Legendary Swiss drummer Jojo Mayer talks about his band NERVE, Indian percussion and more

Ruth Dsouza Prabhu

December 10, 2017 17:27:44 IST

Bangalore rejoiced as legendary Swiss drummer Jojo Mayer and his electronica trio NERVE performed at blueFrog on 8 December. This was their first gig in India and we got the rare opportunity to pick the mind of a great musician.

You are quite the global citizen in terms of your upbringing. What is the story behind the name Jojo?

I spent my early childhood traveling the world as my dad was a musician, because of which I grew up in a multi-lingual environment. When I started to speak, I did it in 4 languages simultaneously - Swiss, German, Italian and English. My real name is Serge and many people called me Sergio. I wasn't able to spell this so I created a simplified version: Sho-sho, which eventually evolved into Jojo.

Jojo Mayer, leader of electronic trio NERVE

Jojo Mayer, leader of electronic trio NERVE

What have been NERVE’s influences over the years?

Initially, it was the surge of electronic music in the mid-90s that inspired me - Jungle, break beats, techno. Producers like Photek, Aphex Twin and Squarepusher were influential. In that process I have only listened to programmed rhythms, not drummers. Over the years, NERVE always had new developments of electronic sub genres on our radar and they became part of our vocabulary - like dub step, glitch, footwork, trap, IDM etc. More recently, we have deviated from genre specific formulas and have taken bolder steps, reaching for new music in a more radical way. I think our latest record really is testament to that. It's our most successful attempt negotiating between programmed music and music performed in real-time.

Your thoughts on Indian percussion? Have you ever considered its use in your music?

Indian percussion has a head start of 5000 years over percussion culture in the West and is by far the most advanced. But in order to express myself honestly and authentically I have found a way to do it through my western point of view. But remarkably, I discovered some ideas in my playing that have strong parallels in Indian music of which I was never aware of. So I guess, there is some universal truth that will express itself regardless of the cultural backdrop. In general, my decision to integrate a foreign part of culture has more to do with the individual performer’s point of view than his cultural legacy. If I find people with interesting point of view, I will try to find a way to collaborate with them.

In your perspective, how has the drumming scene evolved internationally?

The mainstream drumming culture is in a crisis because we are in a big cultural crisis. We are still trapped in the protocol of the 20th century and industrialization while we live in the 21st century and the technological age. A whole generation of Youtube drummers that play covers and hurl a remarkable arsenal of technique around have taken the stage. But radical new musical contributions are very rare. The music and the cultural aspect got lost. But there are always exceptions and drummers that bring new music to people like Deantoni Parks. Over the past decades it has definitely been electronic producers that have driven the development of rhythm culture - like JDilla, Timbaland, Aphex Twin etc.

How has your music evolved over your career?

With musical styles it's pretty much the same as with most great ideas. They start as exciting phenomenon, breaking away from obsolete protocols and promising social and human improvements. Unfortunately, it appears that over time these ideas turn into storefronts for the nonsensical. I think Mozart, Monk, Hendrix as well as Marx and Jesus would turn in their graves to see what people made from their ideas. I think it has something to do with violating the values and underlying principles that gave birth to these ideas either to gain money, influence or power. For this reason, I don’t care too much for stylistic descriptions. I'm only looking for music that expresses our human condition in a way that emotionally and conceptually touches and inspires me.

What areas of music are you currently exploring and what fascinates you about it?
I'm currently very engaged and fascinated with singing as it's the most personal musical expression. To sing is to voluntarily expose yourself to extreme vulnerability. And I believe this vulnerability can be the key to expressing our innermost personal core which is one of the most powerful assets we can have as artists. I want to understand more about this.

What are you working on right now and what can we look forward to?

With NERVE we're currently working on making a fully acoustic record with no electronic instruments or amplification. Grand piano, upright bass and acoustic drums recorded on an analog board straight to 1/4 inch tape, just like records were made in the 50s. It's a total venture into the unknown. Other than that I just collaborated on a movie with Apollo 16 Astronaut Charlie Duke called Lunar-Tribute. I'll be working on a score for another movie involving NERVE this winter. And I will take my first part as a lead actor in a film next year.

Updated Date: Dec 10, 2017 17:27 PM