FRK radio interview with Georg Kajanus 2003
The following interview with Georg Kajanus was made by Karsten and Katrin Wagner via telephone in September 2003. It was used for a radio special about Georg's various music projects in Karsten's show "Handmade" at the "Free Radio Kassel":
Question: Do you have a project that you are working on at the moment?
Georg: Yes I do, very much so. Although I have to say I think I just finished it. My last recording is in London this coming Friday, the 03rd of October. This is not the completion of the project, but a work that I've been battling away with the last four years. It is not really anything like SAILOR. I'm not singing in it, I'm not performing in it, other people do that, but I've written everything - the music and the words. It's not really an opera, but some people might call it like that. In the area a lot of people refer to it as "crossover", which I don't really necessarily agree with as a term, but it's difficult to label things. So basically that's what I've been working on for the last four years. It will be finished and ready for the next stages very soon, hopefully for live performances and recordings and all sort of stuff. It's a big project, it takes a lot of time and involves many things - visual things and quite a complex staging.
Question: Do you have any musical influences? If so, from which sites?
Georg: I have very many different musical influences, as one probably could observe, with all the things I have been involved with. It really spans the whole lot, all the way from my very very early days. I grew up on Elvis Presley in Norway. And then I discovered the French chanson in Paris later on, and then folk music in North America in Canada. But all this time I also had a very strong urge of classical music, for a lack of a better term, thanks to my family. So I had many many different musical influences. And then of course Mexican music, Latino music too, very strongly. Basically, what I've been doing in my life is, whenever I had a strong idea about something, I can not decide what it should sound like in terms of using this influence or that influence. Like for instance the current work that I'm working on, it takes more from the classical area than from the strict pop area. So that's how that works.
Question: You had the biggest success in the band SAILOR. Which is your favourite album and your favourite song of the band?
Georg: It's really difficult because I wrote so much of it, or pretty much all of it. It's a little bit difficult to have favourites, but I think if I'm really honest I suppose the very first album meant probably more to me than any of the subsequent ones simply because it was the realisation of a dream if you like. And also because I was able to input some sound ideas as well at that time, which obviously was not really possible later because of recording business politics. So, yes, the first album would be my favourite album. But in terms of favourite songs I really couldn't tell because the each mean something. It's a bit like having lots of little babies and each song is a kind of little precious package that gets send out there and I have different feelings for all these little precious packages. There are certain songs that maybe I like more than others, for instance the songs "Sailor", "Let's Go To Town", "Sailor's Night On The Town", "A Glass Of Champagne", "The Old Nickelodeon Sound". These are songs that I still quite like as songs. I don't listen to these really any more. There has to be a reason for me to listen to them, either a friends asks me, or something happens and it's relevant to have a listen to some of the old stuff. And it's nice to hear the things back, but I have to keep looking forward. But listening for instance to the stuff that I mentioned I still get a lot of joy from, whereas others I don't. I'm not going to tell you which ones they are. So, there we are.
Question: Do you like performing your songs live?
Georg: That's a big question... I've always been very nervous performing live. There are several reasons for this, but let us start first of all with the initial reason: I was always very concerned about all the technical stuff that we had on stage. All the workings of the Nickelodeon, especially in the beginning, because certain things were vaguely mechanical. And I was always worried about things going wrong, and if something would go wrong it was me who would have to try to fix it because I had basically built the Nickelodeon. That sort of weighed upon me. And also things like later on: is the radio mike working from the guitar and all sort of stuff. So, there's always been a lot of technical pressure in terms of things being correct and working well, as far as from my voice, is it going to hold up, of course I experienced a couple of occasions losing my voice which was very nerve-racking, and also: is the monitoring good, are we singing on key, are we singing horribly off-key and various things. I always used to be very worried about all those things, so it maybe wasn't such a pleasant experience. But I tried not to show it. I hope I didn't. (Comment from Karsten: "You always looked cool!") Maybe that's why I was listed as "more serious". And of course just making sure I get everything right. Sometimes before going on stage if I was not careful I would start thinking about all the lyrics that I'd have to remember. Ok, I know I wrote all the lyrics, so there's no excuse, but I still sometimes thought "am I going to remember all the lyrics of all the songs?". It's a terrible way looking at it because you can sort of psych yourself to getting into trouble. You must just let it go, just do it, and it comes. You have to trust your instinct. (Comment from Karsten: "Remember the middle part of 'Shakespeare'! ;-)") Oh yes... There are plenty of things, and I remember for instance the last concert we did in England on the last tour which was at Cambridge College, a ball or something, and I was doing "Dancing" and I forgot virtually all the lyrics, or halfway through, and I was just mumbling some sort of semi-Norwegian to the audience, who looked very puddled. They were from Cambridge and tried to decide "is this some new language?". So that was a problem too. But basically live performances have always scared me, so I've tried to do the best I can, I hope it worked, but that's how it is.
