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by Warren Murchie

This magazine has a credo of being global, working to achieve representation for bass players all around the world. In a three month journey to Switzerland, I was humbled by just how very little I knew about that world of bass, of  having a finger on the pulse of the world of bass players... .  

So with that in mind and taking advantage of this trip to Europe, I spent some time looking at many of the incredible bass players that make up the world past the boundaries of North America.  

So the first in a long and distinguished line of bassists we will feature in this new approach, is a gentleman originally from Sweden, now making his home first in Zurich and then later in Bern, the capital of Switzerland.  

Björn Meyer was born in ´65 in Stockholm. He actually tangled with bass guitar first in 1984, but took it on seriously as a profession in ´89 in his first real band,  HATUEY. A combination of Cuban folklore and jazz is not exactly what most of us begin with. His interest in the AfroCuban rhythms presented in this music greatly affect his playing even to this day.   

The first impulse would be to label his musical leanings as World Music, but as explained later in this interview, it is much more than that and a lot more than what the general public think of as World Music.  

In his search for a truly hybrid form of creativity he joined a venture called The Eric Stein Flamenco Fusion. It was as his bio described it:

A group of musicians and dancers writing and performing music with a solid foundation in the fascinating Flamenco culture. Influenced by Swedish, Latin American and even North African music.  

Later in ´94 through ´96 he worked tours and pre-production with Hollywood actress Milla Jovovitch (Fifth Element, Joan of Arc, The Claim) as she toured her own music. She released an album called The Divine Comedy in 1994. 

In around 1995 he co-founded Bazar Bla (pronounced Bloh), a group that uses an inventive and unusual line-up of instruments: percussion, bass and an instrument called the Nykalharpa, which is in effect, a keyed violin. (see picture inset

Their music has been referred to and influenced by Swedish Folk Music. As well he works with quite a few other projects including a group called ONYX Light; somewhat of a freeform fusion of styles from jazz through rock and electronic music and all points in between. 

This complex and amazing array of influences and projects has inevitably produced a world class musician, playing 6 string, upright and fretless with a smooth and intense interpretation born from this stew of creativity. 

Björn is a quiet and unpretentious man. Tall with an open, friendly face and nature. There is a studied thoughtfulness to all his answers, he pauses carefully and thinks before he speaks. He went to great lengths to make sure his thoughts were as comprehensive and they were comprehensible.  

We begin with the usual introductory questions:

GB:  You started performing in ´89? 

Björn:  Yes, that’s about right... 

GB:  Actually in the whole scheme of things, that is not a long time... in listening to your recordings, seeing you play live, the question does come to mind... how did you travel such a long way in such a short time?  Are you a disciplined person when it comes to practice?

Björn:   Yeah, I am very disciplined, I really like practicing.

GB:  Do you realize that that is somewhat rare, that a lot of players have to really fight to practice, that discipline is hard fought for?  How did you manage to turn it into this labour of love?

Björn: It actually started as something I liked. I mean, I started out playing bass after a couple of years of just fooling around. I never seemed to have a problem motivating myself to get better. I love the sound of the bass and I really love the things that you can do, things that I didn‘t hear anywhere else.

GB:  You have a quote from your bio that says... ¨It was and is a great challenge to express it all through the bass¨.  

Björn:  It allows me to express influences from different instruments. I don’t know if you have ever heard Moroccan music. Or I played a lot of African-Cuban music before, Bata music and the way that the drums interact, it is something that you can definitely translate to the bass. It is traditionally a 6 part music with 3 people playing music on the skins. Doing that on bass is a challenge.  

It’s the same as playing Latin bass, you just listen to the congas. Just listen to what the drummers do and you will know what to play.  

GB:  Would this be true in interpreting Flamenco bass? Flamenco guitar and what is meant by that, is obvious.

