On a personal level, Free Nelson Mandoomjazz was my find of 2016. In all honesty, it was the name that drew me in, but it was the mix of Sabbath-esque rhythms and free jazz Sax melody’s that got me hooked.
The doom/jazz subgenre is not an entirely new prospect, but FNMDJ are the first band I’ve come across that hold their own in both, seemingly opposite worlds. This year saw the Edinburgh-based three-piece release their second album on RareNoise Records. Entitled The Organ Grinder, the release sees the trio delve into experimental realms, creating a darker, brooding sense of foreboding than its predecessor Awakening of a Capital.
We wanted to know more about this unique trio, to find out about their genesis, discuss the varied influences that have moulded their sound, and the endless possibilities of crossover groups – from ship-hop to reggae-infused black metal, and the mother of all jazz doom supergroups.
How was FNMDJ formed?
Rebecca Sneddon (Saxophone): The band was the horrific brainchild of the alcohol-induced minds of Colin and Paul. I was fortunate enough to be included in this hair-brained scheme and so FNMDJ was born…
Paul Archibald (Drums): It’s a bit hazy but I can remember setting the condition that the group must be called Free Nelson Mandoomjazz.
Can you tell us a bit about your songwriting process?
Colin Stewart (Bass Guitar): Obviously there’s a lot of improvisation in what we do, particularly in terms of Becca’s parts. Because my parts are usually the constant in the equation, songs usually start with me writing my first few riffs and then we just jam on those together until we have concrete ideas for each of us to play around with.
Rebecca: For Organ Grinder, we included more pre-composed alongside free pieces, some with strict parts and others with very few written parts but an overall structure in place. My sax lines often stem from ideas within the bass line or can be completely free and improvised
Does being in a band from two very different genres create any difficulties?
Paul: Not really. I’m always conscious to bring the jazz side of things in, as it’s mostly what I listen to and play before writing for this band. Then again, when Colin brought his song to the table (each member wrote one song independently of the others, the rest were more group collaborations) it turned out to be really jazzy (Colin usually brings the doom!). Maybe that means I need to write a super-heavy one next time!
Colin: As much as combining these two genres was the initial idea that formed the band, we’re all interested in a wide range of musical styles and we’re now definitely looking to take influence from a lot of other areas. I think on our last album we moved further into the territory of just being a weird band, away from being just a band that combines doom and jazz.
How different is your reception at Jazz shows compared to Doom crowds?
Paul: First, let me say that the best way is to play to people that love both genres! You find that everywhere, but when we go out to mainland Europe, places like Belgium, I find that most of the time people are up for all sorts of things at the same time. In the UK, it’s maybe more common to pick a side!
Rebecca: The reception can be quite different – even in the way crowds show appreciation for the music (most of the time!) – but we’ve been fortunate to play to mixed crowds often, which is always a better experience. Overall though, as long as the crowd is open-minded and not expecting exclusively “doom” or “jazz”, everyone has a good time, including us.
Do you think that with certain scenes becoming saturated and peoples listening tastes expanding that more unexpected crossover groups will appear, and which two unrelated genres do you think could mix well?
Paul: Genre is a strange thing… It’s useful for some things, and not for others. For a record shop, I love having things grouped in genres, it saves me loads of time. For composing, it’s perhaps not so great to think in genres. What I’d like to hear next? I’d like to hear someone fuck up disco a little bit. I love disco!
Colin: Not sure there are many obvious combinations that haven’t happened yet. Maybe a black metal reggae band? Don’t think it would work but I’d love to hear someone try.
Rebecca: I think it’s only natural that more crossover groups will appear, as combining styles is one way of setting your music apart from others in “your genre”. Taking influence from other genres is certainly nothing new in composition, and although our band sits in the “doomjazz” genre, we draw influence from many differing styles. I think confining yourself to one or even two specific genres can be quite limiting! As far as unrelated genres I’d like to see come together… How about “Ship Hop”, sea-shanties in a hip-hop style.
Your last two albums were released on Rare Noise Records, along with a double LP of your two previous EPs, what are they like to work with as a label and how did your relationship with them come about?
Colin: They’ve been great with us, I haven’t got a bad word to say about our collaboration. They essentially just found some tracks we had put up on YouTube and got in contact asking if we’d be interested in releasing something with them. They have a really impressive roster of artists and their philosophy is all about releasing artists who are at crossroads of genres or styles so we felt like a good fit.
Paul: Working with RareNoise has been one of the best things for this band. They totally get us and are behind everything we do, and they’ve introduced us to some amazing acts, musicians, and projects.
You played some shows in China last year, how was it as an experience and what was the highlight?
Rebecca: China was such an eye-opening experience and our first real foray into international touring. All of our shows were special and traveling with Giacomo (Bruzzo, co-founder of RareNoise) gave us even more insight into our label, their motivations, and Giacomo’s personal musical insight.
Our first show at the OCT-Loft Festival was probably the highlight of the trip; we had spent a few days exploring Shenzhen and getting to know the organisers and other acts, so playing the festival’s huge stage was quite an experience for us!
Are there any limitations or advantages to using Saxophone as the main melody and how much of an element of improvisation does that allow you to introduce live?
Rebecca: As the saxophonist, I would say there are no limitations – perhaps that’s a biased view..! Playing with FNMDJ has really expanded my technique and how I approach the instrument. There is often quite a lot of improvisation within songs, which means that live performances are always different!
Paul: I like the fact that any noises that come out of that instrument are made with the body, all acoustic, rather than electronics. The saxophone is an iconic jazz instrument, and using it in a doom setting is part of the hybrid we go for, even before thinking about the music itself. People always ask me who my favourite drummers are, but I could spend far longer talking about my favourite saxophonists and the way they play.
Colin: I’ve personally always preferred the saxophone as a solo instrument in jazz to the trumpet or anything else and Becca has really developed a complementary style that works perfectly in our sound.
If you could create a doom/jazz supergroup who would be in it?
Colin: Great question. No doubt mine will be more doom-centric than the others. It’s tempting to go for the obvious Tony Iommi on guitar but I think Jus Oborn and Dylan Carlson would be an interesting combo on guitar. I was going to go for someone like Elvin Jones on drums, but on reflection, there can be no better rhythm section than Geezer Butler on bass and Bill Ward on drums.
Then I’d throw in John Coltrane, Stanley Turrentine, and Freddie Hubbard on horns. And just in case we needed them, vocals from Dax Riggs of Acid Bath and Mike Scheidt from YOB. Not sure how they’d manage to incorporate jazz into that unholy combination but the riffs would be great and it would be heavy as hell
Rebecca: It’s hard to narrow down specific members – I think my supergroup would be pretty huge..! I’d take from members of Black Sabbath and SUNNO))), with Christoph Clöser and Peter Bröztmann… and I’ll leave it at that for now.
Paul: Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon, Lester Young, J J Johnson. Wait, I have to choose some doom musicians too? I’ll hand it over to Colin!
What have you got planned for the future?
Rebecca: We’re always planning the next thing! As we’re scattered quite far geographically, we often have to plan things quite far in advance. New music is certainly on the (not too far) horizon – watch this space!
Get your copy of The Organ Grinder here.
Words: David Brand