Published on 14th November 2015
Thomas Andersen – Gazpacho
Before Gazpacho‘s triumphant gig at the O2 in Islington on 1st November promoting the new album, Molok, TPA’s Leo Trimming was delighted to get the opportunity to speak to keyboardist Thomas Andersen. Leo introduced himself as representing TPA, a site that covers progressive music but also stretches beyond the usual bounds of ‘Prog’:
Thomas Andersen: I am not sure what could be considered Prog now. I don’t think Dream Theater is a Prog rock group now. I can’t even think of other Prog rock groups now.
TPA: Didn’t you once describe yourselves as ‘Different Music’?
Thomas: We did originally. Prog?! We don’t do Prog! I don’t feel I have to play the Mellotron or the flute. To me that’s like the Rockabilly ’50s bands that still have the ’50s hairstyles and use those square Shaw microphones that Elvis did. You could have a band now making the same kind of music as Yes or Jethro Tull or E.L.P from the early ’70s – but that would be a tribute band, wouldn’t it?
TPA: It’s verging on that sometimes. I like bands that stretch the boundaries, like Gazpacho.
Thomas: I had a girlfriend who used to work at Universal Music 10, 15 years ago, and I remember her going to the office to listen to demos. I was there because if they didn’t accept the demo they’d let me have the DAT tape because they were expensive. I remember a guy would listen to the demos for the first 20 seconds and say ‘They want to be The Cranberries’ or some other band, and he could immediately tell what band they were trying to sound like. Those bands would think ‘Pink Floyd are huge. If we sound like Floyd we should be huge too’ – that would be their logic. But of course there already is a Pink Floyd, and we don’t really need one now… or maybe we do need a new Floyd now! (Laughing) But there is a Coldplay – they could make a new Coldplay copy band. But all they’d be were copies of Coldplay and wouldn’t be contributing anything, except perhaps money to their wallets… but maybe not even that now either. So for this reason we went for ‘Different Music’.
TPA: Gazpacho seem to be getting more and more different, more and more peculiar – but we’ll come back to that later. How’s the tour going?
Thomas: This is the last night of the tour. The tour has been fantastic – the best tour yet.
TPA: The tours seem to be getting bigger, though I know you don’t want them getting too large.
Thomas: We’re getting good numbers of people for the size of the band we are – we had 500 at the Boerderij in Holland. That’s fantastic for us. Amazing, and it grows every year. We see the band becoming more known in musical circles. We also talk to the people who come to the shows and a lot used to say ‘you’re one of my Top 5 bands’. Now a lot say ‘you’re my Top Number 1 band’. It’s another way of seeing that what we’re doing is working for someone somewhere.
TPA: Are you thinking of expanding your shows outside of Europe – in America for instance?
Thomas: No – a waste of time. We’re not the sort of band to fill stadiums in America. If you want to break the U.S. you have to be willing to travel a hell of a lot for years with a large budget. I’m afraid US fans are going to have to come to Europe.
TPA: How do you balance writing, recording and touring?
Thomas: We’re writing at all times. Whenever we’re not on the road, and we’re at work – whatever we’re doing back home, we’re always writing. I have a studio at my house and at my work. I make jingles and music for ads and stuff like this, and I have another studio in my summer house – so no matter where I am I can always work. The singer’s moved one kilometre from my summer house so we have a nice set up. We have very smart systems making sure we can easily get files to each other. We have Google drive so we’re connected. We’re always working on new stuff at all times.
TPA: What do you prefer?
Thomas: Writing is the best part. That’s when you get the feeling of first love for a song. It just fills your mind with joy. When you hear that this could be good, and if it turns out to be such an achievement – such a joy!
TPA: That moment of Creation?
Thomas: That is the BEST moment. No doubt.
TPA: I was going to ask you about Marillion but that’s probably an old subject for you now…
Thomas: I’m open to talk about Marillion – I’m a huge Marillion Fan.