Björn:  Flamenco is traditionally guitar, voice and dance. The guitar had the part of the only rhythmic and melodic instrument... the supporting and soloing. The singers normally sing only short phrases with a lot of space in between which is usually left for the guitarist to fill out. Then the dance section, which is also short and then the guitar again.

All those middle parts, where the guitar has traditionally played by itself, well I don‘t know when it really started, but I think Paco de Lucia started it up in the ´60‘s... He was one of the first to put together a Flamenco band with electric or acoustic bass.   

GB:  So as if often the problem with the never-ending battle for position in a band between the bassist and the guitarists, was there a battle in Flamenco music as well for a clear role as a bassist?

Björn:  Since their role (guitarists) have always been to cover everything, there is not a clear position for bassists. Bass playing in Flamenco has only really been around since the 60‘s so the first attempts were not really interesting. It was more of a case then to just warming that register.  

GB:  Augmenting the guitarists role?

Björn:   Yeah, the one thing about Flamenco is that the usual role of bass playing is not needed. You need something instead that enhances the lower register but also you get to double the chord structures, you can double the melodies. When you hear a good bass player in a Flamenco band, you can find them everywhere playing melodies, harmonies and chords to the guitarists single note lines.  It leaves a lot of versatility for you. 

GB:  I want to back up a bit here again to cover something that a lot of bassists have an emotional block against... and that is practice discipline. You have taught for years, both privately and with schools for music. How do you manage to get through to a student that you know has not touched their bass in the time from their last lesson until the moment they are sitting in front of you again?

Björn:  There a different kinds of frustration. There are students that are there because of their parents. They won’t end up playing bass. This is cool, I tried playing soccer and I really didn‘t like it. Those kind of students, to them I don’t really have a problem saying “maybe you shouldn’t do this”.  

When it is more of a case where the student wants to arrive at the highest level, but with no effort... the frustration understanding that you really do have to do the basic stuff before you can even start licks or whatever. The frustration of not realising what the work is for, that you really do have to `pay your dues`.

GB:  In this quick return society we live in where we expect results almost before we do the work, or make the effort.

Björn:  A challenge for me as a teacher then is to break down music, the hip stuff, into small details.   

GB:  When a person has resistance towards practicing, it seems to me that what would be in order is that the musicians really just sit down and be honest with themselves as to how badly they want this. What are they willing to do to get it, what are they willing to give, to sacrifice?

If you have to fight a battle between watching TV or going out with you friends or working on your playing... if the battlelines aren‘t clear, how can they expect to be successful as a player in the long run? If they REALLY want it, they will get the crap out of the way. 

Björn:  Yeah, but on the other hand, no two persons are the same way. I can say to them, ¨You have to practice A Minor or E Minor or all these scales¨ but if the student doesn’t see the goal in that, if he doesn’t have a clear idea of why he wants to play the bass... that’s a very important question, I think. Why do you want to play the bass? Most of the time, there is some hero, or some tune that you want to play.  

GB:  And sometimes you come across a student that is special, that seems to get it all. They begin with you and in no time they feel them catching up to you and you know that in short order they will surpass you and move on. That is a great feeling and a scary one too! Has that ever happened to you... where the student has mastered everything you can teach them and is hungry for more?  

Björn:  That is also the student that brings in stuff and you can travel the distance together. That is great too. If you know why someone plays bass, it’s normally easy to find a way to do the most boring practices in a way that you can show that this leads to this sound or that style. You can’t say you have to do this or that. If a student doesn’t see that it leads to his goal... 

GB: He’s not going to make the journey. Each step has to point the way. 

Björn:  That’s a big challenge in teaching too. You get confronted with all kinds of different styles, sometimes the person wants to play the bass just because they hear a hip guitar part and somewhere underneath there is that bass part. You have to show them how the guitar part and the bass part work together and why the whole thing sounds so cool together. 

Not everyone needs to be a Jaco or a virtuoso, so you gear the practising and still have it totally cool. That’s why I am into music and art. For me, there is no good or bad. Anybody can be ´The Best Bass Player In The World´, the whole idea is that you play it the best way you can. Nobody can play like you. 

