Interview Of The Week : Pontus Gunve



Back in 2008, I was going through some tough times. I put together a very long rant about pizza and coffee, probably to distract myself from what was going on but also because I felt, and still feel, strongly about those two things. I had asked a commercial producer if he knew anyone who can help me put my rant on a website. But I had certain requirements. I needed the site to look a certain way (minimalist) and I needed the person who was to do it to be very attentive to my many particular ideas. He immediately told me to contact Pontus Gunve.

I’ll cut to the chase: Pontus is Swedish and he is a Water Sign; you cannot get more naturally laid back and pleasant than that ! From the second I met Pontus Gunve, I felt at ease. He is the exact opposite of me; he’s steady, speaks cautiously, and is mild mannered. He helped me put together and (a blog I use to rant about everything). He does great work for bigger website projects, but his main love is music.

His nature comes through in his music and the sounds seep into you and tranquilize you. The first time I played his music, I caught myself zoning out, forgetting to listen to the music, but instead was letting it take me somewhere. I don’t know where that “somewhere” was/is but it felt good! His music reminds me of the experience you get when going through “Machine Gun” from Jimi Hendrix’s “Band of Gypsies” or Metallica’s “And Justice For All”. Pontus’ music is a journey. They’re not really “songs”.

His own website does a MUCH better job than I could ever do of quoting people describing his music which “embraces the theory that music is a multi-dimensional experience and an adventure in wordless storytelling that fully absorbs the audience’s mind, body and spirit. Flowing through time and space, the lush sonic textures he creates evoke the ethereal landscapes of other-worldly multi-media artists such as Jean Michel Jarre and Boards of Canada while still clearly inspired by the thick, dark compositional textures of legendary heavy metal bands like Megadeth. And his energy as a guitarist celebrates numerous influences, from the technical proficiency of Steve Vai and the raw, exotic approach of Marty Friedman, to the minimalistic moments created by legendary blues performers. Gunve’s finely-tuned skills in the studio as both a producer and engineer allow him to seamlessly unify many different musical styles and a wide range of instruments into intricately-crafted, mesmerizing recordings resonating with unexpected surprises. ”

Pontus had been a sound designer for a wide range of independent films and Web projects, as well as for various large-scale art projects in Sweden, his native country. In 2007, he founded PHWG instrumental project. It is a group that combines video, electronic instruments, cello, violin, drums and tabla/darbuka. With that group, he has released three full albums, Great Wall of Sound (2006), Movements(2008) and The Observer (2013) and an EP Live in New York (2013).

While Music is his main love, Pontus has clearly achieved Pavarotti-like brilliance in his personal life, becoming a husband and a father to a super cute boy.

Piazza Life was very thankful to catch up with Pontus, who helped put together the blog, since I can barely turn on my own computer.

1) How old were you when you came here from Sweden? Were you excited to embrace your new country? What do you miss of Sweden?

I came to the US when I was 21 . I was really excited to come to NY in the beginning – I came form a very small town so was never used to a metropolitan area. There was just something so intriguing about a big city – and New York really lived up to all that. Coming from Sweden I actually thought New Yorkers were very friendly (unlike most popular belief) – people were very upfront.
I think I miss the open nature the most from Sweden. Sweden has a lot of sparsly populated areas – and lots of wild grown forest that has been untouched – and large portions of this land is open for everyone to use. I never think I could live in the woods (Feel more like a city person now) – but being able to enjoy it is amazing

2) Do you view yourself as American or still Swedish?

Tricky question – I’m sort of caught in limbo. In a few years I will have lived exactly half my life here in the states – and my entire adult life was spent here in New York … Sometimes when I go back to Sweden I notice how I’ve changed in a way. I will always be Swedish in someway – but spending your whole adult life in a place its hard not to become part of that. Also – My son is born here and that ties me in even further with New York.

3) You were deeply moved by Jean Michel Jarre’s Rendevous Houston. It is what threw you into the world of music. Describe that time and feeling and do you still get those vibes when you listen to music nowadays?

I mostly recall the grand scale of what was shown on the TV. Musically he always take you on a journey – and that is what really blew my mind at that time (and still does). My goal for the music I make is to try to take the listener somewhere – go on a journey or a trip somewhere. World music really happened a bit later – I’ve been to India 5 times and always try to go to an Indian Classical music event when I do. So about 9 years ago I took Sitar lessons while in India – that really helped me understand Indian Classic music and helped me incorporate this into my guitar playing and music making in general.

