Interview by Mannix King
DMC: Troels, you just delivered a fantastic new album The/Human/Tree. How much pressure did you feel to follow up the great ‘Trans/For/Mation’ album from 2015?
TH: Actually not too much pressure. I must tell you though that I never – and I repeat never – would have dreamt about making a record at this age. When I met Kenneth Bager for the first time around 3 years ago, it was at my mother’s 80th birthday when I performed a song for my mother at the piano. After my performance Kenneth Bager came up to me and asked if I would like to do a record for his label Music For Dreams. I said yes, but in that moment I thought he just was some drunk guest at the party trying to get in contact in some bizarre way. But the true story is that we started our journey together at that precise moment and I began to produce. Shortly afterwards we gave birth to the first album Trans/For/Mation.
You must understand that I came from a composition background more or less, that’s how I felt it anyway. The making of Trans/For/Mation was a long learning process for me. Trans/For/Mation is inspired by my own childhood where I grew up in the far north of Denmark in a very small town called Mountain Town (Bjergby) that is very near the Mosquito valley (Mygdal). When I first found this childhood track in my body’s memory it was quite easy to get in contact with the rest of it – and the composing went more or less easily. And of course I had to learn all the new techniques, machines, keyboards, getting in contact with musicians, opera singers, how to make a wav file etc. etc. But in a very weird way it all came natural to me. The tunes, the ideas (not the technique) all came to me. When the album was released and people responded positive, it was a bit surreal to me. I had this feeling that I had been sitting somewhere on my own, on a far planet and done some music together with angels and aliens from the galaxies, then suddenly it was exposed to the world and somehow in that moment it left my own solar system. Suddenly I could look forward to album no. 2 The/Human/Tree. This album is based on stories from my late teenage years when I lived and travelled around Africa. So there you have it! Until now, I am basically composing my life story.
So back to the question of feeling pressured – I think the biggest pressure for me is more at a internal state. Something about “will it come to me again”, is there more in the big universal pot of inspiration and will I manage to get in touch with it again? Well, something like that.
I really appreciate and feel very lucky for every single moment that this composer life has made possible and I do feel a huge amount of gratitude that my productions are out there, in the world, and working for humanity.
DMC: Troels, please tell us more about the new album and its tracks. What were your thoughts behind it and what do you want to achieve with it?
TH: In general, The/Human/Tree are stories from my teenage years living in Africa. Which means that every single track and name on the album is places that I have visited, and there are some interesting stories to be told – all except Grindadrap which is from the Farao Islands and the title number The Human Tree which is from Ukraine and is a story about a mother who in pure sadness over her loss is transformed into a human tree.
I wanted to make ‘world music’. The idea was to gather as many nationalities as possible to this album from far and wide. Ukraine, Farao Island, Denmark, Brazil, Norway, USA, England, Spain, Germany and the continent Africa is represented on The/Human/Tree.
When music touches someone and activates all different kinds of feelings, memories, hopes and dreams – that’s when my mission is complete. I want to help people get in contact with their inner self – their life, their stories and important relatives (dead or alive) but be in the present. I think this is the logic of music in all cases, it can open up feelings and emotions and this is music’s DNA – from my point of view.
DMC: Any personal faves on the album gents?
TH: Well I am very fond of Letters From Uluru with Rodrigo Sha – a Brazilian saxophone player who plays beautifully on this track. He does an amazing job on this tune. Botswana Girl is also a favourite of mine, I love Åsne Valland Nordlii’s voice on this tune which always brings me into contact with all the undelivered love that is in the world. A true melancholic nordic tune. I am also crazy for Grindadráp which also has that nordic melancholic mood and the beautiful voice from Liv Nes who is kind of chanting her grandfather’s poem about the big whale hunts on the Farao Islands from the past days. Mariana Sadovska is majestic on the title tune The Human Tree, there is so much power and grief in her voice. I’m so proud that Mrs Deva Premal is participating on this album too. A woman who I know is working hard on giving love and peace to this world. I could easy mention several other tunes that I am very happy with, it is hard to answer this question and not to mention all the tunes! The pure piano moods of Theme From Ngong Hills, Serengeti Nights and View of Wisdom are special to me because these tunes are coming from the deep inside, channeling the basics from when I was a little boy sitting alone in a dark living room and playing on my piano, while the rest of the house was sleeping.