TPA: You’ve had a lot of connections with them in terms of appearing at conventions, supporting them on tour, they even released Firebird on their label. What’s your relationship with them now?
Thomas: We’re great friends with Steve Hogarth. He’s coming to Oslo in December to do some shows and we’ll be taking him out to dinner. He’s a great guy, we love him and still stay in contact. The singer is in touch with Steve Rothery. Musically, of course, we probably shouldn’t do more with Marillion because it would be easy for people to think we’re Marillion’s ‘little brother’, and they would be terribly disappointed to hear Molok if they were looking for Marillion.
TPA: You’ve gone in very different directions now.
Thomas: Very different directions – veered to the left… or the right! (Laughing)
TPA: I’ve been a fan since 1982 so it’s good to hear you have a similar love for them.
Thomas: Oh Yeah, since Misplaced Childhood is when Jon and I discovered Marillion, and we’ve been huge fans ever since. Their strongest times were around Afraid of Sunlight which I think up until now is their crowning achievement. I still think it’s fantastic music.
TPA: You’ve described your songs as ‘Soundtracks for Films without Pictures’. It is very cinematic. Are there any influential films or directors that you like?
Thomas: The strangest thing is that I’m not interested in film whatsoever actually. I don’t watch films. I know I should watch things like Charlie Chaplin or Woody Allen, but I’m more into sort of dreaming on my own really. The idea of the music is that we don’t think we’re better or more special than anyone else. We don’t think that if I was going through a bad divorce that would interest you at all because you’re probably more interested in your own divorce.
TPA: Luckily not so far!
Thomas: But in every person’s life there’s always something happening. The idea of the band is to create a soundtrack where the music hopefully creates an atmosphere. The lyrics are written ambiguously so you can hopefully fit some of them into things that are happening in your life – whatever dreams or whatever you think the song’s about, and you can build your own album in your own mind – that’s the sort of instruction manual to listening to a Gazpacho album.
TPA: That’s fascinating – I was going to ask you about this sort of thing later but what you’ve said has prompted something for me. It’s quite personal so I hope you don’t mind me sharing it?
TPA: The last song of the album Demon is Death Room – I simply couldn’t listen to that song last year because my father died last year.
Thomas: I am sorry to hear that – so did mine.
TPA: Interesting – I know obviously that song wasn’t about my father’s death – but I was with him in that room on his last night, so just the name of that song – Death Room – meant I couldn’t listen to it. I’ve only just started listening to it in the last week when I knew I would be coming here to meet you.
Thomas: You needed to prepare mentally.
TPA: I did, but the reason I’m bringing that up is that it brings out the relationship between the artist and the listener. You will produce something stemming from somewhere in you and we will interpret it our own way, and draw something from it that may not have been intended, but it becomes a catalyst for the listener.
Thomas: That’s exactly the idea behind the music. It’s funny how you had the same views because it was written after Jon’s parents died, and both of my parents died in a two year period. It was a rough time.
TPA: I’m really sorry to hear that. It is rough.
Thomas: I spent two weeks in the ‘Death Room’, first with my Dad and then with my Mum. I even had a bad back because you’re sitting next to a hospital bed holding their hands, and you’re like this… (Thomas stretches his arms over a chair as if over a hospital bed holding a hand).
Death Room was written after that and the year after that Molok was written about the death of God – sort of, and I’m sure those experiences come in to the picture in some way, but not consciously, of course. We’re all essentially the same. There’s no difference between you losing your Dad and me losing mine because we’re both two white guys of basically the same age living in Western Europe, so there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be a catalyst for you, as it was written to be.
TPA: It must have been a cathartic experience for you.
Thomas: It definitely is, and it’s always difficult to know that you’re writing something that can be ambiguous enough without being ‘wishy-washy’, which is the dark side of ambiguity. You have to have some way of knowing something is working, and that’s always difficult.
