Published on 3rd June 2018
Thomas Andersen – Gazpacho
Gazpacho played the only U.K. gig on their 2018 European tour, in support of their latest album Soyuz, at The Dome at Tufnell Park, London on 28th May, and their keyboardist Thomas Andersen sat down for a chat with TPA’s Leo Trimming outside the venue on a lovely summer’s day before the gig…
How’s the tour going, Thomas?
We’re having a great time so far. It’s the biggest production we’ve toured with yet. Large projections all in sync with the music. Up until now, knock on wood, everything has worked.
The show was certainly impressive last time.
So far it’s been excellent. The Sun is out, which is different as we usually tour in winter, so we can be out in the day time!
‘Winter is Never’, perhaps? Who does the visual imagery?
Bart [Jan van der Vorst], our tour manager – he’s spent a lot of his personal time making the films. Antonio Seijas is our usual art guy, plus some films by Dewi Allen, who did the Exit Suite and Hypomania films. I love his work.
When I met you in 2015 you said you’d never play in America due to costs, but I see now you’re doing ‘Cruise to the Edge’ in 2019?
We’re doing ‘Cruise to the Edge’ because they paid enough for it to make financial sense. Also my daughter is 10 now so I thought this could be my chance to take her and my girlfriend to Disneyland, so we’ll do the tourist thing as well. I also thought the cruise might be fun as I would never usually go on a cruise ship.
You’re also playing at Be Prog! My Friend in Barcelona soon. Have you toured in Spain before?
We did Spain on the Tick Tock tour in 2009. We never managed to come back so ‘Be Prog’ is a great opportunity to go back to Spain and hopefully attract some new people.
You don’t think of yourselves as ‘Prog’. You describe yourselves as ‘different music’.
Yeah, it’s ‘different music’. There’s all kinds of different music for different uses – music for dancing, for funerals, for advertising… whatever. Gazpacho is more of a vehicle for music which is closer to being like novels – novels set to music.
It feels like that – lots of imagery.
There’s a story in there, with a start, a plot, and an ending. The story doesn’t necessarily come through in the lyrics of the album, much like the great novels which sort of lead you off on your own path so you can think whatever you want. Your thoughts are more important to you than anyone elses, and certainly not mine.
Perhaps we’ll come back to that later. At ‘Cruise the Edge’ and ‘Be Prog’ you’re playing on the same bill as Yes, Steve Hackett, PFM, Riverside and Pain of Salvation. Are you particularly interested in seeing any of these artists?
I have to see Yes. I saw ABWH in 1989. When I was growing up I started with Marillion, and from them I moved on to Yes and Jethro Tull, in that direction. So when I was about 17 or 18 I remember sitting by the river next to where I lived, smoking cigarettes and listening to Close to the Edge… I’m hoping to do that again!
They’ve been doing Tales from Topographic Oceans.
Have they? Do you know I never got round to hearing that album, because Rick Wakeman apparently didn’t like it, and I used to be a huge Wakeman fan.
It’s a ‘Marmite’ album in that some people love it and others cannot stand it. The Steven Wilson mixes are very good… but I have to be honest that I think it’s a good single album stretched into a double album, but that’s just my view.
I’ve heard that as well… but I’m going to give it a shot when I get home.
I hope Yes go and see Gazpacho on the cruise as well.
That would be nice as well.
With a career of 10 albums how do you choose a set list for tours?
It’s very difficult. We want to play the new album as much as possible, but we also know getting in to a Gazpacho album takes a long time. I’d say it needs 10 or 15 listens before you really get in to it. For this tour the people wouldn’t have had time to do that so we only do 3 or 4 of the best songs from the new album. Then we do some ‘golden oldies’ because we know a lot of people got into Gazpacho on the Night and Tick Tock albums.
Do you have any particular favourite live songs?
I really like Massive Illusion. Also The Dumb from The March of Ghosts album, which we’re doing on this tour. I think it’s a really good song which never really got the recognition I think it deserved, so we’re trying to build it up on this tour.
At the end of the evening how do you know whether it’s been a good or a bad gig?
