Jorgen Carlsson’s School of Mule
This past September, Gov’t Mule announced that Andy Hess would be leaving the group and that bass duties would be assumed by Jorgen Carlsson. The new bassist was something of an enigma, as even trusty Google searches revealed little beyond fact that he was born in Sweden and seemed to be a member of a band called Low Millions. As it turns out even the latter tidbit isn’t entirely true. What’s more, although Carlsson is indeed of Nordic origins, he has been residing in the United States for nearly half his life. In the following interview, the soft-spoken bass player (who carries only the hint of an accent) looks back at the whirlwind of the past few months and discusses how he came to join the Mule. Jorgen Carlsson and The School of Mule
Coming into this situation, how familiar were you with Gov’t Mule?
I’d never heard of them, actually. I had heard of Warren Haynes with the Allman Brothers and that he was the main man on slide. But coming from Europe rather than southern rock, it was more of Deep Purple, Sabbath, Zeppelin, that kind of thing.
Can you talk about how you came to audition for the group?
Jeff Young, the keyboard player in Steely Dan and Jackson Browne, is a friend of mine. We started to do local gigs in town, here in L.A. We ended up doing a record together and I ended up producing and actually we’re working on number two right now but it’s taking a while because we both have busy schedules. So Jeff’s from New York, although he moved to L.A. a few years back. I guess Warren hooked up with Jeff really early, when Warren moved to New York and they started to play. From what I understand, it was Jeff who recommended Danny Louis as well. And so when they were looking for new bass players he put my name in.
How did you approach the music going into that audition?
I just went full force on it. When I heard the music I was thinking, “How come I never heard of this band?” It was insane.
Do you remember the first song you played with them?
I think it was “Blind Man In The Dark.”
How many tunes did you play?
The first audition I think they gave me six songs but we played through those in a half hour, forty-five minutes and we kind of covered some live endings. Then we just started playing other music for three hours or so, anything from the fastest jazz to heavy rock, reggae and whatnot.
How comfortable were you with reggae?
I think reggae is my weakest thing, period. I never really quite listened to it. So I’m still in the middle of it, playing-wise.
The catalog of Gov’t Mule originals is rather large. So once the band tapped you, how did you approach that material prior to the first gig? How many songs did you learn?
Warren gave me a priority list first and I looked at it and then I decided I would just take every record from beginning to end. So I went through every studio record from beginning to end over a period of six weeks.
What’s your approach to those songs in terms of balancing Allen Woody’s original parts, some of which are signature basslines, versus adding your own stamp?
To begin with I was shocked (laughs). His playing with a pick is cool and it’s really hard. I’ve always liked it from other bass players but no one really executed the way that he did. So I just took it song by song and I tried to learn what he did.
But then I heard live things with him and he doesn’t really play the same. On songs like “Mule” and “Kind of Bird,” the solo sections are crazy. So that was nice to hear that I could do what I want to do while still respecting the original parts, naturally.
I have to say, I was flying by the seat of my pants on this last tour. It’s all chaos right now, learning all these songs and trying to find my own place. The other guys are so good together and in that mixture, with learning all the songs and all the cues, the feel of the band, there’s so many components. It’s quite momentous to be honest. But it feels good. I’m not panicking right now (laughs).
Is there a night that stood out for you where you think you really nailed it?
San Francisco was good, both nights, the last two. It got better and better. I thought the second show was good too in Boston where we did the Floyd thing but after a few more weeks in, looking back, I thought, “Well, maybe not so good.”
I don’t know exactly how many songs we played but pretty much but close to all the studio songs except maybe for a few. And then every day there were new covers I never played that I had to sit and learn before the show (laughs)
How much time did you have?
An hour or two at the most. I’d sit on the tour bus with an acoustic guitar pretty much. I want to know the exact chords, whether it be a Beatles song or something else.
You mentioned the Halloween gig in Boston, where the band covered Pink Floyd. I’ve heard that you were reasonably well-versed in the Floyd material. Is that true?
I’ve never really played in cover bands but I’ve listened to Floyd since I was a kid so I kind of remember them from the top of my head. So I put in time learning Gov't Mule. Then when we rehearsed before the tour, a little more than half the time went into the Mule songs and we spent the rest on Pink Floyd. Danny wasn’t that familiar but I was totally into it. When Warren told me were going to do Floyd, I was like, "Yes! Thanks goodness!” (laughs) I mean he could have said Sam Cooke or anything.
Were there any occasions when you interjected your own ideas in terms of covers?
Well, yes and no. I found their playlist they already do one Deep Purple song that they recorded with Roger Glover, “Maybe I’m A Leo.” So I said, “We’ve got to play that one for sure.” Later on, I suggested we should do some more. One night Warren looked over a list and said, “I like Lazy,’ let’s do it.” So we did “Lazy” in L.A.
Looking back on the tour as a whole, what has surprised you most about the Gov’t Mule experience?
Just the whole community, the jamband thing.
Can you talk a bit about the other guys in the band, what you’ve discovered about them from a musical perspective?
I knew about Warren but I never really listened to him. He grew from being a guy in my head to be one of the top five guitarists in the world, it’s just insanity.
Matt’s extremely good. He plays a different drum solo very night, it’s crazy. He’s got great feel, great tone and he’s really easy to play with. The same with Danny, they’re all great.
In terms of your background, you came over to this country in 90/91?
At that point did consider yourself a full-fledged musician? How far along in your development were you?
Not that far. I was 20 when I came. I was just going to go to school for a year. I was interested in jazz and all that, so I went to the Grove School of Music for one year. Then I was going to go back to Sweden but I picked up some gigs and I met my future wife. I wasn’t planning on staying here but by 93 I said, “Shit, I’m leaving my home country, this is crazy.”
When people try to learn a bit more about you online they see the group Low Millions. Was that your most serious venture on the band front?
That wasn’t really a band. Low Millions, I did the record and I’ve been playing with Adam Cohen off and on since 98 when he had a solo contract on Sony records. So they launched it and took pictures of the band but it was really Adam Cohen.
I started touring in 95. I think my first tour was with Jennifer Batten. After that I was with this Swedish guy on PolyGram who toured. We did the Montreux Jazz Festival and I went to Japan and all that.
I toured with a number of bands but I never really felt comfortable. I also realized that when you’re touring for a longer time, after you come back, the little studio activity you have, getting calls for sessions, it takes time to build that up. Early on I thought maybe I shouldn’t tour. Then again touring is fun and you become a better player in one way than just doing studio work.
Now that you’ve been out there a bit with Gov’t Mule, what would you say is your comfort level with the group?
It’s close to 100%. They’re more established and not too much ego. With younger bands there’s so much ego, everyone’s trying to get a bit of attention and I just hate all that crap. This doesn’t feel like that at all. It’s very different. It’s just like a cool family.