GB:  Now where I am from, the natural recourse for any bass player is that they get to go through their rock band phase... You grew up in Sweden, a country that has a distinct folk music of its own. Is the natural route for musicians from there still rock? I ask this because I look at your albums and there seems to be a strong influence from that folk music, world music and a bit of rock as well. 

Björn:  Sweden’s third biggest export is music. Anything from Roxette to Abba.

GB:  There is, of course, a touring show featuring Abba’s music out there right now, making a whack of money doing their songs. 

Björn:  Abba were really humble people. Come on, they were out there doing big business. The musicians that played with them were really great players. There was no room for singers who actually couldn’t sing, you had to be able to really sing. There’s so many Swedish bands... 

In Sweden there is a very high social standard. In the old days, the labour unions created meeting places all over Sweden. These have now developed into places where people can take courses or just meet for a coffee.   

In the 70‘s and 80‘s they developed into rehearsal spaces for musicians. That has paid off.  People learning to play instruments. 

Sweden has all these places where kids can just get together and play. 

GB:  Here in Switzerland it seems as though it is however difficult to find places to do live gigs. Have you found that to be true as well?

Björn:  Switzerland is a little bit special. It has schools, there’s a Jazz school in every town, there’s some kind of alternative school or institute in every town as well. So there’s lot of ways to get really educated in Switzerland, there’s a lot of musically educated people. There ARE places to play, but not a lot of them. It’s basically the same all over Europe I think. 

In a town like Paris there is a lot more but with people from all over the world focusing on it, it comes out pretty much the same.  

GB:  Do you do much live performing yourself?  

Björn:  Yeah, I do.

GB:  So how do you manage that?

Björn:  By playing in a lot of different projects. I do try to scale it down all the time. It would go crazy otherwise. If there is a band I would like to play with I try to quit something else. Right now there are 8 or 9 different projects running.  I guess it’s a modern thing. I guess when I started out in the early 90‘s it was possible to be in one band, to go on tour and play with just that band for a few months. But there is no band that can do that now.  

GB:  But back in North America a lot of bands still operate that way. Perhaps you can juggle one or two bands and work regularly. 

Björn:  Yeah, it also depends on which musical scene you are in. If you’re in the rock or folk scene you are off in the winter, maybe doing recordings. Then in the summer you are off doing festivals or promoting your CD. 

All the bands I am in I really love playing in and all the musicians I work with are totally inspiring. I do a tour with one band and then I am able to bring that experience into the next band, creating a different story all together. 

GB: Are you the bandleader in any of these projects? 

Björn:  I have a problem with being a bandleader. I find I am in very democratic bands but I do have a few projects where I do most of the writing and most of the planning. So I guess that sort of makes me into a band leader. I have bands where I only play, which are just as rewarding as bands where I consider myself the bandleader. In the bands I’m in everybody contributes.  

GB:  Have you managed to surround yourself with musicians who are as driven as you are, as opposed to musicians you have to drag?

Björn: I have been fortunate. 

GB:  Do you come from a musical family?

Björn:  Yeah, but not practicing musicians. They never perform.

GB:  So you’re the only one then that does perform?

Björn:  Yeah, the only one. But they definitely inspired me to start. My mother took me to piano lessons when I was little.  

GB:  Kicking and screaming?

Björn:  I liked it, but she also took me to table tennis and I liked that much more!

GB:  What is TripFolk?

Björn: We used to get the question all the time. That band, Bazar Bla, uses a lot of traditional Swedish folk instruments, electric bass and a lot of percussion instruments from everywhere. The music was very inspired by that folk music. So we would end up saying that it is Swedish folk music, mixed with tablas and this and that and that... everybody would end up thinking it was some kind of mish mash of world music. 

