Drums and music philosophy with Jojo Mayer
Sergé "Jojo" Mayer is one of the names you can't have it confused. He stands out not only as a virtuous drummer, but also as a musical philosopher. His style of drumming, combining elements from jazz, rock and drum and bass, creates a powerful rhythm who takes the listener into a magical journey. No matter you catch him alongside his electronic band Nerve, or in a different musical collaboration, you will feel his drum pattern mingling all the other elements, giving them a powerful foundation upon which anything can be build.
You can catch Jojo Mayer playing with Nerve in Bucharest, in Club Control, today, the 8th of April.
| I remember an interview with the artist H. R. Geiger where he was saying Switzerland has a heritage of producing strictly bankers and lawyers, not artists. Looking at your family background in music, one can say he was talking from a limited perspective.
Well, I happened to know H.R. Giger personally and I'd say he's not completely wrong. I think he has been treated very unfairly by the Swiss art establishment. His success in mainstream culture bypassed them and they hated and penalized him for that. But it also has to be said that, for such a small country, Switzerland always had an incredible output of pioneering artist. Le Corbusier, Alberto Giacometti, Sophie Tauber, Fischli & Weiss, Arthur Honegger or Jean-Luc Godard to name a few.
However, all of these artist had to establish themselves internationally first, before they were respected in Switzerland. The reason for this is that Switzerland has mainly a culture of service providers. They don't really own anything. This goes back to medieval times where the poor indigenous mountain people of Switzerland first came to fame as mercenaries. They were hired to fight wars of foreign empires and kingdoms in the alpine terrain and as such are the inventors of guerrilla warfare. Loyal and fierce service men, they still are the traditional lifeguards of the Pope in Rome. But the Swiss people are also rebels, and at some point they emancipated themselves by fighting against their former clients for autonomy and freedom that lead to the founding their own country. Now, over the centuries this mentality shifted from actual battlefields to the battlefield of world finance and banks.
So, the Swiss mentality up to this day revolves from a mix of ingenuity and meticulous work ethic, but also opportunism and skepticism. Other than in America for instance, aspiration is not validated as much as accomplishment in Switzerland. And this can have a devastating effect on the cultural confidence of the Swiss people.
So yes, the Swiss will celebrate their cultural heroes. After they are celebrated everywhere else. And this is also my story.
| What made you choose drum and bass as a sound to experiment with in your music?
25 years ago drum'n'bass was a total revolution. It was the first time machine syntax in rhythm outdid the normal capabilities of a human drummer. Back then it was the most captivating thing that entered my ears and I wanted to be a part of it. Despite the fact that no drummer had successfully managed to recreate those beats in real-time I went for it.
Unfortunately, the industry hype killed d'n'b very quickly. But many ideas evolved from it and manifested in other musical expressions again. So every now and then I still like to rip into some amen breaks. It's fun.
| Do you consider versatility to be an important element for a musician?
I think versatility is a big asset not just for a musician but in life generally. However, I think versatility is less important than curiosity, discovery and the courage to step into the unknown. Jazz used to be an incredibly innovative and progressive art form. And most things that bear the label “Jazz” today are rather conservative. I aim to keep the spirit alive that was once also called Jazz.
| The documentary film "Changing Time" tells the story of your life, your band Nerve and the touring life. How did the idea for this documentary came to life?
Having a movie made about yourself can be tricky. And it took four years of negotiating until I agreed to it. As it is their job, Swiss TV essentially aims to produce portraits about internationally acclaimed Swiss people. I wasn't interested in this narrative, so I turned it down. The turning point was that Swiss television agreed to let Alexis Amitrigala direct the movie. Alexis is also a drummer and a friend of mine who has persistently pitched the idea of a film about someone that wants to go culturally forward in a time that goes culturally backwards. I could identify with this as I think it could be helpful to share my story with people who aspire to cultural progress but find themselves isolated with that claim. Once we established the core narrative, we were just followed by a small, but incredible film crew for a few weeks. They eavesdropped and captured as much as they could get and Alexis made it into a film.
| In both the documentary and your "Secret Weapons for the Modern Drummer DVD" you pinpoint your special approach to creativity. Is this one of the pillars of your philosophy?
I take interest in creating new syntax because I think it is an integral function of art and an important part of the cultural evolution. Art has always been the playing field of experimenting with new ideas and viewpoints. And although science and new technology has always opened the door for new artistic expression, the idea itself generates from the artistic mind first. But as soon as art gets degraded to commodity to serve corrupted interests, then art needs to restore co-opted values, redefine itself again. And again, and again. Hence the importance on innovation in art and music.
Nerve: Jojo Mayer - drums, John Davis - bass, Jacob Bergson - keyboards, Aaron Nevezie - sound and audio manipulation
| Your latest release with Nerve, "After the flare", has a distinctive approach regarding naming the tracks. Were you aiming to let the music speak for itself
Yes, as such it’s a concept album with a succession of different moods that change and shift shape organically. We created the music by collective improvisation and want the listener to participate by defining how the music affects him or herself.
| You have toured with Nerve all around the world and experienced all kind of emotions, so I would like to ask you how different is Europe compared to America regarding touring?
Personally, I enjoy touring in Europe more as it is culturally more diverse. You can tour for weeks in the US and everything looks the same. Same hotels, same food, same, same.
But as far as our audiences go they are very similar by now all around the world. It's a small but very loyal and enthusiastic community. Evidently, many things have changed in the past few decades. There's less music promoters and clubs than before. Big corporations have put monopolized the entertainment industry and their priority is only the bottom line. So, artists that are not in the mainstream circuit have to build a network of remaining independent promoters who are willing to take risks in order to be able to tour and get in front of a live audience. It's hard work and requires resourcefulness on many levels from everybody involved, but it is still possible. And if enough young artist are putting up the fight against the current trend there might be a new audience in the future who will have discovered a taste for good and forward thinking music once again.
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