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Q & A: Dag Rosenqvist of Jasper TX

July 10, 2009

Almost as a rule, we don’t expect weavers of mercilessly dark, navel-gazing music to be forthcoming about either their craft or themselves. So we were shocked, during an e-mail exchange with Jasper TX’s Dag Rosenqvist, to find him so voluble an interview subject. Below is the full interview transcript, much of which wouldn’t fit into the article in the July 8 edition of City Paper; here, Rosenqvist holds forth on his relationship with his fans, audience etiquette, the role of dynamics in musical composition, and Chuck Palahniuk.

City Paper: What was your earliest music-making experience? Can you remember what it sounded like?
Dag Rosenqvist: I started playing the double bass when I was nine, and it probably sounded awful. When I started recording what was eventually to become Jasper TX, I had no real equipment, just a 4-track portable cassette recorder that I lined a cheap electric guitar into. It sounded like shit, to be honest. But the ideas were there, and I got better along the way, thankfully. I actually have some of those early recordings left, but they will never leave the safety of my bedroom drawer.

CP: Who would you count as your biggest musical influences (in terms of other artists or anything/anyone else), and what music do you find yourself captivated by right now?
DR: That’s a hard one. I grew up in a home full of music. None of my parents played any instruments but they listened to a lot of music. My father’s a big jazz fanatic, so he introduced me to the likes of Charles Mingus, Max Roach, Lars Gullin, Eric Dolphy, and Charlie Parker. My mother, on the other hand, listened to the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin. So I learned to appreciate both regular pop/rock music as well as the more free-form stuff. I think this has had a huge influence on my music, maybe not directly in the music itself but rather in the idea that, when creating music, you’re free to do anything you want. And no one can tell you you’re wrong.

At the moment I’m really into Zelienople. Everything they’ve done is basically phenomenal. Lately I’ve also been listening a lot to the latest Mastodon album, Crack the Skye, as well as older stuff from Neurosis, the
latest Balmorhea album, everything by Peter Broderick, Ronnie Sundin’s latest album Seven Year Silence from the Swedish Label Fang Bomb (who also released my Singing Stones album) Pillowdiver, Lichens, Early Day Miners. I could go on for a while, so I think I’ll stop there.

CP: What inspired you to adopt the rather evocative stage name “Jasper TX”? Did it have anything to do with what happened there in 1998-three white men chaining a black man to their truck and dragging him to death?
DR: Yes, it did. Naming my project Jasper TX was my way of saying that we should never, ever forget what we human beings are capable of. The incident in Jasper became a symbol of both despair and hatred, but also of hope as the world condemned the actions of the three men who murdered James Byrd, Jr. This incident, as well as my music and life in general, contains both light and darkness. The one cannot exist without the other. Sadly, the events that took place in Jasper, Texas are still a relevant reminder even today.

CP: There’s a very dark, brooding-yet-beautiful feel to your music that exudes intimacy. I wonder: do you ever worry that this intimacy-which I imagine is intense in a studio and definitely is mind-blowing when heard through headphones-loses something in concert venues, where there’s chattering, ringing cell phones, and so forth? Are audiences generally respectful?
DR: Generally, I would say that audiences are respectful. There have been occasions where I’d gladly strangle people from the audience and there’s almost always that cell phone that goes off, but most of the times people are actually there to listen to the music. Records and live shows are two different things to me. That is just something that you have to come to terms with as an artist. I can never recreate the same atmosphere live as I do on the albums. The albums are meticulously crafted and nothing on them is left to chance. A live performance is basically a state of chaos that you try to control the best you can. Sometimes it’s magic; sometimes it falls flat to the ground. I don’t think that the intimacy of the music gets lost; I just think that it’s a completely different thing altogether.

CP: Tell me a bit about The Bending of Light, your recent collaboration album with Anduin. How did that come about? You’re touring together now; will you be performing together onstage?
DR: Initially, Jonathan [Lee of Anduin] contacted me regarding a remix for his Forever Waiting album. After that was done, we started talking about doing some kind of collaboration and basically we just started swapping files over the Internet. We also started outlining ideas and concepts for the music so both of us could have sort of a framework to create the music within. It was a very organic process where the tracks bounced back and forth a lot before we were finally done with the album. I really wanted to do stuff that I hadn’t previously done so I used a lot more synthesizers on these recordings. I’m very pleased with how it turned out in the end and we’re already planning on recording a follow up to it during the upcoming tour.

For the tour we will each be playing a separate set and then the idea is that we close every night with a collaborative set. It will probably be pretty much improvised and hopefully very good!

CP: What are the best and worst aspects of touring for you? And, weighing touring and recording, which do you prefer, and why?
DR: The best parts of touring is definitely meeting people and seeing new places. It’s always a blast when you actually get to meet people with whom you’ve been emailing for a long time. To actually sit down and have a conversation over a beer or a cup of coffee. I love being shown around to the best bars and places in a city, the kind of places that you only know of if you’ve lived there for a while.

