Musicscan: First of all, congratulations to your new release with Getatchew Mekuria. I was wondering how much of what we can hear on the record is improvised and what aspects had been laid down beforehand?
The Ex: Thank you. Yes, we too are very happy with the result. When we started this project, we had no idea what it was going to sound like. Basically the main idea was that, when Getatchew joined us on our The Ex 25 Years Convoy Tour through France, he was so inspired by the overall feel of it that he wanted to make a new album, and he wanted us to be the band. Mind you, the previous one, his first, stems from 1972. Of course, we said yes. So he gave us a series of his tunes and we made arrangements for guitars drums and extra horns. We practiced a week with the skeleton band, then a week with the horns, and then a week with the horns and Getatchew after he'd flown in from Ethiopia. The songs are quite structured but within these structures there are obvious spaces where solos and improvisations can take place.
Musicscan: The feeling and the spirit of the music of the The Ex and Getatchew Mekuria is in many ways very similar. Would you agree?
The Ex: Yeah, to our own surprise his and our music really fit very well together. When we started out, making the arrangements and rehearsing for the first time, we were still not sure if and how it would work, but as soon as we practiced together with the horn-section things fell into place...these catchy Getatchew melodies go wonderfully well with our punky sound.
Musicscan: The problem with most "world music" or "fusion music" is that the respective elements usually remain separate and somewhat isolated. In your case, however, both musical elements seem to blend perfectly and actually create something new and very unique. How did you achieve this and were there any discussions about where things should go before you started playing?
The Ex: Like I said, we were not sure what it would lead to. However, during our existence as a band we have learned that, although we aren't so good at copying other people's music, we do know how to make other people's music ours. If we are inspired by that music, we kind of manage to focus on its key elements and adapt them into our own style. We trust our instincts in that matter. So a lot of the stuff is wilder than the old versions we heard, and to some we added new texts and vocals.
At first, we weren't sure what Getatchew would think of it, but as soon as he heard our interpretations he was totally into it.
Musicscan: You have been making music together for over 25 years now. Has your relationship to music changed over the years? How do you keep things fresh for yourselves?
The Ex: About five years ago, we had a very tough moment, when one of our core members for almost 20 years left the group, as we couldn't agree anymore on the main course together. That wasn't an easy decision, for none of us, but I think, this crisis made us reflect on what we have been doing all these years and why we were doing it. We started to realize that this band is even much more important to us than we thought. And in that sense, I think all of us have even more focused on making music together a success since then. How do we keep it fresh? By sometimes doing other things instead... taking a break, doing a side-project, musical or otherwise. That's inspiring, too, and in return in the end somehow the good things of your other involvements have a positive influence on the music.
Musicscan: Did you have certain musical or aesthetic goals for the band?
The Ex: No, not really. In the beginning, we didn't know so well what we did want, but we very well knew what we didn't want. We knew we wanted it to be different, but we didn't know how. We have nothing against traditional rock, for instance, but we're not interested in playing that kind of music ourselves. We wanted something of our own and we thought that was much more challenging and more of an adventure than repeating what had already been done. If we have a goal now, I think it
would be the fact that we want to keep on improving ourselves in order to make more
beautiful and new music.
Musicscan: What makes for the perfect song in your opinion? Have you ever achieved something like a perfect song in your opinion? How would you define a perfect song?
The Ex: This I find too difficult to answer, really. There are "perfect songs" in all different kinds of shapes and formats, at the most unexpected moments, and probably most of them were created without the creators realizing they had come up with a perfect song. That is probably its magic, the fact that there is something indefinable about it. On the other hand, I personally believe that perfection is boring, and that the imperfections give the song its sense of "perfection".
Musicscan: Is it necessary to create a certain distance between you and the music in order to get a better understanding of its inherent quality?
The Ex: I don't know. It may be good to now and then reflect on what one has been doing, but trying to understand it too much might kill its magic. Maybe it’s better not to try to know. In the end, I think when you feel it's good, it's good.
Musicscan: Do you think there are still genuinely new sounds to be discovered or can modern music basically be said to be a recombination of already existing forms and elements?
The Ex: Yeah, I'm sure there will always be new sounds to be discovered. Also, the recombination of already existing forms and elements can lead to that. They are branches of the same tree. They might grow in different directions, but occasionally their paths may cross or new branches will grow.
Musicscan: Is pop music always already global these days or do you think that there are always local specificities/aspects that mark and distinguish certain regional and cultural aspects?
The Ex:The main aspect of pop music is that it is global, and that is also the reason why there always will be local and regional cultures. The same mechanism happens in every country: there are charts with national and international stuff on it, and a lot of that national stuff, however popular and all, might mean fuck all in any other country. Dutch rock and pop don't go well in the rest of Europe, French ballades are not hip in Sweden, German Schlagers don’t sell in Spain. Let's consider ourselves lucky that different music keeps coming form different regions, no matter how massive the Global Assault of Very Bad Pop Music.
Musicscan: What is the difference between art and entertainment in your opinion?
The Ex:I think art is much more a challenge, a search for answers or maybe questions, for that matter, new directions, possibilities...whereas entertainment is merely made for consumption and
most often without the intention to really raise any question.
Musicscan: How important is the DIY-aspect to your music and the way you lead your lives?
The Ex: For us, it means you can't have one without the other. They way we make our music, organize the band and work together with other people is the same as in our personal lives. Because the music and the band are also parts of our personal lives.
Musicscan: Does music have a social impact or is it another entity that does not really have any direct effects on social life?
The Ex:If there is one language everybody can understand it is music. Even without words, music can express something that makes people understand you, somehow it makes them closer to you. Besides, the fact that in almost every cafe you can hear music, that people go out to listen and dance to music, together with others... well, if that has no social impact than nothing else does either. But it can also fuck you up or work as a tranquilizer...and if you want you can be the one who is in control of it.
Musicscan: Can music have political dimensions? Do sounds have a directly political semantics or is any attempt to politicize music always only achieved through discourse about the music?
The Ex: Oh yes. Music is used for all kinds of purposes, for good and for bad. Even the right tunes can be misused for the wrong reasons. A certain kind of music in a certain given situation can be a form of protest, while at other moments that very same music can be a totally the opposite. Deciding to sing politically aware texts is a political choice. Deciding NOT to sing politically aware
texts is also a political choice: one of denial. I'm not saying you always have to sing political
lyrics, but I find it strange when people never sing about what is happening around them. Then
again, instrumental songs or compositions can be as powerful. Things like these often depend on the time and the place. It's braver to sing “Stop the War” when 99% of the people want to go to war than
when everybody is already sick and tired of that same old stupid war.
Musicscan: Does art have responsibilities?
The Ex: I know there is this thing called "art for art's sake", but I’m not really a fan of it. I believe that every good piece of art somehow provokes thought, challenges believes, stimulates you to think about the world we live in. And if art only provoked for provocation's sake than I wouldn’t be interested either. I'm not saying that art must try to change the world, it doesn’t need to be a preacher, but I believe art is that kind of culture that encourages people to dare to explore their own capabilities.
Musicscan: What can we expect from The Ex in the near future?
The Ex: The coming months we'll be touring Scandinavia and France. We'll release a live-dvd of a 2004 concert filmed in New York by Jem Cohen. Then we'll be engaged for two months in a tour of Holland with theatre-group d'Electrique's adaptation of A Clockwork Orange, followed by a short tour of Canada. After the summer we’ll take a three month break in order to finish our Ex-Convoy-Tour DVD and our Ethiopia DVD. At the end of the year, there will be some more concerts, probably the around the west coast of the US and maybe Brazil.