We never know! Sometimes we think it’s been terrible, and people loved the show. Sometimes we walk thinking ‘that was a hell of a gig’ and people’s reactions are ‘It was OK’, so we never know. Our philosophy is always as long as you’re going on and doing it for real, as long as it’s not an act, and you can perform it the way you feel it should be performed, and get in the mood and the moment then at least that might allow others to get into the spirit of the thing. Because again it’s very demanding listening live. Soyuz Out is a 15 minutes song which you may now know very well so it could be easy to zone out and be bored – OR you can get sucked into it and experience it.
I reviewed Soyuz recently for TPA and I found you DO have to put time in to it. As you said earlier, it was about 10 or 15 listens and suddenly it ‘clicked’. It’s like getting into a good book.
It takes time. It demands such an investment from the listener, which I suppose it also does in concert. You’re probably not going to be head banging or dancing around. It’s going to be a sombre night in many ways, although we do make a lot of noise. It’s very powerful.
Bravo was your first album in 2003. 15 years later we have Soyuz. What is it about Gazpacho that allows you to survive and thrive?
First of all – we all have other jobs. That means there’s no bickering about money. Money’s not an issue. We don’t care if it makes money. It makes enough money now that we can tour comfortably and we get a little bonus at the end of the year, but it’s not our driving force. The second reason is that Gazpacho does not rely on us being young guys. We’re not Muse – we don’t have to run around on stage. As long as the creativity is there then it’s a great vehicle for us to explore a music that no-one else makes. Everyone needs a passion, or else your life is very empty. So even if it takes a lot of spare time and effort and pain you’re still better off than sitting on the crouch watching T.V.
Yes – that creativity keeps you alive.
It does. Creativity sparks more creativity. So once you have a couple of ideas and turn them into something real then more ideas come because your brain thinks ‘This guy’s actually doing something with all these things I’m coming up with!’
Does the whole band contribute musical ideas?
They all do. It’s great – we police each other in many ways. Sometimes if we stray too much from what we consider the ‘Gazpacho Sound’ we at least ask ourselves ‘Why is that happening?’ For instance, with the song Hypomania it was very tempting to write a catchy rock song and wait for the big single to be a success, but at the same time you have to be careful not to destroy what we’ve built over the years. We decided to go with Hypomania like that as it fits the larger picture.
Gazpacho has a stable line up. Why the change in drummer?
He [Lars Erik Asp] was involved in many other projects and had other things going on in his life so he couldn’t commit time to the album unless we waited a year, which wasn’t acceptable. P.G Wodehouse once said that about writing books, that if you leave it too long it goes cold on you, and once it goes cold it’s impossible to get back in to it. It’s like lugging a dead fish around. So he left, and that fit perfectly for the timing of our previous drummer Robert [Johansen] returning to Norway, so it seemed like the ‘Hand of the Gods’.
Like returning to the family? You mentioned P.G Wodehouse in our last conversation. You seem very keen on him.
I’m a huge P.G Wodehouse fanatical fan. I think as a philosopher he’s one of the greatest to ever live. If his stories don’t make you laugh then you’re dead inside.
Gazpacho evolves for each album. What inspires or influences the music and themes? Where do you get these ideas?
I don’t know! Firstly, the guys in Abba once said that there’s no such thing as inspiration. You just have to sit down and get to work, and then something will come. Gazpacho is the same thing. Once the music is there the ideas will usually follow very easily because the music is very emotive and has its atmospheres. You have a year working on the tracks so your brain has a year to subconsciously work on them… and then one day you’re in the shower and the idea comes out all finished – it’s the brain that does the work. I don’t know why but it does.
Soyuz is fascinating. When I first heard the title I thought it might be about the Space Race, but it’s not really about that, is it? What is the underlying theme of the album?
This is where it gets complicated. Jon [Vilbo] and I were at my summer house working on the song that became Soyuz, and it was a beautiful summer’s day like this one. I saw this white sail on a blue background in Oslo fjord and the trees were green. It was a beautiful moment and we talked about trying to capture the feel of the moment in music if possible, just as a fun experiment. Then we got talking and thinking that all these great moments in our life pass, and you can’t save them. People try and take pictures. No-one ever looks at pictures. It’s a futile attempt to freeze time. Everything is taken away from us. I have a 10 year old daughter, and the 2 year old version of her is now essentially dead. There’s a 10 year old, so different from the 2 year old, but I’ve lost a 2 year old daughter. That filled me with existential grief about the disappearance of all the good things as they are sucked in to whatever eats time. That got me thinking about an album about someone who manages to jump off time and stay in one frozen moment. There are many examples of those around us frozen in time. There’s that Seinfeld joke that you can look at your Dad’s hairstyle and you can tell the exact year someone told him he looked cool and that’s when he froze, and stuck with that hairstyle and those clothes.
