Label of the month (#2): Nakama / March 2017

5 Q & A with Nakama founder and manager Christian Meaas Svendsen

02.03 / 2017

Established in 2015 and based in Oslo, the new label Nakama records has been working at a fearless pace publishing albums and gaining new ground in a territory that already has plenty of established outlets. Captain of the ship so to speak is musician and bass player Christian Meaas Svendsen, although the label is organized as a musician’s collective based around the members of the ensemble bearing the same name as the label. We asked him about the same questions as we gave Andreas Meeland in February, and got plenty of good answers in return.

1.What led to the creation/forming of Nakama, did you see it serving a special need?

Nakama Records was created out of several urges in my musical and social life. I was sick and tired of not being in control of my own music: waiting for ages for the music to be released, paying for stuff I really didn’t know anything about and not knowing where the money was going, not being in control of release dates, design and so on. So I wanted to start a label to be in control of all these things. Nakama Records comes out of my own ensemble Nakama created at the same time. The ensemble is also about me being in control, that is - I needed a band where I could work with my musical ideas and with people who had the willingness and patience to work with these ideas. Before Nakama I had always been working in groups where everyone was involved in all the processes: writing, organizing etc. But in Nakama I do all of that. That doesn’t mean I don’t allow other opinions, it’s just that someone has to be in control. I had been thinking about this idea for many years, but after touring together with Paal Nilssen-Love in his Large Unit and seen a lot of Japanese anime, I really saw the potential of organizing everything myself. Lastly - I wanted to spend more time with people who I feel a certain connection with. Nakama is Japanese and can be translated as peer or comrade, and that’s basically what we are.

2. What do you look for when you select music for Nakama?

The label is structured as a collective. The members of the band can release their own projects without any filtering from my side. I have opinions, of course, and even though I am administrating 90% of the label at the moment, I really want to feel like the other members own it as well. Besides - I’ve chosen these musicians because I like their playing and their musical work, so I trust that they release stuff which fits the label. Nakama Records function more as a window into our generation of improvising musicians than a container for a specific genre or style. The red thread is us and the musicians we choose to work with. We add more people to the label/band from time to time. We started out as a quartet, and we recently expanded to a quintet with Austrian vocal magician Agnes Hvizdalek. This slow expansion gradually connects other artists and their relations to the label. We try to release at least one release with each of our own projects every year, and also a Nakama album or two.

2. Can you try and select four albums that embodies the essence of Nakama and say a few words about the albums?

Sure, but I’ll try avoid describing the music so much. It’s better to listen to music, I think. Anyways:

Nakama - Before the Storm (NKM001). This was the first release on the label. It is a statement that producing a record with high-quality sound and proper design does not have to take one year. I had the CD in my hand 2 weeks after we did the recording! And we controlled every step of the process. Even though we have learned a lot about marketing and other not so cool stuff after that, the release still made an impact on the scene, at least here in Norway. Musically the recording represents some of the conceptual aesthetic which is dominant for many of our releases. The record focuses on the relation and interplay between sound and silence, and is four different approaches in investigating silence as an active agent in written and improvised music.

Nakama - Grand Line (NKM004). I choose this recording not only because I am really happy with the sounding result, but also because of the effort we put into the physical product. The CD and (especially) the double LP looks fantastic! Nakama is a label focusing on the physical format and the aesthetics of what we are releasing as well as the music. Not because the wrapping is more important than the content, but because we like to make nice stuff! We live in 2017, and I really think that we should try to embody our time even though we work with non-commercial music. We try to be visible, have videos and pictures for each release, use social media and other tools to get the music out there, and also because it is fun to work with all these different mediums. If we want our generation to get involved in creative music, we have to make a new infrastructure. I really feel that in my generation there are close to zero people dealing with things like PR, distribution and management in this type of music (subradar being an exception). There are tons of musicians and tons of labels emerging, but the distributors that already exist seem to be most interested in their own generation or younger copies of that generation. It is frustrating, but I also think that each generation needs some resistance in order to push the arts forwards. At the moment we are doing everything ourselves, but hope to establish close relations with dedicated people from our generation to this type of music in the future. I hope Nakama can be an advocate for younger generations to do their own thing and to really put their heart and  savings into what they want to do. Financially we’ve taken some risks, especially with the cover for Grand Line, but in the long run it has paid off.

