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Saturday, March 3, 2018

Anna Högberg: Interview

Swedish sax player Anna Högberg returns this year with several strong releases. The leader of the sextet Attack has just released new albums with her power trio Doglife and the free jazz quartet Se och Hör, augmented now by guest vibes player Mattias Ståhl, and planning to release later this year the sophomore album of Attack and a debut solo sax album.

What is it about Anna Högberg Attack that made its debut album so successful? What was the secret sauce?

It really became a great record and I'm so happy that it has spread around the world. I would never have guessed. We recorded it during two cold days in November 2015 in Stockholm at Studio Pannhuset, a simple one room studio together with Joel Danell. The owner of this place passed away suddenly and way too young just before this. So our album was one of the last to be recorded there. So because of the tragic circumstances it was a really special and respectful atmosphere in the studio. We had two days there and one of the musicians had a newborn baby wanting our attention, so we didn't do that many takes of each song and it felt very fresh and focused when we played. The recordings are mixed by me and Henrik Alsér in my living room in Gothenburg, because it would have been too expensive to do the mixing in a studio. Alsér also mastered it at Svenska Grammofon Studion. So, the mix of putting together musicians you really want to play with, some ideas of songs to play and then some great sound and mixing where you can even hear the atmosphere in the room, could be a lead for the secret sauce.

What will come next from Anna Högberg Attack? Where does the group go after  such a statement, such amounts of sheer power and all kinds of emotions?

This band is like an addiction for me. From the beginning it was only a one concert project. The Stockholm jazz festival asked me to put together a new band for the 2013 edition and i wrote music and put together this group and thought it was going to be for this show only. The concert was a success so I planned a tour which I thought was going to be the last thing we were going to do together. Then we made a record and one more tour and it has just continued. After the release of the debut album I thought, let’s quit while we are at the top. But now we are working on our second album and are almost finished with a music video. This year we will play outside of Europe and I'm also planning a bigger version of Attack. It is a great band and I’m always surprised after every concert of how it turned out. It’s never the same to play with this band. We are also like a big family now and love to hang out so I guess we’ll do this a little bit more…

Doglife. Photo by Micke Keysend
How do you manage your different musical engagements, how they relate to each other? Anna Högberg Attack, for example, holds no bars from start to finish, whereas with Se och Hör we hear more of the playfulness and a lyrical side. Is it deliberate or simply a coincidence?

I feel that I have different needs in music and maybe an urge to play with different people that I like. Sometimes I try out new collaborations that sometimes leads to becoming a band or that only becomes a temporary project. It’s always interesting trying out new collaborations and new music and it always gives me something. But when it feels really good to play together, then it’s probably a good combination of interesting and challenging music and nice musicians to play with, and a good atmosphere where I feel that I can play and be myself, then it’s possible to continue as a group. I play in a lot of bands now, Pombo for ten years, Doglife for six years, Se och Hör for eight years and Anna Högberg Attack for five years, and of course I do a lot of other stuff too. But the reason I am still playing in this bands is because I get the opportunity to play different music together with musicians I really respect and with great friends I want to hang out with. Being a professional musician in experimental music is not an easy thing, it becomes more of a lifestyle than a job. It’s very tough economically and you work all the time so for me it’s important playing the music that I love, and together with people I love, because i don't have the energy for anything else.

How is the temperature of the Swedish free-improvised scene these days? Will you stay based in Sweden, or  plans to relocate in order to be able to create and perform?

The Swedish free-improvised scene is alive and rising, I would say. There are a lot of small organisers, often driven by the musicians themselves, organising concerts and festivals. I’m involved in an association called FRIM that organises concerts in Stockholm and we are trying to build up a regular concert series with free-improvised music that can offer a broad program with local and foreign musicians. We are also trying to reach out to schools where we do concerts to show the kids that this music exists.

I think I will stay in Sweden because I am homesick and want to live close to family, and here we have a good environment of musicians working together, playing together and there are still so many musicians here I haven't really played with yet. Instead of moving abroad I think that I’d rather stay to fight for the music here, to keep on inspiring and spreading the music to new places and to people who never been exposed to the free music before. Then off course I will continue to travel and do new collaborations abroad.

What are your habits of practice and study. Whom you were studying or practicing with, and so on?

I have studied music in different schools and the last one was the Royal College of Music which I had to leave in 2012. I have tried to be a good student but have always failed because I wanted to go in my own direction, I didn't want to be shaped by someone else's vision. I realised through the years that I learn best from playing together with others and when I practice by myself I learn the things I feel that I need to know to play the music I like. I practice when I have time, and I really like routines but its very hard to get if you play a lot which I do. I would like to practice for two hours every day, but that’s a utopia.

