There Is No Loneliness, There Is Audiences
Part I of A Night on the Town with Mary Ocher, Karl Jonas Winqvist and Felix Wickman
Profet´s Chief Ideologue Filip Lindström meets up with singer Mary Ocher in Stockholm, together with musician Felix Wickman, label director Karl Jonas Winqvist and fellow Profet writer ECE (Elizeth Casal-Eriksson). Here follows the first part of the article covering this encounter, including talk of anarchism, veganism and both Mary´s and Felix´s new records.
Interpretation of a picture of Mary Ocher, originally taken by Sven Serkis. Painted by Filip Lindström
I have found that I lately have grown harder to amuse. The ordinary and expected float further away from my general taste for every day. The bar has been set at a high standard, that makes pre-fabricated streamline music pass me by without notice. For example, I think I have managed to avoid even hearing a global monster hit like »Despacito«, even though it has been blasted all around the world, all thanks to my extreme lack of interest in that type of entertainment. I’d much rather listen to something that challenges the thought, sparring with the mind. When I look for something different, that might meet this high standard that I’ve set for myself and the consumption of popular culture that I devote myself to, Mary Ocher and her creations are excellent examples. This multi-talented artist is everything other than streamlined, impossible to ignore.
I visit Rönnells Antikvariat, a bookstore in Stockholm, accompanied by Profet writer ECE (Elizeth Casal-Eriksson) to see Mary Ocher perform. She is alone on stage, in front of a sitting audience, surrounded by books about subjects such as priests in southern Stockholm suburbs and the pioneers of Hip Hop fashion. There is a pillow on the floor in the shape of a gaping mouth, holding one of the microphones amplifying Mary’s performance. She points out the existence of the pillow in an amusing talk between songs, which serves as a comic relief to even out the melancholic music. Someone drops a plastic cup of cheap red wine, and it falls to the floor to make a percussive sound, forming a beat to go with Mary’s singing for only a second or two. Switching rapidly between instruments, and making her vocals take trips I could never have imagined, she goes back and forth from the known to the unknown. Mary talks about the LGBTQ-situation in Egypt, plays a chirping flute solo, cracks dry jokes, plays with silence as an instrument of its own and alters the temperature in the bookstore by reshaping her sound for each tune. This is exactly the food for thought my starving mind has been in need of.
Mary Ocher, live at Ronnells book store. Painted by Filip Lindström.
Karl Jonas Winqvist runs the Swedish record label Sing A Song Fighter and has been crucial to the development of outside-the-box-entertainment in Sweden for a long time. He is also the promoter of tonight’s bookstore concert and he introduces me and ECE to Mary Ocher on the way to her hotel, located a cold fifteen-minute stroll from Rönnells Antikvariat. With us is on the walk is singer Felix Wickman, who also seems to have some sort of a connection to Mary. We settle down in the micro sized hotel lobby, only inhabited by a loud older couple except for our little group of newly found friends. Me, ECE, Karl Jonas, Felix and Mary sit down and I start by asking what the tattoo on her forearm, simply saying »A«, really means.
- The »A« stands for anarchism. Sometimes when I try to alienate people and make fun of them, I say that it stands for »Asshole«, Mary says.
- What does anarchism mean to you?
- It has a really bad rep. As a teenager, I had to constantly defend what it meant to me and people would tell me: »It’s a terrible thing, it’s chaos, it’s disorder, it’s violent, it’s aggressive, it’s not productive«. To me, the fundamental idea of the way that we interact with each other should not be based on a hierarchical system. I just can’t deal with it, I have a really difficult time being comfortable in a step, whether it is below or above other people. It’s so ingrained in society that kids aren’t even given any other option. They just grow up thinking that they have to accept authority, that they should never question authority and that if they do question authority, they have to bear consequences. That is one of the main things that I as a child tried to fight against. In school, you had to deal with it on a daily basis. You were always told that you should never oppose, you should just accept what people who are older than you tell you, and that age always meant that they were right. That was extremely problematic and when I grew up, I realized that it hasn’t changed: I still feel exactly the same way about authority. So, that is the fundamental reason to why I still believe in that theory. On an economical level, I don’t think that I can propose a better system. I do think that almost every economic system that was ever practiced in the West is kind of terrible.
- What made you step out of the convention of, as you said, what a child should be?
- I couldn’t find myself in there as a kid. You try to find a way to get along, to not be the weirdo that others are making fun of. But then, at some point you realize that you are the weirdo and you should accept it. It’s fine. And as an adult you actually get a lot of benefits from being a weirdo, but being a kid it’s really tough.
- Did that differ from Russia to Israel? I ask, knowing that Mary moved from the former country to the latter as a child, before settling down in Berlin approximately ten years ago.
- I don’t know, I was only four years old, so I can’t really compare.
The standardized view on life rarely strikes us when we’re young. Mary takes authority as an example, and I instantly think of the way we are raised to eat meat, as another example. As a newly turned vegan, I do not only feel the urge to brag about veganism, I also have reached a point of questioning my upbringing and its perspective on eating meat. Being force-fed (pun intended) the thought of meat being a lifeless product free to consume as we please, children have no choice of their own until they are old enough to realize the truth of what they’re being served. Thereby, the cruel tradition and its blunt ignorance is allowed to continue, because not all of these children grow up to actually break themselves free from it. This disgusting and vile behavior is transferred from generation to generation, justified with no factual argument other than meat being a tasty treat. Mary says every financial system ever practiced in the West has been terrible. I agree, but find myself constantly more enraged by the culinary customs practiced not only in the West, but in the entire world, built on inflicting constant violence to all and everything.