4) You are a very talented musician. What do you pick up on first when you hear a song? Do you search a part out or something in particular sticks out?

I hear melody and harmony the most – I was always so attuned to melody that I never really listened to lyrical content. When someone said – this tune is about this and that – I always say – ah – never heard that , just the flow of the notes . I also always try to listen to honesty in music. Music is an expression – a form of communication – non verbal – or verbal – so as long as the music has honesty or a purpose – it will draw me in.

5) What approach do you take when creating a song? Layout the process.

Writing comes from all directions and at all times. My approach has always been to be a keen observer – you never know when something comes out – so document everything. It’s so easy now – technology is all around you – so when lighting strikes – record that – use you iphone / laptop etc. Or heck – use the old napkin, or the back of your dinner bill. I think the process of getting used to documenting your ideas – and sort of getting that out of your system is a process on its own . But that is just the start – once its out there its sort of in the aether. I use my computer and record anything that comes to me – and that is a process. So for each composition I have – there are possibly 10 – 20 versions of that / mangled / processed and rewritten into what is finally a completed piece.

6) Would you rather sleep only 2 hours a night or drink a liter of vinegar for breakfast every day for the rest of your life. You have to choose.

ooohhh – hard one – feel like the two go hand in hand – if I was only allowed to sleep 2 hours a night – I would need a liter of vinegar to wake my ass up 🙂 but probably go with the vinegar – lack of sleep will most likely make me a complete mental case – and most likely super irritable. Maybe a liter of vinegar is good for you – who knows.

7) You have two music schools. Tell us about how they got started, where they are now, and where you plan to take them in the future.

I helped start a school out in New Jersey roughly 10 years ago. The focus at that time was putting together bands with younger kids and teens. Mostly what we did was put on live performances and record the bands in the studio. Now the school has grown to more of a traditional music school – where at first we taught Guitar, Drums, Bass, some keyboard – now every instrument is taught at that location. I am not as involved in this school anymore – but I still teach there once a week. I have my own school and private music teaching thing going currently. About 8 months ago I started another school closer to home – a music school in Williamsburg. I also run guitar lessons and groups classes in Greenpoint, Williamsburg, and Park Slope Library branches. Hopefully this will expand in the fall. I’m also starting online guitar lessons in the fall – which makes me less bound to a specific location – and allows anyone in the world really – to take a lesson.

8) Pet Peeves?

hmmm. I have one for traffic – and one for music .
I do a lot of driving in New York – going to Jersey once or twice a week and driving to rehearsals etc for years now. The thing I don’t get are reckless drivers that speed like madmen – tailgate me etc – but that have a bumper bully protector for their car … So you are willing to kill your self on the road (and possibly others) but god forbid you get a little scratch on your bumper while parked. Also – pedestrians and phones …Man if there are reckless drivers – there are too many reckless pedestrians – I see people crossing a busy (with both pedestrians and traffic) road – walking against a red – and the person is looking at the phone the whole time – not even looking up once (mind you the cars coming at you have a green – you might wanna look up when you jaywalk) . ahhh – you are putting a whole lot of trust in someone else in a car (your life mainly) – hopefully you won’t encounter a bumper bully speedster!!!

The other is people or media always looking to kill off musical genres in the statement rock is dead. I don’t think that is really how it works – had that been the case – no one would still be playing jazz, mozart concertos, Opera – or other musical genres for that matter. Rock, as a genre specifically, has five albums selling over 40 million copies (I’m counting Thriller here are well) – and an outrageous amount of other albums in the 30 / 20 / million range .
1.) Michael Jackson – Thriller – Claimed sales 51-65 Million
2.) Pink Floyd – Dark side of the Moon – 45 Million
4.) Meatloaf – Bat out of hell – 43 Million
5.) Eagles – Greatest hits – 42 million
6.) AC/DC – Back in Black – 42 million
8.) Fleetwood Mac (counted as soft rock) – Rumours – 40 millions
Albums selling in the 30 million
Led Zeppelin IV
Jagged Little Pill
Sgt Peppers Heart Club Band
Hotel California
1 – Beatles
Born in the USA
Brothers in Arms
……and the list goes on…

SO whats my point – well its sort of like literature or artists or composers – just because they die – doesn’t mean their work dies with them. It lives on – once out there – its part of a collected human experience. So to simply brush of a musical genre as DEAD – because you want to push your style of music – or because Music journalist want to be on the edge is just plain DUMB.

