Interview with Norwegian Berdon Kirksaether - a veteran musician on local scene working in several genres

"Blues is real, honest and emotional music and you have to put your soul into every note you play to breathe life into it."

Berdon Kirksaether: On Music Canva

Berdon Kirksaether is a Norwegian composer, guitarist, singer and music producer. He is a veteran on the Norwegian blues scene, most notably through his work in CIA, arguably one of the finest blues bands in the country in their prime. They toured Norway extensively during the nineties and released two critically acclaimed records. As well as being composer, singer and guitarist in CIA, Berdon has been working in several musical genres throughout the last 25 years, such as: poprock, acoustic, jazz, rap, latin and blues/roots and rock.

"I tend to see any song as an open canvas, where I can draw from a lot of various styles and influences. I feel that anything goes as long as it excites me to begin with."

Berdon's projects include a variety of styles ranging from his bluesrock trio The Ground, Gjermund Andresen & Berdon Kirksaether (Folk/Roots, acoustic outfit), Twang Bar Kings (blues) and Norwegian rock band Ukrutt. This versatility characterizes his all instrumental album "Ray Of Light" where Berdon brings together a wide palette of moods and musical colours with more than a hint to the desolate and remote Nordic nature. Together with his longtime partner and brother in arms, Stein Tumert, Berdon takes the listener on a journey through nature, mind and imagination. In 1014 released the all-instrumental concept album, Latenighters Under A Full Moon. The newest CD is the EP The Voodoo Sessions/Live at Down Under (2015).

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

First of all I learned to play from the heart, with the determination to make every note count. It's not about technical prowess, it's all about soul. If you don't really mean it, you'd better leave it be. The blues is the platform into which I integrate my various musical moods and inspirations; it's the foundation that I build from. Blues is real, honest and emotional music and you have to put your soul into every note you play to breathe life into it.

What were the reasons that you started the blues/rock researches and experiments?

Actually that's more or less where we started out as young aspiring musicians, it's fair to say that we knew about Hendrix long before we had heard of Muddy Waters. We came to the classic blues by way of Hendrix, Cream, Robin Trower, Johnny Winter, Neil Young, The Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Bob Dylan and The Beatles, Sky High and Freddie King. After that we spent some time researching and learning where all those guys got their inspiration. That led us to Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker, Albert Collins, Albert and BB King, of course Buddy Guy and eventually The Fabulous Thunderbirds, to name some of the great bluesmen that initially fuelled our musical heroes to begin with. After that we had different band constellations and honed our craft on the road. So you could say that we've been going full circle in a strange way.

How do you describe Berdon Kirksaether sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

I think a lot of my sound is rooted in the 60's and 70's, Clapton, Peter Green, Johnny Winter, Rory Gallagher, Trower, Hendrix, with a little bit of delta blues and soul and funk in there as well. Elvis, Johnny Cash also fit in somewhere and of course Dr. John The Night Tripper.

There are also hints of Neil Young, Dylan, Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The three Kings (Albert, Freddie, BB), Buddy Guy and many more influences. Later me and a couple of friends (one of whom is CIA and Twang Bar Kings bassplayer Stein Tumert) discovered Sky High and Clas Yngstrøm from Sweden and saw them live several times. Obviously my sound and my music is a reflection of all the different things I have been listening to over the years. My interest in music has never been restricted to blues alone. I tend to see any song as an open canvas, where I can draw from a lot of various styles and influences. I feel that anything goes as long as it excites me to begin with.

Why did you think that the Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Blues is real music, it's not about putting on a facade, it's hard to fake. Blues is groove and raw emotions and I think people recognize that instantly when they hear it. For me another important aspect was the mystery and the vibe surrounding the legendary artists, the style, the way they dressed and those lyrics, often meaning something else than the words implied at first hearing.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

I met a guitarist named David Jensen when I was about 17 years old. He introduced me to the overwhelming and inspiring world of Hendrix, Robin Trower, Johnny Winter and Freddie King. David was an accomplished player and his obsession with these great guitarists led me to further investigate older blues music. The other significant factor was seeing Sky High with Clas Yngstrøm live in Oslo a few years later. Yngstrøm was fantastic and it made me think that if a Swedish guitarist can play like that, then there certainly are possibilities for a Norwegian too. I actually met Clas and Sky High a few years ago in Drammen in Norway. I was in a band that led the local jam sessions for a while and I got to talk to Clas and jam with him afterwards. A great guitarist and a very nice person. My father once told me that there are no free rides, be it in music or other jobs. Talent is not enough - it's about the hours that you put into it! I'd say it was a pretty good advice.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams and studio which you’d like to share with us?

