With so much of our musical lives disrupted by the pandemic, bassists have been occupying their time with various other worthwhile pursuits. Brooklyn-based Mitch Friedman [Soulfarm, Crystal Bowersox, ConSoul] was so taken by Queens-based drummer Oskar Haggdahl after working with him remotely that he decided to interview the Finland native to get his insight on an array of music related topics:
2020 has been anything but kind to musicians. While the world tries to heal from the effects of the worst global pandemic in over one hundred years, musicians have also had to worry about where their careers are headed. With music venues worldwide shutting their doors, some permanently, musicians who make their living through live performance can do nothing but watch in disbelief as live music essentially comes to a screeching halt.
Recorded music, on the other hand, has become some musicians’ only creative outlet to generate income, and with the technology available to us today, home recording is easier than ever. Being as awful with technology as I am, even I bit the bullet, as my phone began to ring off the hook with calls for sessions, and studios all remained closed. In July, as New York City started to show real signs of improvement, with new virus cases plummeting and being kept steadily under 3%, friends who had been isolating at home now started to feel safer about hanging out. While hanging with my good friend Jimmy Carbonetti (master luthier and guitarist of Caveman) and his wife, Sarah (ESS SEE), who’s an incredibly talented songwriter, vocalist, and instrumentalist, Sarah played me a demo of a track she had been working on called “Overdrive,” and I loved it. The drums sounded amazing, making it effortless to come up with a cool bass part, and I asked who was on drums. “My friend, Oskar,” she exclaimed. Having never met Oskar, I told her he sounded great and his drum part was perfect for the song. A few months later, she played me her next track, “A Better Home,” and I was even more blown away. I insisted on playing bass on it, but I was told it was just a rough demo, and we were awaiting Oskar’s drums on it. Soon after, I was told it was my turn to record, and once again, Oskar nailed it, making it super easy to come up with a part that fit. Both tracks came out incredibly well, and we’ve sort of become this virtual band, yet Oskar and I have still never met face to face. Bass Magazine has allowed me the opportunity to sit down and interview Oskar on what it was like working together during this bizarre time.
M: Oskar! I’m so glad we’re getting to do this! Since we’ve never met before in person, tell me where you’re from, how you got to New York City, and a little bit about your musical career and background.
O: Hi Mitch! It’s so nice to finally get to meet you, especially after having worked together virtually during these unprecedented times. I’m originally from Finland, where I started working professionally when I was about 15. In 2009, at age 21, I decided I’d had enough of Finland, and that I wanted a bigger challenge in my career. So I packed my bags and moved to New York City, in September 2009. Since moving here I’ve played everything from Broadway and musical theatre to heavy metal, and everything in-between. The versatility and ability to work in many genres is something I’ve always admired in many session drummers, and I wanted to follow in their footsteps. Fortunately, over the past twelve years, the city has made my dream a reality, and I’ve been lucky enough to work with a lot of amazing artists, spanning almost every genre.
M: What was your gig life like before COVID, and what was your recording life like?
O: Before COVID my life consisted of a busy gigging schedule around New York City, but in January 2020, I got a touring gig with Queen vocalist Marc Martel. We started the world tour in Europe, in January 2020, and returned to the U.S. at the end of February, with plans to resume in March. Sadly, COVID put a stop to that. We were supposed to tour until mid-2021, so it was definitely a bummer to see most of that get postponed. Luckily, recording is something I’ve always done, and honestly it’s what is most dear to my heart, creatively. Besides working regularly in recording studios, I built my own little home studio, where I do a lot of remote drum recordings for artists both local and from around the world.
M: How long have you been recording at home, and what’s your setup like?
O: I’ve had my own recording studio for about five years now. It’s been a process, ever since I was in my teens, acquiring gear and building it slowly, learning about recording and so on. I’ve been in my current location in Astoria, Queens for about five years. The setup is ever changing, but I have a bunch of drums that I handpick for each song or session. My miking changes depending on what approach I go for. Since I record a lot of different music, I tend to always have 16 mics set up, so that I can easily access those different approaches and sounds, without having to change inputs and set up and break down mics.
M: How did you meet ESS SEE and how long have you been working together?
