JIM ALFREDSON: Without Labels and Expectations

Jim Alfredson

Jim Alfredson is best known for his work with acclaimed jazz trio organissimo and is considered among the best Hammond organists working today. His newest project is a solo album known under the name THEO that originated as Alfredson‘s rediscovery of his affection towards the classic era of progressive rock.

The project has just reached its goal in the Pledge Music crowdfunding campaign, and it still has 17 days until it’s officially released. In that period, you can still pre-order this great work of progressive rock. Prog Sphere has featured a song from the album on the latest Progstravaganza Special – The New Generation of Prog 2014 sampler, and we talked with Jim about this record, crowdfunding and his plans for the future.

How did you go about forming the THEO project in the first place? What inspired you to start it?

Jim Alfredson: It began very organically. In 2008 my father passed away unexpectedly and as part of the grieving process I revisited a lot of my childhood passions. I spent over 16 years focusing solely on the Hammond organ in jazz and had forgotten about my love for progressive rock, ambient electronica, and other forms of music. Shortly after, I started making a lot of what my father called “space music”; synthesized ambient soundscapes and also more traditional rhythmic electronic music. I released a very limited edition solo disc of that kind of music dedicated to him and my mother, who passed in 1997, called In Memorandom.

After that album, I also started listening to the classic progressive bands again, like Pink Floyd, Yes, ELP, and my favorite as a teenager… Genesis! I rediscovered Tony Banks‘ amazing keyboard work, arrangements, compositions, and timbres. Meanwhile I was still amassing a lot of my own original electronic music. I thought, “Why not combine the two?” So I wrote lyrics to some of the pieces and eventually they morphed more towards the progressive side.

The inspiration for the project was my desire to hear the kind of progressive music I listened to while growing up but with a contemporary twist and modern production. It seems to me that a lot of progressive music these days is prog-metal. And while there’s nothing wrong with that kind of music at all and I enjoy a lot of it, I wanted to hear the keyboards take center stage again, like they did in the 1970s.

THEOHow did the creative process of the album go? What was your approach for this release in particular like?

The process was very long due to my constricted schedule. In 2010 I joined a touring blues band backing the fantastic singer Janiva Magness. The touring was intense and took a lot of time away from my family and my own personal studio. I would often come up with ideas on the road, during sound check and record them into my iPhone. When I returned home, I’d work on them, mostly during the winter months when the touring season was over. That was how These Are The Simple Days was written, a song from the new album.

My approach is to try and not self-edit until after the creative surge has passed. I would attempt to write something every night while I was home. Then I would collate the best ideas later and work on them.

Do you tend to follow any pre-defined patterns when composing a piece? What is your method of songwriting?

Often I am inspired by an idea from a book I’m reading or a rhythmic concept or even just a sound in a synthesizer or the tonal color of a certain chord. I treat songwriting like work and think of it in two phases. Phase one is the unfiltered creative phase where you enter into a state of flow and all ideas are valid. Phase two is the editing phase where those raw ideas are refined, changed, or thrown away.

Have you managed to make any discoveries in terms of songwriting for the THEO album, compared to what you have done before with Organissimo records?

I have discovered that I can compose solos! I did not know if I could do that or not, since with organissimo (my jazz trio centered around the Hammond organ) all my solos are completely improvised on the spot. Composing a solo, like Banks did, was difficult at first but I soon got the hang of it and learned how to arrange the other instruments to play off that melody correctly.

For the purpose of releasing the THEO album, you started a Pledge Music crowdfunding campaign. Are you satisfied with it so far?

I am very pleased with PledgeMusic. I have done two successful crowdfunding campaigns in the past with Kickstarter and I must say I prefer the experience I had using PledgeMusic. They are focused entirely on music, as the name implies, and that makes a big difference.

At the time this interview is being conducted, 99% of the goal in the crowdfunding campaign has been reached. What message would you give to progressive rock fans to support this project?

If you love the classic prog bands of the 70s along with singable melodies and epic narratives, you’ll dig THEO. It’s definitely a bit of a throwback but with enough modernity in there to avoid being a parody.

There are some really great perks you offer in the campaign, for a change. Beside obvious items, like the album in different formats, how hard was it for you to choose what will be given to the pledgers?

It took several weeks of throwing ideas around with various people to decide what items to include. Bassist Gary Davenport was a big help in brainstorming ideas as were CASIO reps Mike Martin and Paul Mouradjian. I cannot thank them enough. Also the guys at Hammond Organ USA, Greg Gronowski and Scott May, have been nothing but supportive.

Jim Alfredson

Back to music, where do you draw the inspiration from and how do you go about channeling it into writing?

Inspiration comes from many sources including my reading list, which includes politics, religion, government, philosophy, science, and lots of sci-fi, as well as life itself. Family life, life on the road, the creative life, social life, etc. I’m a firm believer in the mantra “Write what you know.” The music may be inspired by the classic English prog bands of the 70s but I’m certainly not writing lyrics like they did!

Do you think that progressive rock as a genre that emerged in 1970’s has good prospects for the future?

I think there is still a wide territory to explore in progressive music, especially by adding other elements into it such as electronica. Let’s put away the Mellotrons for a minute and start using more modern techniques, sounds, and ideas. Don’t be afraid of new approaches.

Are there any modern progressive bands that you listen to?

I love Steven Wilson. Also Haken, Riverside, and Big Big Train.

How do you see your music evolving in the future?

I want to simply continue pursuing my muse and not worry about labels and expectations. Prog has always filtered into my other bands and jazz and blues have filtered into the prog as well. I am thrilled to live in this era when you can have an entire studio in your home.

What advice or philosophy might you impart to other musicians, be it in forms of creativity, technical stuff, the business side of it, or anything else?

Don’t be afraid to impose limitations on yourself. For the THEO album I purposely tried to limit my sonic palette. It is very easy in this amazing age of digital wonders to waste countless hours flipping through thousands of presets on any number of software synths. Like a painter, choose your palette and stick to it. Amazing things can happen.

THEO is scheduled for a November 17th, 2014 release on Big O Records. Pre-order it here.

Cover photo by Jessica D. Cowles

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.

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