There Are Many Sides To Vidar Busk, Blues Music Just Happens To Be One Of Them
To describe Vidar Busk as a restless soul is probably an accurate description when considering the ever shifting nature of the musical styles that make up his collection of works to date, and the various projects he finds himself involved with. From the red-hot blues of the once scarce until recent reissue of debut album ‘Stompin’ Our Feet With Joy’ with the True Believers, to loose and experimental offerings ‘Venus Texas’ and ‘Love Buzz’, not to mention the rockabilly phases of ‘Atomic Swing’ and bang up-to-date covers fest that is ‘Troublecaster’ with his Bubble of Trouble, Vidar Busk remains an artist unwilling to conform to any particular musical convention. Such a decision is not based on a two-fingered gesture to those in positions of power within the music industry or any desires held by the music press to pigeon-hole bands, but more to do with an innate need to continue the creative journey this Norwegian started at the tender age of fifteen with an audacious move to America and a collaboration with blues act Rock Bottom.
For the moment, Vidar Busk is coloured a deep shade of blue as the musical equivalent to a chameleon has recently changed his colour by reigniting a longstanding relationship with the talented outfit the True Believers. Having made a collective decision to reissue the band’s first album – the aforementioned ‘Stompin’ Our Feet With Joy’ – due to selling-out its initial pressing many moons ago, Vidar Busk & His True Believers also embarked on a reunion tour in support of this long lost and much sought after debut album.
The latest venue to experience this wild and soulful reunion of blues is Buckley’s Roots and Blues Joint in Oslo as Vidar Busk & His True Believers has just let fly with a blistering and gruelling two-hour set that saw both band and audience sync in unison for their love of this particular genre of music, as well as showing great appreciation and respect for each other. It was truly a magnificent spectacle and a gig to definitely savour.
As the hot and sticky atmosphere slowly fades, with Vidar Busk & His True Believers having since departed to the secluded backstage area before heading back out out to meet and greet the remaining numbers of their ecstatic support, Famous Last Words (FLW) exchanges words with the supremely stylish Alexander Pettersen (drums), who happens to be passing, about a scheduled interview with the band’s front figure. Within minutes FLW is ushered to the aforementioned backstage area where Vidar Busk rises from a comfy looking sofa to greet FLW with a firm handshake and a softly spoken “Hello”.
Once the interview gets underway, it’s noticeable the energy held literally moments ago on stage transfers itself to this very discussion as Vidar Busk cuts the same enthusiastic figure, which is highly commendable considering the mammoth exertions of the band’s lengthy live performance. Such professionalism has developed over time, however, with Vidar Busk starting out as a touring musician with the previously mentioned Rock Bottom, then continuing to work with a number of different acts during the ensuing years.
“I met those guys [Rock Bottom] here in Norway in 1986 when [the problems with] Chernobyl was going on,” croaks Vidar Busk on the back of the band’s two-hour performance. “Rock Bottom’s guitar player didn’t want to go through the [rest] of Europe because he thought that the whole place was radioactive! That’s the States for you, you know? FOX News!” continues Vidar roaring with laughter. “Americans are often so welcoming, with offers to come and stay whenever I am over there. So that’s exactly what I did when I was younger because I was so sick of school!”
How long did you stay in America during this time in your life?
“Almost five years,” says Vidar without any hesitation. “I was only supposed to be there for six months, just as a student, but Rock Bottom’s guitarist quit during this time, and I knew all of the songs and therefore I was at the right place at the right time. So I called up mum and dad and said that it looks like I’m going to be staying for a bit longer!”
Did you hope to stay in the USA permanently?
“For a while it was so much fun,” recalls Vidar. “It was possibly the happiest time of my life, touring around the south playing the blues. It was a really great thing to do when you are that age. However, during the summertime, it was so hot in the south of Florida and, as a result of this, we always had some gigs in Finland, Sweden and here in Oslo, and that was every summer.”
When did you actually start performing as a singer-songwriter in your own right?
“I was kind of a late bloomer when it came to singing,” smiles Vidar at the memory of this. “I was always playing blues guitar, but after doing that for a couple of decades you end up feeling like you have just hit the wall. I guess that it was because I had been doing it too much [performing] because I’d been doing it for a while. I had this band on the side where we played different songs other than rockabilly and jump blues. This band was more like a power trio, more like Nirvana actually, and we played some obscure clubs during this time.”
How old were you during this particular period in your music career?
“I was 24 or 25 years old,” recalls Vidar.
Was this power trio more like a punk band?
“Yeah, well,” he takes his time before answering with, “it was more like a psychedelic sound as we were performing at clubs where they used to have drum & bass and dance-trance [music], so there were a lot of long jams playing one chord and then suddenly we’d go into this punk thing or whatever you want to call it. After this, I did some records for Blue Mood, which is a blues record company, and then I was back to the blues again! This all happened when I was 26 or 27 years of age, and I did this for three years. Following that, I signed for Warner [Music] and they wanted me to do contemporary stuff. So I pulled out those songs and made them more easy listening.”