World music is great if world music could be understood as what it really is... music from around the world. It would be great. But world music is thought of as more of a Peter Gabriel sort of thing, which I really like, but it is not what we do. So `World Music` didn’t really work. Then somebody called it Folk Fusion. The word  Fusion has become thought of as only a sort of 80‘s Jazz, which is also sad because `Fusion´ is  a great word. So we thought, it’s folk but it is also a Trip.

GB: The human mind insists upon wrapping comprehension around an idea by putting labels or boxes around it. It seems that to convey an idea through communication one has to wrap it in that box so it can make the trip. Bands struggle with being labelled constantly, while the media fights just as hard to label.  

Björn: Yeah, nobody found a box for us that fits, so we made our own. TransGlobal TripFolk. Names like that, labels like that get the imagination flowing.  

GB:  It both opens and closes doors. Any label does...  You do solo work as well?

Björn:  Yes, I do solo concerts. 

GB:  Do you use looping?

Björn:  A little bit, but not as the main part of the music. I use looping for soundscapes instead of for timing. I think the challenge for me is to be able to try to play everything without loops. I use loops to add timbre and atmosphere. With a 6 string bass you could theoretically have 6 parts going on at the same time. Easily three parts, a bass line, chordal stuff and a little bit of melody.

GB:  What about midi?

Björn:  Ummm, yeah, but there are so many sounds you can create with just delays and pedals. Using normal treatment of the actual sound that is coming out of the instrument.  

I don’t want to be confined to the loop idea of the groove, where you place a bass line in, then you add the drums and then another bass part and another bass part. I want to be able to stretch things a little bit. So if I put something into a loop, it would be things that confine me the least.  

GB:  When you started on bass were you drawn immediately into six string? And was it fretted or fretless?

Björn:  No, I started on  a fretted four. I started out more in the Marcus Miller way of doing things, it took me a while to get to Jaco Pastorius! (laughs)   I started also in the era where Mark King and Level 42 were working.  

It then took me 7 years of playing Latin American and Flamenco music before I even heard of Sweden folk music really.

GB:  Self taught or have you taken lessons?

Björn:  I’m self-taught.  One of those rehearsal houses I told you about, provided by the city, was just next to where I grew up. I always hung around there playing a bit of piano and then a little bit of guitar. Then one day there was a bass standing around there... when I picked it up I realised that that was what I was looking for. That’s what I had been hearing in all this music and that was the voice I really liked.  

This is where it is, where the groove connects.  

GB: Do you have a progress time line, where you want to be in say, 2 years, 5 years?

Björn:   No, I don’t make plans like that. I have goals, but every little thing you start out opens another door for another year, so it is no use to say, ¨In 5 years, I am going to do this or that¨, because by then in 5 years that will be irrelevant. So I don’t make plans like that.  

GB:   Music theory can be a wall many never overcome. For such a universal thing as music, to many the language used to convey that energy, that force, might as well be in Tibetan. Was it difficult for you?

Björn:  There are many ways, like the Suzuki Method, that starts with the actual playing of the music, the expression of things. It’s like a language as well, they don’t tell you ¨You can’t say a word before you can write it!¨.  Nobody says that, but that is what they do in music.  

As a teacher, I find the big thing is to take away that void. It may seem totally irrelevant if you know it is in A Minor, but you need it in certain settings. To communicate with other musicians. It is like knowing a language without having anything to say. If you have something to say and you want to express it in a way that it can be written, mass produced and passed person to person, you have to have it in a language where other people can understand you. If you really have something you want to say on your instrument eventually you are going to want to know where it all comes from and how it relates to other parts of the music. How to show someone else what you want them to do in a band setting.    

GB:  What do you think of the value of Tablature? It’s great for one bass player talking to another bass player, but not only is there usually just one bass player in a band, but also, how do you convey information to a sax player? Or a drummer?

Björn: I don‘t think it’s so great. I used to have this keyboard a long time ago, where it had little coloured dots on the keys and the note paper had the same coloured dots. Nobody would ever learn to play any other keyboard than that one!  ¨Oh, there’s no colour on this, I can‘t play this!¨   

GB:  Your keyboard breaks or gets stolen and your musical career is over!