We were on tour with the band CIA (photo) and one of the concerts were in Haugesund in the western part of Norway. The club could hold about 500-600 people, but the first time we played there only three people and the owner showed up. We had the choice between cutting it short or really go for it, have a blast and really rock out. We chose to have some fun and went absolutely bananas - we put on a show and played like our lives depended on it. After the concert the owner immediately booked us for two days a couple of months later. The second time we played there about 60-70 people appeared each day and the third time we were greeted by two full houses. So the effort really played off! In 1990 I recorded an album with poprock group "In From The Storm" in Nashville in USA. We worked with legendary engineer and producer Bill Halverson (Crosby, Stills, Nash - Eric Clapton - Jimi Hendrix, Texas Tornadoes and many more). We recorded in Sound Emporium Studio where R.E.M had just finished a record. Bill was a real nice guy and told us lots of stories from the 60's and the 70's. He said it had been so much drugs and rock n’ roll in those days, so by now he didn't drink anything stronger than coffee, were a vegetarian and was jogging 3 times a day.

Are there any memories from The Voodoo Sessions - live at Down Under which you'd like to share with us?

The original idea was that we needed to make some videos to present the band, so we brought some good microphones, put them up and were ready to roll in less than one hour. On Roy Hanssen’s drums we used two Avantone ribbon mics as overheads, an SM57 on snare and an old peavey mic on the kick. We went line out from Stein Tumert’s Rupert Neve DI box, he played a MusicMan 65watt bass tube amp combined with an Aguilar bass amp. I used two guitar amps, a Peavey Blues Classic 60w (with a 15' speaker) and a Blackstar 40w, miked with an Audiotechnica ribbon mic on the Peavey and the Blackstar with a Sennheiser 906. Erik Gabrielsen played an old Roland JC 50w, miked with a Shure SM57. Vocal mics were Shure SM 58’s. The approach was really simple: use some good mics, tweak some amps, play loud and go for it. It was all about capturing a certain mood and a certain feeling.

A good friend of ours, Henning Borgen were in command as the Front Of House (FOH) engineer and live sound mixer. He also tracked the signals from the mixing desk, with no further tweaking, into Logic Pro X on a MacBook. We also had Odd Inge Rygh managing all the video captures. When listening back a couple of days later we found out that there were a special vibe present on some of the songs recorded. We felt these songs sounded as a good and true representation of how we appear live and decided to release them on what became "The Voodoo Sessions" EP. When we recorded "When The Moon Is On The Rise" we did not quite know how to arrange it live, so the take is alive and quite magic and most of all a real jam, real spontaneous!

"The blues is the platform into which I integrate my various musical moods and inspirations; it's the foundation that I build from." (Photo: Berdon Kirksaether & The Twang Bar Kings)

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I think some bands tend to look upon classic blues as sacred, copying solos almost note for note and look upon blues from a purists point of view. In my opinion it's easy to stagnate that way, I think it's healthy to remember that today's legends once shook the established players quite a bit by turning things upside down. When the acoustic guitarists were kings of the hill, some young players started playing electric guitars through loud amps. Later guys like Clapton in Cream and Hendrix really stirred it up with some noise. I think it's important to know the classics and your roots and then try to add something to it and expand!

How started the thought of Roller Records? What characterize label’s progress, mission and philosophy?

Roller Records was started in 1993 by me, as a vehicle to release an album with our band at the time, C.I.A. We released C.I.A.'s debut album, "Ah Yeah” in November 1993. Stein Tumert were the bass player and Roy Hanssen the original drummer. In 2010 Stein came onboard with me to revive Roller Records and it's really a whole lot easier when you are not entirely alone. The philosophy behind Roller Records is simply to release our different musical projects and also to present other quality artist that we find interesting. So far we have released 16 records including singles and the EP.

