Ole Kibsgaard interview

By Georg Forchhammer

You have just released your debut album. How would you describe it?

I would describe it as a series of moods that all originate from the music that I like and the music I have been inspired by. To me the main thread on the album is that it is concentrated on the singing, the melodies and the acoustic guitar. I consider this album – my first solo album – as a kind of a playground, where I haven’t given any thoughts to what is ‘in’ and commercial. To get back to your question, the album is “me”, and I am a mixed up person, who is interested in and likes a lot of different musical styles.

How long has the album been on its way?

Actually, it has only been a serious wish to make an album with my own songs for the last 3 or 4 years. In the summer of 2002 I recorded the basic tracks over a period of 3 days together with drummer Emil de Waal and piano player Jacob Christoffersen. After that I have worked on and off with the recordings up to the album release.

Yes, because even if 2½ years is a long time, it isn’t so much, considering all the other things you are involved in. and furthermore, you have made most of it yourself.

Well, it sure has been hard work doing things alone. There is no one else to push you along and say to you that you have to have something ready at a certain time a.s.o. It is very comprehensive to work this way. I’ve been sitting alone for thousands of hours, all the time wearing different hats. When you have written a song, you have to think about a great arrangement, great sounds on the instruments, and when you record the vocal parts, you have to be an engineer at the same time.

The fact that you have chosen to work almost by yourself, even though you have so many contacts in the music business, must be a deliberate choice.

It is also something to do with the fact that I have my own recording studio, that I have built myself. So therefore I can work there whenever it pleases me. Actually, most of my album is made during night time. Of course, it is also an economical matter: I can’t ask an professional engineer to come and work for me for free. All the musicians on the album have played for free. They are all good friends of mine and I have also played for free for them on other occasions.

Even though you say that your wish for making this album only has existed for about 4 years or so, two of the musicians on the album, Emil de Waal and Jeppe Kaas, say that you have always dreamed of making a solo album.

I think that everyone who plays music and writes songs has a dream of making their own album – a kind of exhibitionism, “look here, this is me, and I can answer for this.” A lot of my music colleagues have talked for years about making solo albums without doing anything about it, so I have chosen to shut up and then make the record when I had the time.

I have been working as a sideman for the last 10 – 12 years, so I haven’t missed playing music, but the idea of making my own album has been in the back of my mind, and for about 4 years ago, it materialized.

When did you start writing songs?

I think it was at the same time I started playing music. Actually, I have some music lying around from when I was in 3rd grade. I started taking piano lessons before learning to play the guitar, and often when I had learned a new song on the piano, I changed it – paraphrased it and made new songs out of it.

When did you start writing songs for your album?

I think the oldest one is “You make me smile”, which I wrote back in 1992, at the time I produced the first album with “Sound of Seduction”. We were working in the “Sweet Silence” studio, and at some time, I was sitting by the piano arranging some background vocals for a song. In the middle of a break, I found myself having made the melody, the lyrics and arrangement in 10 minutes or so – a thing that very seldom happens. It was very inspiring to sit by a Steinway Grand Piano. To me a new instrument always carries new songs. If I feel uninspired – and I can afford it – I just have to buy a new instrument and along come some new songs.

(Actually, during this interview, Ole received a Fender Stratocaster which he had bought in Sweden through Ebay. He hopes some new songs are hidden inside of it…).

The songs “I’m flying”, “I’m leaving today” and also “Close to me” are a bit older, but the rest of the songs were written after a trip to Nashville back in 2000. I listened to a lot of music over there which inspired me a lot. Some of the songs are written over there, and some ones after I returned.

I’d have guessed that the country inspired song, “I’m leaving today” was written after visiting Nashville.

I wrote the song after having heard Emmylou Harris at a concert in Tivoli, Copenhagen. This was the first time I’d heard her live, and she had a great band with her, with two fantastic background vocalists. They sang along and phrased exactly like her. Normally, I like a more soul kind of choir with a lot of different voices, but these pure and perfect triads really made a big impression on me, so I went home and wrote this song.

I wrote songs up to the time we started recording the album.

Through many years, you have played in many different constellations, from symphony orchestras to pop and rock music. You also teach at the Rhythmic Conservatory in Copenhagen. What kind of response have you had from friends and colleagues?

People have been very enthusiastic about my album. Some have really listened to it and given me very serious criticism, both good and bad. Others have just said that it is good. Mostly, I like the inputs from the ones who really have listened to my album. It is very useful to me, whether I agree or not.

But basically, people say that it’s great that I have made my own album. In some ways, it is a great leap for me, considering the fact that I have been a sideman for so many years. People in the music business also have to get used to the idea. For instance, the ones who don’t know me well don’t even know that I sing.

I’d like to get back to the music and the musicians on the album. The ones that play on all the songs are Jacob Christoffersen and Emil de Waal and your own brother, Peter Kibsgaard, on percussion. In my opinion, the fact that they are so few, makes the album a perfect work of art even though it contains a lot of musical styles such as west coast, pop, rock, jazz and country music.

Well, I like to listen to and play all those styles.

It tempts me to describe you as a bit of an chameleon – no matter which musical style you are involved in, you make it sound as if you’ve never played anything else.

I’m not quite sure about that but at least I try. For instance, when I make child programmes in TV, I play the songs very simple – I don’t put a lot of jazzy chords into them. And when I play with Shubidua it’s a lot of rock’n’roll, so there I use the 4 Chuck Berry licks I know J and a few B.B. King licks.

So you see a challenge in being true to the different musical styles?

