I googled the phrase and saw that it had never been used, I knew I had found something worth keeping.

J: Nå har jeg snart lagt beslag på to timer av kvelden din, så vi nærmer oss slutten.

Jeg ser at du og Malin kommer til Tromsø i april, og denne gangen skal jeg sørge for å få sett dere. Men, er det sjanse for å få sett deg nordpå med fullt band i ryggen?

R: I hope you can come to see us! I would love to bring the full band up there. I want to take them everywhere I go. At the moment it is a matter of schedules and expenses. Maybe we could be fortunate enough to play a festival up there. That would be one way to make it happen.

If not that, I will see what can be done about doing it other ways.

J: Vi får håpe at Robert (Dyrnes) leser intervjuet, og finner ut at dere er perfekt for Bukta…

R: I hope so!

J: Avslutningsvis - hvis du MÅ velge ut de tre beste skivene som noensinne er gitt ut, hva velger du deg da? (standard The Wilhelmsens-spørsmål)

R: Ok, let me think for a minute about that one!

J: Det må vi alle..:)

R: Do you mean which are the greatest works of art - or which ones are my personal favorites?

J: Your personal favorites...

R: Ok, my first choice is in both categories - Songs for the Deaf by Queens of the Stone Age.

J: Overraskende valg!


R: That record is unbelievably good, just filled with quality music. After a long period of not doing music at all, it made me curious again.

J: Amen to that! Jeg tvangsfóret ungene mine med den da de var små (1 og 3 år gamle), så mye at de drev med headbanging da den ble spilt.

R: My other choices are going to be Let it Be by the Replacements and The White Album by the Beatles.

J: Aiai! Litt av en troika. Og så fikk du lurt inn et dobbeltalbum.

R: Yes, i did! Is that allowed?

J: Absolutt!

OK, er det noe du ønsker å si sånn avslutningsvis, eller skal vi si at det er bra så her..?

R: Well, I hope that people really enjoy the record we made. Also, I would like to say, if you aren’t doing it already, that people should take the time to notice of all of the great music that is being created in Norway right now, especially the music that is related to Americana, at least in regards to my idea of what is related to Americana. Something very good and remarkable is happening at the moment and we have a lot of talent here. The list of all of the people doing it is quite long in my opinion. Special times like these, or talented musicians and artists coming together and putting out great music at once, don't come about every day. And most of us are really good friends that support and learn from one another. It is a special situation that seems to be producing great music.

J: Det skriver The Wilhelmsens lett under på. Vi er tidvis sjokkskadet over all den ufattelig bra musikken som kommer ut på løpende bånd.

R: Yes, I am too. We are living in the middle of something that won't last forever, but which might just be spoken of later on. I say enjoy and be a part of it now while it is here.

J: Veldig interessant poeng. Jeg tror du er inne på noe her. Men, det er jo lov å håpe at dette skal vare i lang tid.

R: I am sure you would have liked to have been at the Die With your Boots On 5th Anniversary concert last January. It was remarkable how much talent was there and to be participating in it. And even then, you could fill a few more evenings with a number of other great artists or bands that didn't appear that night.

J: Helt klart. Minuset ved å bo på Senja. Eivind og karene i DWYBO er fantastiske ildsjeler, og den konserten MÅ bare ha vært herlig. Og, som du sier, her kunne man nesten ha hatt kvalitet på scena i ei hel uke.

R: Yes. There is quite a little scene going on. And I am fortunate to be connected to it.

J: Da gjenstår det bare å takke for praten, og noen herlige svar. Det skal bli en smal sak å lage et bra intervju av dette.

Robert Moses & the Harmony Crusaders er ute med sitt andre album i morgen, 9.februar. Plutonic Friends er albumet du bør sørge for å ha i platesamlingen din, spille ofte, og så kan vi alle prise oss lykkelige for at han bor her i Norge. Det innebærer blant annet at vi kan stikke på en av hans konserter, f.eks. på mini-turnéen han og bandet legger ut på snart. Sjekk turnedatoer under her:

Saturday, February 17th, 20182:00 PMBig Dipper Oslo Record Store, Oslo, NorwayAcoustic concert in connection with the release of 'Plutonic Friends' on 9 February 2018Saturday, March 3rd, 2018
12:00 PM
Vintage Gitar, Oslo, Norway
Acoustic concert during Bylarm weekend
Friday, March 9th, 2018Vaktbua Odderøya, Kristiansand, NorwayAcoustic concert
Friday, March 16th, 2018Bryggerhuset Syd, Halden, NorwayFull band release concert
Friday, April 6th, 2018Krøsset, Oslo, NorwayFull band concert with guests
Saturday, April 14th, 2018TBA, Tromsø, NorwayTwo acoustic concerts, venues to be announced