by Frank Achmann
Copyright © 1999 Frank Achmann, All Rights Reserved.
Gray afternoon in Copenhagen. The last e-mail update tells me that 1 p.m. is OK.
I meet with Ole on “Café Sommersko”, we order a couple of chicken rolls plus water and a coffee, and we have an hour of chatting about his past, present and future …
When did you start playing?
When I was 9 years old. I started playing on my grandma’s old piano, which we got home to my parent’s place. I started taking piano lessons when I was 10. We also got an eletric organ when that was in fashion, and I played a little on that. But I have always played the piano – that’s always been what I found the most fun.
Did you start composing already back then?
No-eh, I guess I was 12 when I started composing myself. That was on guitar as well. I met with my school mates and we had some guitars – we took guitar lessons when we were around 12. And, well, then I started making my own songs. Then we played them (laughs).
Has it always been within the classic rock genre?
It’s always been in English, that’s for sure. But no, there were a few Danish lyrics as well, as I recall. It changed a lot. But the first song I wrote was in English. What the genre was is probably difficult to say, then it was just the guitar. It could be most anything. Perhaps it was just pop songs, really.
Did you play in any established bands before going solo?
Yes, I did. I have been in a lot of strange acts, all the way back to the school years. But I have also played a lot of dance music, and played in Top 40 bands a lot, where you get around to company parties and on discoteques, and do covers. It has given me a pretty good routine, a good background, and at the same time you learn a lot of hits, and hope that you will get better at writing songs yourself. If that’s what happens, I can’t say (laughs). I’ve also played with a lot of solo artists; Esther Brohus, Ivan Pedersen…
What was the line of approach leading you to the opportunity to make the first CD?
The line of approach was that all the way back to ’90, I think, I played with Ivan Pedersen in a band called Small Wonders. By that time, I had been writing songs for a long, long time without really daring to get out with it. But then I talked to the bass player, Thomas Fog, should he want to join starting something up. Sure, he had a pal named Martin Stender, who played the guitar [ex-News, Lis Sørensen, ed.]. We also needed a drummer, and I found one named Kenneth Spenner. Then we started praticing these tunes together, and it didn’t take long before Henrik Nilsson came in. Thomas and Martin knew him from Aalborg. He worked at the Werner Studio and could get us out there to create something. So we got a practice room right next to the studio, where we started rehearsing these tracks, and Henrik was in there with us a bit, too, as a producer. Then we went in the studio and recorded 16 tracks for Replay Records. Replay however cancelled the whole deal, and a few years went by where I was a bit frustrated having a record that wasn’t even half done. What happened next was that Replay went bankrupt. But I still knew Henrik – I had helped him out with a few things, and he had helped me – so I said to him: “Why, how about… Can’t we find those tapes?”. He couldn’t at the time, but I just went on with it, ’cause I had some old rough cuts, that I started dubbing from.
It wasn’t the master tapes?
No, they were missing. But when they tidied up the storeroom at Replay, Henrik himself found them and told me that I could have it. So I got it, and wrapped it up. That was back in ’96, so a few years went by (laughs).
So 7 tracks were cut off or something?
Yeah, some were left out. Tracks that simply didn’t stand up to it.
A couple additional years and then came “Mr. Romance”.
Then I did that, yes. It was released in January this year. There were a few tracks that we had recorded for “Listen To The Wind” that I brought along, plus something new that I did together with Lars Krarup. We also recorded 2 new songs.
With the same line-up?
Together with the same old line-up, yes – Kenneth, Martin and Thomas.
How many did you sell up until now?
Not many. A few hundreds until now. When you can’t effort to make a TV commercial and a bigger sales drive, then it’s a record that will sell slowly, ’cause it’s something that I will constantly have to create on my own.
When there isn’t a major company behind it, pumping money into it, I believe one is easily overshadowed by everyone else?