9)Top 5 favorite musicians.

In no specific order

Steve Vai – Because he is a guitar virtuoso and a visionary on the instrument. He is know of the opposite of my other inspirational guitarist (Angus Young) – but that is what makes them both great at their own craft. Out of all the shredder dudes out there – he’s the most creative one and has so much more to offer. He always seek out exceptional tone, musicianship, and stage theatrics – and he seems to be one hell of a humble person. Lots of these other shredders can sometimes be so full of themselves that you lose interest.

Frank Zappa – Another creative and musical visionary – he sort of saw the larger picture in his creative work and always pushed his creative boundaries .

Jean Michel Jarre – He made me think about a music – and he is how I got started / and interested in writing music. My first instrument was a little dinky Casio synthesizer (think it was an pt-82). That didn’t really matter – to be able to write music and make sound on this thing had me going for a year – basically spent Christmas to New Years every day trying to figure out how to make music on this thing.

Angus Young – AC/DC and this SG playing guitar lunatic made me pick up the guitar … There is something upfront about his style – something simple and unapologetic . His sound is so striped down – A Gibson SG plugged into a Marshall JTM45 – no real need for any pedal or extra stuff. Just that raw connection of fingers to metal strings – resonating on wood, all those vibrations gathered into a solid set of pickups – sent out the guitar – then pre-amplified through tubes – the finally bumped up and amplified further and sent to the speaker (a 4×12 Marshall cabinet preferably).

Opeth – Mikael Åkerfeldt – I’ve been really into this band for the last 3 years or so … Its not everyones cup of tea perhaps – but these guys brings it musically every time . I really like the way Mikael writes and thinks about his music and also they are not afraid to move in different directions . Some artist just recycle their one hit wonder until the end of time (or their musical career perhaps).

10) About 10 years ago, you founded PHWG. What is it and who else is involved?

PHWG – really started for me as a way to put a name to my music as I wrote things for short films, media, web short etc. It was just me at that time. I’ve played in bands etc before – but had just gotten out of a band that I felt was not good for my creativity. So I decided to step away from music – Which I did for about a year. In the meantime I kept writing all these pieces of music – that was just music that I thought was an exploration for me melodically. I never thought of it as a band or anything. In the beginning when I played out live – it was just me and my loops / and video projections etc. The first time I put a band together was 5 years ago – at an art opening in Jersey City – It was great . And it has grown since – both musically and creatively. Right now I’ve sort of scrapped the PHWG band name idea – and just go by Pontus . It’s still a solo project in ways (I write and produce all the material) but have a set of musicians that I tend to work with in general.

11) You have recently become a father. Tell us about this life changing experience. Do you change diapers?

Yes – I have a 19 month old son. It’s hard to explain really what having a child is like. There are almost no other life experience that compares – but your life really does change. Life becomes a true emotional roller coaster – and you begin to reflect on everything around you. It sort of feels like other things around you have less importance – or things that used to drive you nuts now don’t – just because you have to focus all your attention and all your inner patience to this person – who completely redraws your emotional map or what you used to know from before. Its a learning curve – you learn how to deal with each new challenge he puts up. But that being said – and apart from all the work / challenges – the amount of love you get in return is indescribable – its an unconditional love. Basically you now have a new heart in someone else’s body…. and yes – I do change diapers . After the 5th or 6th one it doesn’t really phase you. Just another task that needs to be done.

12) You are also involved with incorporating computers with your work. Where do you see technology taking music and how will it be affected? It seems to me genres are being mixed for commercial purposes and any and everyone thinks they are Jimi Hendrix !

Technology should be seen as a tool – or just like an instrument. The most important thing is the idea – the creativity behind the tool. I think no matter what – people will listen for creativity (well artists that have longevity at least) – and things that stand out to them. Great work and great music is still great music… and those who think they are Jimi Hendrix because they have all the stuff – or all the latest stuff – probably forgot who Jimi Hendrix was and what made him unique. He took a right handed Fender Stratocaster – flipped it around / restrung the thing – plugged it into a Marshall JTM45 (using a curly cable) – and played shit none ever heard before. His hand did the work – his mind took us places . Creativity comes from within first – then the rest are just tools and ways for us to express that…


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