by Walter Price
Looking to form new futures outside their former musical endeavors Oskar Hovell and Tomas Juto set off in seclusion in the a far flung Swedish woods. Pouring themselves into creative landscapes that would soon culminate into a music collective working and thriving under the incognito moniker Billy Momo. A name that would umbrella vast sound exploration and prove to themselves and world that you never have to be pigeonholed or fine edged defined to be relevant in today’s music scene. Two albums deep and increasing adulation and discovery, it seems whatever their initial plans really were those early days in the woods, the future is all their own.
Here is my conversation with Oskar Hovell.
We (Oskar and Tomas) first met in school. Started playing together about 18 years ago. Tomas is originally a drummer and Oskar a bass player. We played together with different acts for over ten years before we decided to start our own project. We went out into the woods, locked ourselves into a cabin for a couple of days and wrote songs.
Later on, after having released our first album, we started looking for friends. We found most of them at the bar Tomas was running together with his good friend, Andreas. Andreas and a few regulars from the bar all joined the band one by one. Two of them are family, a big brother and a brother in law. So, long story short, they’re all either drunks or family. Or both.
Listening to Drunktalk you discover that the album moves through country rockers, folk sweeping pop, little R&B feel and more. How hard was settling on the album’s concept?
We never really did, actually. It just grew with us. We’ve written so many songs together, the two of us, and the strange thing is that even though we never decided on what we were going to sound like, we have always known which is a Billy Momo song and which is something else. Might sound superstitious, but I think something happened there in the woods. We just felt it: This is Billy!
Speaking of that, what do you guys think of comparisons? Like Beck, Wilco, Avett Brothers etc
We get compared to different artists a lot. All from ABBA to Tom Waits. It’s ALWAYS a great honour! The variety of genres we are compared with also makes us feel that we’re doing something unpredictable, which is great!
How much of an album is laid out before you hit the studio and how different would you say Drunktalk turned out of organizing to finished product?
A lot happens along the way, I guess, when we record an album. Especially on Drunktalk, as it is recorded with the whole band. The ideas come from the two of us, but a great part of it is expressed by five more guys, all with a very personal touch to their performance. I think the next album will be even more influenced by the rest of the band. We’re really working together now. We’re doing writing-sessions together and all. We’re not just using the guys for recording and playing live. It’s very exciting!
The band isn’t afraid to show a lighter side, does this help fill any gaps or any stresses in an album as wide ranging as the current album?
I really think we need both. We need to express our darkest sides, but also to canalise positive energy and to make people dance. So yes, it helps us a lot to be able to cover all aspects of life in our music.
The band utilizes a vast array of instrumentation was this planned or had it just happened?
It sort of just happened. We don’t want to be limited by a fixed instrumentation. We just want to do whatever we feel like, whatever we think sounds good. We do have a sort of a soft spot for the organic sounds you might find in different sorts of world music or folk music. It’s a great way of adding energy to the creative process to find instruments we haven’t tried before.
Do you think that ‘folk’ has to be used to describe the band because of the use of the banjo?
No, not really. At least not because of the banjo. But I think it does describe a side of us. That soft spot for ‘folky’ sounds that I mentioned, I guess the banjo is part of that.
Critics have been head over heels for your music from the first album to now, how much importance does the band put on being ‘critically acclaimed’?
Well, it feels great, I have to admit. We will keep doing what we do with no exception, regardless, but it provides a certain thrill to read about your music from someone who has a talent for expressing him/her self in words and who spend a lot of time listening to music. Some of the critics that wrote about us have been almost poetic. Some phrases, we will never forget. So, emotionally, it’s important, but it does not effect the way we write music.
Can you explain ‘any-ism’?
We were talking about an -Ism, as in any belief -religious, political or whatever – in which you buy into a concept and decide to believe in an idea regardless of what you hear or see. It’s a way of closing your eyes to the outside world, often just to be part of something, instead of making up your own mind about things and keep your mind open to new ideas. We believe the world would see much more progress if more people had the integrity to do the latter.
The band’s name is a alter ego of sorts, how much of the song writing is based on personal experience verses dreamt up thoughts?
It’s actually all personal experiences or experiences of those close to us. Sometimes we sort of mix different events in life into one story or one song, but it’s all us. The alter ego is used as a voice to transform two people’s thoughts and emotions into one body, sort of. If Oskar or Tomas was the one who experienced it, Billy Momo is the voice who tells the story. It makes it easy for us to feel whether a song is a Billy Momo – tune or not. We can always ask ourselves, can I hear him singing this one?
I have been digging your videos, who comes up with the ideas and how important are videos in this fast changing music promotion atmosphere?
Thank you!! We work out the ideas – and most of the rest of the work – ourselves and we love doing it! It’s an extension of our expression, I guess. We’ve talked about letting someone else do it, but we’re just so picky when it comes to the issue of making it really feel like Billy Momo. But, as I said, most of all we just love doing it.
It’s hard to say nowadays what really is and what is not important when it comes to music promotion. And the two of us have always been very bad at it anyway. I guess it could help if we’d throw in a few cute kittens, somebody falling over in a funny way or a few infants acting funny, it’s just hard to find the connection to our music. But I think it’s only natural that people like to have something to watch while they listen. And we do love the art form.
Since forming Billy Momo how are the band members enjoying the freedom away from other bands in creating?
Good question! We are really spoiled with brilliant musicians who are really committed to this even though they all have lots of other things to do. But I do believe they all enjoy it very much, as the two of us do. We’re all good friends and we always have a great time working together.
I have to ask, how did the Better Call Saul thing happen?
The album is signed to a publisher called Hype Music. They have a whole lot of customers that licence sync music from them. So many, in fact, that they can’t really report to us whenever someone bought our music. It just happens. We found out a bit over a month into the campaign for the series, by chance.
When will you tour?
We’re looking at different options for a little UK tour right now, nothing booked yet, though. Hopefully more to come! We’d love to go on a Europe tour and we will make that happen. We just don’t know exactly when.
What are 5 things the world has no idea about Billy Momo?
- Tomas Juto, (lead vocals, keys and songwriter, founder of the band) is possibly the strongest man on earth.
- Mårten Forssman (harmonica) can build a timber house, using only tools from the 19th century.
- Our ever-threatening, swearing and brawling pirate of a barytone, Andreas Prybil, is a very talented tango dancer in his spare time.
- The only reason Oskar Hovell (lead vocals, guitar and song writer, founder) does not wear a nice beard like the rest of the band is because he can’t grow one. To this day he’s still hoping he might become a man one day and have himself a nice beard.
- It is likely that the rest of this band was the main reason why Tomas and Andreas’ bar went bankrupt in 2009. Too many free drinks.