Led by guitar virtuoso Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen and featuring bassist Ellen Brekken and drummer Ivar Loe Bjørnstad, Norway’s Hedvig Mollestad Trio transverses the lines between jazz, classic rock, and prog.
The bandmates met at the Music Academy in Oslo and joined forces after Mollestad Thomassen was named “Jazz Talent Of The Year Award” at Molde International Jazzfestival in 2009. Since then, the group has toured throughout Europe, Japan, and has appeared in the US—wowing the jazz and rock circuits alike with their expansive, genre-defying sounds—and have been prolific in the studio as well, releasing a number of albums and EPs, including their 2013 LP, All of Them Witches, that was nominated for a Spellemann Award (Norway’s equivalent to the Grammys) for best rock.
HM3’s new album, Black Stabat Mater, (their fifth in under five years!), doesn’t come out in the US until June 24 (on Rune Grammophon), but we have the exclusive premiere of their track, “In The Court of The Trolls” today. Check it out below and read on for Mollestad Thomassen’s take on Norway’s experimental jazz/rock community and the art of improvisation.
She Shreds: Norway is home to many musicians who blur the lines between jazz, rock/metal, avant-garde, and more. Do you find yourself surrounded by many like-minded musicians? If so, how has that impacted your artistic progression?
Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen: Yes, I do think that the music scene in Norway is quite experimental, at least to some extent. I often turn to my fellow musicians such as Motorpsycho, Elephant 9, Grand General to listen to and admire their works, so I guess it is hard to avoid impact. Though, of course, we walk our own ways and I really think we all sound very different, both in sound and songs. When I was 16, there was a lot of free jazz that I was exposed to, and I really think that was important to the way I think about music today—it can go in so many directions, and “freedom is the core” is very important to treasure.
Improvisation is at the heart of much of your music. What is some advice you would give to musicians who are learning to be comfortable with improvising?
Listen to those you like the style of and figure out what they do, even though it is just one small phrase. Work with structures that you manage fairly good, and go into the parts that could be better or does not work – find out why, solve your problems. Record what you do. Evaluate. That is one way to get better. Improvisation is kind of a bag concept, as it can be so many different things, from strictly working with harmonic structures to working with none at all, and they all require different capabilities. The only two things you’ll need to make it work is a certain amount of skills and a great amount of sincerity.
Having toured both the jazz and rock circuits, do you find more parallels or differences in how your band is perceived by audiences or industry?
Most of the scenes we play are either alternative jazz or alternative rock venues, which make them much the same. They are all curious to energy in music, and cherish good musicianship and creative playing. I guess the biggest difference would be if the audience is seated or standing.
Black Stabat Mater is your third album in less than five years — do you think your tendency towards improv makes for more fruitful songwriting than a more structured method?
Black Stabat Mater is our fifth album in less than five years (Shoot! In 2011, All of Them Witches in 2013, Enfant Terrible in 2014, Evil in Oslo and Black Stabat Mater in 2016). No, I don’t think the tendency toward improve itself makes for more fruitful songwriting, I think it all depends on what kind of flow you’ve got.
It is no use to make a lot of songs if none of them are any good. Things must be solid, and we always agree before we go into studio that if we are not happy with the results we won’t release it. But I do think playing a lot together can trigger the urge to make new music, at least it does to us.
Tell me a little more about “In the Court of the Trolls” as far as the development of the song. Is the name a nod to mythological trolls, Internet culture, or both?
In the court of the trolls is a dark, loud ballad of how stuck you can be as a visitor, and possibly a nod to how hard it can be to be a refugee in our country. But the most obvious parallel to the title is In the Court of the Crimson King [King Crimson’s 1969 debut LP], one of our all time favorite records by one of our all time favorite bands!