John Kaada is an eclectic producer whose work conjures warmth from the generally icy realm of Norway. His music has been featured in multiple films where it’s always noticeable over the drama, providing an interesting and abrupt augment to the film, rather than staying comfortable in the corners. Kaada’s work with fellow musical adventurer Mike Patton has garnered attention and a worldwide audience in the form of avant-garde orchestrations that invite the listener to take the journey with them. Kaada’s latest album is his first proper solo work in nearly 10 years — he’s legitimately ecstatic about the finished product.
The hauntingly-titled Closing Statements draws its inspiration from discussing the last words of the dying. Ironically he’s called this record “the happiest he has ever been” making an album. Fortunately for us Kaada tends to write things in four dimenions, with stories attached to the music in an almost “sonic VR” experience and Closing Statements continues that trend. mxdwn spoke with John Kaada to discuss the new record, his writing process and his anything-goes jazz-rock trio, Chloroform.
mxdwn: Your newest record, Closing Statements, is very broad and takes your listeners on many journeys through multiple sonic landscapes. One of the inspirations you had for the record was discussing things that people said before they died. Where did that inspiration come from and why use it as the foundation for the album?
John Kaada: It’s not that I cared that much about those final last words, but it’s more about that feeling…What if the thing that you are saying is really, really important? It’s those times we live in now where everyone is shouting in every direction and all my friends are writing albums, everyone is creating stuff and everyone is just busy doing their own stuff. It was almost like, would anyone care to listen to my album? It was more like, what if this is the last thing that I do or say? And from then on, I ended up with this concept. Somehow, I am fascinated with that moment in time, something that you are saying could be super important, maybe something that’s not even that clever, but that is where I ended up with this thing.
I just started surfing around on the internet about what people say on death row before they die. There has just been a lot of interesting stuff that people have said. Most people don’t necessarily say anything clever, or words of wisdom, but it’s very interesting that it’s the last thing that people say. Everyone that is around the person that is dying has an obligation to listen. That is not the moment to pick up your phone or whatever. Somehow, I wonder if people still have that ability to listen. Everyone is just so distracted at times. Maybe I’m turning into a grumpy old man…Maybe it’s just been so long since I’ve released something that I am worried that there may not be those people out there.
mxdwn: Another interesting statement you made about this record saying Closing Statements was “the happiest you’ve ever been making a record.” Can you expound on that comment, especially with regard to the subject matter of the record?
JK: Yes…but it’s not a sad record. I’m thinking more that in that moment, as you are passing, going onto the other side, it’s a moment of retrospect and looking back bringing up good memories, bad memories, traveling. It’s more of that mental journey as well. It’s not sad at all.
The album was really fun to make because I was just so ready to do the record. It has been far too long since I did my own stuff that it was super-inspiring. Also, because I’ve done so much film and TV music the last 10-15 years. At a point, that becomes just a job that you are delivering to someone else. I have been trying many times to make my own album and then you get a track going and that is inspiring and then finally you are free and you know where you’re going and you have finally found the concept and the music that you want to put out there. Maybe that is why it was so liberating.
mxdwn: You have such a diverse palette of music in your career for orchestrations, soundtracks, TV, avant-garde material. But your work almost comes in 4D with stories behind them. You had albums about imaginary films and concepts about Polish workers coming to Norway to work. What is it about your writing process that marries those stories to the music?
JK: I don’t know…It just kind of comes along with the process. I guess maybe since, those albums that you mentioned, there are no lyrics. It’s kind of a visual journey and brings up imagery and from that on I can get on a track where I imagine something. I think very visually when it comes to music. I certainly hope that my interpretation doesn’t get in the way of other people’s version of the imaginary landscape. I hope to make the kind of music that invites people to imagine things for themselves, or not at all, they can just listen to the music. I guess that is one of the dangers on having a concept. Preferably things should be open for everybody.
mxdwn: Are you spontaneous when you write music or is it something that you carefully plan out ahead of time?
