HÅKON HØYE
Nights At The Surf Motel
(Big H Records)

 

The country of Norway is well regarded for its rich diversity of musical genres. Norway has produced some excellent guitarists and a range of great progressive rock bands. One genre always in motion in Norway is the blues, a musical style fully explored on Nights At The Surf Motel, from guitarist and singer-songwriter Håkon Høye. For non-Scandinavians, the name may be hard to pronounce, (try: Hóe-khan Héh-yeh) but the music is open and honest and the whole album will blow away fans of the blues and blues-rock. Contrary to the humorous title of the album, and its Surf Motel name, the ten-track set is pure blues. One instant reference would be to the early 1970s sound of The Band, with guitarist Robbie Robertson and blues fans will note that Håkon’s vocal delivery (in English of course) sounds a lot like blue-eyed soulster Steve Miller. For the songwriting, Håkon has joined forces with songwriter and co-producer William R. Troiani (electric bass, backing vocals) while the core band featured backing up Håkon’s vocals and electric guitars includes Per Tobro (electric bass), Vetle Larsen (drums, percussion) and on a few tracks, Kasper Skullerud Vaernes (sax) plus, a number of players add in various sonic seasonings. Recorded during the summer of 2019, Nights At The Surf Motel sounds excellent and was superbly engineered and co-produced by Kim E. Bergseth (organ, backing vocals, acoustic guitars, loops) with mastering by Paul Grundman of Bernie Grundman mastering in L.A. giving the sound a rich, clean depth. Additionally the CD packaging is first rate and seals the deal on one of the most appealing and diverse blues-rock albums of the past year. www.bighrec.com




mwe3.com presents an interview with
HÅKON HØYE

mwe3
: Can you tell us about growing up in Norway and what city are you from originally? Have you done much traveling in other countries in Scandinavia and Europe and have you traveled to the US yet?

Håkon Høye: I was born in Oslo but grew up in the countryside. I was early fascinated by Rock ‘n’ Roll and remember seeing Elvis’ ’68 Comeback Special Show in the late 1970’s on TV. It led me to the Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, Tom Petty, BB King, The Vaughan brothers and so on, excavating deeper into the history of blues, soul, jazz and R&B. Today I listen to a lot of different types of music, but the blues is the corner stone... the foundation!

I started playing guitar at the age of 14 and was deep into AC/DC, Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters. Moving to Oslo in the late 90’s I became part of the scene around the now closed Muddy Waters Club in downtown Oslo. It was a great venue with a great crowd, killer atmosphere and live music 7 nights a week. Chris “Kid” Andersen was the first house guitar player (now with Rick Estrin & The Nightcats) and Bill Troiani was the bass player. I played in several bands growing out of that fertile environment - The Billy T Band, being one of them.

The lead singer and bass player are originally from New York and used to play with Eddie Kirkland and Tom Russel. With Billy T band I’ve been to the US several times and I’ve toured in several countries in Europe with different bands… from Russia to Spain.

The music scene in general is pretty good in Norway and Oslo is one of the top cities in Europe for live music - classical to blues. The blues scene has been pretty good and Norway has a lot of festivals and Blues Societies all over the country. So for a country with approx. 5 million people we can’t complain, except of the weather. (lol)

mwe3: How did you become introduced to the blues? You cite Lightnin’ Hopkins as a blues influence while the Rolling Stones and AC/DC are also influential for your music. What other influences are important to you? I hear some Stax and even some Motown in your music. Your music mixes blues, soul and rock music into one red hot sound.

Håkon Høye: Yes, I grew up listening to Chuck Berry, Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, Johnny Winter, The Vaughan Brothers etc…. and kind of dug my way back into the history of Afro-american music. BB King, T-Bone Walker, Magic Sam, Earl Hooker…. the list goes on. Today I listen to a lot of different kinds of music. One of my favorite bands are Los Lobos, and I’m a big fan of music from New Orleans… like the Meters, Allan Toussaint and Memphis soul music! But, the blues has always been there!

mwe3: I was also thinking Robert Cray must have been a huge influence on your music and also Robbie Robertson and The Band. I guess when it comes to musical influences the list is truly endless.

Håkon Høye: Yeah, sure. I love The Band and what you might label Americana today. Anything with the Staple Singers and I’m a big fan of the West Coast scene. Junior Watson, Rick Holmstrom. Actually, I have Robert Cray’s Strong Persuader on LP so I’ve always been a fan of his clean soulful sound. When I was younger I was more focused on the guitar and guitar players I guess but, as the years go by I’m more and more into the song! Good song writing is an art. I guess I’m more into the song than ten rounds of guitar solos these days.

mwe3: How does Nights At The Surf Motel move your music forward following your first solo album and were there differences in the way you approached the song writing, production and recording?