There’s no doubting the move to Warner Music saw Vidar Busk enter a rich creative chapter that produced the aforementioned albums ‘Atomic Swing’, ‘Venus Texas’ and ‘Love Buzz’, with two-thirds of these long players consisting of an experimental guitar approach that have more in common with indie music than anything infected by the blues or rockabilly for that matter. Such a drastic departure in sound from previous works was completely normal to the working methodology of Vidar Busk, who was more than content to adopt fresh ideas rather than ploughing the same musical fields he had done so previously.
“It’s like I have different sides of myself that want to be satisfied,” considers Vidar regarding the changes in styles of his recorded output. “I have to spend time doing different things musically in order to satisfy myself, as I am quite restless. There are some bands who’ve got their own personality and you’ve just gotta go with that without trying to change anybody. The whole ‘Venus Texas’ album was a real fun thing to do because the guys I was using are known for their funk music. So we ended up playing rave parties, and it was great fun! It was like you start to believe in the beats for a while because that was all you needed to do.”
Are you still proud of your albums ‘Venus Texas’ and ‘Love Buzz’ considering that you have returned to your blues and rockabilly roots in recent years?
“Oh yeah!” replies Vidar enthusiastically. “It’s more for soundtracks that particular music, and I really enjoyed doing that because next year I think I’m going to try and do another concept [album] in that style. The rockabilly thing you’re referring to was in relation to the album ‘Troublecaster’ [Vidar Busk & his Bubble of Trouble], which I probably did because it was in my system and it had to get out. Therefore, now that it’s out, I don’t have to do that for a long time,” he finishes jokingly.
With Vidar Busk chopping and changing his musical reference points when a creative urge demands attention, any such changes must surely ruffle a few feathers when it comes to the musical purists?
“Oh yeah, totally,” answers Vidar immediately. “It’s because people aren’t used to the blues and these guys being versatile. They’re [music press] probably the most diehard for one thing ever, you know? I’m going to walk around in suits for the rest of my life with a tie up here [demonstrates to FLW], but I’ve never been like that. Even though I enjoy the whole charade of it, as it’s fun to have a [particular] sound and 100% commitment to dress up [in one style], but there’s so much good music out there and it’s all related. It’s the same kind of notes whether minor or major or whatever, it’s just a different way of dressing up.”
Do the Norwegian music press and/or music industry prefer that you remain in one particular genre?
“Oh yes, totally,” comes the repeat reply. “Having said that, the music press in Norway love those records that I did [‘Venus Texas’ and ‘Love Buzz’] as I even got a [Norwegian] Grammy for ‘Love Buzz’, which was a cool thing because sometimes it’s good to make records for the guy who’s sitting at home in his living room trying to relax and listen to music and not just to try and do it as a PR stunt for a gig. For example, when you’re doing a rockabilly record or a blues record the expectations are high in terms of demands for gigs. Therefore, it’s nice to make a record that’s just for the listener sometimes.”
It would appear that Vidar Busk’s versatility shows no bounds as he was recently a participant on NRK’s The Hit television programme – music reality show to find talented song writers by using established artists to showcase their songs – meaning that Busk had to adapt to a variety of different and unknown songs in a short space of time. Rather than greeting such a challenge with nothing but dread, Vidar Busk completely adopted the opposite attitude by welcoming The Hit with open arms as he explains:
“That was great!” responds Vidar enthusiastically regarding his involvement with The Hit. “I loved the whole concept because it made people think about songs in terms of why we have songs and how they get made. Also, the programme demonstrated how you can present yourself in a song because songs are naked and they’re going to throw off your clothes as well, so it was very interesting. I like to be versatile, so personally it was great fun to be involved with The Hit. I think it’s one of the coolest TV programmes for a long time!”
The involvement in a TV reality show such as The Hit doesn’t come as surprise in terms of Vidar Busk’s involvement. A reason for this is due to this multi-talented artist turning his attention to the inmates of Skien prison by offering a little entertainment.
“I guess there’s a little Johnny Cash in all of us that wants to come out!” comments Vidar regarding his decision to perform to the prisoners at Skien prison. “They really liked me performing at the prison and so much so that they’ve now got three really good blues bands going and playing some of my songs! So it was great to do and a good thing for them because they’ve got all the time in the world to practice as those guys will be sitting in there for a long time as they’re mostly killers.”
Are you still performing such gigs at Skien prison or other prisons situated in Norway?
“I haven’t done it for a while, but I did a whole lot of gigs like that with prisons all over [Norway],” explains Vidar. “It has been two years since the last time that I did it. One of the last prisons I was playing at was Ila prison, which is like the Norwegian Alcatraz, and that was kind of wild!”
