Guitarist of the Month: Joakim Vikanes

“I want to introduce to you Joakim – with whom we graduated with Bachelor degrees in contemporary music from ICMP. He’s a very friendly player whose smooth sound never failed to please my ears. Including at his final exam for his Jazz Masters Degree which I was lucky to attend at Guildhall School of Music and Drama. I was very happy to hear his own arrangements there and (if I’m not mistaken) some of his originals!

Similar to me – after working and studying in London as a musician he also returned to his home country. So nowadays you can see him working as a guitarist participating in various projects as well as teaching guitar in Norway.” – Neli

How did you get into guitar? 

I grew up in a very musical environment. My mum plays the piano and you could always find several instruments lying around the house. We listened to everything from jazz to Disney music on a daily basis and I was therefore exposed to a lot of music from a very young age. Growing up I sang in the local children’s choir (for a short amount of time), played in a brass band for 5 years as well as started my own punk band at the age of 12 with my best mates from school. I am not a 100% sure why I picked up the guitar, but through family and friends I met several people who could play and I also thought it looked super cool. I picked up a small nylon string guitar lying around the house and my mum taught me 3 chords; E minor, A7 and D major. And that’s how it all started.

Since you have a Master’s degree in jazz music, you are the perfect person to ask – how would you describe jazz music to an aspiring musician experiencing it for the first time?  

This is the biggest cliché around, but Jazz is a language. It is both complex and simple. You can listen to jazz for fun, or you can be the type who analyses the music in the most detailed way. And nothing is wrong with either. I absolutely love some of the easy-listening stuff, as well as the more advanced jazz material I tend to listen to from time to time. When it comes to playing it, jazz is all about improvising, and it is important to realise that jazz improvisation should be fun – not scary. However, in order to improvise you need a few tools up your sleeve, like a good ear or knowing a few scales and how they work over certain chords. This can all be very difficult at the start – at least I thought so when trying to play over jazz standards with my teacher at the age of 14. So my best advice is to be patient, and focus on playing stuff that you really enjoy.

What equipment do you use that has been crucial to your becoming a successful musician?

I have spent countless hours on Youtube and various forums looking for the perfect overdrive pedal, guitar or amplifier. And although I really enjoy gear shopping, I try to spend more time actually playing guitar. I always end up with my trusty Telecaster on most gigs and I can get by with a few of my favourite pedals and a decent valve amp. It is all about making your own gear sounding good. However, like most other musicians I try to stay updated on what is going when it comes to new gear popping up. Find yourself an instrument that you really like playing and you should be good to go. You can always use practice tools like YouTube, Logic, a loop pedal and so on, but this should always be regarded as tools, not a necessity for you in order to have a good practice session or to produce your sound.

Working on the musical “Kristina Från Duvemåla” with Bømlo Theatre, August 2021

In your career, you have been part of several functions and originals bands and also have performed as a session musician, and at musicals. How do you combine all these roles?

I try to be a musical chameleon. I just really enjoy different types of music, and therefore I have chosen not to properly specialise in just one particular style or genre. Some might say that sounds like a limitation, but the more styles and genres I delve into the more I realise how much they have in common. As a result, I am always keen on learning new things, and it keeps me interested at all times. Many of the qualities I have focused on developing over the last few years have also worked as door openers for new projects. I released a songbook about two years ago, which really made me improve my reading skills as well as chart writing. 

How does a performance for a musical come together?

Hard work and lots of it. If it is a big production it will require you to be patient as things don’t always go as planned. There are usually loads of people involved and although people come from different backgrounds and art fields we are all aiming for the best result possible. If everyone is up for going a little bit out of their comfort zone things normally end up really well. 

In 2016 you released the EP of original instrumentals “Spring”. How did it come together?

This was my final project at ICMP. I gathered some of my favourite musicians and we went to a great studio in Dalston called the Blue Studios and recorded 5 songs. A good friend of mine and sound engineer, Nathan Smardina, produced the EP. It was basically a two-day session and I didn’t have a lot of studio experience at the time. I remember learning a lot about session work through this project. Considering how little time you have in studio it is really important to be able to make quick decisions and actually have the skill to play what is required at that particular time. I always think of studio work as a result of that exact moment. Listening back to this EP I am sure there are plenty of things I could, or should, change – but it is what it is; an exact excerpt of those two days in the studio.  

Which qualities do you think make a great musician? 

Personally, I really value two things: Be able to listen and be a nice person. First and foremost I want to work with people who are nice to hang around with. After that they need to be able to play in time, and make their instrument sound good. If a musician ticks all these boxes I’m sure they will have good chances of making a career in the music industry.

What is a thing you’d like to experiment with in music? 

It really interests me how people get emotionally involved in music, either as a listener or performer. Perhaps it’s a melody that you really like, or a groove that gets you going. People find it hard to describe these emotions, and perhaps it would be interesting to study this more in the future. 

Currently Joakim is working on a new album with his solo project – a quartet with him on vocals as well as guitar, and hopefully there will be a single released later this year. Keep an eye out on his Instagram profile @joakimvikanes for more info.

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