Pause & Play

Driving a Hard Bargain

Even in the serene countryside of northern Denmark, four young friends managed to discover two things: 1960s-era rock … and the Hammond organ.They combined the two to create The Blue Van. Their debut TVT album, “The Art of Rolling” (released April 5), is the most authentic garage-rock of the iTunes, get-me-my-music-now era.

“When we were growing up, we lived in a very small community and the music we were getting there was cheesy pop music and shitty music,” singer-guitarist Steffen Westmark said recently. “We had to discover other things all by ourselves. It started off with Soren (Christensen), our keyboard player, hearing a Hendrix tune somewhere and it just evolved. Then we started digging Cream and stuff like that. It got more and more serious. We kept on digging and found other groups. We really love the music scene from the ’60s. The music from then is just fantastic; that’s where our inspiration comes from.”

For “The Art of Rolling,” the four – Westmark, Christensen, bassist Allan F. Villadsen and drummer Per M. Jorgenson – had one goal in mind: keep it live. They drive home their raucous brand of white-blues so effectively, they sound as if they never left the garage. They flawlessly bounce from Kinks-like rockers like “Revelation of Love” (the first single – Hear here) to The Who-inflected “New Slough.”

In between, there is the ever-present Hammond.

“It’s such an overlooked instrument,” Westmark said. “When we started discovering acts like the Small Faces, back in ’96, we just had to get an organ. Bands are starting to use the organ more, but it’s still like a background thing. We want it to be like a substitute for a guitar. In our band, it plays an equally important role as the guitar.”

Villadsen found a cast-aside Hammond collecting dust on a farm outside their hometown of Broenderslev. Christensen quickly fell in love with the instrument, so much so, he abandoned his guitar for good.

“This poor thing was out in the barn and the lid was taken off and it was filled with chicken feathers and dirt,” Christensen said. “It was so rusty and old, but we took it home and got it fixed up and got it to work. I played the guitar before that, but as soon as we got that thing up and rolling, I started fooling around with it and I changed completely to that instead.

“People see the keyboard player as a background thing, but there’s much more to do it than that. We try to keep it as a lead instrument. I guess the whole band is four lead musicians trying to do a solo all the way through a song. It’s such a varied instrument. You can do so much with it, just like a guitar. But then again, it’s hard to carry around, so I guess it’s easier when a kid is at music school, his parents give him a guitar rather than a Hammond organ.”

For the band’s recent tours of America, last fall and this spring, they couldn’t bring the heavy instrument with them on the plane, so they did the next best thing: They bought one in America for $100 on eBay and took it with them on the road.

“Some go for $25 because they’re so freakin’ big and heavy,” Christensen said. “Nobody can store them anywhere. Nobody wants them anymore. We’re here to change that.”

Christensen’s biggest regret is that he didn’t get to watch his hero, Jimmy Smith, the undisputed king of the Hammond, in action. Smith died on Feb. 8 at age 79.

“The last time we were here last fall, he played here a couple nights in New York,” he said. “We didn’t get the chance to see him, but I thought, ‘Oh, well, I’ll get the chance the next time we’re here again.’ And now he’s dead. It’s such a shame.”

The group took its name from the blue vehicles in Denmark that transport mentally ill patients to the hospital. They hope you’ll go along for their ride, regardless of what any skeptics might say.

“Sometimes writers accuse us of just ripping things off,” Westmark said. “That disappoints us because that’s really not we’re trying to do. We’re just trying to create our own music. Of course, we listen to this old stuff, so naturally some of the music we make is going to sound maybe a little similar, but we’re not in any way trying to copy and duplicate an old song. That’s their problem. We get a lot of good response from everywhere, so a couple of stupid journalists – hey, whatever.”

THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: Westmark – “I think it was Weezer, their ‘Blue’ album, when I was about 13 or 14 years old.” Christensen – “I remember I got a Jimi Hendix CD for Christmas when I was in seventh grade.”

THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: Westmark – “B.B. King, so that’s a good place to start. He was excellent. He’s the definition of blues.” Christensen – “B.B. King. I went to it with Steffen and Allan. Because we lived in the countryside, we didn’t get to see many concerts. But B.B. King played not too far away, and we were like the only young kids in the crowd. It w as a very posh concert with a reception and wine for a more mature crowd.”

THE WORST JOB I’VE EVER HAD: Westmark – “Working at a day-care center. Everyone in the band had that job at one point when we were trying to make a breakthrough in Denmark. When you’re a musician in Denmark, you end up working at a day-care center. It’s the most popular job when you’re a musician. During the day, you hang out and play football with the kids, and at nighttime, you go out and play at venues.” Christensen – “Right when we moved to Copenhagen, we had just finished high school. You couldn’t make a name for yourself in northern Denmark because there are no venues, so we moved to Copenhagen and worked shitty day jobs. At first, we all worked at this bureau where they would call you early in the morning and say ‘Can you do this job today?’ We were hired hands. We’d do everything from cleaning a care center for old people to packing up plastic coverings on buildings. They were used to keep the rain out. They were so big and you had to use all your strength to fold them because they had to be folded in a very small box. Doing that for 10 hours a day is tough.”


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