Björn: If you‘re going to learn a language, learn the real stuff, so you can talk to other musicians. It’s (tablature) useful for remembering a little chord or pattern. If you want to remember exactly how it’s fingered. That would be more for the physical description of the instrument. Detune the bass for any reason and you are out of business.  

GB:  Do you chase endorsements?

Björn:  I have been fortunate. The four main basses I use, I got through meeting the builder, the luthier. The acoustic bass guitar I am using I got from a luthier in Sweden that built it for me. But I paid him a lot of money for it, but not as much as perhaps someone else might have paid.  

GB:  So are you saying it’s not important for you to get free stuff, you want the right stuff? 

Björn:  Yeah, for example right now I am looking for a new speaker and I have found one. I would love to be able to go to that manufacturer and say that I play a lot of gigs. I don’t play with major acts, but I play a lot of gigs. But I am going to buy the stuff anyway because it sounds good to me. It’s called Tech-Sound Systems. It’s a really good idea. He has found a new construction for the magnet so that it weighs one third of the normal weight. And they sound incredible. What I am looking at right now is a one 12 and a tweeter. Just the cabinet now, but he builds amps as well. It weighs just 8 kilos (17.6 pounds). Somehow the lighter magnet just makes the whole thing sound tighter.  

GB: The basses you are using?

Björn:  My main instrument is a 6 string MTD, then the ZETA electric stand up. You can get that ¨me-owy¨quality of sound out of it but you also get a baby bass sound out of it (acoustic stand up sound) and everything in between.  

Back to the theory thing. I never had a teacher, going from A to Z.   Fortunately I hung out at a house where all the jazz guys from Stockholm hung out. There was always jam sessions with no bass player. They would tell you what worked and what didn’t work. Then someone would show me something, saying ¨Hey check this out, this diatonic idea¨. Figure it out, use it in the music, it would open ideas in your brain.  

When I started to play I already had all the people around me playing great stuff. There is, though, not just  one way. There is not just one kind or style of music, not just one function for bass. That is very important. The only way to be great at what you do is to use what you can, what you have in the best way that you can. In 3 years, you are gonna be better than now in some ways.

I saw a band yesterday that I really didn’t like. Someone came to me and said, ¨Aw, that’s a shitty band and they make bad music.¨ 

But there were 300 other people in the crowd and they loved it. So I mean, I can’t say really who is better and who is worse, who is pursuing art and who isn’t. As soon as you try to do something and someone is moved by it, gets it, it has to be art.  

I used to be more hard line. But now I find that I can usually find small kernels of things that I like in everything. Maybe in some music you have to look harder to find something you really like or why you just don’t like it.  

GB:  From all you have learned over the years, what would you impart to beginning musicians as a major lesson you have learned?

Björn: The only thing I want to direct towards other bass players is to try to open up, get inspiration from everywhere and everything, try not to get pulled down by players who have done it longer than you. If you see someone better than you, try to find something in what they are doing that you want to check out, to learn from.  

It is easy to be the best player in your surroundings. I come from a little town of about 70,000 just outside of Stockholm. But what’s the deal?  So you are the best there, eventually you lose interest in getting better. Then you realise that just 10 miles down the road there is another guy and he is the best player there. It just doesn‘t make sense. 

I do think you have to go through it though.  It is inevitable, it’s part of getting the self confidence going. Say to yourself ¨Yeah, I can do this¨, but then you have to realize then that so can millions of others.  

So instead, it should be, ¨Why am I doing this?¨ 

Try to pursue that.

You can locate more information on Bjoern including sound samples of his hybrid bass playing at:

Forever creating new recordings and touring, you can find him on a new CD and a tour of Europe with Swiss/Persian harpist Asita Hamidi, release date of May, 2002.