TPA: It’s interesting to hear you talk about something being amorphous or difficult to work out because I was reading an interview about the album March of Ghosts, and I did not realise until reading it that one of the songs is about the writer P.G. Wodehouse making the mistake of doing a broadcast for the Nazis whilst he was interned. Listening to the song again I got quite a bit more out of it so I’m just wondering whether sometimes having a bit more background about the subject of a song may be helpful in understanding it, but you can still take it any way you want?
Thomas: That’s a great example because the chorus of the song is “What did I do?” What the hell I have done now, and I can think of 20 situations from my life where I’ve thought ‘What the hell did I just do?’ You say the wrong thing or whatever. So the song works on that level, but at the same time there’s an added element once you know about the P.G. Wodehouse broadcasts, and how he was tricked into doing them by the Nazis, and was then shunned. He was knighted in the end, but the Queen offered to do it in his living room. For him that was…
TPA: He was reconciled?
Thomas: He never came back to the UK. He was one of the greatest writers. One of the biggest gifts to the World the UK delivered because he’s a philosopher. He found a way of looking at life that if you follow you can be happy at all times. I see him as one of the great philosophers. Just read his stuff.
TPA: OK. I never knew that story. Kscope. You joined in 2011 – what difference have they made?
Thomas: A huge difference. We don’t have to worry about distribution. The business side of things is now completely taken care of. I think being on Kscope is a stamp of approval that this is quality stuff because they don’t sign just anyone.
TPA: They’ve got some great artists. Do you have plans for any collaborations with Kscope artists, like Bruce Soord, for instance?
Thomas: No, we haven’t – we know him, but we’ve never worked with any of them. I don’t know – we might. There’s been talk but nothing’s materialised. We could be interested as long as it’s not a gimmick. If we had Steven Wilson produce one of our tracks that would probably be a gimmicky thing designed to get people to listen to it because he’s involved. Only if there was an artistic reason would we collaborate with someone. Kscope are fantastic guys, and they leave us completely alone. God knows how they dared do that, but they do!
TPA: They give you freedom artistically?
Thomas: Complete freedom. We hand them the master and they go with it.
TPA: Talking about artistic freedom: Molok? What’s it about? The press release sounds very strange – Can you tell me more about it?
Thomas: A guy decides that without God then the main rules of a mechanistic Universe are the rules that apply. That would mean that with no soul then you and I would be two chemical reactions having a conversation on this couch. With no God our morals would be based on false assumptions so whatever laws we’ve created would have no value. So this guy decides if you follow the mechanistic world view in which everything is a consequence of something that has happened and is the cause of something that will happen, that means if you have the correct position, mass and movement of all particles in the Universe you could simulate the entire Universe. You could come in at any moment. You could start now and by looking at the direction and the mass and the way things are going you could run that simulation backwards to the start or run it to the end. This guy designs this machine… You’re looking at me like I’m crazy now!!
TPA: Well, it does sound a bit crazy Thomas! (Laughing)
Thomas: He designs this machine to simulate the Universe and gets the numbers right because he finds some mathematical construct or some secret law of the Universe – it works. He wants to see if there is a God in there somewhere because he can’t find God anywhere, and at the end of the running of the simulation Molok gets to the point where it measures the evolution of all electrons in the Universe… because it would, and that would destroy the Universe. We got in touch with a fan of our band who was a doctor in quantum physics. I asked her what would happen if you measured all the electrons in the Universe because until you measure an electron in the nucleus of an atom an electron could be both at point A and at point B until you measure it. Once you measure it the electron will be at either point A or B.
TPA: Schrodinger’s Cat?
Thomas: Exactly! So what happens if that happens to all the electrons in the same exact instant? The Universe would be destroyed. I thought it might freeze time because energy would be gone, but according to the Sheffield University guys the Universe would be destroyed.
TPA: …And that’s the strange sound at the end of the album that could possibly destroy the Universe?
