Setting Løiten on the international stage, Løiten Twang Depot take their brand of country music to Nashville Tennessee
Currently in the midst of establishing their own take on the ‘outlaw’ country sound is Norwegian country rockers, Løiten Twang Depot. Having recently released their debut album ‘Trouble Train’, Løiten Twang Depot have set their aspirations beyond their native Norway by attempting to make a name for themselves in the U. S. or at least those states that care for country music. By attempting to achieve such a feat, Løiten Twang Depot will unwittingly introduce the letter ‘Ø’ to the international arena and therefore establish themselves as the first country band to do so if, and when, American and other international audiences are willing to take this country outfit to their hearts. Such lofty aspirations are already starting to become a reality for Løiten Twang Depot as the band decamped to Nashville, Tennessee, for a period of time to record the aforementioned ‘Trouble Train’ long player and, in the process, got to meet ‘n’ greet the local populace as well as established names in the music industry. To provide such an example of this greater vision beginning to establish itself, ‘Trouble Train’ was recorded at country legend Johnny Cash’s Cash Cabin with influential music producer Forrest Lee JR behind the helm. This meant a whole new experience for Løiten Twang Depot in terms of recording, but also a chance to begin to establish the band’s name and their collective vision for this project overseas. Firmly back on Norwegian soil, lead singer and founder of Løiten Twang Depot, Bjørn Flaaseth, was the elected candidate to speak with Famous Last Words (FLW) regarding the band’s exploits overseas which, it transpires, evolved from a chance meeting that led to the band’s debut album, ‘Trouble Train’. “I was travelling in the States going to Nashville on vacation a couple of years ago, and I came across a guitar ad for custom guitars. It turned out that the guy behind the ad was Forrest Lee, who is a producer for a lot of country music in the States. I got to know Forrest and he ended up inviting me to Nashville [again] to do a recording. So I decided to write a couple of songs and pitched them to him and he thought that they were pretty good. A couple of studio sessions were arranged and we [band] went over there and recorded ten songs. So it was all rather coincidental.” Any musical ambitions held by Bjørn Flaaseth commenced a few years back when he carried out guitar duties for an unnamed Norwegian band for three years. After coming to the realisation that “the vocals didn’t sound too good” concerning this particular outfit, Bjørn Flaaseth decided to try his hand at singing, which attracted the attention of a fellow musician who thought that Flaaseth sang pretty good Johnny Cash songs. It took one more stint of being in a band before Flaaseth finally settled with his current line up of Løiten Twang Depot which, by the way, he regards as a genuine band and not a solo project as he confirmed to FLW after questioning his overall input and influence. “It’s a proper band project, but I can understand why you might think otherwise. I am the one pulling all of the strings and doing all of the [organisational] stuff. The reason for that is because it’s easier having one guy doing it because it gets messy if a lot of guys are trying to do the same job. Also, the lyrics are pretty much my own solo thing, but that’s because I have a bigger interest in writing the words than the other guys because they don’t feel comfortable doing it. However, as far as the music’s concerned, we do stuff together; I do all of the song writing but we arrange it and put it together. We are a tight group of buddies.” With the rest of the “tight group of buddies” comprising of Daniel Gullien (lead guitar/pedal steel/vocals), Morten Wærhaug (lead guitar/vocals), Ole Martin Røsten (bass) and Jan Inge Larsen (drums), Løiten Twang Depot packed their bags – with the exception of drummer Jan Inge Larsen – for the warmer climate of Nashville to record their first full-length album. “We recorded ‘Trouble Train’ in Nashville in March – April 2014, and we were there for two weeks,” says Bjørn on the recording of the band’s debut recording. “The first studio that we went to was Freeway Sound. Unfortunately, our drummer couldn’t join us on the trip. We had [only] just found a new drummer, but he hadn’t had time to rehearse the songs and it was too fresh and because of work and family commitments he couldn’t go with us. So the producer [Forrest Lee] called up a buddy of his, Lonnie Wilson, and he’s one of the main session drummers in Nashville. So he’s been laying down the drums for every track, except the one song we had Johnny Cash’s former drummer, W. S. Holland, playing on. We were allowed to borrow the studio for free, and we went there and did all the drums and bass and laid down the basic foundations there. Then we went to Forrest’s own recording studio, Out West Studios in Waverly Tennessee, where we laid down the guitars and vocals and