A CHAT WITH: THOMAS FEINER
aaamusic | On 01, Apr 2017
Thomas Feiner is a musician from Sweden who possesses the gift of creating emotional sound masterpieces. This is the kind of painfully beautiful music which is able to open the heart of every listener no matter what his or her usual music preferences are. The overwhelming feeling of beauty, the devastating pressure of sorrow and regrets – all that range is brilliantly handled by Thomas deep soulful vocals and his refined melodies.His professional music career started in a band Anywhen which actually stopped to exist in the middle of the working on their third album. Not ready to give up, Thomas finished the work on his own and that’s how a true sonic gem – the album called The Opiates by Thomas Feiner & Anywhen came to life. Later on its revised edition was released on David Sylvian’s Samadhisound label.
AAA Music journalist Agnessa Yermakova asked Thomas about his present music projects, past music experiences and studied with him highs and lows of songwriting and studio work.
What is your earliest strong impression from music? Any specific moment from childhood that determined your way in music?
I don’t recall any defining moment in particular, it was rather the general circumstances. It’s often down to your environment and the family you grow up in. Our mother was very musical and played the piano. So both of us children, my brother and I, were exposed to that instrument and had access to it. Add to the fact that public music school was a common thing at the time, so I started playing the recorder when I was ten years old, and from there I went on to playing the trumpet a year later.
What inspires you to create new music? Did these sources change with time?
Earlier in my youth, as my brother and I started experimenting in creating music, it was mostly a question of impulse or playful instinct triggered by access to technical possibilities. It was exciting to try out various gadgets, synthesizers, drum machines and such. First making ping pong recordings on two tape recorders, and then gradually moving on to more advanced studio setups. We both played in various orchestras through the school years, but it was the access to technology that triggered the do-it-yourself impulse and the urge to try out things and ideas ourselves.
As I got older the impulse to create music has become more coloured with some kind of spiritual longing for lack of a better word, and as pretentious as that may sound. Partly triggered as a reaction to the world around you, partly a longing for something higher, something pure. It’s difficult to put in words and pinpoint. The curiosity for various aspects of the craft itself is still also there of course.
Many of your songs are enriched with orchestra arrangements. Does this come from your love of classic music? And what other genres are you fond of?
I have no particular love of classical music per se. But I do have an intense fascination of the orchestra as a voice and instrument in itself… It’s so fluid and capable of such a wide range of emotions, colours and timbres. And it triggers my musical imagination like nothing else. Possibly my own background in a youth symphony orchestra has something to do with it, but I suspect I would be in love with it regardless of my own experiences. The orchestral recording session with the Polish Radio Symphony orchestra remains one of my musical highlights to this day.
You gravitated from the band Anywhen to releases under your own name. In which way does the work as a solo artist differ from the work in a band?
The solo artist Thomas Feiner releases a maximum of one song per year on Bandcamp currently, so the question is if the title even applies at the moment. But operating without a band means a certain freedom from the sometimes frustrating politics and compromises of a band situation. It’s all your own responsibility, but that also leaves more room for doubt and self-criticism. There’s no-one to lean on and there are less spontaneous creative happy “accidents”. I tend to work very slowly, going things over and over again. In a band situation that doesn’t work well.
What kind of power does music have over you? And what powers does it give to you?
It’s a mixed bag. As a listener I’m not very dedicated. I prefer making music rather than listening to it. I don’t seem to remember to put something on when I work or relax. Unless when I’m at the gym, and then I only listen to hard drum and bass in my ear plugs.
That said, there are moments when I stumble upon something that really touches the soul and renders the spirit helpless and wide open. And that’s the true pull of music for me, but it’s rare to happen upon that special kind of vibration. So when it happens I tend to get very enthusiastic. Last year I attended a theatre play where Swedish musician Harriet Olsson performed a solo piece on stage that took my breath away, so I asked if it would be possible for me to get the mixer desk recording to do an edit. And when Robbie Wilson of Autumn Chorus asked me to do artwork and later also a video for his song Snake in the Grass, I had to dive straight in, as the song in context with Robbie’s battle against his disease was so utterly gripping.
I think there’s no denying that music motivates me and has shaped me. Even though I don’t listen to it a lot, it’s constantly playing in my head, processing in the background.
On the theoretical level I’m also quite fascinated by findings suggesting that music can influence how we grow and develop from a biological point of view. When we practice instruments or singing, the process of listening and adjusting seems to have an impact on a neuro-biological level, especially when we are younger.
Were there any situations where you had to give up something important for the sake of your music? Any regrets for those decisions?
Making music is a passion, but not a livelyhood for me. For the greater majority of musicians it’s has become increasingly difficult to earn a living that way, especially if there are family responsibilities involved. Creatively I was always into creating music, but I was also into creating images. And since my images worked better for putting bread on the table, the music had to stand down at times. It’s not a regret, but sometimes a cause for sorrow and frustration. Going back to when The Opiates was created, the situation was different, as there were less responsibilities and loyalties involved. I was more at liberty then to burn out and sacrifice health, money, relationships etc. Which I did. And it took me a long time to recover.
What influence would you like your music to have on the audience?
I don’t consciously aim at any particular reaction. What sender and receiver create together in any musical interaction is different for every combination. But I’m always surprised and happy whenever someone tells me how my work has had some positive impact on their wellbeing or life in general. Recently a man told me how he had met his partner through a shared fancy in one of my songs and I’ve had others telling me that the music inspired their own art, or made them change careers even. These things amaze me frankly.
You participated in Talk Talk cover album project. Are there any other artists to whom you would like to pay the tribute in the same way?
I’ve done a cover of ‘This is the Day’ by Matt Johnson (The The), which I also perform in the documentary “The Inertia Variations”. That was a song I played a lot in my youth so when Matt asked if I’d be interested in interpreting it I gladly accepted. It’s part of his Radio Cineola multi-media project and my contribution will be part of that record in the not so distant future hopefully. I’ve toyed with the idea of interpreting some more traditional things, but so far I didn’t get around to it. And at some point I need to record ‘Ship Song’ by Nick Cave. I sang it live a few times and quite enjoyed it.
Does writing music sets you free you from something? Or, maybe, on the contrary, you are feeling constant stress during the whole process of song evolution?
I sometimes find myself in the studio working on a few bars of music, and then I notice a whole night has gone by. Forgetting time and the world outside the studio… when it’s good it’s a kind of meditation. You go into the zone, and I truly enjoy that. But yes, stress and frustration are also frequent visitors. Like when you discover that what you did in the zone last night was actually rubbish. The writing of music is often fused with the actual recording and mixing process in my case. As I tend to do everything myself, the production part is always somewhat painful, with a never ending learning curve.
You are not only a musician but a visual artist as well. So do you tend to visualize each of your songs (their plots, characters etc.) while writing them?
Yes, internal imagery is usually part of the writing process for me. And externally I also enjoy working with images and music combined. I would explore making music videos more often if it wasn’t such a time consuming process.
What are your current music projects?
Currently I’m working with a band project called Exit North together with Steve Jansen (ex Japan), pianist Ulf Jansson, and producer Charles Storm. Steve works from London and the rest of us are based here in Gothenburg, but there have been joint sessions in Charlie’s studio too. So this is moving forward in bursts depending on our various other commitments. Charlie is in demand by high profile artists here in Sweden so we are lucky to have him whenever he has the time.
If we ask you to choose just one song as the soundtrack for your life, what would it be?
‘Many Names’ by Thomas Feiner.