The worst part of touring is the waiting. You wait for check-in at the airport. You wait for a flight. You wait for a bus. You wait for sound-check. You wait for the show. You wait for the promoter to give you your money. On an average day I’d say that waiting takes up two-third[s] of the day when you’re on tour. Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but sometimes it certainly feels that way. There’s also the hauling of equipment, the sleep deprivation, the constant traveling, the feeling that you don’t belong anywhere. And of course, I always miss my wife when I’m on tour.

I think I prefer recording. It’s not that I don’t enjoy playing live but I’m a bit of a control freak. I hate it when I’m not in control of things that happen around me and playing live is all about trying to do something meaningful in a state of chaos. When you succeed and do a great set it’s rewarding beyond belief. When you fail, you just want to go hang yourself. And that’s another hard aspect of touring. You pour so much from yourself throughout a day and if you then fail on stage then it feels like it was all wasted. But then again, I’ve done catastrophic shows that people absolutely loved, so what do I know?

CP: Your music is of the sort that inspires a deep emotional response. Have any fans ever contacted you to share personal meanings/experiences associated with your compositions?
DR: Yes, it happens quite frequently actually. One time there was a Japanese guy who e-mailed me saying that my music comforted and helped him when his wife and son got killed in a car accident. How do you respond to a thing like that? I love it when people mail me regarding the music I do, it’s sort of a receipt that the music means something to someone beside myself. On the other hand it can be very hard to deal with people’s stories about loss and alienation. I think the trick is to not let it affect you too much. I think that you need to distance yourself from it, both the positive and the negative, so that it’s not starting to weigh you down and have too big of an impact on your personal life. But it ain’t easy.

CP: Are you doing any reading right now? If so, what’s on your night stand at the moment?
DR: Right now I’m reading Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk and The Long Tail by Chris Anderson. Palahniuk is one of my favourite authors. I love his twisted humour and how every book hold ideas that a lesser author would turn into at least ten pretty watered down books. Other all-time favourites are Paul Auster, Siri Hustvedt, and Swedish author Carl-Johan Wallgren. If you find anything by Wallgren in English, buy it!

CP: You seem to write and release music at a rapid clip; I get the sense that you’re never low on ideas and energy. Is music, in essence, your sole vocation? Or do you have a day job?
DR: Music is not my sole vocation as I’m currently studying to become a project manager. I just finished my first year out of two so over the summer I’m actually unemployed and pretty broke. But so far I haven’t had a single day off since the semester ended. So yes, I’m pretty much never short on energy or ideas. The thing is there’s just so much music to be made, so many interesting projects to be a part of. When I had all of my recording equipment at home I used to be really manic about recording stuff. I could sit for twelve hours straight without eating or sleeping or even knowing that the world existed around me. Now I have a recording space a good twenty minutes from home and I’m trying to work as focused and efficiently as possible when I’m there. The older I get, the more focus, structure, and control I need, it seems. I’ll probably end up turning into a psychotic bureaucrat making minimal harsh noise.

CP: If your music had a color, what would it be?
DR: A mix between moss-green, dirty faded pink, and sort of brownish black. I think those colours sums up the various aspects of my music pretty well. Shimmering and comforting, a bit faded and old and somewhere underneath there’s a darkness that we can never get rid of.

CP: Singing Stones is almost startlingly and suddenly quiet in spots; at moments it sounds like the calm before a massive storm and it’s as though we’re hearing rumblings of thunder miles away. Are you ever startled-in your work, the work of others, or the world in general-by the relative power of silence?
DR: Overall I think that dynamics are very important and I think that a gently strummed, soft acoustic guitar can be just as intense as the harshest of Japanese noise. Just listen to Steve von Till’s solo albums and you’ll
know what I mean. Sometimes the smallest of gestures are the ones that hit you hardest and I believe that, just like light needs darkness, sounds need silence.

A couple of years ago it became pretty popular to make “quiet music,” right on the edge of what our ears could perceive. But I never really got into that kind of thing, I think it’s too similar to noise in the way that it’s just too static, it relies too heavily on just the form and not the matter of the songs. To me it has always been the dynamics of sound and music that is the most interesting, the way you build and deconstruct sounds to tell the story you want to tell.

For Singing Stones, I tried to create a story where all the tracks were different scenes in a loose narrative. And to tell the story properly I needed all those sounds and all of the silent parts to be on the record.

It is fully realised in the sense that there’s nothing on it that doesn’t need to be there. Every sound has a place and a purpose. It’s like in a movie; sometimes you need score music, sometimes you need dialogue and sometimes you just need an empty frame.

Jasper TX plays July 11 at the Hexagon.