stuff like that. We also hired Johnny Cash’s old studio [The Cash Cabin] for one day, where I put down some vocal tracks as it’s known for having a great vocal sound. The entire song ‘Big River ‘ is played live with W. S. Holland on drums in The Cash Cabin. We also played a couple of concerts around Nashville and out in Jackson where W. S. Holland lives, as we joined him and his band for a couple of concerts.” How did that go in terms of the concerts in Jackson? “Oh, that was great!” he immediately replies and still sounding pleased at the memory of these gigs. “Back in the States they have something called Veterans of Foreign Wars Association, which is like a place in every community that takes care of old war veterans. So we had a couple of concerts in venues for those people with W.S. on drums. We also played a benefit concert for Carl Mann’s wife who was ill but has since recovered. Carl Mann is a Sun Records legend. So we played a couple of songs for the benefit concert for his wife and it had a lot of great artists due to being a big concert. Then we had our own concert in Hurricane Mills where Loretta Lynn’s place is as she has a ranch there and our producer has been working with her in studios for twenty years.” Were there any difficulties in terms of the recording process for ‘Trouble Train’? “Actually, we were surprised at how smoothly the whole recording process went,” recollects Bjørn. “A couple guys in the band have recorded a lot of music in Norway and they anticipated that we had a short amount of time to record the album and that we’d probably have to do a lot of after work. We were surprised about the professionalism over there, as we did a lot of recording in three days. That’s one of the main reasons why people should go to Nashville, it’s a world of professionalism when it comes to studios and the knowhow towards country music is enormous. So I was pretty shocked by how smooth everything went.” Do you think the whole recording process would have been different if the album had been recorded in Norway? “I think it would have been a completely different experience,” replies Bjørn. “That’s probably because we had a great producer where he kind of walked us through every little aspect where things could be a little shaky or we were insecure about what we should do, and how we should do it. The way he’s [Forrest Lee] been raised by country music artists; hanging out with George Jones, Buck Owens back when he was five years old. He knows everything there is to know about the genre. The only problem that we encountered, or put us out a little bit, was that we had to read the Nashville numbers system – the Nashville sheet music system – as they have their own system for writing down music. So we had to learn that and we were nervous about whether we had understood it right, but it turned out fine in the end.” Do you have a favourite memory from the recording sessions? “I guess for me when I put the headset on and Lonnie Wilson counted in the drums on the first song when I was just singing the lead vocal,” says Bjørn. “Lonnie’s drums were so tight that I became nervous because it was just such an enormous experience because his drumming is the most awesome stuff I’ve heard. So the entire band got put out a little bit as it [drumming] was so tight and perfect and sounded so incredibly cool and that’s something I’ll always remember. Another fond memory is when we went to the Cash Cabin and working with W. S. Holland. It was a special moment when you’re standing in Johnny Cash’s old cabin with all his personal stuff on the walls. The engineer showed us a small vault in the back of the studio where he’s got hundreds of recordings of Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Paul McCartney and a lot of other big artists that’s never been released. He was talking about maybe two hundred complete finished albums with Johnny Cash that have never seen daylight, so that’s pretty awesome!” Where did the title of the album come from and what were the ideas behind it? “That’s one of the songs on the album which is called ‘Trouble Train’,” begins Bjørn regarding the album title. “One of the guys in the band had made a bluegrass tune and he didn’t have the lyrics for it, only the melody. When we started planning the recording, we needed some songs. So I was referring to it as, ‘Ok, let’s get this trouble train rolling’ because I felt that it was going to be a pain in the a*** to put all of the songs together in the short time that we had. So, one of the guys in the band came up with the idea of calling the song ‘Trouble Train’ and I came up with the lyrics to fit the title, and it ended up a pretty cool song.”
The association between Norwegians and country music is currently in a healthy state. Reasons for this love affair with country music and sections of the Norwegian population has yet to reveal any concrete answers, but more times than not seems to come back to a 60s – 70s period when the likes of Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash greatly appealed to large sectors of the population.