Question: Is there any chance that the SAILOR musical version will be on a stage one day?
Georg: Well, it is possible. But ironically I had contact from a person in England who has been working on an idea using a lot of these songs from SAILOR. It's an interesting idea. He's putting it into a kind of amateur production just to start up with to see what happens. He's got some good people working for him and good connections, he's also got connections with the Edinburgh arts festival. So, I'm observing to see how that goes. My own idea of the musical, which the whole idea of SAILOR was based on, has transformed more into a filmic idea. I've been speaking to my publisher in America about that, but it's difficult. Certain things have to happen in the marketplace with these songs to create a sufficient interest to unleash the sort of fun that one needs to create the songs or a musical. Those are very expensive things. But it's not impossible that there might be at least one version surfacing quite soon in England. I'll keep you informed.
Question: There are plans to release a SAILOR album with rarities entitled "Buried Treasure" next year. Do you have any never released tracks in your drawer for that project?
Georg: Yes, there are some - as you put it - unreleased tracks in the drawer. The question is of course whether it's best for them to stay in the drawer, or whether they should be dragged out and put on a CD... It's something that the audience will make their decisions about. There are good reasons... maybe... why these are still in the drawer. But actually I shouldn't say this because I don't want to take away the potential interest. There are some things which nobody has heard, and they will be going on to this SAILOR album.
Question: Once we heard that you wrote a song for the charity "Jonathan Seagull" festival which was planned in Hooksiel, Germany in 1995, "Seagulls Are White"...
Georg: "Seagulls Are White"? Oh yes, that's right. But nothing ever came of that, which is often how things go. I also wrote another song which was called "Stone After Stone" which was all about my feelings when the Berlin wall came down, but we decided not to use it because it felt a bit too political for SAILOR. We are in the nostalgia business rather than in the politics business. That will probably go on this as well, so you can make up your own minds.
Question: Which are the best circumstances for you to write songs or to have song-ideas?
Georg: That's very difficult to say. The initial ideas tend to come whenever they want to come, not when I decide I want to have them. They dictate by their presence when they come. Once the idea is there, there are a lot of different things that I do to nurture the idea forward. One thing is sitting in cafés drinking a glass of red wine or an Espresso looking at people in Paris is enormously useful. Let's face it: People have been doing that for a long time, a lot of writers, a lot of musicians and composers have been doing that, especially in Paris. It just seems to draw things out of you which is wonderful, especially in terms of the thoughts behind things. But I also tend to need solitude as well as the café-life. The two things together can nurture the idea.
Question: On which instrument(s) do you compose songs?
Georg: I used to compose mainly on guitar in the days of SAILOR - my several 12-strings. But it wasn't necessairily the only way. At the time because I was playing guitar all the time with the band I would tend to sit down at home with the guitar and work things out rather than on a piano or something. It depended. But generally speaking it's the guitar. These days: no instrument. It's basically just all comming out of my head and into the computer, which is the way most people compose these days. With my huge library of instruments on the computer I can just draw anything I want, which is of course the dream of all composers. So I don't really use the guitar any more.
Question: But you still have your guitar(s)?
Georg: The guitar that I used for SAILOR I left with the band because if they wanted to continue it seemed to make sense. In case they wanted to have those sounds, you know, like the Charango. Not the harp, because I don't think anyone would fancy learning to play the harp. The harp is still with me. I hope it's still surviving. I haven't played that for a lot of years, I tell you!
Question: Is it true that you constructed the first Nickelodeon all by yourself, and was it complicated to do?