Thomas: It’s a sequence of numbers. Because of CD correction software a new number will be created every time you play it because there will be a new particle of dust on your CD. So if that number corresponds to a mathematical description of the position of all the electrons in the Universe then we’re all dead, everything that has ever lived.
TPA: Isn’t there an irony that when you play that CD there’s an element of faith that you’re not going to destroy the Universe?
Thomas: That’s the point of it because if you look at very religious people they think they’re going to Heaven but none of them will jump into a volcano – because they’re not completely sure. The same applies to Science in some way. You can sit in your airplane and you know it’s safe but it doesn’t feel natural, does it? So there’s an element of faith in everything. Molok is about the battle between the rational mind and the emotional mind, and you know if you were 100% rational you would be a damned scary person to be around – you know what I mean?… And if you were completely emotional you’d be seen as an idiot. Somewhere in between there you need to find a balance between two things that can never even speak to each other because the rational mind will think of the emotional mind as an idiot, and the emotional mind will think of the rational mind as a cold psychopath. Somewhere in between there you have to make your personality… and that’s what it’s about!
TPA: OK, fascinating. Thanks for that. You’ve got Stian Carstensen with you again – he was on The Wizard of Altai Mountains from Demon, and Bela Kiss on the new album. I love those Eastern European influences. Why have you brought those sounds into your albums?
Thomas: He’s the world’s greatest accordion player. The Wizard of Altai Mountains is a song inspired by a boy called Peter Ginz – a bit of a boy version of Anne Frank in some ways. He was a boy living in Prague and when the Germans came he was sent to a concentration camp. While they were closing in on him he wrote a novel called ‘The Wizard of Altai Mountains’, about a superhero. By the way, the working title of the song was ‘Peter and the Wolf’. The novel exists, but it’s never been released so I don’t know what’s in it. It exists somewhere now in Israel. The song is about the strength children have, how they can create a world in their mind that will protect them from whatever hell they’re going through. He lived in Prague, the Jewish Quarter, so we wanted to make a Klezmer inspired tune because that’s what he would have listened to, so Mr Carstensen came in and we made the tune with him.
Bela Kiss is about a Romanian serial killer who would collect virgins, and he disappeared in 1917, but he was later last seen in New York in the ’70s. It’s a bit of a joke because God seems to be gone and we thought God’s a little like Bela Kiss – obsessed with virgins and oil – Bela would keep the virgins in a barrel of oil… and God was also probably last seen in New York in the ’70s. It makes sense and is a bit of a joke. So again we needed some kind of Romanian Gypsy musical influence.
TPA: I was in Prague last week and I was playing Demon constantly as that is where it was set – have you been to Prague?
Thomas: Of course, I love Prague.
TPA: It’s a fantastic city. I went to the Franz Kafka Museum. They had some music playing and I kept thinking they ought to be playing Gazpacho.
Thomas: Probably Death Room would be perfect.
TPA: Exactly – with the association between Kafka and Prague is he a writer that’s influenced you or was it just a coincidence Demon is set in Prague? Or are there other writers that inspire you?
Thomas: No connection with any writer. I love the idea of Kafka, but I don’t really love reading Kafka. I love the ideas he had, but there are no writers that moved Demon towards Prague or anywhere else. Molok is set in Paris in the ’20s because that’s where the ideas of La Place (Pierre-Simon La Place, 1749-1827 – Astronomer & Mathematician), one of the mechanistic philosophers, were coming to the forefront. It was a good place and time to set it because it would also avoid the machine being a computer – if you were going to make a machine like Molok now you’d make it on a computer, but we wanted something mechanical as that would have a different flavour.
TPA: Like the Difference Engine designed by Charles Babbage?
Thomas: Exactly like this, but Molok would be smaller because he sets it off in the Stone Age tomb at Newgrange in Ireland. Have you heard of it?
TPA: I have, yes.
Thomas: You know on Solstice day the Sun comes in.
TPA: In Midwinter.
Thomas: Midwinter? Jesus, is it? I’ve been saying the Solstice!
