A New Lease Of Life

Formerly a duo and now a trio, Hot Rod Double provide their own interpretation of rockabilly music via their eponymously titled debut album.

The transition from bluegrass and country music was a relatively easy process for highly regarded and hugely talented musician, Terje Kinn. After a longstanding association with said genres, and wheeling out the banjo for the majority of his years to date, it was time for a change.

By crossing the (southern) border to the genre of rockabilly with its links to country music (to name one influence), setting up a whole new project under this hot rockin’ category was therefore straightforward for Terje Kinn, considering the wealth of experience garnered over the years recording and performing live.

The necessity for change from country to rockabilly also stemmed from a desire to finally unpack the Gretsch guitars and plug in and crank up the volume to max à la Marty McFly (Back to the Future) and let the neighbours know that there’s still life in this experienced soul. Not to suggest that there is a hint of a midlife crisis afoot here, far from it, but more to do with a restlessness that had started to creep in through the backdoor as far as the creativity went, and hence this newly found vision to help combat any disquiet felt by trading the banjo for one of the major tools of rock ‘n’ roll with the guitar.

“This is the thing I like the most these days,” begins Terje Kinn to Famous Last Words (FLW) of his rekindled affection for playing rockabilly and rock and roll music. “I have been playing banjo my whole life, and there’s nothing exciting about playing the banjo any more [laughs]. But plugging in, and playing loud is a lot of fun! Also, people are dancing and singing and shouting and throwing beers when we’re playing live and, you know, it’s great fun. The good thing about this type of music is that we can play all sorts of places; we can play rock and roll clubs, country clubs and blues clubs for example.”

Hot Rod Double

In order to really set this new project ablaze, however, the skills of Aleksander Haugland Ormvold on upright bass and Bjørn Haglund on drums were brought into the fold, with a chance meeting and then friendship being struck with the former musician much earlier when assembling Hot Rod Double as Terje Kinn continued to explain from his home in Moss, Norway.

“I guess it all happened three years ago. The bass player [Aleksander Haugland Ormvold] and I met at a local music store in Moss, which is where he works. He has this nice Elvis [style] microphone – the old fashioned microphone. I went to the music shop one day and said that I’ve just gotta have one of those microphones! So we stood there looking at the microphones and he said that he might have another two. So we ended up with one mic each, and then decided to start a band. So that’s how it all started.”

So Hot Rod Double actually started out as a duo?

“We were just playing around here,” answers Terje and then going on to add. “We didn’t do any major jobs, but we played a couple of clubs and some outdoor gigs. People also called us and asked if we could open up some conventions and stuff like that. Lots of weird, weird situations,” he finishes laughing.

Was it from this partnership with Aleksander Haugland Ormvold that you developed a shared desire to perform rockabilly music?

“I have been playing bluegrass all my life,” replies Terje. “I’ve been playing banjo and all sorts of instruments, and it’s a short way from bluegrass to rockabilly or country music. So I’ve always played some sort of rockabilly stuff and things like that. So when we got together, we decided to play some of the old Elvis and Eddie Cochran songs and have some fun with that. After that, we started writing some songs and we worked as a duo for almost a year.”

Did it suddenly dawn on you after a year that you could transform the duo into a trio?

“The thing is, it was a lot of fun being just the two of us,” says Terje. “Aleksander plays the old-fashioned upright slap bass and he’s very rhythmical. So we had a very old-fashioned thing going on with just the guitar and upright bass, and that was a lot of fun. But the moment you have a drummer in there, then everything is a lot easier! So we got in contact with this guy, Bjørn Haglund, who I knew from before due to playing in a band with him earlier. So we called him and said that we were going to do this gig in Oslo and asked if he could join us on drums, which he agreed to do. So we didn’t have a plan to start a band, but when Bjørn got involved, then it just happened, and we had a band.”

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Considering your lengthy CV having been a part of the music scene in Norway for some time, is this the first ever rockabilly record that you have made in terms of ‘Hot Rod Double’?