Georg: Yes, it is true. Obviously I had a little bit of help here and there, but it was more or less just people holding things for me. The most difficult thing about the Nickelodeon was that I had a vision of this thing, which was very much sparked of the necessity of us being able to produce all these different sounds. And there were only two people who could be on the keyboards where there could be links. This was before the days of "MIDI". Of course when MIDI came along you could do anything you like, you had a sort of wonderful "MIDI-sandwich" including everything. But in those days: no. So I had to create links from the keyboards of the two kemble back-to-back pianos that we had. But I had to cut away the wood underneath to be able to get things comming out underneath to get triggered by the keys when they went down. The person who basically paid for this at that time was my publisher, and he was a bit worried when I started sawing out things from the pianos which cost quite a lot of money each. I think people were a bit worried about whether this was going to work. Of course me and my young arrogance knew that this absolutely would work. But it was difficult to get it to work, and also the doorbell mechanism to trigger the initial glockenspiel which we had as well, which were unfortunately destroyed by one of our psychotic road managers at some point. So yes, I don't want to sound too dramatic, but it was a kind of a vision that would be very in keeping. What it would look like and what it would sound like, that was the thing that I had in my head, and it made it possible for Phil and Henry to create all these sounds. Just the two of them. It went through several changes of course, like all prototypes, it had to be slightly adapted to be a little bit easier. Especially on Henry's side it must have been like driving a bulldozer pushing down a key. So some modifications were made. But it didn't take that long, it was quite a playable system, and it made this wonderful crazy old sound which was perfect for us.
Question: In the meantime SAILOR have their fifth Nickelodeon. Where are the others and the original one?
Georg: I think the very original one probably is still in bits in Grant's garage. That's the last I heard of it. And then there was the blue one after the reformation, which wasn't a real Nickelodeon, it was really only for TV. But the next one was the black one - the sort of Steinway-version of the Nickelodeon - which cost a huge amount of money. I think it was very beautiful, and of course it collapsed, but it still weighed a ton, and it was a monster - a serious piece of kit, as they would say. It was a very substantial piece of equipment, but hey - it was a substantial part of SAILOR! That's something I completely designed and had built, I didn't build it myself, but I had people build it. But I designed all the details on it, which took a lot of time. I thought it looked very nice, I was very pleased with that one.
Question: How many sailors' caps do you have?
Georg: Well, I believe I had a total of three. The very first one, which was the one that was used for the "Trouble" image for that "Trouble" album, was my favourite, because it was really nicely worked by a couple of people who provided some things for us for that photo shoot. That's the one that looked best. But it got stolen after some time, and I got hold of another one which wasn't so good. It was a little bit too small really, it didn't look right. And then I got the last one, which is the one I still have, which is ok. I bought it in America, because the first one was very much an American-style sailor's cap, and the third one was also that. The second one was more an English-style cap which didn't have "the look".
Question: Do you see a chance that all the original DATA albums will be released again, maybe with the single B-sides as bonus tracks?
Georg: I really don't know. The DATA stuff was a strange period in my life. I quite like a lot of the stuff that I did with DATA, but the setup - the business setup, the recording setup - all these things were really not in the right place. It was released through small independent recording companies, and it never really felt right from that point of view. Although I quite like a lot of the tracks. There was a Swedish guy who released a compilation called "Accumulator". But I don't know about any plans, and I certainly don't have any plans to release the original three albums. But you never know. It seems to be the time of recycling onto new formats. So who knows, maybe some enthusiast of electronic music might rediscover DATA and put up some new things. Who knows?!
Question: If there's a SAILOR song on the radio today, do you still get royalties?
Georg: Yes, I'm very pleased to say I do, which has made it possible for me to help the process of working on my current project, which has taken a long time. The normal route for these things is to be commissioned for, but because of my background being rather unusual and also because of the way I wanted to do this, I needed to do it in a certain way. It means that it's, like always, a big gamble. You devote a lot of time and effort to something, and you really don't know what's going to happen. But the important thing for me is to create the project, and if it works that's great, if it's commercial that's even better, in terms of reaching a large audience. But that's something we will have to see because everything about the project is a little bit unusual, but not in a sense that should exclude a kind of a mass-appeal, because it has simplicity in lyrics as well as complexity. Some of the sensibilities of the project benefit a little bit from a pop-sensibility rather than strictly classical. From that point of view it could work. We will see.
Question: The music-styles you had in your repertoire over the years were completely different, from warm-hearted music of SAILOR to cool computer music. How does is some to those changes?
Georg: I suppose it's a bit like what I said earlier regarding my influences. There are many different things that I like and things that I like to do, obviously. Some of the things might be quite different one from the other, but it still doesn't mean that I don't want to do them or try to do them. I'm always amazed when I see people or artists who are able to create one thing throughout their entire life. I'm not suggesting that this is not as good as creating several different things. If one is so satisfied drawing from one particular source in terms of one's artistic expression, that is extraordinary in a sense to be fulfilled from one source in that length of time. But marvellous in some ways. But most of us tend to need variation to some extend. Obviously I was inspired by the electronic scene happening in England after SAILOR, which inspired me to do some stuff with electronics. When I first heard your wonderful band from Germany, Kraftwerk, it was very inspiring and very innovative. So I also wanted to experiment with that, and that's how DATA came about.