TPA: That’s OK. It’s the Midwinter Solstice. Stonehenge marks the Midsummer Solstice. Newgrange marks the Midwinter Solstice.
Thomas: Damn those Stone Age guys that make everything complicated! The idea is that when the light hits the machine Molok, which is in the chamber to be kept away from light – once the light reaches the machine the world is destroyed. Once again it’s ambiguous. Was it the light of God? Did Molok somehow gain artificial intelligence as it went through evolution? Did it know the Universe was going to be destroyed and did it destroy it itself? Was it God that did it or was it just stupid chance? I don’t think it’s an answer that we have – it’s like real life. There’s no ‘Yes’ and ‘No’.
TPA: You have Gjermund Kolltveit as music archaeologist involved on this album, connected with themes of Stone. Not many bands use a music archaeologist! Why?
Thomas: Yes, it is strange but because Molok goes through evolution and the first music originally made was for religious rituals we thought with the question of God on the album we really wanted to have sounds like the first music, and he did studies on the first music. As the machine Molok went through it’s evolution and went through the different religions the machine would probably make the music of these early religions, such as ancestor worship and Sun Gods and everything. We brought him in as he played the Aga Singing Stone which is 10,000 years old. This means on the last track we can hear a sound that was heard 10,000 years ago of someone worshipping something, we don’t know what but that exact sound is now on this album. Imagine if that guy could know that – to know that sound would be played at the O2 in London in 10,000 years time from out of a field in Norway. To me that just makes it richer.
TPA: Talking of history, I was reading about the band in the early days spending 2 years trying to do an epic called Random Access Memories – has that gone the way of dust?
Thomas: Gone with the wind. We were too young for anything like that.
TPA: Has none of it been resurrected or recycled?
Thomas: No. There is an old demo somewhere, but it’s cringe worthy, I think.
TPA: It might be like looking at letters you wrote as a young man – slightly embarrassing?
Thomas: Anything written when you were 18 should probably be best destroyed!
TPA: (Laughing) Fascinating for your children though. I read some of my father’s letters after he died. You don’t imagine your father as a young man because he’s always your ‘Dad’, isn’t he? Always ‘older’ – so to read those letters when he was young was interesting.
Thomas: I read my Dad’s diary, and he’d taken this young girl out for a walk and went to visit her – this was in World War Two. He’d knock on the door and the parents would say she’s not home. She was never home and he knew she was home and she was avoiding him. He wrote this heart-breaking ‘How can I live?’ stuff – cringe worthy. Burn your stuff, burn your stuff while you still can! (Laughing)
TPA: Oh no, I think it’s a nice insight for our children. Moving on – looking at these fantastic album covers. You’ve been working with Antonio Seijas since 2006. What particularly drew you to him?
Thomas: We met him on a Marillion fan circle when we were supporting them, and he said he’d do artwork for us and we asked him to send us his stuff.
TPA: He’s done Marillion artwork, hasn’t he?
Thomas: Happiness is the Road. So he did the original cover for Night. (Thomas picks up the Night CD album and shows the bird symbol). He sent us all this stuff and when we saw that we said ‘We’re going to use you forever’. We always send him lyrics and he reads through them and wants to understand the concepts, and he’s done an amazing job for everything.
(Thomas picks up Missa Atropos CD album). This is interesting because the Missa Atropos album was originally called ‘Black Pyramid’ (pointing at a small black pyramid shape floating above the tower on the front cover). It was going to be a concept album about where do all the bad things that happen to us go? Like if your son said to you ‘I Hate you’, because when he’s 18 he might say that, and if he does that something negative is registered. Over your life with all the shits that happened to you and all the bad things people say, and all the things that have hurt you – where do they all go? I thought what if inside your mind there’s a Black Pyramid where all this stuff is thrown and you’re building a Black Pyramid of hurt in your system to contain it, and that was the original idea for the album – and then it grew into the guy who moves to the lighthouse. Where does all the bad stuff go?