“Yes. I’ve always listened to rockabilly music, and I’ve always listened to all sorts of country guitar players as I really love the way that they play. I also love the old-fashioned rock and roll guitar playing. At some point, however, I ended up playing the banjo and I got stuck with that instrument [laughing], but that’s nice too!”

When you were writing the songs for your debut album with Hot Rod Double, there must have been a lot of musical sources to choose from considering your background in terms of bluegrass and country music?

“First of all, Bill Monroe is like my main man,” Terje explains regarding the artists who have inspired his song writing.  “When I wrote the songs for the album, I was listening to a lot of Elvis Presley and a lot of Eddie Cochran. In addition, there was a lot of country music listened to as well because I’m not a rockabilly guy [in the strictest sense], but I’m more like a country guitar player who likes to play a little more rock ‘n’ roll I guess.”

In terms of Hot Rod Double how would you describe your sound?

“We call the band a rockabilly band, and live we play a bunch of old rockabilly tunes that people know. But I guess that we’re more of a country-rock band than [rockabilly], but we’re a trio and we put some steel guitar on it because we love the sound of steel guitar. We try to play the songs the way we play them live, and that’s the way we sound, which is kind of old-fashioned I think. When we’re playing I use my Gretsch guitar and Fender amp and we have a standing drummer who’s playing the cocktail drum as it’s not like a full drum set. So it’s a proper rockabilly set up, and like Stray Cats for example.”

It is certainly true the manner in which Terje Kinn describes Hot Rod Double’s set up and sound because visually they fit the mould of a typical rockabilly line-up, but musically the band’s debut album allows for a few other reference points from country to sixties-sounding instrumentals, such as the jaw-droppingly good ‘A Minor Breakdown In E Minor’ that earmarks their sound as one willing to adopt broader influences, but one that is not strictly rockabilly in the traditionalist sense.

“That one happened a couple of years ago,” Terje picks up on FLWs’ point regarding the instrumental track ‘A Minor Breakdown In E Minor’ as he is particularly enamoured with it as well.  I wrote it for another band [Killerbees] that I used to play in that was more like a straightforward rock and roll band and we ended up playing it a couple of times. However, when we started Hot Rod Double, the song fitted like a glove [laughs]! I don’t know, it just happened and it got stuck there. I didn’t even work on it as it just came out like that. I was just sitting here, and I didn’t even have my guitar plugged in. It’s almost a straight rock ‘n’ roll riff as it’s just in minor.”

Can you provide some background details regarding the making of your debut album ‘Hot Rod Double’?

“We recorded in April 2015,” begins Terje regarding the band’s recording of their very first album. “The guy who owns the record company has a studio in his house, so he recorded it. His name is Tore Blestrud, and he’s the guest musician who plays the steel guitar and lap steel on the record as well. So we went to his place and played all the songs the first day, with the intention of recording everything that same day. Everything was played live. We just plugged in and played and recorded everything.

“I went in the day after and did some singing and a couple of guitar solos, and then the two other guys [Ormvold and Haglund] did some harmony vocals, and that was it. So Tore and I met after a while and we mixed the album, and then I took it to be mastered. It was a pretty quick process that happened in three or four days, but we spent three or four days mixing though. The mixing took a while because we had to work a little bit on things such as the drum sounds and stuff like that. It’s hard to get everything the way you want it the first time, but everything was recorded in one take.”

What pleased you regarding the recording of these songs for the album?

“I was very pleased with the guitar sound on a couple of the songs, and that was due to a Fender Princeton amp, which is pretty small but is a fantastic amp and sounds very good, especially when we played in his [Tore Blestrud’s] bathroom [laughing]! I put the amp in the bathroom and we had a mic right in front of the amp, and we had another mic a couple of metres away because the bathroom had no tiles and therefore it created a very hard and nice reflective sound. I was just cranking up the amp and using no pedals. The only thing I used was a little slapback echo and some tremolo and that was it. Any distortion was just the amp playing too loud [laughs]! So we had a lot of fun with that, where we recorded everything from the bathroom.”

