Q&A with ElectroBluesSociety (Jasper Mortier and Jan Mittendorp) - bunch of junk with a broad taste and an open mind

"People trying new things like Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Howlin Wolf, They really created something new. Most modern blues bands try to sound like an old record. In that case I’d rather listen to the old record."

ElectroBluesSociety: Organic Dance music

ElectroBluesSociety are a Dutch-based "Organic Dance music" duo mixing electronics with raw, vintage live Blues-based sounds; self-described as "two guys and a bunch of junk with a broad taste and an open mind. Together, they are mixing modern technologies with 30+ years of live stage experience." ElectroBluesSociety (EBS) consists of drummer and bassist Jasper Mortier and guitarist and Black & Tan Records owner Jan Mittendorp. Mortier has worked with the likes of Paul Oscher, Preston Shannon, "Sax" Gordon Beadle, Philip Walker, and Boo Boo Davis, while Mittendorp has toured extensively across Europe & The US with artists such as Percy Strother, Smokey Wilson, Boo Boo Davis, Erskine Oglesby, and Roscoe Chenier.

Photo: Jasper Mortier and and Jan Mittendorp

Jan Mittendorp personally, worked with American R&B singer and guitarist Roscoe Chenier for nearly 20 years and released two of his critically-acclaimed albums—Roscoe Style (1998) and Waiting for My Tomorrow (2006)—on Black & Tan Records. Chenier's rendition of traditional Gospel hymn, "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" was originally released on Waiting for My Tomorrow in sparse, stripped-down acapella form.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

Jan: Blues is music and music is a very important thing in my life. Most of the things I do are connected to music.

Jasper: I don't think I really know about 'the' blues. I'm born and raised in a very prosperous country and era. Completely different to most of the people who started it all. I had a choice. I could be making money in a different way, but I chose music. What I really like about playing blues the way I do is however: every gig is like a new adventure. There's no rigid structure. Every evening is different in building up someone's solo for instance. In more pop based bands you have to stick to a song structure and a certain structure of the set being played. That's got its advantages too, but I really like to start 'all over' every evening again. And unlike to more pop related bands you can tour without a too big of a promotion campaign.

How has the Blues music and culture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Jan: For me it is not so much just blues it is more music in general. I do not like to think in styles. For me there are two kinds of music good and bad. Most of travels in the last 30 years have been because of the music. Since 1993 I have been steadily touring all over Europe.

Jasper: Because of Blues music I was able to tour across Europe and the US once. With more pop based styles you really rely on record deals, Youtube views/Itunes downloads/Spotify streams, promotion campaigns etc. With Blues you need craftmanship to be able to back up in this style. Something I really like. It's like building a beautiful instrument: it's craftmanship.

What characterize ElectroBluesSociety philosophy? What touched (emotionally) you from Electro Blues sound?

Jan: Within ElectroBluesSociety we want to combine everything we learned in during our musical career and use the technology that is available in 2018. So on stage we can not only use our instruments but also our record collection and transform and reproduce it any possible way with our computers. The philosophy is to"leave our comfort zone" in order to get closer to our creativity. If you only play on craftsmanship and routine you may loose touch with your creativity. When you try something new (even if you do not fully master it) you will find new doors and new possibilities.

Jasper: In every style of music you have restrictions: it has to sound and feel a certain way to make it recognizable as a certain style. For example: if you're bassplayer in an authentic Salsa orchestra you should show up with either an upright bass or something that sounds close! And that's totally ok of course. With ElectroBluesSociety the only restrictions are our own imagination, our own taste and our own capabilities. And that's something really strong to feel: you can do what you want! Nobody is telling us how it should sound. And Blues just slips in there because it's been such a big part of our musical life.

Are there any memories from studio and on the road with Roscoe Chenier which you’d like to share with us?

Jan: I have been working with Roscoe Chenier live on tour in Europe for a lot of times and I released two of his records on my record label (Black and Tan Records).

Photo: Jasper Mortier, Jan Mittendorp and Kim Snelter 

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

Jan: I wished more people in the audience would consume music with their ears instead of with their eyes and brain. "Image" and 'story" seem more important then the music in a lot of cases.

Jasper: That young people have the patience again to just sit down and listen for let's say 90 min. If I go to concerts it's more like everybody is watching television: they just walk away to get a drink or are constantly talking in between or are more involved with their smartphones. Like they've seen it all! But maybe the music is not entertaining enough? I don't know. For myself I'm not complaining, the most concerts I do the people really pay attention which is super stimulating, but often that's people a bit older.

How started the thought of Crossroads agency and Black & Tan Records? What is the mission of label?

Jan: As a musician I started doing my own bookings and since I was pretty successful at it more musicians asked me to do their booking as well. Then later I found out that for niche market (like blues and roots music) it is important ot combine the live shows with CD releases and so I started my own label. The records help to promote the shows and the shows help to promote the records. At this moment live shows are the only place to sell records.

How do you describe your sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?