»The A stands for anarchism« by Filip Lindström
Karl Jonas Winqvist has, through his label Sing A Song Fighter, co-released Mary’s latest album »The Faust Sessions and Other Recordings« in collaboration with German label Klangbad, run by Faust’s Hans-Joachim Irmler. In the soon-to-be-closed hotel lobby, I ask about what started Mary and Karl Jonas’ connection.
- I invited Mary in April, Karl Jonas says, for a show at Pygméteatern in Stockholm. As a longtime fan, I just wanted to hear more.
In mid-sentence, Karl Jonas turns to Mary, talking directly to hear, instead of about her to me.
- You said you had some songs from sessions, not being used. When you sent them to me, I said we should put it out. Or that you should put it out. Then I suggested a co-release. I really like co-releases, because I love working with people, not having the full responsibility. At first, my idea was that you should put it out on your German label.
- I didn’t think they would want to, says Mary. We had just done an album, basically six months before.
During the process, Karl Jonas suggested his own involvement, and Klangbad apparently didn’t mind releasing another Mary Ocher record so soon after the last one, »The West Against the People«.
- They liked the idea, Mary says of Klangbad’s reaction to Karl Jonas’ proposal. But, she remembers, I think we were all very confused, because there were so many options. I originally thought of doing a 7” with only four songs. That was what I intended but then it was actually more interesting to include a variety of tracks and not put them in an obvious order.
- And this was your first collaboration with a Swedish label? I ask Mary, followed by a content chuckle coming from Karl Jonas.
- Yeah, it is, she says. I’ve worked with three German labels [Haute Areal, Buback and Klangbad] and two American [Related Records and Hairy Spider Legs].
- And how long would you say that you have been a fan of Mary’s? I ask Karl Jonas, since tonight was the second time this year he has invited her to play in Stockholm.
- A couple of years, he responds and then once again turns to talk to Mary: I had never seen you live before April. Another option this time was to do the show at a rock club, like Debaser, because they were interested. But, I think this [Rönnells] is more special, as the music is.
- I think this was the perfect setting, for me personally, I tell Mary and Karl Jonas.
- How did it feel to play in such a venue? asks ECE, referring to the unique situation of live music in an antique book store.
- I liked the place itself, they had a really lovely collection of books, a lot of interesting subjects, Mary recalls, then answering ECE’s question: Technically it was difficult because there was no stage and I couldn’t hear myself. Otherwise it was very nice and the audience was very sweet.
- The audience sitting down was not a problem? I wonder.
- No, Mary declares: I’m kind of used to people sitting, it’s not a problem for me. This show, when I perform solo, is definitely not a dance around type of show, so sitting is fine.
- But when you perform with your drummers, Your Government, it’s more of a dance around type of show?
- Yes, there is definitely more standing and moving. Sitting in that context feels a bit less fitting.
»I never learned that, I just did it«
Mary Ocher about planning her own tours
The only two other guests of the hotel lobby bar carry on their lively conversation and so do we. I chose to involve Felix Wickman in the discussion, by wondering about his relationship to Mary and his reason for seeing the show.
- I’ve heard about Mary from a friend of mine, Susanna Berivan, a mutual friend of ours. I love her music and she’s always been very supportive of Mary. As soon as she saw that Mary was coming to Sweden, she told me that I must go see her.
I tell Felix to briefly avoid the main subject – Mary and everyone’s connection to her – and instead let us in on some information on his own new record, »Dreaming in the end times«, released on Swedish label Kvalität towards the end of December.
- I’ve been working on it for one and a half or two years, he says. It’s only five songs, and hopefully there will be a part two in a year or so.
- And… What are we talking about? I say, quite cockily when I think back at it, wanting to know what kind of music it is that Felix will release on this new collection of songs.
- I was very inspired by different literature that I was in to at the moment, but the music was made the same way as always. I was sitting in my studio where I always record all my albums, together with my band. Maybe it’s more of a band effort than it used to be. It was produced and mixed by Fredrik Swahn, who KJ [Karl Jonas] has also worked with, so that’s our connection. Then I saw that KJ was releasing Mary, so it’s all a big coincidence.
Interpretation of the cover of »Dreaming in the end times«, painted by Filip Lindström
Felix’s new record is beautiful and grand. Listening to it after I’ve met him for the first time, I didn’t expect his music to be this delicate. Of course, I can’t verbalize what I actually expected, because now my potential past expectations have merged with my real-life experience of hearing the album. The five tracks, and the cover that binds them together, all wake memories in me, even though I have not seen or heard anything of it before. »Dreaming in the end times« brings me back to reading one of the many books in the children’s series called »Pettson & Findus« (in English apparently known as »Festus & Mercury«), depicting the life and times of an old man with a peculiar hat, and his talking cat. Lonely enough to speak to his pet, old man Pettson often symbolizes solitude, and in this specific book he goes fishing on a desolate grey lake. If I would have been in that fishing boat with Pettson, »Dreaming in the end times« would be the record I would want to listen to.
Here ends the first part of »There Is No Loneliness, There Is Audiences: A Night on the Town with Mary Ocher, Karl Jonas Winqvist and Felix Wickman«. Be sure to catch the second part to find out the meaning of the article's title. In part II, you may also read a discussion about a pillow, learn about learning or not learning how to tour, answer questions of poppies (or puppies?) and much more, out on Profet soon.20 December 2017