That sounds strangely familiar! (laughing)
This album is a collection of stories about people frozen in time. The idea is someone manages to jump out of time to become like an astronaut in orbit around Time – he’s in one frozen moment, gone and unavailable to the rest of us – so he’s a ‘Time-o-Naut’. Then I found the story of the cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov who went up in Soyuz I which he knew was going to crash. The engineers told him there were 200 faults with this craft before it can fly. They told the Kremlin, but they said ‘Sorry, but you’re going up now because we have to beat the Americans’.
I also heard he chose to go because he did not want a national hero, Yuri Gagarin, to risk his life.
Yeah, they said if you refuse to go up we’ll send up your second-in-command, Gagarin.
Isn’t there a glory in that sort of sacrifice?
He’s also in an impossible position because he had to choose whether he was going to die or he was going to kill – or at least have some blood on his hands – if Gagarin went up and died. So he knew he was dead. At the same time it becomes a ‘Schrodinger’s Cat’ situation because he’s up there 50% dead, 50% alive, so he’s out of time already – so that’s how it fits with the story of this person escaping time. Soyuz, which I think is a cool title, is actually the name of the main character in the album. He gives himself that name because he sees so many similarities with Komarov. He also can never return. If you’re in a frozen moment and you buzz off into the past, you’re gone. You can never catch up with us, and we can never go back. There’s no way you can meet Winston Churchill now because he’s gone – forget it. It’s completely impossible, he’s destroyed. The past destroys and eats the present all the time. It’s like this shark that’s following us, snapping away at our heels all the time.
We constantly want to freeze our own moments in time with social media, snapshots and recordings, like this interview. So for Gazpacho in a way your ten albums are you at that point frozen in time forever?
We realise this and brought that into the picture, using the first recording ever made – La Clair de la Lune in Rappaccini.
I heard about that. Similarly for instance on Molok you used a 10,000 year old ‘singing stone’ suggested by a music archaeologist. Where did you hear about it?
He lives in my area, and I’m very interested in the Stone Ages and Neanderthal man because I think that the true human spirit, and maybe the closest we can get to true religion must be in those guy’s religion.
So by playing that ‘singing stone’ you are harking back 10,000 years. Similarly on Rappaccini you’re referring back to the first human voice recorded in the 1800’s.
Rappaccini is about where our stuff goes when we die. One day someone’s going to look at these glasses [picking up Leo’s sunglasses] and they’re going to say ‘Fuck it’ and throw them away. When you die all your stuff, even your Bravo shirt, someone’s going to toss that out. It got me thinking about all those hairbrushes and toothbrushes, and all this stuff that belongs to these people that are now dead – where does it all go?
We’ve both suffered personal loss recently. I went through my parents’ things, and all those things would have meant something to them, but most of it had little significance even to their own children, let alone anyone else. That’s quite sad really.
I know – I’m actually wearing my Dad’s pink underwear right now! [showing Leo the pink waistband]
Commemorative underwear! (laughing)
That can be official, I’m not ashamed! (Laughing) Where do all the items we own go? I collect P.G. Wodehouse First Edition books, and they’re my greatest treasure. At some point in the future someone’s going to throw them away because they don’t know what they’re worth, or someone’s going to sell them. All the things we collect, all the memories we collect, such as this beautiful moment we’re having now, and all the things we collect will just be gone [Snaps fingers]. There’s no point. We shouldn’t have memory.
That could be a depressing thought.
Well, it is a depressing thought.
Maybe there’s more to life than things or objects. Those memories are out there somewhere, aren’t they?
I don’t know. After the cremation they’re pretty much gone.
Some of it will live on in your daughter.
Some of it will, but I don’t want her to be a new Me. I try to let her be herself. I talk to her and have interesting conversations, but I don’t want to create a copy. Family history is important – who was her Grandad and so on – but we should not be a slave to it as it can tie you down so much.
The song Emperor Bespoke from the new album has been described as being inspired by Hans Christian Andersen. Can you expand on that for me?
