“You need to have discipline to create freedom for your band”

Swiss composer Nik Bärtsch and his band Ronin just wrapped up a US tour to present their new two-disc set called “Live”. Everywhere they go, music critics are raving about the groove of a music that is flirting with rock and pop. Swissvibes talked to Nik Bärtsch in New York.

Nik, tell us about your recent US tour with your band Ronin.

Nik Bärtsch We played in Oakland and Portland, where we had already played in the past. We also played at Earshot Jazz Festival in Seattle. It was our first time there and it is a very good festival. Finishing the tour in New York was great. The headquarters of our label ECM are there. We played there last year and it was named by Jim Fusilli, the Wall Street Journal music critic, one of the best live shows of 2011 alongside Radiohead, Patti Smith and Björk. For us, it was amazing to be named with artists like them.

How did your new live album come about?

Nik Bärtsch We recorded about 50 shows. We made a first selection of about 30 tracks from all these shows. We reduced the number to 11 and worked with Manfred Eicher, our producer at ECM, to end up with a final selection of 9 tracks from different shows. The idea was to show the deveopment and activity of the band. It is a funny mix of small venues and bigger ones. For instance, we played in a theater in Lörrach. It was organized by a friend of mine and they had built a lounge. So we had young people lying in front of us when we played. It was kind of strange but also a really special show.

When you talk about Ronin, you often highlight the discipline of your band. Why?

Nik Bärtsch When you listen to great bands like Radiohead or musicians like Herbie Hancock, you can feel they have a lot of discipline. You need to have discipline to create freedom for your band. Our discipline come from our Swiss roots. Our sound is clean and precise. But we only do that to give ourselves freedom during our shows. You could compare us to an experimental pop and rock band. We are precise with our message. But the structure we have in our music allows us to have fun on stage. Music is the message.

Tell us about your relationship to New York.

Nik Bärtsch We played 4 times there. It is always important to play there because it is where most music is developped. We always have had inspiring audiences there. New Yorkers know a lot about bands. We were totally happy because they made us feel that they wanted to hear something special. It is a good feeling.

You are releasing a two-disc set at a time when people listen to more music online. Does this rapidly-changing environment have an impact on how you create an album?

Nik Bärtsch We always did what we thought was right. You have to work on the long run and show people you can surprize them. Ronin sold 50 000 records, which is amazing for a jazz band. The business model changes, the media change, but the message stays the same. I don’t only think myself as a musician. I am also an entrepreneur, because you need to sell records to be able to keep playing.

For more information:

Ronin’ s “Live” two-disc set is out. Label: ECM

Nik Bärtsch and Ronin play every Monday at Exil music club, Hardstrasse 245 21,  in Zurich.

Ronin will perfom at Label Suisse in Lausanne on December 14th, 2012.

For more information: http://www.nikbaertsch.com/konzerte/

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