Yes, quick as lightning. Earlier on, when you started writing a song, you didn’t really consider that you would need to have photos made for the cover, and all those pratical things that you need to do. And when the CD is there… Yeah, well, that’s just fine, but it has to be out there in the stores, and it has to be played on the radio. And it takes a whole lot more than you include in your reckoning when you sit down to write, initially. Being a blue-eyed teenager, well, you just come up with a song, and it’s a hit, right? It isn’t, though; it takes a lot of hard work. Just to get hold of all the local radio stations and get them to air it, be out giving interviews… it costs a great deal of money.
Yes, it doesn’t come easy. And then you aren’t even sure if it’s a gain, are you?
Not at all. But you have to do it. There are a lot of stories going around about Roxette being so fortunate when this one disc jockey played their “The Look” and they instantly went world famous. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg, ’cause they have been working hard to get there. They went on tour using their own money, travelling the US local radio stations, knocking on doors. That’s hard work, I tell you – there are thousands!
Isn’t one frustrated at times?
Well, yeah, you could easily get to be. But I believe that it has to do with turning that energy into something extrovert. ‘Cause there bloody well aren’t anyone these days that feels sorry for a frustrated artist. You get to be so so easily, ’cause there isn’t much assistance to get as an artist. It’s all about pulling one’s damn finger out, and get on with it (laughs). It’s just like becoming independent, launch a store of electric appliances or…
Being an entrepreneur…
Yes, quite. But it is! It’s not like there are fewer tasks to do. The problem is just that you have to convince people that they need your music. They don’t just come buying a light bulb when the old one has blown at home. That’s why there is so much more to do, but it sure darned well is just as hard.
Is anything being done to promote you abroad?
Not much. I still have my own recording company.
Is that the one called Intermusic?
No, Intermusic is a small record company in Aarhus, that I signed a contract with on the second album, and who have been helping me to get it out in the stores. Mine is called Positive Music.
So your record company hasn’t done much to have you come out?
No, my record company doesn’t have that much of ressorces. But still, I knew that from the start. I may have wanted it out in some more stores, but that’s the way it is.
Was the deal for more than one record?
No, just “Mr. Romance”.
I read somewhere that you have actually already material for a third album?
That’s right. We’re going to record in August. I just booked the studio for the third week of August. It’s exciting. It’s going to be with a whole new cast; a Canadian on drums and an Italian on bass.
So you’re being a bit international?
Do they live in Denmark?
No, no. Dee Putter, who is the Canadian drummer, he has been playing with Saga and a bunch of people over there. And the bass player, his name is Toni Spagoni. He’s real good, he has played on a lot of heavy metal albums in Denmark. He used to be much into such heavy-hubbub, but he’s an incredibly cool player. They are rehearsing heart and soul at this moment (laughs).
When are you going to meet them?
We are going to meet about a week before we go in the studio. We had better. We have to rehearse a bit before going in the studio.
Is it going to be the same studio, the Werner studio?
Yes, it is. With Henrik Nilsson by the knobs.
And Ivan Pedersen, is he going to do backing vocals again?
I don’t know yet. Firstly, we will have to get the basic tracks down. Then we will see if I can tempt him over again (laughs).
But he has been enthusiastic about this project, hasn’t he?
Yes, he thinks it’s been cool. Or else, of course he wouldn’t have given the offer. He is on one track on both discs; the last one on “Listen To The Wind” and the title track on “Mr. Romance”.
That one is out as a single as well, right? And also “Going Crazy”?
Is that something that the record company has had anything to do with?
Yes, a bit. The second single I made on my own, ’cause I didn’t think that enough was happening, so I wanted another single out. I made only a hundred, burned them myself and mailed it out to the radio stations. For the time being, I also just sent the first single “Going Crazy” to Sweden.
Did you get a response to it yet?
Just a little, but I don’t know, really, if it gets played yet. I only heard that they thought it was good.
One would imagine there is a market there. In many ways they seem more well versed in the genre of rock.