Also a new CD and tour of Switzerland with RONIN, another new CD and tour also of Switzerland with the Eliane Cueni Gitta Kahle Quartet, due out in March of 2002.

And just so as to not ever be accused of sitting down and relaxing like any other normal human being, he has his own solo project and tour due out in April of this year as well.   

Just before it was time to submit this article Bjoern added these thoughts, influences and information:  

Here are some names and listings: 

Early bass playing influences:  Swedish `TV Bassist` Teddy Walter, Jonas Hellborg and Christian Welthman.  

Early musical influences: The crowd at `Sollentuna Jazz Workshop` outside Stockhom, who opened my eyes and ears to music of the world and the world of music. Guitarist Micke Roennqvist, he demystified many things for me. The Police, the records of Pat Metheny Group and ¨Metal Fatigue¨ by Alan Holdsworth. I liked them for the music and the guitar playing but realised that I wanted to be in the position of Mark Egan and Jimmy Johnson. It was their playing that made me like the music so very much.  

Overall bass playing influences: Not in any order, chronological or otherwise, just important people -Steve Swallow- His composing and approach to soloing is essential music. Carlos Benavent, a huge inspiration through his playing with Paco de Lucia.

Marcus Miller, Anthony Jackson, Sting, the Original Hair soundtrack recording bass player and MINGUS!

Dave Holland, Charlie Haden, Cachao and numerous other Cuban bass players (and percussionists!), Palle Danielsson - His playing on Keith Jarrett's Personal Mountains (to name only one), Jaco to finish a list that could go on forever. And changes every moment. I have to add Jimmy Blanton - If he could do that back then, there’s nothing you can’t do!!! 

Instruments in Order of appearance, sort of... MTD 6 string - thanks to Michael Tobias, Acoustic 6 string bass guitar (low E,A,D,G,C,F) custom built by Swedish luthier Richard Rolf, Electric upright ZETA xb 5 string, Meuser 6 string fretless, Warwick Thumb 6 string, Warwick Nobby Meidel headless 4 string.

I just had a few thoughts on the train back to Bern that I would like to add to the talk...

About Music You Don’t Like as Opposed to Bad Art... 

I do not want to say that everything in the world of music is okay. There is definitely art that can be regarded as `bad`. Important though is that you have to be very knowledgeable to be able to really judge the quality of your own art or other people’s work and ambitions. You also have to be very clear on what art is actual and especially which parts of that definition are important to you if you work in any artistic environment. This means that, in order to be able to distinguish between good and bad art, you constantly and thoroughly have to study art forms, music styles, bands, artists or pieces of music. Including the stuff you don’t like. A sometimes tiring but always rewarding process since everything around you, whether you like it or not, will lead you to perfecting your own art. 

About getting inspiration to practice or develop or finding new ways to play:

I have found great sources of inspiration in listening to traditional music from all over the planet. Most of the time  there is no Electric bass or any bass at all for that matter. But there is some instrument having a similar function to that of the bass in `normal` music.

Through listening to how these instruments are played and how they interact with the rest of the music has given me a lot of ideas.

For example;  Traditional AfroCuban music (Yoruba) with 3 Bata drums (hourglass shaped drums with one high and one lower pitched skin) and chants with very intricate patterns, often 6/8 time and beautiful melodies.

Listening to the patterns gave me all the backgrounds for playing `Latin` and `Cuban` bass and a lot of ideas for tapping and slapping patterns.

Traditional Gnaua music from northern Africa (Morocco and Algeria) – An instrument called Guimbri played with a very intricate slapping kind of technique is the leading accompaniment to the chants of the lead singer.  

Great to listen to if you want new ways of twisting pentatonic slap patterns and building support bass lines.

This is another topic where I could go on for a long time but I guess my main point is that there is inspiration everywhere and sometimes you have to go behind the great bass playing of Flea to find your own way of doing just what he is doing... playing great bass!!!


If you want to contact Bjoern with comments or questions just visit the websites mentioned above.




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