TPA: Hopefully deposited somewhere safe. An interesting thought I’ll be thinking about on the way home. On the theme of Missa Atropos – that’s a guy who obsessively writes a Mass for one of the Fates. Demon has a guy persistently stalking a malevolent force – even with Tick Tock you have a sole figure focusing on survival, and the new album is about someone obsessively building a machine to find God or destroy the Universe – these are all about obsessive loners trying to reach their targets. I have to ask – is this a reflection of the personality of the band or yourself?
Thomas: I think it’s because they’re dramatic subjects. We always write the music before we write the lyrics or come up with the concepts.
TPA: The music always comes first?
Thomas: The music ALWAYS comes first because if the music is crap then you have nothing anyway. So we always try to make it as good as possible, and then we come up with the concept. Then we may change the music back to fit the concept. We fiddle around with things, tear them apart, and then build them back up again. Because all the music demos are dark, epic songs then the concepts and lyrics are dark and epic too! Of course, there’s an element of questioning. I think it would be crazy not to be – because we’re all going to die, and I don’t know why I’m alive. I think it would be crazy just to live and go to work and come back home and not do anything about it. I think THAT is crazy – to me that’s absolutely crazy.
TPA: We need to search for meaning in life.
Thomas: Yeah, otherwise you’re just a hamster in a wheel – I think that’s really dangerous. You might get to a point where you regret something, and I’d rather spend time questioning. You’ll never get an answer, but at least you tried. We talked about that on the ferry over here. You can stay on your bunk on the bus. If it sinks you’re dead – you’d be trapped in the bus going down. Some said you’d die if you were on the top of the ferry as well – but it’s better to go down fighting than just sit on the bus waiting for it to hit the bottom and for the air to run out.
TPA: There’s a nobility about the struggle.
Thomas: There is a nobility, but I think it’s just instinct. I want to go out fighting. The meaningless of it all…
TPA: One last question – a silly question. Imagine you’re on a desert island and you can only take three albums – you can take two Gazpacho albums – which two would you choose? It probably feels like choosing a favourite child. I’ve allowed you two albums because I’m sure you’re going to say Molok.
Thomas: I would have to even if I didn’t mean it! (Laughing) But I really would take Molok and Demon.
TPA: And you’re allowed to take one album by another artist?
Thomas: (Without hesitation) Kate Bush – Hounds of Love.
TPA: I thought you might say that.
Thomas: I’m obsessed about that album.
TPA: The Ninth Wave is just fantastic.
Thomas: It’s a perfect work.
TPA: I got it on my 21st birthday and it was the first album played on my new record player.
Thomas: And it blew your mind?
TPA: Yes. It’s just outstanding.
Thomas: It’s SO English, and yet so medieval and so modern – and Cloudbusting, what a song! A love between a boy and his father.
TPA: As she developed her own identity so have you. I cannot think of another band remotely like Gazpacho. I cannot imagine Gazpacho tribute bands in future.
Thomas: You don’t have cover versions of our stuff either (laughing). But Kate Bush was 25 when she did that album!
TPA: Didn’t you go to her show last year?
Thomas: I saw the show and Jon saw the show. My mind was blown. I was in complete shock and I was star struck beyond anything – Beyond the Dawn in fact. It was fantastic. I was on the mailing list so I had a chance to get a ticket. I got up early and I had an I-pad, my office P.C., my phone and another office P.C all refreshing and refreshing 4 screens to get the ticket (laughing).
TPA: An obsessive loner – but you got your target. Really nice to meet you Thomas.
Thomas: Thanks a lot – and I love the choice of T-Shirt (referring to Leo’s old Bravo album shirt). I had one but wore it to death.
TPA: I had to Thomas! Thank you and good luck with the show.
Thomas: Thank you – that felt more like therapy for both of us than an interview!
With thanks to Simon Glacken of I Like Press for arranging the interview and Gabriele Peloso for the use of the photos.