Sure, but it can also be fun to add a bit of blues into a jazz solo. To me, it is important that you are aware of the musical styles in order to be able to play around with them and blend them. I also tell that to my students at the conservatory.

After all these years as a sideman, your are about to perform as a soloist. How do you feel about that?

I’m looking forward to performing with my own songs. Of course, you are more naked when you do your own stuff. But after so many years, it is nice to move on to new experiences – a bit like starting all over again. I’m much exited but also a bit nervous.

You told me earlier that artists would rather do their own stuff. Do you think that you will spend more time own your own music after the tour you will do this spring?

I can’t imagine that the tour this spring will be anything but a success for us musicians, but there’s no guarantee that the audience is going to like it. But no matter what, there will be a new album and a new tour. I hope that we will be able to find some clubs and do make some great concerts.

Which musicians are you bringing along on the tour?

So far, I’m counting on Jacob Christoffersen on piano and keyboards, and Morten Jacobsen on bass – he has recently toured with Sanne Salomonsen.

You are used to playing big concerts with Shubidua, and now you are going to play in small clubs. Which place do you like the most?

Well it’s 2 different things. There’s something magic about being on a stage on a beautiful summer night in front of 30 – 35.000 people who sing along. But as a musician, I think I gain more from the intimate concert. I like the close contact with the audience.

I wonder about one thing. You grew up with 2 parents who were opera singers. Despite that, you turned towards jazz and pop music with your guitar.

I guess in some ways I was a bit of a strange child. Until I was 13 years old, I only listened to classical music. In their teens, a lot of children turn against their parents, which is quite normal. My “revolt” was, that I quitted the piano and bought myself a guitar and started playing rock music. I had this real garage rock band, where we played AC/DC rock. In the 80ies during my high school years, I started listening to soul, west coast music and Earth, Wind and Fire.

Which kind of music first inspired you in the musical direction you are in today?

I think it was Stevie Wonder. The first record I bought with him was “Hotter than July”. I believe he’s the greatest one for me.

You can hear that in your song “A Sign”, as well as your can hear your inspiration from Michael McDonald in your song “Reason for me to smile”.

I wouldn’t try to conceal that. Both artists are great ideals for me.

Which guitarists have inspired you? I might guess that George Benson would be one of them.

He surely is. He’s a fantastic guitarist!

When I was quite young, I loved Van Halen. I also loved Mike Stern – the way he mixes jazz and rock music by using the energy from rock but with the notes from jazz is outstanding. For many years, I only played fusion music. I have also listened a lot to Robben Ford. He has a great way of mixing blues and fusion in The Yellowjackets.

Mentioning all these guitarists, I reckon you’ve also listened to Larry Carlton.

Quite a lot! He was one of my first idols. Especially his album “Friends” and the one with “Room 335” really inspired me. I actually played “Room 335” at my entrance examination at the Rhythmic Conservatory.

Now we’ve talked a lot about your inspirational sources.  Apart from Stevie Wonder and Michael McDonald you are also inspired by James Taylor.

One of the things I like about James Taylor is his tranquillity. He is a great singer/songwriter and guitarist. He is a mature man who has seen and tried a lot of things, and you can tell that by his music. My own music also points in that direction. I mean, I’m not 20 years old anymore…

The thing that reminds me most about James Taylor on your album is Emil de Waal’s way of playing drums – very much like James Taylor’s ‘old’ drummer Russel Kunkel. Just like James Taylor, you seem to have a love for country music, especially in the song “I’m leaving today”. When did you begin listening to country music?

Probably in the beginning of the 90ies. During the 80ies, we were used to the nice and well polished hi-fi sound. I think country music is more simple and down-to-earth – a man and his guitar. That doesn’t mean that I don’t listen to pop and west coast music from the 80ies, but as time passes, I find more joy in listening to country and folk music.

When I first listened to your album, I saw the song “Making it better” as the radio hit. I know you don’t agree with me in that…

Yes, I was very much in doubt whether I wanted the song on my album. I wrote it in a hotel room in Nashville. I had just bought this fantastic western guitar in “Gruhn’s Guitars” – probably the largest guitar shop in Nashville. Over 3 days, I had tried a lot of different guitars but this “Martin” guitar was simply the best. So I went back to my hotel room and wrote the song!

The last song on your album is a very beautiful a cappella song, “When I’m blue”. You long time friend and trumpet player (among other things..), Jeppe Kaas has told me that you have always dreamed of making a vocal album.

I have always been mad about vocal music – all the way from my childhood. My mother was a fantastic vocalist. She used to go to Germany and record a lot of background vocals on different pop albums. I have also listened a lot to Swingle Sisters and Singers Unlimited, and, of course, later on Take 6 who are sublime.

What were your expectations as to getting your album released?

Well, I have been in the music business for so many years so I didn’t expect it to be easy. However, it didn’t turn out so. At first, I tried to make Art People release it. They had just released a guitar tutor DVD I had made, but they thought the album was a mix of too many different musical styles, and I certainly wouldn’t change any of it, so I was advised to try the record company Scanbox and they said yes. However, it has been very difficult getting any promotion for the album. Just before the album was due to be released, Scanbox was bought by someone who later on sold it on to CMC – a company that also releases Shubidua’s albums.

To me it doesn’t make any difference whether I sell a lot of copies or not – I continue writing songs and recording them.

So we might expect an album no. 2 sometime?

That’s for sure!

Are there things you’d like to change or try out for the next album?

As I said before, my way of writing songs hasn’t changed – I write songs all the time. But one thing I’ve learned from this album is how hard it is to sit with everything alone. The next time, I’ll probably collect a team of musicians and record most of the music live, also to make it more dynamic.