KB: Basically I really like the whole album as a listening piece from start to finish. My personal faves are Mockingbird, Theme From Ngong Hilss, Letters From Uhuru and Waves of Cape Town.
DMC: Kenneth, you are a man with rich experience in many genres of music. Building up a label like Music For Dreams, what are the challenges to keep the imprint important and sexy for a new wave of customers?
KB: I think just follow your own instincts as a music fan – I am music lover – pretty simple.
DMC: Troels, please tell us more about your musical background. We know you play the piano nicely, but who has influenced you? How do you work specifically and how does an idea lead to a Troels Hammer track?
TH: The thing is, when I compose I try to let the music flow in a way where I don’t control it too much. I am always trying to work on a personal modus where I let the music find its own surprising paths. I try not to stand too much in the way of the music’s own logic. I think that I am a true autodidakt (self-taught) composer, I do not read notes or have any kind of understanding of how to do music in a ‘real or right way’. But then again I am the one who is sitting by the piano, the instruments and the computer etc. and in that position my compass course is mostly headed against compassion, mood, atmosphere or a feeling.
I think it is important to remember that I also make music for fun, I often call it my professional hobby. Therefore the music is a combination of joy and happiness mixed with melancholy, the latter has always been an engine for my composing. It is important for me to make it as high quality as possible and to reach new higher dimensions with the music. I try to fathom both hopes, dreams and devoted love into my music. And always try to catch a tone in the single tunes, that touch a person both present and past of their personal stories, including all the general modus or feelings that is running true in every person.
Through my life I have been listening to both very local artist from Denmark and totally unknowns from the outer world. I remember the first time I discovered the chord Am. It was an actor from Copenhagen who showed me the three tones A ñ C ñ E, I was around 9 years. I sat down for the next 2 weeks and played the same chords again and again until the house went totally crazy at me. It was a kind of torture chamber for them to be in hearing my repeating the same again and again. In a way it is still like that. I love when something appears in the music that is working somehow and then repeat it, and repeat it, and…
Pink Floyd was a big inspiration. Frank Zappa, Neil Young, 10CC, Beatles, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Oscar Peterson, Jan Johansson, Mozart, Beethoven, Claude Debussy and film composers like, Michael Nyman, Ennio Morricone, Ludovico Einaudi, Stanley Myers, Ryuichi Sakamoto and many many more. I’m sure you can read between the lines in that I would love to make film music one day, thats a true dream.
DMC: Kenneth, you also co-produced the albums together with Troels. How has it been working with him?
KB:It has been such a pleasure – he is natural talent – he sits down and play – and suddenly you have a tune.
DMC: You both live in Denmark. Does your surrounding and neighbourhood influence your sound?
TH: Yes very much indeed. I think that the environment and culture that you swim in will always have an influence. You are – so to speak – in the culture and the culture is in you and there is no escape. Therefore this music also has a nordic statement despite all my intentions to add the whole world into the album. I will always be affected by my present life, the town and country that I live in, this particular day, the dog who is barking, the postman who cant find the mailbox, my wife, the kids, everyday life and my life time experiences.
KB: I am influenced by the world and my surroundings.
DMC: Kenneth, beside running the label you also record as The Kenneth Bager Experience. Anything you want to tell us about your alter ego?
KB: I just follow my heart and see what comes …
DMC: Troels, there is a limited Double CD edition containing both of your albums with additional extended versions or unreleased tracks. What was the thought behind that?
TH: I have during the making of The/Human/Tree made a lot of tunes and found during the process that one CD couldn’t do it enough, there was simply so much material. So to make space for some of these extra tracks and remixes we decided to do add this Trans/For/Mation Extra Bonus version full of special versions and only few of the old songs still appears in its original form.
DMC: Finally what’s coming up from you both and the label and when can we expect the next Troels Hammer album?
KB: It is up to Troels really, we have both been part of another project called Copenema – a project that has been getting loads of plays at Mercury Rising @ Pikes by DJ Harvey and recently been featured by Pete Tong on BBC1.
TH: Good question sir. I would like to tell you a short story on that question.
A friend of mine was walking along a street in New York. At the sidewalk there was this saxophonist playing, he did it very well and my friend stood there and enjoyed the music until he had a short pause. My friend gave the saxophonist some money and asked before he left if he knew the way to Carnegie Hall? The saxophonist answered “practice man, practice.” And then he went on playing.
Soon baby soon…