Yeah, but definately. One might as well make use of it. They have a different taste for music. Whether better or worse.
But you must find someone to distribute the third album?
Yes. Yes, I will have to. There are some contacts abroad that I am going to try out this time. Amongst others, I have gotten an English percussion player who likes to join in. He has played with Peter Gabriel, so I would imagine that he – given that he will become hooked on it – has some contacts to try out as well.
Is that the intention, to go outside of Denmark?
It definately is, yes. I have always been writing in English, and always thought it was the most fun. Although at times you think that it’s a pity that there aren’t more artists who do Danish lyrics, because the language slowly fades away. But anyway, I seem to not have been meant to do that. Of course, I still have time to, but what I’m anxious to right now, naturally, is to get it out in the rest of the world. It’s more fun aiming at 6 billion potential customers than 5 million (laughs).
And USA is the place you are aiming at?
It would be much fun. I had a single out from the first CD, “Pennsylvania”, where I put “Listen To The Wind” as track number 2. I sent it out to the stations in Pennsylvania, and at least 50 radios has broadcasted it.
Genius idea. They can’t have been able to resist that.
Yeah (laughs), it simply had to be tried out. I found something called “Radio Directory” on the internet where you just look up Pennsylvania, and then you get a listing of all homepages. There were 120 homepages of radio stations in Pennsylvania, to whom I sent it after having e-mailed the disc jockeys directly. I also gave an interview to what’s called CBS Radio in Pittsburg.
I have a hunch that you hit a wide audience. And that there’s something new to it.
Really? Why, I am glad. Hopefully there is something within it that I can contribute with. And right now I am of course very excited about the new two, the bass player and the drummer. I played a bit with them in England when we met.
How do you feel about co-writing with other people? For instance, you co-wrote one of these tracks with Lars Krarup.
I feel fine by writing my songs myself. In the case of Lars, it was a song that we had worked with a lot, called “Going Crazy”. I had it all made, more or less, but we worked a bit to and fro, and he said: “It’s gotta have some B piece and something here”. And he did it, and I thought it was great.
On “Going Crazy” and “Fall” – there’s some tribal feel to it, some African tendencies?
Yeah (laughs). A bit of “world music”.
Do you listen to “world music” a lot?
Narh, I wouldn’t say that I do. I like it, though, but I don’t listen to too much of that. The thing in the beginning of “Fall” was originally thought to be some kind of Indian chant-like thing, that I eventually took out again because I actually had another tune, for which it fitted much better. But then we kept the tom’s, because they added a good drive to it.
Is that characteristic of your way of writing music?
I don’t know, it may be (laughs).
You’re quite prolific, aren’t you?
You mean lyric-wise and so on? Definately. There isn’t much death metal around it.
How do you do when you compose? Do you always accompany yourself with piano?
Yes. Well, also guitar.
Do you write it down or do you record it then?
No-eh, I just play it until I know it. It’s as simple as that. The song has to have a flow. If it doesn’t, I’ll ditch it. It has to kind of flow in itself.
Enough for you to make a living so far?
I can’t make a living out of my own music yet. Among other things, I go out and play with a band called Cool Cats. I also do some solo gigs.
So you’re busy on stage?
Yes, piano bars and lots of other places.
Any particular fixed places?
At the moment, no. I played a few gigs in Helsingborg at a place called “Kardinalen”. I am going to do that for the rest of the month, so that’s actually a bit fixed during this month.
So you aren’t touring as such?
Not yet, no.
Will there be a follow-up tour to “Mr. Romance”?
A little in the summer. We are just getting the band rehearsing together, getting ready to go out playing. It’s a different drummer, and we are also getting other people along besides him. I hope to have Michael Roupé in as well, for instance. He hasn’t confirmed yet, but at least he has told me that he would like to. He is the ex-lead singer of Bamboo Brothers.
So you try and book some festivals and the likes?