It’s related to the Emperor’s New Clothes story. It’s another idea from the album. I was working on an advertising campaign with a company that wanted to make a new organic recyclable pack juice. In a meeting about this stuff I heard that making the paper in the boxes look ‘recycled’ was actually more expensive and more destructive to the environment than actually just using normal packaging for juice, but they knew they’d sell more if it looked like it was made from what appeared to be ‘recycled’ paper. At the same time I asked them where they got the juice, and they said ‘We have no idea, we just buy it from a juice wholesaler’. Then I realised that the brand is everything and the actual product is now so unimportant. I thought for this album that perhaps we should open a shop called ‘Emperor Bespoke’, which just sold nothing – just gave you a fancy empty plastic bag. Since the brand is more important than the product let’s just completely eliminate the product itself from the equation. Just buy the bag – better for everyone. Emperor Bespoke is about how we’re sold these brands – feelings and ideas are injected into these brands. The same applies to what we think. We’re sold ideas, political ideas or moral ideas, and we’re sold all this stuff that we don’t have to think about because we don’t have the time as we have to work. All this is someone else’s thoughts being pushed on us which we don’t deserve to have forced into our lives. It’s very important that we try to break out of that world of thought. Like the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes we’re being tricked by very evil corporations and by stupid or maybe old fashioned thoughts we inherited from other times.
You work in advertising – are you not part of that machine?
Yes, I am. Like everyone else I have to make money. It’s the only way I can make enough money to do the Gazpacho thing, and have the studios, and do what I need to do. But I’m guilty of the same thing. I have no problem admitting that.
There always seems to be a tension in the Gazpacho albums. In Soyuz there’s a tension between the rational mind and the emotional mind. Is Gazpacho trying to find the balance in that tension in their music or are you just trying to show the contrast?
One of the issues of being a white male is that we can’t dance. We have no connection with our body. I’m only really speaking for myself…
You’ve never seen me dance! (Laughing)
I expect you to dance tonight, darling! (Laughing) We’re not in touch with our bodies, not in touch with our feelings. We’re just sort of working machines when we get to our age. You’ve got your mind sorted out. You know what your opinion is on most things. At the same time men think differently from women. We need reason. We want to know HOW something works. I think we have to find a logic, but there may not be any logic, such as death. There is a logic to death in the sense evolution needs you to die, but that doesn’t really make a lot of sense. You don’t feel like a pawn in the large game of evolution. You feel like a valuable person, Leo.
I’d like to think so!
The logic in everything is flawed. Why do you even go to work?
I sometimes wonder…
I bet you could move to the countryside and live off a can of tuna a day.
But you don’t want to be that guy, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t be him. You’re wasting your life in an office or something.
It would be nice to step off the Merry-Go-Round.
It’s O.K. not to step off the Merry-Go-Round. I certainly haven’t, but if you don’t you should know why and those thoughts may not be logical thoughts. It may be because you’re scared. I don’t know?
Going back to cosmonaut Komarov. I don’t know if you’re aware there’s a monument on the Moon commemorating the deaths of 14 American and Russian space crew who had died, which includes Komarov’s name.
Yeah, the guy’s left a plaque, didn’t they?
Apollo 15 left it in 1971. I kind of like that idea because nothing really corrodes in the vacuum on the Moon so Komarov’s name is sort of preserved forever.
He’s frozen in time.
So, in that context how would you want Gazpacho remembered if you could also be frozen in time?
Sometimes in my more grandiose moments I like to think there’s always going to be some people who’d get into Gazpacho, and because everything is preserved digitally these days maybe it will last forever. Maybe it will all be gone in one of those supernova explosions that will delete everything. I like to think and hope that as long as the songs are available, and thanks to articles like you’re writing now, people studying old ‘Prog’ 300 years from now might find it and get into it. Humans are always going to be the same… I don’t like the term ‘human condition’ as it sounds pompous… but as long as people are still human maybe there is some space for us also in the future. I would love the idea of someone 300 years from now listening to the stuff and getting something out of it.
O.K. Thomas, I think that’s a pretty good place to end.
That’s a fantastic place to end! Thanks.
Thank you for your time.
Photos by Leo Trimming. With special thanks to Simon Glacken of I Like Press and Bart Jan van der Vorst for their help in arranging the interview.