What is the impact of blues and rock music and culture to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

That's a tough one, however, I believe that blues and rock has had a profound impact on western culture at least from the 50's. Still, it probably started much earlier. Music as a way of expressing different emotions goes back thousands of years in all kinds of cultures, so It seems that music has been around forever in one way or another. Everywhere in the world where you go, people have some connection to music as expression of joy, sadness, celebration and other aspects of life. So I feel that music and especially blues and rock has been a key factor in shaping our modern societies, especially when times are rough, when we fight oppression, when we go through difficult changes, or struggle in any way in our daily lives, but also as a soundtrack to happiness and hope. I think music is a most needed companion in our everyday life!

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

For one thing less talent reality shows and more emphasis on real working musicians wouldn’t hurt that much.

"Blues is groove and raw emotions and I think people recognize that instantly when they hear it."

Make an account of the case of the blues in Norway. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

I would say the 90's and the early 2000's were the golden era, but Norwegian blues is still alive and kicking. It comes and goes in waves, so it will always be there. There's not as many club gigs as it used to be so it's more concentrated on festivals with Notodden Bluesfestival as the main thing. There are many great bands such as Knut Reiersrud band, Jug Rock, Amund Maarud Band, Rita Engedalen, JT Lauritsen, Spoonful, to name some of them.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues from United States and UK to Norway?

After the Second World War there has been a real strong influence both musically and culturally from the USA and UK. Books, films and music. There weren't too many Norwegian blues artists that we could use as role models when we started out, so we looked to the source right from the beginning. Although it was a little harder to come by the records at first, but eventually we found record shops owned by music enthusiasts and they imported the real stuff.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the local music circuits?

Last week Stein (Tumert) and I played with a new drummer and when he really hit the groove on the first tune we looked at each other and laughed out loud, because you never know in advance how it's going to work out. Other things that makes me laugh is that critics all over the world have given favorable reviews of our latest release "Latenighters Under A Full Moon" and there are lots of radio airplay all over. Feels great!

What are the ties that connect the classic rock, jazz, reggae, rap, Latin and blues/roots music?

Probably that all these genres have in common that they are not so much formatted music, but deal more with real emotions, played and sung by artists that use music as a tool of expression to make a statement, a feeling or an impression of art for arts sake more than wanting to be superstars. Granted, some of them became superstars, but I tend to think that most of them did not aim for that as their primary goal. It's about trying to connect to people on some level and staying true to your art, I feel.

Is it easier to write and play the blues as you get older? Do you have a dream project you'd most like to accomplish?

In some ways it's obviously easier, because you have experienced more through the years. However, the process of writing and playing still feels much the same. My approach has always been to try to get inside the feeling of the song and convey that feeling as best I can. I tend to see songs and pieces of music as film scenes, so it's about finding the right colors and the right angle in every song. And trying to get inside the story waiting to be expressed. For me it's about not thinking to much about what I have learnt as much as floating on the wave an see where it leads me. It's quite intuitive - I never decide that now is the time to write a song. But I try to be open and ready when it appears. If I have a good musical idea I start to record immediately, before I start thinking about what I'm doing. The greatest difference from before is that now I have the equipment to record multiple tracks and make a good recording real fast. I have learnt that if you don't do something about it at once, any good idea will likely be forgotten, as fast as it appeared.

Our dream project is to go to New Orleans in 2017 and record our fifth album in a funky studio, with a great engineer and some additional local musicians. The plan is to record mostly live in the studio and get inspired by that towns mythic atmosphere and rich musical traditions!

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

That's a hard one… Abbey Road Studios in 1969 when Beatles recorded their last album "Abbey Road”. Or Chess studios when Muddy Waters made the recordings that built his reputation, or London in 1966-67 when Hendrix started recording  and expanding blues and brought it to another level, or the Newport festival when Dylan went electric, or Neil Young's "Tonight's The Night" sessions, Elvis's first sessions in Sun Studio, the list could go on and on. I’d be hard pressed to choose one single event. But there's another one - When I was a kid my father was a pilot in Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) and were stationed in Athens, we lived outside Athens for about two years, from age 3 to five. I think we lived in Glyfada. To go back and spend a whole day there would be just great - yeah, I think I'd go for that one!

Berdon Kirksaether - Roller Records

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