JK: A bit of everything. Sometimes things just come out of the blue, sometimes it’s deeply planned out. But I noticed that for me now it’s really important to play music with my hands instead of programming stuff on the computer. It’s one of those things that has come out of me having spent far too much time in front of computers. If there is something to say about it…the music on this album and upcoming albums, definitively will be made by instruments rather than by computers.
mxdwn: Can you elaborate on that a bit? You play a lot of different instruments and does it feel more your own when you physically play an instrument rather than stare in front of a computer?
JK: When you are playing instruments I think that everything is more intuitive. You make choices on a very different level when you are playing an instrument. My aesthetics is that things should live and play and feel organic. For me it’s a question of what do I want my life to consist of. It’s a good day when you can look back and say that you played piano for seven hours. For me, that would be a pretty meaningful day rather than sitting in front of ProTools or LogicPro. It’s like the life and death of the album. I want to spend my time playing instruments.
mxdwn: Do you use that approach when you are writing a film score versus writing for yourself? Is the writing process similar?
JK: I have been very lucky in the film music business. When people call me it’s because they want something weird. I am not the guy they call if they want something very specific. I get all those cool projects, in Norway at least, where people want to be alternative in one way or another. That’s a fantastic position to be in. Something that makes that kind of music easier. If I were that kind of film composer that made Hollywood sound-alikes I would just be fed up. It wouldn’t work for me as a person to work that way. And many composers do work that way, even in the pop business. People are going in there looking for sounds like a previous success, and that fascinates me in a way. I understand it, but it’s not my way of approaching things. I’ve been doing some soul searching lately on what I want to do with my music and where I want to go next. I must admit that I have had periods in the film business, that I need to get myself together again. It’s so easy to get lost within that work.
mxdwn: I have always thought that your collaborations with Mike Patton were very interesting. How did those projects come about and what was the collaborative process like when writing with him and is there anything coming in the future?
JK: I got to know Mike Patton in 2001, so it’s not different from any other projects. He released my albums, which meant a lot to me because I suddenly had an audience all over the world. In terms of our work together, it has been a normal thing in a way. I have learned a lot from him, of course, things were just back and forth in a normal process. I think one of the reasons his projects work so well is that he is very quality-oriented. He does not release anything before he is happy. I don’t know if we will do anything in the future, I can’t comment on that.
mxdwn: On the opposite side of that coin, you also have a project called Chloroform that is a trio in the jazz-rock realm. How does approaching that project compare with your more avant-garde material?
JK: Chloroform is just a fantastic playground. We are good friends and have known each other forever. It’s one of those liberating places where everything and anything is allowed. Chloroform is more about the energy versus my solo material. It is just so liberating to play live with the band. There is nothing that is off limits, from stage-diving to getting drunk on stage. Everything is allowed and has happened. That’s why we keep going year after year. I think we appreciate the madness. You can compare it with…that sometimes you just have to get really drunk…you know? You have to destroy yourself once in a while and that is what Chloroform is.
mxdwn: Any new material with Chloroform on the horizon?
JK: Yes. We are playing a lot of festivals this summer. No plans to come to the States, but that would be really nice. We’ve played in New York several times, but it’s been a long time.
mxdwn: How has Norway influenced your writing style?
JK: The thing is with me, I always have my eyes on what is going on in other countries versus what is going on here. We are not many people. There are only 5 million people in Norway, it’s a pretty small country. I think in a way we build our system on trust and it’s a point of pride for us. I will say that we pay a lot of taxes. I think I pay around 50% tax…But then everything is free, so that is the difference. Maybe one of the reasons that things happen in the cultural scene here is because we can do it. People have a very good health and society infrastructure that can pick us up if things go bad. We can allow ourselves to take more chances.
mxdwn: What’s next for Kaada, Chloroform?
JK: Nothing at the moment…It’s a big goal of mine to play more shows and to play the piano live again. It’s been 20 years since the last time I did something real on piano. I’m spending a lot of time on the piano. I’m practicing scales, working on old compositions and writing my own stuff. I find that really meaningful, just playing and playing instead of producing. It’s more like, creating music for that moment with a different mindset. My goal is to become a better musician at the moment. I learn a lot playing music that other people have written. Mostly Bach and old Baroque pieces, which provides a lot of meaning these days.