Håkon Høye: On my first album ‘Bout Time I was more focused on making it into a blues record and focused more on the guitar playing I guess. This time it’s been more about the songs. Some of the ideas had been there for a few years and I just tried to finish as many of them as possible. I do most of the song writing together with Bill Troiani, from Billy T Band. I usually bring my sketches to him and throw a lot of these ideas up in the air - and he helps me with the lyrics. I like co-writing, it’s always nice to have somebody to throw ideas at and see what sticks!

When it comes to recording I’ve done a lot of it myself during the last 10-15 years but this time we went into Kitchen Studio in Oslo and recorded the backing tracks. I’ve done a lot of the overdubs here and there and Bill Troiani was a co-producer giving me feedback and helped me get the vocals as good as possible.

It’s always a bit stressful finishing a record and you really never get done or satisfied, you just have to draw a line in the sand and send it to print.

mwe3: I know the blues is very popular in Europe but would you say Norway is still a hot spot for the blues? Tell us about some of the other blues artists in Norway that influenced you such as the Billy T Band, Joakim Tinderholt among other artists from Norway.

Håkon Høye: Yeah, the blues scene in Norway has been pretty good for years and it seems like it’s always new talent out there, like the Jelly Roll Men playing IBC this year… they made it to the semi’s. Knut Reiersrud is a Norwegian legend who started out with now deceased Swedish Blues ace Sven Zetterberg. Knut is still around and he’s fantastic. I’m a big fan of Sven Zetterberg and it’s a great loss for blues in Scandinavia and Europe that he’s not around anymore. I actually had the chance to play with him on several occasions… one of the times being a nice festival in Sweden a few years back with him and Tad Robinson, both great singers!

Back in the days of the Muddy Waters Club in Oslo I met Bill Troiani who was running the house band. That was a great time and we got to back up a lot of international artists like Tad Robinson, Nappy Brown, Mitch Kashmar, Sven Zetterberg, Louisiana Red and the Billy T Band grew out of that scene – the same with Joakim Tinderholt, Kid Andersen’s cousin. So, I’ve played regularly with those bands the last 15 years. Joakim is great singer and he’s grown to be a real entertainer.

mwe3: How long have you worked with your co-writer William R. Troiani and how did you set out to compose the music for Nights At The Surf Motel – for example did you both contribute to the music and lyrics and arrangements?

Håkon Høye: I met Bill 15-20 years ago and we started co-writing in the Billy T Band. So for every new Billy T record we’ve written more songs. We’ve done a few for Joakim Tinderholt’s records and few others. I’ve always had these ideas for my own songs but the hard part for me has always been finishing the lyrics… I don’t want just a bunch of words that rhyme but something that kind of make sense… if not, I might as well do instrumental music. (lol) So most of the songs for Nights At The Surf Motel started out as my ideas that I presented to Bill. Some of them close to finished and some just ideas, then we finished them together.

I do most of the arrangements myself and we do adjustments here and there, sometimes the original idea turns out as something quite different… sometimes you just have to stick with the original idea and work until you get as close as possible… sometimes deadlines are a good thing

mwe3: Tell us about your band with bassist Per Tobro and drummer Vetle Larsen. How long have you played with them? What did Kim E. Bergseth and Bill Troiani bring to the album as a co –producers of the Nights At The Surf Motel album? Were there various discussions about the song writing, arrangements and sound?


Håkon Høye: Per Tobro is a great bass player. I’ve known him for close to 20 years and we’ve been playing on and off for almost just as long. We used to hang out at Muddy Waters in Oslo and we played together in Erich Bergen Band back in 2003 with Alex Pettersen on drums. That was pure blues, mostly old school Chicago stuff! We did a fun tour with Mitch Kashmar too, in Russia in 2004, I think. My own band Håkon Høye & The HoneyTones has always been kind of a side project and I’ve never really had time to do it as much as I want to. It started back in the late 1990’s as a trio with Anders Damås on drums and Tommy Dalbakk on bass. Robban Skoglund played drums around the time of my first album and Vetle has been with the band the last 4-5 years. Both Vetle and Per are great players and a privilege to play with. I’ve been busy playing and recording with Billy T Band and Joakim Tinderholt the last 5-6 years so we haven’t done that much Håkon Høye gigs, except of a few local ones. Hopefully this record will generate some more work with my band…

mwe3: How did you come up with the Nights At The Surf Motel concept and the key lyrics in that song’s meaning and why did you close the album with that track?

Håkon Høye: The title has been there for years and kind of a left over from my first album. It never really evolved into a song before I got this idea of a slow blues in the tradition of Peter Green and Otis Spann. So, we just tried to write a lyric around that idea – it’s more about the mood than anything else. It just felt like it would fit as a closing number.

mwe3: “Junkyard Of Dreams” is a great way to start of Nights At The Surf Motel. Does that track signify the upbeat and downbeat themes on the album?

