Interview med Gulli Briem

Gulli Briem - Interview -

Af Gunnar Kristiansen, 2002

Det er måske ikke alle der er med på hvem Gulli Briem egentlig er. Men når man siger Mezzoforte kan de fleste også sige “Garden Party”.
Faktisk var Mezzoforte et verdensnavn i starten af firserne. De solgte – ret usædvanligt for et instrumentalorkester – millioner af plader på verdensplan. Dertil turnerede de kloden tynd, på trods af deres forholdsvis lave alder.

When and how did you start playing drums?
I started playing when I was 12. My first instrument was electric guitar. I had a red Teisco with flowers on it. The sound was a disaster with both guitars going through a 50 watt Fender amp, which sounded like a frog, but looked cool, that was the main thing. I also sang. Our drummer had real difficulty playing a straight rhythm and kept putting the snare drum on 1 and 2, and bassdrum on 2 and 4. We couldn´t play with that so I sat down and played. Later I bought his drums a very old Pearl kit about to collapse…….hahaha. I had one ride and one crash, but no stand so I tied it to the ceiling. Everytime I crashed, it flew away and then came right back aiming for my head so I had to bend down so I woulnd´t be injured.

Were there any qualified teaching capabilities in Iceland at that particular moment?
There was one guy a polish guy who played timpany with the Symphony orchestra and smoked 60 polish cigarettes a day. I didn´t start my studies until I was eighteen when I had finished my nessacery school exams. I studied with Reynir Sigurdsson, a fine percussionist of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, who taught me how to read on the snare drum & some mallet instruments. He had me play some terrifying gigs with the Orchestra where I mist most of the playing and the cues…..I´m surprised that they paid me, but sometimes you get paid for NOT playing.

How did Mezzoforte start?
We met through school and word of mouth basically. Two pairs: Me and Johann went to the same school and Eythor and Fridrik met at a outdoor festival and decided (in between falling over each other)  that they wanted to play some fusion stuff, anything really fast and difficult. They heard about me and Johann and we decided to try to get together and play 16-17 years old. DO I NEED TO SAY MORE? – Ok ………. “AND THE REST IS HISTORY” !!!!!

We got a rehearsal place with the “Labour Marching Orchestra” on the 4th foor in a big building where we had to carry a Rhodes piano, aHammond organ and all the rest.  I played with that orchestra for a while.  They made me this green costume and everything. They also kept calling after we started touring the world. I don´t think they understood that I didn´t want to play the bass drum anymore on Wednesdays, or the Soviet National Anthem or “The International”. There were a few people that joined Mezzforte for certain periods: a singer and a Hammond organ player. Also we did some projects with other singers, playing some studio stuff, demos, gigs….anything to play together and do what we loved doing.

How old were you then?
15 years old……..Shoot !!! is it that late !

How ”serious” were you and the other guys back then?
Oh, very serious. Our whole life was based around the band. We spent every minute together. Went out on weekends sneaked into the clubs in the back entrance, where they had bands playing and got very drunk on Whiskey at Gusti´s bar. There was always the friendship and the chemistry between us.  No girlfriends, kids or nagging parents. Well maybe, but we didn´t listen to them. When are you going to get a real job was a popular question? My mother wanted me to join the policeforce, because I was already quite tall.  Wouldn´t that have been cool, arresting some of my friends on weekends for drunken disorderly and shouting abuse at the Police…

Did you ever expect the success that you have got?
I don´t think anyone expects success……well maybe Britney or people like that. I think that we knew we had made a great record that was getting a great response, but we just loved playing and weren´t thinking too much about success or playing out in the big world.

When did you realize that you actually had become famous?
Everything went crazy after “Garden Party” took off in England. When we did “Top of the Pops” in London which was the most popular music show, we were chased by some teenagers and media people. We just didn´t understand it I think, – what it was all about. But also the Icelandic media was following this very closely, so we where in the papers everyday, sold records and filled concert venues. I guess that sort of says allot. Who want´s fame anyway? Lot of people want to BECOME famous, but most people don´t want to BE famous. I don´t consider myself famous, known by some people in the business and the drum-community, but not famous….FAME SUCKS !!

Has there been some kind of ”leader” in Mezzoforte, or has it all been a “joint” process?
It´s been pretty liberal all along. No one has offered to be a leader in any way which is difficult because you need to get 5 or 6 people to agree on so many things. I woulnd´t recommend it for any band. There must be someone who makes the final decisions or kicks things forward.

What was the musical environment like in Iceland?
It was quite limited the early years, but we always found places to rehearse, do some concerts in schools and few studiosessions. We were sort of the odd ones out, everyone was into punk and indie rock, so we didn´t really fit it so we stuck together and did our own stuff. Today it´s much more alive and lot of really good musicians and some good places to play.

Where did you get your inspiration?
I listened to rock’n´roll mostly, British bands: Slade, Sweet, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep something that was called “heavy rock” in those day´s. After that I started listening to Jazz-Rock people like Billy Cobham, Al Dimeola with Gadd, 801, Gong, Jethro Tull with Barrymore Barlow, Santana etc…

What has your musical goals been?
My goals have been and probably always will be, to be grow as a musician, player and a composer. I saw my favourite drummers and tried to play like them like we all do, but I have been very lucky to be able to tour around the world with Mezzoforte and record lot of music with some really good people. I KNOW I´ve been lucky. I´ve always been very passionate about music, the business and everything that goes on around it.