Well, yeah, small clubs and whatever is hanging. So many things happening at the time, so to sit down and book ahead simply is something that I really haven’t got neither the time nor the energy to do. I would rather use some energy to get the record out. But surely; it’s great to get out and play the songs.
A record also is something tangible.
Sure, it’s a product. That’s an important thing.
Where did you get this talent from? Is it something that lies in your genes?
(Laughs) I should think not. Somewhere I guess I have some potential. But it’s hard work, too. Obviously, you have to be predisposed to do it, as they say. Having played piano and stuff like that. But my dad has always been an amateur organist, actually.
And your grandma had a piano…
And my grandma had a piano, which she never used (laughs). But else than that, it’s been hard work. There’s a lot of unpaid work when you are a musician.
Who are you inspired by yourself?
All kinds of people. My biggest idol, my guru in music, that’s probably Bruce Hornsby. I have all of his records, of course, and am happy to have them.
Is it possible to avoid being inspired by contemporary music?
I think you can, very well so. It’s easy (laughs). Now, no, I don’t want to sound like an old, cross, critical…
You never know from where it really came.
Right. I think there’s a lot of good, new music around, too. Like I heard this girl Freja. It’s bloody good, some of it, I think – nice pop music. A breath of fresh air, ’cause there are some new things in it. Roxette, I also think they are great at writing pop songs. But what I really like listening closely to, that would be something like Van Morrison. That, I think is too cool; he is one awesome song writer. And John Hyatt.
How do you feel about the things that sells music of today? With the focus set on charts and the way that you look. I feel that it lacks some spirit.
I think so, too. One can only hope that what it all boils down to is to have the audience educated well enough to tell what to choose and what not to. So that, eventhough you are bombarded with a record in the media, you are able to not buying it. To at least be conscious about what music you buy.
How do you see the future of this genre? Do you believe there is a chance of a renaissance?
I really do. There’s a lot of stuff that is in right now, but it has always been that way. I think that the future will be on the internet a lot in many respects, ’cause that’s where most people come to look for new things by now.
You also have your own homepage, right?
I have my own homepage. It ought to have another domain name, ’cause it’s such a long, stupid name. You can’t say it on the radio (laughs).
(Laughs) But it has to have a beginning.
Right. Now it’s up and now it’s running, so that’s just fine.
But surely there is a market for it. Take Ivan Pedersen and Backseat for example, and Soeren Sko. It’s fair to say that they do quite well in Denmark.
Most definately. And then there is Big Fat Snake, who has been really good, too.
Are there any plans right now, up until August?
Yes, the plan is to get this band together and see if we can get some gigs. And then have some more Swedish radio stations play the record. It has been selling well in Malmö at a place called “MALMÖ SKIVHANDEL” record store. I’ve sold about 40 records there.
And will you continue being in the band, with whom you are currently playing, the “Cool Cats”?
Yes. That is, as long as I can. It’s obvious that I will eventually be obliged to move more of it onto my solo project, and of course I’ve made the band acquainted with the fact that I concentrate on my own things first and foremost.
Naturally. You need to get from hand to mouth.
That’s it (laughs). But, anyway, it has to do with using the internet as much as one can, I think, ’cause that’s where it’s kind of open to the world, right?
That’s also where we hope to contribute. Hopefully, it will bring more customers to come shopping.
There are so many opportunities. There’s also this MP3 thing. I’ve seen a place on the internet where you can put your songs as MP3 files, and if people want to buy a CD, the place creates one and sells for $10-15. The artist gets half. Whether it’s legal or not, I don’t know; it’s probably different from country to country.
Is that something you have considered – to place a few samples out there?
I already have on my own site. Small pieces – a chorus, and just one more chorus. 5 songs all in all. Also to bring down the time it takes when people click on it. I believe there are 2 samples from “Listen To The Wind” and 3 from “Mr. Romance”, that we just put out. And I already sold some records in Sweden that way, just because a couple of blokes have been in, listening: “I say, that sounds good – we want to have it”. That’s been swell. That’s been real good.