Can you speak about you or other, young, female Scandinavian sax players as  Mette Rasmussen and Julie Kjær, as artists who are really doing a lot to support fellow women musicians?

I’m a musician and I play the saxophone, I play with musicians that I like, feel inspired by and feel comfortable with. I don't choose the musicians by the gender they identify with. I’m so tired of being judged, reviewed or being seen as a ”female musician”. When, for example, Anna Högberg Attack is out playing, we are often being introduced before the concert as an all-female band and that the concert is a tribute to women in jazz, without even asking us first. What if the same thing would happen to an all-male band, and they were being asked the same kind of questions that we get? They would laugh. Questions like: If it was an active choice to play with only men? How does it feel to be a man playing jazz? The difference of being a women in music is not about the sound, it’s to be treated as something else. Traditionally women has been held back or they haven't been encouraged to play, to make noise or take space, and the music scene has been dominated and ruled by men. So I guess female musicians has to fight more to become accepted and it’s difficult to develop if you don't feel accepted. Now it is 2018 and I don't think it’s more than fair that the music scene becomes more equal, why haven't it happened earlier.

Anna Högberg Attack. Photo by Petra Cvelbar
Who were your role models, not necessarily female ones. Do you see yourself as a role model in a world that is still considered, even ruled by men (label owners, festival managers, reviewers etc)?

Role models and inspirations can be so many things. I know so many great musicians and artists and friends that inspires me a lot but one of my biggest role models and who reminds me of what’s important in life is my grandmother. The warmest and most generous person I ever met. A person that really sees people and enjoys the simple things in life. She was in her younger days an athlete. She loves sports and was out running every day regardless off the weather and she has kept on all her life. She is a person that never compromised with her passion. She is today 94 years old and she’s still burning and she is my biggest inspiration. I want to continue to play the saxophone and to care for the love of music in the same way she kept on running in the trails of the forest and loving it.

What was the role of Mats Gustafsson, as the leader of Fire! Orchestra, who endorsed Anna Högberg Attack debut album and who invited to play and record with The Thing.

Mats is a very important person for me and has been through the years and has become a really good friend of mine. He is a big inspiration in the way he explores new techniques on the instrument and also with his unstoppable energy and curiosity. I contacted him for the first time when I was very upset about music and not sure if i would go on playing or not. I had no idea if he would reply or not but with his generosity and enthusiasm he really encouraged me. I was at the time studying at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm and didn't feel that I could develop in that environment. Mats and I started do discuss music sending recordings to each other and after we met for the first time he invited me to play in Fire! Orchestra and that was actually my rescue. For the first time in a long time I felt accepted in an environment and with musicians that I really respected and had listened a lot to. I felt that I could play and be myself and that I was accepted and appreciated. That changed me a lot and my self confidence has risen, which gave me a lot of energy to go on playing. So I have played with the Fire! Orchestra since the beginning until its last version. I’m very happy for these 6 years of playing and touring with the Orchestra in its different shapes.

Would you like to recommend something?

I would like to recommend the triple solo album Piano Works of Lisa Ullén that will be released in April.

What are some of the dream musical projects that you would like to work on? People to work with certain music to perform, venues etc?

I have so many dreams, people to play with and music to make...I  can not mention everything but right now my nearest project is to record a solo saxophone album. I will record in March so we will see what happens.

Future collaborations

I always have a lot of projects going on but for now I'm focusing mostly on the solo saxophone. I will do some recordings in the end of March with Mikael Werliin in Göteborg.

I will continue to work in the band I play with. Pombo is working on a musical about a crayfish-party… it may sounds a little bit weird and it is, it’s great. Anna Högberg Attack have some plans for the fall, we are trying to organise a tour in the north of Sweden and try to reach an audience that never listened to this kind of music before. We will also do some gigs abroad. I will also play with Per Åke Holmlander’s group Carliot – Its Never Too Late Orchestra in Italy and in Sweden, it’s a great band with musicians from Scandinavia, Poland and the US. I have a lot of things coming up so I can not mention all of it but i promise to keep the Free Jazz Collective informed.


Börje Fridolf said...

props to this phenomenal musician. And enough with the "female musician" questions, they're only distracting us from the music

James Collins said...

What a fantastic musician is Anna Hogberg, and so modest too! The best thing about the interview was her saying that she plans to stay based in Sweden. Kudos to her for that. Why does everybody feel they have to go to New York? I am an American and I "grew up" as a listener on the great plenitude of the US jazz scene. Today, it is great to hear so many phenomenal players from ALL OVER the world -- including the US and Hogberg's own Scandinavia. I am always on the lookout for her music.