O: I met ESS SEE through a mutual friend of ours, guitarist Charlie Rauh. Charlie was playing with her and he told me I had to come check out her live show. He was right, she was incredible! I was blown away first and foremost with her songwriting, but she also had such captivating live show.This was about three years ago. Recording “Overdrive” this past year was the first time we worked together.
M: For “Overdrive” and “A Better Home,” what was your creative process? Did ESS SEE give you pointers or did you come up with ideas on your own?
O: ESS SEE did give me some pointers for inspiration. With “Overdirve,” as soon as I heard the demo I felt that it lent itself to a big, majestic drum sound. My first thought was I wanted to approach it in layers. Meaning, instead of just playing a groove, I wanted to create an entire soundscape of big drums, layering toms and percussion. I felt very inspired by how Swedish producer Björn Yttling approaches drum production, and I instantly thought of Lykke Li’s album, I Never Learn, which he produced. The funny part was when ESS SEE sent me some other artists’ songs for direction, she included that Lykke Li album, which was when I knew we were on the same page. I started with the main drum groove, using an enormous 26-inch kick drum, to get a soft but huge sound. Then I overdubbed cymbals, toms, tambourines, shakers, and a bunch of different percussion. When I heard the final track months later I was proud of how it turned out.
For “A Better Home,” the first things that came to mind were the Smoky Mountains, moonshine, and the Hatfields and McCoys. I wanted it to be spooky, and sound like the fog in the Smoky Mountains. Very Appalachian. The pointers Sarah gave me were along the lines of Fleetwood Mac and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, but with a more modern twist. I instantly knew what she was talking about. In terms of drums, this was an entirely different drum kit than I used for “Overdrive.” I played a small 20-inch kick drum with no front head, and a piccolo snare with medium tuning, made very dry. Overall a very ’70s approach. The toms also had no bottom heads.Similar to “Overdrive,” I started with the main drum groove, and then overdubbed toms and percussion.
M: Since you laid down your tracks before I put any bass on them, did you have an idea of what the bass parts should sound like in your mind?
O: There was some bass on the demos, but I knew Sarah was going to have a bassist play some more detailed stuff on the songs. For “Overdrive” I imagined it on the electronic side, with maybe a synth bass approach to a certain degree. I certainly didn’t imagine the cool, dub/reggae approach you did in the verses. I like how it moves around, and how you managed to fit it exactly in the right spaces. It compliments the tom part well. As for “A Better Home,” I feel like we managed to have exactly the same end goal in mind. I like how you enter with a slide in the first verse, instantly adding to the aforementioned spooky vibe I had imagined. In the chorus your bass part sits nicely with the drums, and we get into an infectious groove. The way you move up to the higher register in the second verse also fits the vibe of the song; it calms down the verse and sets up the more dramatic chorus.
M: What kind of bass tone and style do you generally prefer when working with a bassist?
O: As with my approach to drums, I think the bass should always serve the song. Tone-wise, I gravitate towards a deeper, rounder sound. Generally I love P-Basses for that.
M: Can you name some of your favorite New York City bassists that you’ve worked with, and what you like about their playing and sound?
O: I’ve played with many great bass players here over the years. Some names that come to mind though are Bryan Percivall, Seth Ondracek, Brian Holtz, Justin Goldner, and now you. Generally, if I’m playing with a bassist for the first time, the less I notice him or her, the better. if it feels right it’s not something I’m thinking about, and it ends up being like putting on your favorite comfortable shoes. It’s a back and forth kind of thing; you listen and start to play off of each other, and it makes the music better.
M: What are your hopes for the future? What do you see New York City’s music scene looking like in a year from now?
O: First and foremost we need to get this COVID vaccine out to everyone because until that happens, I doubt there will be many live shows in front of large audiences. I’m looking forward to the summer to see what that brings in terms of outdoor shows. The last year has been an incredibly dark time for everyone, but especially for artists and musicians. I know live music will come back, the question is when? I think when it comes back, people will appreciate music and musicians more than they did before because people will crave music and art. Fortunately recording hasn’t gone anywhere, and if anything, this has reinforced that recording from home is here to stay. Especially with the sad fact that large recording studios are becoming more and more of a niche component. As always throughout history, you have to follow the evolution of your industry, at least to a certain degree, or you will be left behind. –BM
For more on Mitch: Click Here
For more on Oskar: Click Here