Tanaka/Lindvall/Wallumrød - 3 pianos (NKM007). This recording beautifully represents that even though we are focusing on our generation, making good music is always the most important thing, after all. Connecting gaps is a very important part of the social function of music. Music has the ability to erase categories and social groupings. Age, gender, sexual orientation, race, natianolaity etc. really doesn’t matter, and music can help us remember that. It’s not like this album is groundbreaking in that sense, but at least it represents that new and creative music often happens when people from different groups come together. The album shows that although we only release our own projects, that is not necessarily a limitation. There are as many numbers from 0 to 1 as there are from 1 to 1 000 000!  Since the album is more about 3 pianos sounding like one piano, it also beautifully illustrates how music breaks down our constructed ideas about the world and all the categories I mentioned above. And you know what? Sometimes it is nice to present an album just because the music is f*cking great. 3 pianos is really something else, a curiosity, and a listening experience wether you play piano or not.

Agnes Hvizdalek - Index (NKM009).  Index is our latest release, and features Agnes Hvizdalek on a 47 minute vocal safari in a 60 meter tall chimney in Brazil. Agnes is representing a new (our) generation of improvisers, and what she does with her voice is just incredible. The album is also representing the solo format. Three out of nine of our releases have been solo releases so far. I think it is an interesting format. It is naked and transparent, and really serves as an insight into who we are as instrumentalists and musicians. Andreas Wildhagen and I also have our solo releases on the label (NKM006 and NKM002). Creative music is luckily not always only a representation of our time, but is also pointing towards the future. I think Agnes’ album is doing this. Although the music is not necessarily communicating anything else but music, we as musicians can use our music as a medium to ask questions about or comment on the world and time we live in. Let me quote from the album’s press text «The imprint of Agnes Hvizdalek’s index finger (on the cover) points out the thin line we walk between privacy and publicness and becomes a brutal yet friendly symbol of our time.

So, there you have it!

3. How do you see the future for small independent and experimental labels?

Small independent labels are super important because they are the ones without nothing to lose. With no criteria other than their own taste and likings, they are really incubators for new and creative music. They are also the ones who can redefine how things are being done. Bigger labels are more concerned about keeping up the appearances, whereas the small labels are more interested in redefining the established. Or at least I think they should be. Another important aspect is that independent labels are all about community. Without the support from your peers, you are nothing in this age of mass consumption and weapons of mass distraction. Having a strong community is more important now than ever. I hope that we are moving away from some years with a hyper individualistic focus into an era where we find back to the power, importance and joy of being a part of a community. Now, If you want to stand out it in the jungle of labels and artists it is a lot of work, of course. But authenticity, originality, honesty and a ton of blood, a shitload sweat and gallons of tears will get you there. Haha! Just remember to have some fun on the way.

4. Can you say a few words about the forthcoming releases this spring?

Our 10th release will be my project. Usually I play bass, but on this record I play guitar and sing my own lyrics in Norwegian. I’ve arranged the music for 8 other musicians. The music is singer/songwriter in an unconventional wrapping. Familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. Hopefully it will bring another audience to the label. Then Andreas Wildhagen will have his release with a band called Akmee. It is with bass player Erlend Albertesen, pianist Kjetil Jerve and trumpet player Erik Kimestad Pedersen. I haven’t heard the music, so I can’t say so much more about it. But after that we are doing a hell of a project with Nakama. I am currently writing music for the ensemble and a Zen-buddhist chanting choir. It will be recorded on the 21st of May in Rainbow Studio, and released on a triple LP (!) and CD later this year. This will really be something else, and I’m really looking forward to this project. My wallet not so much. After that we have Adrian’s and Ayumi’s projects. They haven’t decided yet, I think. If anyone reading this wants to be up to date on upcoming releases, just subscribe to our newsletter found on the about-section on our homepage 

5. Nakama is organized as a musician’s collective with Andreas WiIldhagen, Ayumi Tanaka, Adrian Løseth Waade and Agnes Hvizdalek as the other four members. How is the workflow on a day to day basis, is it more of a one man operation or is this also a collective?

Nakama is like a ship. I am the captain, telling us where to go, how fast we’re gonna get there, and when to leave. When we’re out on the sea there’s no escape. It’s my job to see that everyone has got work to do, and to try to utilize my crew in a way which will get us to our goal as fast as possible. In real life this means that I do most of the work. But everyone is responsible for getting the necessary material ready in time: masters, videos, press texts and so on. Everyone also has to do the promotion of their own stuff, send out to reviewers etc. But of course we help each other out. That’s the importance and the benefit of being a community and a collective. My biggest job is to make everyone understand how much we can accomplish if we work towards the same thing, and how much fun it is actually working for the same goal. I am in control of the accounts, and I work pretty intensively in getting us some momentum. Keeping in touch with established contacts, getting to know new ones. All of this is luckily interweaved with being a touring artist. It’s not like we are touring less after having started Nakama. It’s just more work in front of the computer on top of being a musician. I have to get better at delegating, but on the other hand I was the one who initiated this thing, and invited the others to come along. If they want to involve themselves more I won’t say no, but it is better that it is heartfelt than being imposed externally by me.