I guess most kids go through a phase where they want to be a pop star a singer or an actor / actress. Play a tennis racket to the Beatles, which now you would probably do to Britney Spears or Jennifer Lopez. I do feel that I´ve achieved allot, but I know that there is allot more to be done and I´m all up for it, touring, making records, clinics and getting to know other musicians and nice people. I also constantly try to be a better person and grow further. It´s important to find new challenges,new mountains to climb to grow. One guy in Norway came to me and told me that he started playing because of me, bought a red Yamaha recording kit, and was practicing to Mezzo-records. That is so nice to hear that someone was so influenced, just great !

What is your plans about the future…?
Now I´m establishing a new solo career with my new project “Earth 1822” which I produce and write. I´ve signed a record deal with Skip Records in Germany so my music will be released over there and distributed in various countries and I see a lot of work ahead promoting this new music and try to be the best that I can as a leader apart from playing with Mezzoforte. We´re booking the band again for two European tours in November and also February 2003. I think we will come to Denmark also, and I´m really exited about playing with Mezzoforte and hopefully we´ll find time to record some new material soon. I have lot of ideas, but It´s important to realize what you want out of your life, music career ect…..SO MAKE THAT LIST NOW !!!  DO IT NOW !!!

What do you do in your sparetime?
I work out, go out for a run and do exercises to keep fit. I love flyfishing and try to go with some friends when I´m in Iceland, but It´s difficult here in England. I do love skiing when I get the chance. I also try to spend more time with my two daughters, but it´s sometimes hard because of tight schedules. Sometimes I cook Thai food which we all love dearly the Mezzo boys. Me, Eythor and Johann actually took two courses in Thai cooking some years ago and we had big  parties with lot´s of food, wine and beer…….Now it´s mostly food and water…..

Have you ever received lessons outside Iceland?
Yes, I went to L.A. in 1994 “The Percussion institute” PIT and studied with some really great teachers like Ralph Humphrey, Joe Porcaro, Steve Houghton, Joe Brancato and Marc Rio. I kind of went undercover, no one knew me and I didn´t mention anything about having sold millions of records and toured the world, but in the last week in reading class I dropped a drumstick on the floor. I have this deal with Vic Firth and they put my name on my sticks. A guy next to me grabbed the stick and shouted out over the class “THIS GUY HAS GOT HIS OWN STICKS!”. I think they thought I was a frod and a conman, but I really learned allot in the three months I was there. I would seriously recommend it to anyone who want´s to improve and become a better player, better reader and stuff…….not to mention that L.A. is a very cool place to spend time in + if you go there you have a good chance of surviving an earthquake like I did,. 6.6 The big one hit after two weeks in Hollywood when I was there.

What is your biggest musical experience?
They are so many………..allot of the Mezzoforte recording sessions were really adventurous in London with some of the best people over there.  Also the sessions I did on the movie Evita, where I spent two days in the studio with the guys from “Miami Sound Machine”, Madonna, Antonio Bandera’s and Alan Parker. Madonna was looking at me the whole time we played one of the songs, that was a bit strange….. What do you do when you are trying to play drums and Madonna is looking at you?? I played on 3 songs.

What about Mezzofortes future?
Two tours: First one in mid. November 2002 and another one Feb. 2003. We are talking about a new CD. I hope we can start soon. We feel that we want to play together and maybe record too, but everyone has other projects on the line which have to be taken into consideration.  But the main thing is that the magic is still there and we love playing together still.  That pretty much says it all.

One final word?

Gulli Briem Interview -

Born: Reykjavik 8. September 1962

Location: Shepherds Bush, London, been there for over three years…

Favourite dish: Pad Thai Noodles

Song that you would wish you had written: “Babylon Sisters” by Steely Dan

Favourite drummer: Steve Gadd, ladies and gentlemen. For me he pretty much represents all the good qualities as an all around musical drummer and is so much more than just that. When I´m in the studio, I think about how he would have done it. A beautiful musician with a beautiful soul. But there are so many great players all over the world.

Favourite snaredrum: I guess my most used drum is a 14″ x 6,5 DW drum, really great recording drum. Also I love my Brady 12″ x 5.5.

Vintage collection: I am not really a collector, but I really love my ’73 black Ludwig’s and my 70´s Rogers kits.

Favourite band: I´ve been listening to the French band “Air” lately, I really like them.

Currently on the CD player: I have been listening to 13 by Blur….Great !

Do you have a girlfriend or a wife? That´s tricky!

Kids: Two daughters, Anita and Katrin, my favourite women in the world.

If I gave you a large bag of money for a holiday, where would you go?I would take it to Zambia rent a cheap hut, get some people together and build a school for kids. How much did you say? If everyone in the world gave his holiday money for one year to charity we would solve allot of problems in the world and save many lives.

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