Hot Rod Double

It sounds like the whole recording experience for your debut album went rather well. However, apart from the aforementioned problems in the guitar department to begin with, did you experience any other problems whilst recording ‘Hot Rod Double’?

“Oh yeah! All of the time,” Terje replies without any hesitation. “Let me put it this way, we recorded all of the songs and we tried to make them sound the best way that we could that particular day.  When we started mixing the album, I remember saying that I could’ve sung that better or played differently there. However, if I had started doing all sorts of repairs, we wouldn’t have finished the album. The thing for us was to recognise the ‘happenings’ during the recording. What I mean here is that there was a ‘happening’ on every song, in the sense that we recognised this is the way a song came out, and therefore to leave it that way and put it out there.”

Is that one of the difficulties when recording that you don’t overdo it by trying to rework every single song?

“Yeah because if you start fixing things [too often] it loses the spontaneity of the actual recording,” explains Terje. “I think that I could have done everything differently, but there is no point in doing that. For example, we play the songs when we’re out gigging, and they sound different now.”

Is that because you’re improvising a bit when you’re playing live?

“Yeah, sure, and when you’re playing live, songs are often longer with a couple more solos because it’s fun to do or maybe you forgot a verse or sing a different verse. You know, things happen!” he adds laughing. “For example, in relation to recording the album, there were some songs the guys hadn’t even heard as they were completely new. I wrote one of the songs the day before we went in the studio, and also another song that just happened.”

Out of interest, which songs are you referring to here?

“The last song on the album, ‘Cruisin Down The Highway’, they hadn’t heard that before we recorded it, and therefore we didn’t rehearse that at all. I remember saying that this is the way it goes, and they just played it. They’re fantastic musicians! I think we played it a couple of times [during first day of album recording] and then we recorded it. Also, ‘Pay The Price’ and ‘Carrie Ann’, we hadn’t played those songs before we went in the studio. So we just played them through a couple of times, and then we recorded. A lot of musicians have said that when they have written songs, and then go in the studio, that the band shouldn’t rehearse too much as they should be on their toes. We rehearsed a lot after we made the record [laughs], and we’ve been playing the songs a couple of times and they sound pretty good!”

With the song writing resting solely at the feet of Terje Kinn when it comes to Hot Rod Double, the topics covered in terms of the lyrics are not the archetypal rockabilly themes of driving fast cars, partying hard and chasing the female species. Hot Rod Double certainly like to examine issues a little deeper with one song, ‘Looking The Other Way’, being a rather sensitive and darker tale that Terje Kinn remains somewhat guarded when quizzed about.

“Oh, umm, it’s around…[pauses],” Terje begins hesitantly and somewhat awkwardly before changing track slightly that leaves FLW wondering what’s coming next. “I used to work with people who’ve had a hard time. I’ve seen people who don’t care; most people don’t care at all, and most of the time I don’t care either, you know [it’s that action] where you turn around and look the other way. It doesn’t have much more of deeper meaning than that. I just try and sing about the things that we see and we react to, but we don’t do anything about it. I also have a lot of friends who turned out to be alcoholics and I never reacted to their problems. I never said, ‘Hey, let me help you out of this’ or try to figure something out. So it’s about that really.”

Do you enjoy the responsibility of being the chief songwriter?

“First of all, I’m not much of a poet, but I’m a musician and I like playing guitar and then I have to sing!” he says with some surprise. “So I do some of that, and somebody has to write the songs, so I guess I’ll do that too! But I like writing songs and playing songs. I like it when the songs work. For example, when you play other people’s songs and people know the songs from before, it’s like people can relate to the songs. But when that happens with your own songs, I think it’s a fine thing. When I play my own songs and it feels good to play them, then it’s just a lot more fun to play your own stuff.”

The song ‘I’m So In Love Without You’ is one particular track that definitely works on various levels.