With the recent excursions performing at various prisons situated in Norway with the potential risk of hostilities occurring, what have been the easiest and hardest aspects of being a part of the music scene in Norway for Vidar Busk considering his longstanding involvement?
“The hardest thing is the whole business side of it regarding taxes and stuff like that,” suggests Vidar. “In the States everything is a little bit smoother, with a lot of grey zones. When I first moved back from the States, I was kind of still there [mentally], so I never paid that much attention to that side of the business, only to find one day they’re [tax inspectors] knocking at your door and declaring that you’re bankrupt! So that’s probably the hardest thing regarding the [music] business. The easiest thing is just being a player with the only thought you need to be concerned about is your next gig and therefore being in that bubble, which is a great place to be, but nobody has really made any room for it in Norway when it comes to the taxperson and stuff like that. So if you’re a carefree person like I was for a while, then they’re going to make you pay for it [laughing]!”
As the reunion tour for Vidar Busk & His True Believers continues to win over audiences old and new, not to mention the band’s ‘Stompin’ Our Feet With Joy’ receiving a fresh lease of life with a timely reissue adding to the band’s renewed success, Vidar Busk may have a challenge on his hands and one that involves a concentrated effort on His True Believers becoming a permanent fixture once more judging by the reception the band received in Oslo. Whether this chameleon of musicians will finally tie himself down to one project remains to be seen, but one thing for certain is that the name Vidar Busk will continue its rejuvenated state long into next year.
“I’m hoping to do a whole bunch of recordings next year,” comments Vidar regarding his future projects. “There is a guy writing a book about me, which should see publication a year from now, so I figured that it was a good opportunity to lay all of the cards on the table in terms of what I’m into musically. I don’t know how I’m going to do it though, probably a whole load of concepts ending up on YouTube I guess [laughing]! There’s a lot of stuff I haven’t done yet, but I can hear the songs calling my name from the cupboard!”
Having witnessed Vidar Busk & His True Believers pour their hearts and souls into the double live session in Oslo this very afternoon and evening, as well as revealing a considerable amount of humour as this artist knows when to have fun, FLW takes it upon itself to fire a parting question, which develops into one or two more, to ascertain whether there is an overall philosophy that Vidar Busk lives by when conjuring up those creative moments of music that so many residents of Norway and beyond fully appreciate?
“Yeah, it’s a Jimi Hendrix thing I guess,” he slowly considers before adding, “don’t be afraid of music, embrace it and do a thing around it. Music is a great thing, and sometimes all of those environments around it are trying to destroy it because they want to own it.”
Are you referring to the business side of the music industry here?
“Yeah, yeah that’s a way of owning it, but also all of those subcultures like rockabilly or jump or jive or blues because sometimes they can kidnap you and make you work in those closed environments that will close some doors for you. Therefore, sometimes it’s important to make yourself a free guy and say no to some things because you feel a need to move on. The fun thing with ‘Venus Texas’ is that I remember working with the DJ guys and therefore I didn’t have to say much stuff between the songs as I had many different sounds to use.”
Do you think your experience in America has influenced your decision when it comes to trying different musical styles?
“Yes, totally, as when you hang out with those New Orleans guys, you understand a whole lot more,” adds Vidar. “For example, some people think of New Orleans as a jazz town, but it has always been a pop town; they were pop back in the twenties and thirties when jazz was pop! Then jazz moved to New York and became even more sophisticated, but the pop thing has always stayed in New Orleans.”
I have to spend time doing different things musically in order to satisfy myself, as I am quite restless."
FLW - From the Tapes
Vidar Busk reminisces about the recording of his album ‘Love Buzz’, as well as the opportunity of a lifetime to meet a couple of music legends!
“In terms of my album ‘Love Buzz’, it was more about playing in grooves and stuff like that,” begins Vidar. “The drummer, who was the producer as well, bass player and technician guy ended up going to New Orleans and we recorded everything. For example, we were at some bars getting drunk and then went to [some] churches the day after and had microphones on us and recorded the whole thing! There was even a bunch of teenagers outside [one of the churches] who ended up singing on top of what we had already recorded. So it was a great trip making music like that, by using a few favourite grooves and making songs by simply hanging out. That was probably the coolest way of making a record because the whole trip made your record for you. When you come back here [Norway], of course you can relax for a couple of months, but then you start to listen to it again and it all makes sense to you. So it’s strange how it all works out.
“I remember this fan of mine in the States when I was playing there; he was going into rehab where Stevie Ray Vaughan just happened to be during this time. So they became good friends and suddenly this fan of mine calls me and asks if I want to go to Miami and hangout with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jeff Beck? Sure! So we did and that was the funniest thing in my life because it was very spontaneous and suddenly I was right there with my heroes backstage! It was great fun.”