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Interview with Lars Horntveth


photo: Martijn Maas /


The gig Jaga Jazzist did at Pukklepop festival 2002 was one of my personal musical highlights of the year. I quite liked the Norvegian 10-piece third album " A Livingroom Hush", but I certainly wasn't prepared for such a dynamic and powerful live act. I saw them again on the following spring at Barcelona's Sonar, and it was just as good as the first time, with the same rush to the merchandising stand once the concert was over ( a good indication of how people enjoyed a gig or not). As I was on the verge of seeing the band play for the third time, this time in Reims at the Octob'rock festival, I felt that time had come to put them some questions I was itching to ask. The interview with Lars Horntveth ( Saxes, flute, guitars, keyboards, main composer) took place as a part of Radio Primitive's information show "Expresso". We were given only ten minutes ( translations included) to do the job, but we tried to get the best of them.


ROCKOMONDO: I suppose - maybe I'm wrong - that forming a 10-piece band is a well thought-out action. I mean, it's not like a group of three or four people who can be schoolmates, or met in a record-shop or whatsoever... It takes more than only chance to assemble a band like Jaga Jazzist. How did it start, actually ?

LARS HORNTVETH: It started ten years ago. Seven of us have been in the band from the start and we were in fact, like you said, old friends, relatives, schoolmates, all that stuff. We were quite young at the time: I was fourteen and most of us in the band were around seventeen years old. But the fact we did this band wasn't mere chance at all. The main reason was another old Norwegian band called Oslo 13, which had also 10 members including the likes of Jon Balke, Nils Petter Molvaer, and other great Norwegian musicians. So, we wanted to start something like that, but not trying to play jazz only, playing all kinds of music.

RM: When journalists ask about your influences, you say you're no more influenced by jazz, but much more by bands and artists coming from the rock/ electro scene like Björk, Radiohead, Aphex Twin or the Flaming Lips. But obviously, jazz is still a major component in your music. Who are your heroes in that domain ? Who are the people who first gave you the desire to tackle with jazz ?

LH: Well, it's difficult to say because there's so many musical backgrounds in the band... Of course, Miles Davis has had a very strong impact in our music, mainly the 70's stuff, but everything else too... Also Charlie Mingus, Duke Ellington, Keith Jarrett and many Norvegian musicians, especially 70's ECM records. We have a very broad musical taste, so maybe it's one of the reasons our sound is kinda unique, as everybody has so many influences.

RM: It's already difficult for two people to live together, so how do you manage to keep a harmony in the band, to relieve the tensions that are inevitable with such a number of people ?

LH: It has been quite a struggle, particularly the first seven or eight years, but the last couple of years has been much more easier. To travel that much as a band - I mean, we do maybe a hundred gigs a year, mostly in Europe, but also in US, Japan and Australia - kinda brought us together. The thing is that we're in Jaga Jazzist for more than ten years. Some of us have known each other for 2 decades. So I think, we just managed to get more mature with years passing by, and we try to give all the discussions the best possible turn, not trying to overdue them. But it hasn't been easy all the time.

RM: I quite like your records, but - whatever you can do in a recording-studio - it is difficult to match the stunning live energy that you deliver on stage. Isn't it a bit frustrating not to be able to fully channell all that energy into your recordings ?

LH: We think of it in another way. We try to do the best possible studio albums that we can, and we're not interested in doing live albums in the studio. So the best thing is to make the most creative, the most bizarre, extreme music we can do on records, then try to manage to re-create that kind of special feeling in our live sessions. The live energy, you can only do it live, it's simply not possible in a studio. We see it as two completely different things, and we really mean it to be this way.

RM: Since I saw you on stage for the first time at Pukklepop 2002 in Belgium, you've been almost continuously on tour. How is it possible to find the time and the right state of mind to compose new numbers of some value when you're all the time on the road ?

LH: That's a strange thing. It's true that we've been touring a lot the last couple of years, but maybe it seems more than it really was. This year ( 2003), we have done seven weeks in Europe, then a month off, then 14 days, then a couple of months off, and now we're doing that 10 days tour. But it's not that much really. And when we actually need to compose new numbers, we just have to set a couple of month spent at writing music, and we do it very strictly. That's what will happen very soon. In january 2004, we'll start writing new music, and in march we'll get into the studio to record Jaga Jazzist's forthcoming album

RM: To play music in a ten-piece band is a choice that means that you have duties, obligations one for each other. Don't you feel the need sometimes to take some rest from the band, and try something lighter, for instance solo or side-projects ?

LH: Of course we do ! That's even one of the most important thing with the Jaga: all the musicians have their own solo or side project. This year, I have written the music for a pop group me and my brother have in Norway.It will involve a singer, it's not instrumental music this time, and we are going to record this in december 2003. Also there is a solo project with nine string-players and myself *. Finally, I'm currently writing the score for a theatre play. Everyone in Jaga Jazzist has those kind of projects going on, and it's very important, not only for each one of us, but for the band too, as it helps in broadening the mind and getting further into the music.


* An album ( " Pooka") has been released in january 2004. Check and


Thanks to Christelle " Expresso" and Sebastien " Links"