Håkon Høye: I got that title from a book years ago, and it stuck as an idea for years. Finally we got to write something around it. We tried out different ideas and ended up on this Faces / Stones Exile on Main Street kind of vibe. Sometimes you’re just better off doing your daily dirt instead of chasing these cyber imposed fake realities… Does that make any sense?

mwe3: What inspired the cover of the Curtis Mayfield track “You Must Believe Me”? How was Curtis a big influence on your music and what do you like best about his music and guitar work?

Håkon Høye: I’ve always been a huge fan of Curtis Mayfield and soul music in general. And his guitar playing is really cool. I guess his chord work inspired Hendrix a lot on “Little Wing”, “Castles Made Of Sand” etc... The hard part was to pull off the vocal part! I had this song in the back of my mind and we were kind of in a hurry to record the tracks so we just did a couple of takes of “You Must Believe Me” and “ Sweet Sugar You”, the other cover, in case we needed more songs for the album. I didn’t have time to record or finish any more original material so I just had to use these too! The hard part was singing it, but I got some good help from the Sons of The Soul Revivers who recorded the backing vocals in Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studios in San Jose in California.

mwe3: The cover art and packaging of Nights At The Surf Motel is also excellent. Tell us about the packaging and who designed it?

Håkon Høye: Gito Lima did the cover art. He’s a great designer and he did a great job on the album. I’ve used him a couple of times before on Joakim Tinderholt’s albums. We got that contact through Rhythm Bomb Records in Germany, who released both of Joakim Tinderholt’s records for the international market.

mwe3: Is Big H your company? When did you set the label up and are there other releases or artists on Big H Records?

Håkon Høye: Yes, Big H Records is my label and it was started mainly to release the first Billy T Band album back in 2007. The last ten years I’ve released one to four albums a year with different Norwegian artists, mostly blues related stuff and mainly projects I’ve been involved in myself like Joakim Tinderholt and Billy T Band. I’ve said no to a lot of projects because there’s hardly any money in records anymore. It’s a vehicle for booking gigs and getting your original music out there. The most expensive business card around.

mwe3: Also what guitars are you playing on Nights At The Surf Motel – both electric and acoustic – and also do you remember your first guitar? Are you somewhat of a gear collector and how many guitars do you have? What amps and pedals are used on the album?

Håkon Høye: I used to be more of a gear geek but these days I’m more into using whatever works for the song or situation. I mainly play a parts Tele and a old Harmony Stratotone (H-44). I have a Gold Top Les Paul I used on Nights At The Surf Motel and a white SG are used on a couple of songs. But these days the Tele is my tool. The main amp for the records was my old beat up ’57 Tweed Deluxe. It started making a lot of noises at the end of the recording. I guess it needs some TLC, but a little noise just adds to the sound. (lol) Except of tremolo and reverb there isn’t a lot of pedals on this album except of a distortion pedal on “Wastin’ Time With You”… it’s mostly plug and play.

mwe3: How do you stay in shape as a guitarist? Do you practice or do you spend most of your time composing? And how do you stay in shape as a composer of music?

Håkon Høye: We just had another girl in October, just a month before the release of the album. Not exactly good timing to have another baby and releasing an album at the same time. But, sometimes you just have to do it! So, it’s a challenge to find time to rehearse and write songs these days! I try to play a little every day but sometimes, everyday life gets to you. So, in periods of less gigs, I feel more out of shape. In periods of more gigs it’s easier to keep a certain level or standard of musicianship and sometimes you have some spare time to practice too when you’re out there traveling and playing gigs.

mwe3: What albums or artists are you currently listening too? What are five of your favorite albums?

Håkon Høye: I always listen to some blues and soul mixed with more contemporary music. It’s always hard to pick certain albums but I’ve been listening to a lot Dan Auerbach productions lately and Jason Isbell. He’s a great songwriter, more Americana stuff. Mavis Staples’ last record is great, and I’m a fan of Rick Holmstrom’s guitar playing. Los Lobos, The Neighborhood; Otis Rush’s Mourning In the Morning and Kenny Burrell are albums I play on a regular basis… Yeah, and a lot over other stuff.

mwe3: Tell us some of your upcoming plans for 2020. I really hope more people get to hear Nights At The Surf Motel…

Håkon Høye: Hopefully we’re gonna get some more festivals and decent gigs this year. Another gig another dollar… Yeah, it’s always nice when people come up to you and tell you that they’ve listened to the album and it meant something to them. So, I hope more people get to hear the album. And I’m working on an album with a woman named Anita Schärer, she writes good songs. It’s more Americana than blues but I really think it’s gonna be good! I might start writing songs for a new Billy T Band album, yeah, whenever Bill is ready...


Håkon Høye-FB: https://www.facebook.com/hakonhoye/
Instaram: https://www.instagram.com/hakonhoye/
Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/3vDmsirr64TfZienbkyFFM?si=swV3id9YQFW5D6kL03sKUw



 

 
   
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