Jan: My Philosophy is simple. There are two styles of music. Good music and the rest. I don’t think in styles. So I like jazz, blues, rock, pop, techno, world and anything in between if it is good. Believe me there is a lot of bad blues too.

Jasper: I'm really a rhythm section guy. And I kind of feel like a craftsman - like a carpenter - or something.  I'm trying to get control over the craft: meaning more and more control over sound and feel - both on bass and drums. And for some reason I'm a sucker for early seventies sound and feels! That means my playing skills, choice of instruments and other equipment is strongly influenced by it. And it also means I've got a very strong idea about sound enginering both live and in the studio.

Which is the most interesting period in your life? Which was the best and worst moment of your career?

Jan: This moment always is the most interesting period. I discover new music and possibilities every day.

Jasper: It sounds really gross, but at the moment I'm really happy. Bass playing is developing still and for my drumming - I started a couple of years ago - I'm still studying and working hard to get it at a satisfactory level. At the same time this helps my bassplaying too! I feel it keeps you young and fresh to start something completely new. The worst moment...... Hmmm. Once I travelled a long way to Tuscany my first time in Italy (about a 12 hours drive from Holland). Everybody raved in advance about going to Italy: the hospitality, the food, etc. We arrived at the club in this gorgeous medieval - or probably older - village: they just told us to leave, because they weren't done cleaning yet! They didn't have keys to the hotel either. We just had to hang in some bar. We came back after an hour or so: there was hardly any food to speak off. The rest of the evening was not really memorable either. And in the end they brought us to some old farm house with barely lights and they just left without telling anything about rooms, beds, breakfast or whatever: I felt like the lowest of the lowest!

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

Jan: Meeting with great musicians and great people like Smokey Wilson, Boo Boo Davis, Roscoe Chenier, Ernie Payne, Byther Smith. They really learned how to look on music and life.

Jasper: Just being able to play with somebody like Byther Smith who grew up in Chicago in the sixties and is clearly from that era: mean but clean so to speak! Being able to stand right next to his Fender Twin Reverb and feel the whole amp - and everything around it - shaking and rattling is something I will never forget. I once told him his sound and playing reminded me of Brewer Phillips (the 'other' guitar player of Hound Dog's Taylor and the House Rockers) and he was moved by that comparison. Later I found out he shared the stage lot's of times with those guys - among many others - and had a bunch of stories about them (and yes, there were guns involved in those stories!). I once asked Michael J. Dohoney - one of the finest drummers (and singers) I've played with - how he got that beautiful yet powerful sound of his without playing too loud. And he told me: 'you shouldn't be trying to put it in the drums: you've got to get it out!'.

Photo: Blyther Smith, Jasper Mortier and Jan Mittendorp

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

Jan: I don’t go to jams. Some of the most memorable gigs are Montreux Festival and North Sea Jazzfestival.

Jasper: Every now and then I like to go to Osnabrück in Germany. That's not too far from where I live and I've got a lot of friends there and they are not only friends but also happen to be killer players! Pretty often somebody 'well known' on tour in that part of Europe will show up, cause it's got a real good reputation. This bluesjam is always fun and unbelievable: audience show up every week! Unheard of for a jam I think.

From the musical point of view what are the differences between European and American Blues scene?

Jan: Europe sees blues as culture and in the US it is entertainment (to sell drinks).

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

Jan: People trying new things like Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Howlin Wolf, They really created something new. Most modern blues bands try to sound like an old record. In that case I’d rather listen to the old record.

Jasper: I really don't care too much about things like that. Music is more and more easily accessible by all the different media whether old or new. You can totally choose what to listen to yourself. There will always be stupid commercial bands making tons more than I do, but that doesn't keep me from doing what I do.

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

Jan: As I said 90% of my musical activities have been outside out of Holland so I do not really have an opinion on that.

What is the impact of Blues music and culture on the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

Jan: Not sure ... if you look at the situation in America it seems that not much has changed. The frustration and anger that was expressed in the blues in the first half of the 20th century is now expressed in musical forms like rap and hip hop. Where as the blues now has been taken over by the establishment that want to keep the forms exactly as it was in the 60's and 70's. Blues is not a living art form any more. It is a dead form like dixieland jazz.

Jasper: I think in the US this is and for sure has been an enormous issue, but for me personally I don't feel it's too big. I'm totally aware of the fact I grew up in a privileged part of the world. Living in other parts of the word and/or being part of a minority in whatever kind of way totally can give you a different kind of perspective.

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

Jan: I like here and now and do not have any desire to go to another era.

Jasper: I think that would be New York on the day of the live recording of 'Voices Inside (Everything is everything)' by Donny Hathaway recorded early 70-ies in the Bitter End in Manhattan. 'Willie Weeks on the bass Y'all' and let's not forget the drummer Fred White (younger brother of the Earth Wind & Fire guys and later palert of EWF too) who happened to be 17 during that recording!

ElectroBluesSociety - Home

Boo Boo Davis, Jasper Mortier and Jan Mittendorp / Photo by Mischa Scherrer

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