“I think of music as a rubber band – I like to try and stretch it. Let’s say melancholy in one end, and humor in the other, and see how far you can take it. Bringing oppositions together.”~ Mikkel Hess
Music is everywhere. It’s on the radio, TV, internet, coming from your phone or mp3 player. Music is apart of our lives. Can you hear the music in your alarm clock or in the roaring of the NYC train? I’m a true lover of music. It wakes me up in the morning, it escorts me to work, it even runs along with me in the park. The most amazing thing I learned with my conversation with Mikkel Hess of Hess is More is that music can be made from anything in our surroundings.
Hess is More has been described at the Danish answer to Jon Brion and the Flight of the Concords. Whether or not that is an accurate description, Hess is More strives to stretch the boundaries of what music is and how it is made.
On a beautiful Spring day, I met up with Mikkel in his NoHo music studio to discuss the art to his music and the band’s residency at Nublu.
JohnSimonDaily: How did Hess is More come about?
Mikkel Hess: I was ending my education at the Conservatory in Copenhagen. So I traveled for a while, I made a lot of songs. I was about to put that out. Then I came to think of this term, I was interested in minimalistic electronic music. I kept on putting too many elements in my songs. So it didn’t sound anything like any of those minimalistic things that I liked. Hess is our last name, our family name. My mom had this saying, Hess is more. So I thought that was perfect for the band. I’m trying to do less, but it’s always never enough. So it was just an artistic play with that.
JSD: You play multiple instruments. What instruments do you play? Were you self taught? What was it about those instruments that even made want to pick them up and learn them?
MH: Drums is my main instrument. I don’t have a lot of childhood memories, but one thing that I remember, very clearly, was banging the cookie jars in the kitchen with wooden spoons, I must have been like 5. I have two brothers who also play, so it’s like a musical family, so I was supported and encouraged to play. I had a drum set really early on, when I was 8 or something. I took piano lessons. I just play a lot of drums. I was lucky enough to have some great friends to play with. I think that’s the good part. Then I studied at the Conservatory with a great American, Ed Thigpen, he was a master drummer, who just passed away, he used to play with Oscar Peters. I also picked up bass. Then it kind of escalated into others, so drums are the only thing that I’m educated to play. Since I’m the band leader, I get to play all the instruments, which is nice. (laughs) When I’m in a music store, and I see an instrument that is appealing and I’m attracted to, then I buy it and figure out how to play it.
JSD: Who or what are influences your music?
MH: I’m still trying to figure that out, how that works you know. I don’t exactly know the root, like where it comes from, then boom, its music. I’m still very curious about it, like how it actually works. What keeps me excited about it is that I really like the process. It is so weird in a way. That you can get some sensation or a little idea of something, it can be some words or melody line or maybe it is just more of an abstract thing. Then the process is never the same, but in different ways it happens, it turns into some piece of music that will come out of the speaker. You can feel it, it becomes like a physical experience. I think that is like magic. It comes out of nothing.
There is a song called In the Fridge, it’s on the HITS album, it was a while ago I was traveling in Brazil. I was making these sounds; I had a little tape recorder, not a digital one, but an old school tape recorder. I put it inside the fridge and started beating the fridge around, so that got a lot of sounds recorded into the tape recorder. Then I took those [sounds] and put them into my computer, it was a lot of things going on, but I made a little beat out of it. I made a little melody for it. It rested for a while. Then I came to New York. I had this idea, that maybe there could be a gospel singer doing something on this. I don’t know why, but I just thought this would be cool. I started asking around and I asked my good friend, Ben Perowsky, who I was study with at the moment. He is like one of my drum heroes. I played him the song and asked him, ‘Do you think anyone would want to sing on this?’ He was like ‘I think you need Dean Bowman .’’ ‘Ok’. I didn’t get his number or anything.
I looked Dean Bowman up on the internet. He had one of those websites that was under construction, so you don’t get any information, just an email. So I sent him a long email trying to explain ‘Yes, I’m this Danish… I’m working on this… and Ben told me to get in touch with you and maybe you would be interested in doing some vocals.’ Then I got an email back saying ‘I’m down.’ Then it said his phone number. I wasn’t sure what that meant (laughs). So I called him up. We didn’t get any real dialogue going, but he finally invited me up to Harlem.