“There is a woman I know, and her name is Kari Holmsen. We played a concert one day, and she was in the audience. Anyway, she came up to me and said, ‘Why don’t you just write a song called I’m So In Love Without You?’, and that sort of got stuck in the end. I thought that it was a nice title for a song, and I had the opening line, ‘I’m so in love without you, so go ahead and get married without me’ (And this maestro doesn’t consider himself much of a wordsmith! FLW). So it’s just a song about broken hearts and love going bad I guess, nothing important as it happens every day [laughs]!”

Hot Rod Double

So the song isn’t specifically referring to your own existence?

“Nah, more of a loose interpretation,” replies Terje. “When I had that nice punchline, I had to write something around that. I also love the way Tore Blestrud plays lap steel on that song. It ended up like a swing song, and it could be something like Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.”

The Hot Rod Double album is not all about the song writing of Terje Kinn though, as there are a few covers that makes for a fine combination considering the musical background of this rockin’ trio’s frontman; hence the choice of covers ranging from Ricky Van Shelton (‘Love Is Burnin’) and Merle Travis (‘Cannonball Rag’) for example.

“It’s because I’ve always liked the song,” comments Terje on why Hot Rod Double decided to record the Ricky Van Shelton song. “It was the first song that Aleksander and I rehearsed together. The song has remained with us, and I’ve known the song since the first time I heard it in the 80s, and that was a long time ago. I have played it before with other people, but I’ve never recorded it. So we thought that we sounded good on the song, and I thought that  I could play some decent guitar on it, so we ended up recording it.”

With Hot Rod Double relishing the prospect of entering the recording studio once more after a positive reaction to their debut album by the general public in Norway, Terje Kinn informs FLW of the philosophy that this rockin’ trio lives by in order to produce the music that they want to make.

“We try to be honest in our music,” begins Terje. “I don’t know if that’s the right way to say it, but we like real music if you know what I mean? We like real music, and music that lives. I hate to listen to the radio where you don’t hear a drummer and you just hear machines all of the time. I don’t like that. I like real music. I like the happening thing around music. I think that the band has, as we say in Norway, ‘A loose jacket’ where everything is allowed. If you want to go to the left in the middle of your song, then you go to the left. What I mean here is that things can happen, and it’s not so orchestrated. Our music has a lot of improvisation to it, and we’re allowed to improvise, and this is what I mean by the term ‘loose jacket’ as nothing is too important. The important thing is music that is real to us, and we like that, and that is our philosophy.”

(Photography courtesy of Julie Haugland Ormvold)

FLW - From the Tapes

Lead vocalist and guitarist, Terje Kinn, of Hot Rod Double talks about hometown gigs, Gretsch guitars and reveals the location of the band’s album cover.

“We had a gig in Moss in August [2015] right before the record came out. We thought that this is going to be fun with a whole bunch of people showing up and everybody wanting to hear the new record. Unfortunately, there were only three people there! It was terrible to begin with, but we played through it. Then, after a while, more people showed up during the second set. It was very strange, and you don’t feel very popular. You don’t feel like saying, ‘Ok, we’re breaking here guys!’ [laughing]”

“The photograph used for the album cover was taken at a café that I own, which also has a studio and rehearsal room for musicians. So it’s a little place that I have. The orange sofa [refers to the couch in the photo] is part of the furniture, and the picture on the back is the bass player’s [Aleksander Haugland Ormvold] kid.”

There’s a very nice Gretsch guitar sitting there as well!

(Photography courtesy of Julie Haugland Ormvold)

“Ooh, I love that guitar!” Terje purrs in reply to the image of the guitar used. “It’s a fantastic guitar. I have a couple of Gretsch guitars and that one – the white Falcon – is just amazing! It also has binding on the side and it’s in gold, so when you stand on stage and you have a couple of thousand watts of light and the light hits the gold, you can’t see a thing! So when you buy those guitars you have to buy some sunglasses [laughs]! It’s terrible because when you’re standing on stage with the spotlight on and with that guitar, you need those sunglasses on!”

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