Guide to SKOPJE

Stian Westerhus: Playing with Sidsel is Just a Dream


Guitarist Stian Westerhus is both unpredictable and changeable, and he is a sonic sculptor whose music is instilled with an intoxicating, otherworldly mystique. Situated between free improve, the expressionism of electric free jazz and electronic, he is more than a mere guitar player but a composer who has extended the potentials of his chosen instrument, by channeling his efforts and expressions in order to expand the limits of his areas of interest. He has fronted many bands and has been a collaborator for the likes of Nils Peter Molvaer and Supersilent and more recently with vocalist Sidsel Endresen whose duo record Didimoy Dreams will be premiered at the Skopje Jazz Festival.

Sidsel i Stian 1

In your hands the guitar is a formidable weapon and compositional tool, and the result to that are intriguing soundscapes, textures, melodies and energy. What happens when it’s just you and your guitar?

– The whole idea is to work with improvised music without any influences from others, to actively shy away from guidelines and norms, a way to search for “my own” music. The guitar is just a tool for my composing. A necessary resisting force for me to try and press my music through.

A huge portion of your sound is based on the use of electronic devices, but to what extent is the music that you create based on intuition?

– I would actually say the opposite, though I totally see your point as the guitar itself is an electronic device, but my electronic devices don’t create the music, they are mere extenders of the “playing” of the guitar as I see them, and I guess a good example of that is my latest record. All of my music is improvisation, just like I never plan any solo gigs, and most of my roles in bands have been completely free.

Stian gitara 1 Stian gitara 2

In recent years, you have taken on myriad other projects from working Molvaer and Endresen to Jan Bang and Supersilent. How do you keep creativity flowing across so many simultaneous projects?

– By working with my own things, and specially the solo project, I can create a good base for my own development, and how can you not be creative when playing with such fantastic musicians? I’m spoiled really!

How did this collaboration with Sidsel Endresen come about?

– We did a split solo gig a few years back and did a short encore together. Some months later Sidsel invited me to play a duo concert at Molde Jazz Festival. After that we just continued playing together. She is absolutely fantastic. Sidsel has such a beautiful sound, and playing with her is just a dream. It’s never boring. There’s always a ton of ideas that just come naturally. It’s completely free, and we have a lot of common meeting points when we improvise together.

Please talk about the initial seeds of “Didimoy Dreams”.

– We recorded 5 of our gigs in a hope that there would be enough stuff there to pick from to make a sort of produced live album, but when I listened to the Bergen gig (from the excellent NattJazz Festival) I stopped taking notes, and listened through the whole thing. That was it. Sidsel liked it, I mixed it, Morten Stendahl mastered it and Rune Grammofon released it. We were surprised to win a Norwegian Grammy (Spellemannsprisen) for it!

Sidsel Endresen

Please describe what was it like to work with Sidsel Endresen?

– It’s absolutely fantastic. She has such a beautiful sound, and playing with her is like in dream. It’s never boring. There’s always a ton of ideas that just come naturally. It’s completely free, and we have a lot of common meeting points when we improvise even though our instruments are so different. We think about how music sound in quite a similar way it seems.

Please reflect on working with Nills Petter Molvaer on his Baboon Moon and the evolution of those compositions in a live setting. The concert that his Trio did at the Skopje Jazz Festival was one of the best I have ever witnessed. Please describe the chemistry you share with Molvaer.

– Well, that could take a while!. But the tunes on the album were played quite freely in the live setting. We could go in to them and shape them in to new things. It was really nice to work with that material for such a long time. From writing in the studio and producing the sound of the record to playing countless gigs with it. Nils Petter is a phenomenal musician with ridiculously good ears so he will sound like himself no matter what you throw at him. It was really open for me. I could do whatever I wanted.

Please talk about playing with a Supersilent. What was it like to be playing with them?

– Very intuitive. I feel like I sort of grew up with this kind of music in a way, so again it felt like we had a lot of common ground when it came to the basic understanding of the music. They are such good musicians in their own right, and when they come together it’s just magic. You really have to stand your ground with Supersilent.

Stian i Sidsel 2

How have all these collaborations affected your music?

– In the same way as all other music do I guess. I don’t really think about it, and I try to bring myself in to the different projects on the same level.

How have you evolved as a guitarist over the course of your career?

– This will sound very cocky, but I think I have evolved as a musician and a composer and not as a guitarist. I was probably a better guitarist some years ago. I stopped being interested in the guitar many years ago. I’m into music, and not the instrument.

Nenad Georgievski