I found his place and I remember he opened the door wearing a wife-beater, boxer shorts, and smoking huge cigar. He said ‘Yea, I’m just home from Paris and I’m smoking this Cuban Cigar.’ I thought he was so interesting. (laughs) He was so different from anyone I knew. I, again, was trying to strike up a dialogue about the project, but he just said ‘Yea’ all the time. (laughs) I played him the music and asked him if he wanted to do the project, and said ‘Yea’. I had no real idea if he could sing, other than that Ben told me he could sing. But I booked a studio, and my brother was there. So I said let’s just try something, maybe he is good, maybe he sucks, whatever. We were in the studio excited, I had written out lyrics, just ten phrases and I had imagine he could just improvise. So we asked him if he could do sound check and he said ‘Yea’, and he just started talking. I thought, ok we’ll just keep the tape rolling. Then after one round of that with the music he had never heard before, he started singing. Then I realized he could really sing and he sounded really good. Wow, I was really lucky that I found this guy. By the time the music was finished, he was finished with the lyrics and had built it up and told this story. We had tears coming down our eyes. I was just so moved, because I didn’t know if we were on the same page or not. It just turned out perfect, plus he added his own thing to it. I said to him, ‘Dean, you are so amazing. We only had to do it in one take.’ He said, ‘Yea, I’m a one take kind of guy.’ (laughs) But that’s just the whole process from fooling around with a fridge in a little place I was staying in Brazil to adding this singer. It’s so unpredictable. It’s such a fun journey that you could never guess that that’s how it’s going to happen.
JSD: If your music were a color, what color would it be and why?
MH: The first color that came to mind was blue, I don’t know why. My new drums are blue. But then you have the associations of Blues and Blues being mellow, but that is just one element. Could it be two colors? (laughs) I feel like a lot of what I do is one thing, and then it’s the opposite. I could create a color! Yellow/blue. So that would mix into green. So it has to be green. The music is pre-green, because that would be blue and yellow, which are two oppositions in a way. (laughs)
JSD: Tell us about your latest album Hits.
MH: Hits came out in June of last year. I had been working with a label in Denmark for a long time and they release all over Europe and Asia, but it was never so much over here. I’ve been building a relationship with Nublu, playing there once and a while and touring. We started talking about maybe they should do a license of the Hits album, so that started out collaboration.
JSD: What can our readers expect from a Hess is More show at Nublu?
MH: When you play live, every thing is free in the sense. There are no loops; there is no set programming or anything. Everything is hand played, which is a new thing for me. I’ve been using a lot of samples. So there is still an electronic sound to the elements, but we are trying to do everything hand played.
It’s seriously playful. It’s a five piece band plus myself. It’s a lot of drums; electric drums, and percussion. It’s very organic. Hopefully it is danceable also. I love to play for people who dance. There will be ten collaborators, artists of some sort. But we are staying away from the word Art. So we are trying to add another element every Thursday, from some other non-music element to kind of mix it up and create another layer. I like to learn something with these collaborations, it ads a new perspective.
The idea is that you show up at 9pm and you hang around until midnight. We play a little music and just explore what happens in the room. You can come and just hang out. This Danish designer, Henrik Vibskov, is making these necklaces for us with a ‘?’, the over all theme is ‘?’, because I have so many questions, but very few answers. You can get the necklaces at the door for $30 to get in, and with that you can come to all the Thursday shows. It is an accessory, but also an admissions pass.
“Ssshhhh,” a track from the new album “Hits” by Danish “playful techno” artist Hess is More, aka Mikkel Hess. Directed and produced by NYC-based m ss ng peces.
Be sure to check out Hess is More at Nublu every Thursday at 9pm starting April 1st .
Special note regarding Hess is More’s Nublu residency: The special weekly collaboration will be curated and presented by Claire Grube, Jacobe Wildschiotz and Mikkel Hess.