“Our inspiration has been the late sixties and early seventies Waylon Jennings’ outlaw style of sound,” says Bjørn in relation to Norwegians and their love for country music. “We don’t want to be too retro or vintage like back in the 50s. It’s kind of our own outlaw style because the drummer is a former blues and rock ‘n’ roll drummer and he gives it a bit more drive if you know what I mean? As I said, we really like the Waylon [Jennings] stuff that came out in the early seventies, and that’s kind of where we want to be, but it depends on the songs as the album that we have released now, that’s what we were shooting for, but it’s not where we ended up.” Is that why Norwegian country artists seem to have a knack of creating an authentic sound due to this close association with American country music? “I think what I ‘m trying to do is to sing as authentically as possible because if you’re going to write lyrics in English, then you have to be able to do it so that it sounds like you’re from Texas or Tennessee otherwise it’s best to do it in your native language,” considers Bjørn. “That was one of the first things that I asked the producer in terms of what he thought of my pronunciation in English, and he thought that it was pretty good and that I didn’t have to work especially hard on anything. So that’s why I decided to write the songs in English because I think country music sounds better with English lyrics. Also, I really like the history behind Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings and the way that country music evolved in the 60s and 70s, so I’m trying to carry that on without trying to replicate what they did as far as the sound goes. I think a lot of musicians today try and do it authentically just because that’s what’s kind of modern you know? It’s not necessarily what they have in their hearts. Therefore, I’m trying to do my own thing, but in the style of country music as good as possible.” Conveying heartfelt sentiments in terms of the lyrics when it comes to the songs of Løiten Twang Depot is another aspect of the band that comes across to the listener, especially with the intriguingly named first single, ‘Devil’s Touch’, lifted from the band’s debut album and its close affiliation to Bjørn Flaaseth’s personal life. “‘Devil’s Touch’ is probably my favourite as it was the first song that I ever wrote and completed on my own. So it has special meaning to me, and probably why I like that one. In terms of its meaning, it’s pretty much about having control of your life and watching out for making the mistakes that you can’t go back on. When I was younger, I started to hang out with some people who weren’t good [for me] and I was on the edge of following the same route. So the message is to watch out in terms of where you’re going in life.” Did you have someone to pull you away from the troubles that you were in danger of becoming involved with? “When I met my girlfriend, she pulled me out of it,” continues Bjørn. “I had become a dad nine years ago and that helped pull me away from things that I obviously had an interest for back then. Without that happening, I don’t know where I would have been now.” It sounds quite serious. Can you provide more details of what you were going through at this time in your life? “Well, it was more to do with the network that I had around me,” he answers cagily. “It was people telling lies and being dishonest. My personality was turning into the same. So, I didn’t care if I didn’t honour my agreements with people. So yeah, partying and doing things that removed focus from the daily important stuff, which everybody kind of needs to focus on. So just hanging around with a crowd of people who were no good, and I started to become one of them myself.” It’s this storytelling aspect of country music, often based on vast experience, that is often the most interesting feature of country music, something of which Bjørn Flaaseth wholeheartedly agrees with before bidding farewell to FLW due to impending promotional duties regarding Løiten Twang Depot’s new album. “That’s also one of the reasons why I decided to write the lyrics in English because I think the stories are the most important in terms of country music. If you can’t connect with the audience in as far as telling a story is concerned, and if you don’t feel comfortable with telling a story and relating to it, then you will be missing something. So I couldn’t agree with you more.” (Photography courtesy of Roger Johansen)
I think a lot of musicians today try and do it authentically just because that's what's kind of modern you know? It's not necessarily what they have in their hearts. Therefore, I'm trying to do my own thing, but in the style of country music as good as possible."
Bjørn Flaaseth, Løiten Twang Depot
FLW - From the Tapes
Not everyone gets it right. Bjørn Flaaseth explains a bizarre incident that saw Løiten Twang Depot performing to a whole new audience that was a touch on the elderly side! “The strangest [experience] is the easiest to explain. We got booked for a local gig that was a community house and it was supposed to be open to everyone in the locality. The first guest that arrived when we were sound checking was this elderly lady. She stood in front of the stage and put her fingers in her ears and told us to turn down the volume or otherwise she wasn’t going to move and would remain standing there, fingers in ears, throughout the entire concert. So the entire concert that night became a bizarre experience as it turned out that somebody had misunderstood the band due to thinking that we were an accordion group! So a lot of elderly people ended up coming to the gig and they were pretty mad because they didn’t want to hear rockin’ country music. So that’s been the strangest experience that’s happened to the band to date.”