Question: On stage and in the studio you played a 12-string guitar. Is it much more difficult to play this instrument than a 6-string guitar?
Georg: Yes, it's the difference between driving a power-steering car or driving a truck without power-steering. You have to develop this enormous claw-like left hand to push down those twelve strings all the time. There are certain electric 12-strings that have a much lighter action, but they had very narrow necks, and I was never really able to use them. Not that I used electric 12-strings in SAILOR, but before SAILOR in Eclection and after SAILOR I played with them, but concerning an acoustic 12-string like either a Gibson 45 or some of the Ovations that I used for SAILOR, you are basically talking about a lot of physical strength to be able to push down a clean sounding chord without getting buzzers and stuff. And of course you just have to train your hand to do it and end up with this very powerful left hand. So be careful: I've got a very powerful left hand!
Question: Might there be an idea for a Kajanus-DVD that shows all the facettes of your whole work?
Georg: Oh my god... It's possible that within the process of this new work that I'm just finishing now there will probably at some point, in the very near future rather than in the very distant future, be a DVD from that. I think this might include previous things. It's possible, I'm not sure. There has to be a kind of specific resurgence of interest, much in the same way as one of the previous questions, in a sense to generate interest sufficiently to warrant for instance doing a DVD or if you like a documentary on a person's life-work. Some people do phenomenal lot of stuff in their life, and other people do rather less. I'm definitely in the "rather less"-category, as much as I don't sit around doing nothing. I have a lot of different interests, I like to paint, and I like to do many different things. But when it comes to my work there are only very specific things that are sufficiently exciting to me that would warrant a sort of massive effort necessary to get it done and then out there and all that. So, if I had three times more ideas in my life, then I would have done three times more musical work. But I hadn't. But I'm sure it could still work to put it all together as a part of a documentary, some other friends of mine have been playing with the idea doing this. The question is: If my current project should be very successful, then of course there would be a good reason for people to want to see a documentary on my life. Without it I don't see any reason why they should.
Question: Who created the original SAILOR logo?
Georg: The original SAILOR logo was created by someone called Roslav Szaybo. He was of Polish origin, working with the Art department in CBS records at that time. He came up with the logo. He also came up with several other ones, but there was something about this particular logo that everybody seemed to like. It had kind of almost Caribbean colours, it's difficult to explain, and the "S" in some ways almost leaned towards, in my sort of psyche, a bit like Dollars, so we had a kind of romantic Dollar swaying along the waves. It's difficult to describe what it felt like for us, but I think we all pretty much liked it straight away, and it was very much Roslav who came up with this.
Question: Can you imagine to perform solo concerts only with guitar?
Georg: No. I think the experience would be much too terrifying. It would be difficult. I can't really see myself doing that because a) I wouldn't have time to do it and b) it would feel a bit odd. (Comment from Karsten: "But maybe we can see you in some other way...") Who knows, if things work out really well, maybe I can do a world tour just saying hi to everybody... Sorry, that's a joke.
Question: When will we have a new CD with songs from Georg Kajanus in our hands?
Georg: Well, the very first will probably be some of the stuff that will be surfacing on this new SAILOR album with the additional stuff, but aside from that I guess really the next thing will be my new project. But also, just for my own psyche, I wrote three Norwegian songs a few years ago. I just decided that I had to do something in Norwegian, but I don't even know what to do with them because I don't want to remarket myself as a solo artist with three Norwegian songs. I can just hear the recording companies say: "Why would we want to do anything like that?" And I would have to say totally understand it. But anyway, I have to figure out some way of getting those three out because I actually really like those three songs. They deal with my childhood and stuff like that, but I think they are rather fun. (Comment from Karsten: "Send them in and I play them in my show...") Well, actually that might be an idea. Maybe I let you have copies to see what the German fans will say about it. I don't think they will quite be able to understand Norwegian. Although we are of the same group of languages we are not that close. But I might do that. (Comment from Katrin: "It would be a nice collector's item for everybody!") Yes, it certainly would be. And it certainly would be a rare one! I can't think of anyone who would have written anything in Norwegian deliberately, you know. So, we'll see.
Karsten: So, those were our questions, and I want to say thanks to Georg Kajanus here on the phone. All the very best for your comming projects.
Georg: Thank you very much Karsten, and thank you very much Katrin. I enjoyed talking to you both, and I hope my answers will be of some interest to your listeners. We must do this again some time.