Musicians Louise Dam Eckardt Jensen and Tom Blancarte are wartime comrades, a bulwark of two against the armies of consumerism and conformity.
There is Louise now, removing the mouthpiece from her saxophone to play a sputtering song on the bare tube that sounds like a half-seen memory. The scene changes and she’s screaming into the mic, her voice full of rage and longing. Tom fills the room with an ominous drone as he tunes down his bass. He slaps the fingerboard and the brain registers a fist on piano keys, not a bow on strings. Tom again, after the scream, thrums a melody I don’t hear until it’s stopped.
The two met in 2008, each already an established participant in the avant-garde music scene, and married the next year. Performing as The Home of Easy Credit, they’ve toured across Europe and the US nearly nonstop, pausing last year after the birth of their first child, Freyja, then setting out again two months later. Their bases are New York and Denmark, Louise’s home country, but they stay in neither for long. The battle awaits.
This conversation took place in late October over Skype, shortly after the pair returned to Denmark from a nine-show tour through seven European countries.
Whitney Curry Wimbish How did your collaboration come about?
Louise Dam Eckardt Jensen We were very reluctant in the beginning to play together. I really liked what Tom was doing musically, but I didn’t want it to be an influence on our relationship.
Tom Blancarte We didn’t start enjoying it and performing a lot together until we came across our unique sound. In the beginning, we were still approaching it from a generic improvisational approach. You wouldn’t have said then, “That’s a group that plays a certain way.” But once we started to play enough and develop our collaboration, then we were like, “Ok, we can do this.” There was a period of time during which we were discovering where we were each coming from, and by doing that, realizing that we are different musically.
LDEJ And realizing how to embrace that.
WCW What changed so that could happen?
LDEJ I come from a part of the world where the folk thing is very big. It’s very melodic here. Everything is approached with that in mind. Even when music is free improv it’s always very melodic. Tom is more from the metal world—a completely different, American, New York approach. And then Tom started becoming interested in singing and I started changing my playing to be really brutal.
TB What really crystalized the sound of our duo was when Louise started to use a Line 6, a basic looping pedal, and doing more vocal stuff. That created a bigger sound.
WCW How did each of you act on the other person to change them musically?
TB In that early period of discovery, I think Louise saw that I was playing very physically and very aggressively, so for a time she was discovering that for her own instrument and trying to get more on the wild side.
LDEJ You make me sound like I was an angel. My music has always been kind of crazy. I was never afraid of going somewhere extreme. Things like screaming might be more radical now. But there was a certain constant aggressiveness and energy that I got from Tom. Just really trying, every time I played, not to have this emotional self-doubt. I began really just going for it. That’s not very European. And from that, I even approach life with more urgency.
WCW Louise, how do you think you’ve influenced Tom?
LDEJ There’s more sensitivity in his playing now and he is more melodic.
TB I would say of all the projects I do, this is the one where I can be more melodic. Our duo is pretty open. We give each other a lot of space and the nature of the instruments gives us each a lot of space, so we can do many different things. Neither of us locks us into a place we can’t get out of. Sometimes when we’re playing now, she’ll create more of the noise and I’m the one trying to put melody into it. I got that from her: Learning how to be melodic in a less jazz-oriented way.
WCW How do you balance the impulse to respond to what the other is doing musically and the desire to play what you want? And is the give-and-take different with each other than with other musicians?
LDEJ It’s funny—in some ways we’re more tolerant towards each other because it’s almost as if we don’t care about each other when we play. We have this thing where we don’t tell each other what to do. That would almost be like a crime. I can be angry at Tom, but I’m not allowed to tell him what to do musically. If you do that, it means you have limitations, and this duo is unlimited. We can go anywhere. So, we figure out how we will interact within the playing but we never talk about it.
TB We talk about it only if it’s really important or if it’s technical—“The sound isn’t balanced.”
LDEJ Or, “Can you stop using the loop every single time.” But that’s the farthest we can go in terms of telling each other what to do.
TB The visualization I have of us is of two people fighting, but back-to-back. They’re not looking at each other. There are a lot of kinds of playing, particularly in improvisation, where you’re really coming together. You’re building something that grows from little details bouncing off each other. We have an approach to the music where we don’t need to meet. We can coexist in the same place. If we were to separate our two tracks, a person listening might not hear how they are related.
LDEJ How we will play the music is never discussed, but we talk about things from the music: “You made a new sound today—that’s awesome.” Or maybe I will think that to myself, “I’m going to try that again next time I perform.” I might keep it a secret from Tom. And vice versa.
WCW Touring is a major part of your practice as artists. What has it allowed you to discover about the nature of your collaboration?
TB The research into our collaboration happens while we’re performing. We did a tour after Freyja was born, in the South of the US, and for that tour, at almost every show, we were handing her off on-stage. We would manage to play together a few times where we were both on stage, but most of the time, Louise was starting a piece and leaving a loop up. Then I’d hand her Freyja, and I’d start to play, fade out her loop, and play my own solo. So we were doing these alternating, interlinking solos. Through that we got to new places.
LDEJ Because of Freyja, we don’t have time to be too concerned about the next performance. When I’m on stage, it’s not that the music is secondary, but it’s a “survival” way of playing music. It’s amazing. I’ve never thought it would be so awesome to perform that way. It’s almost like you have to go to the bathroom and now you have to perform. It has to be really, really good, and every time you go on stage it’s almost like the last five minutes of your life. I get five or ten minutes to create a loop, and then Tom will come on stage. Our tour of the South was fascinating.
WCW How has your touring shaped your music and yourselves as artists?
LDEJ I love touring, first of all. It’s not only having the luxury of performing every night for many, many nights, but also the interactions with people, that just improves you as a musician. Touring is the best thing in the world and I think every musician should tour, tour, tour. It matures you in a way nothing else does. It makes you super tough and strong, and you get to know parts of the world and interact with people from all levels of society.
There’s a certain routine you get from touring that makes you know your a handicraft. You know how to go on stage and make this performance as if it was the last performance of your life. There’s no fooling around or doubting yourself. That doesn’t exist anymore.
TB One way it changes you is obvious: Just the practice. You’re touring, so you’re playing all the time. Another is that it’s a very different process than if you’re playing in the same place every single night. You can let things go and say to yourself, “OK, I’m not tied to all these things; I don’t need to show off this thing I can do. I don’t need to hit that part all the time.” Just the fact of boredom, to a certain degree, makes you want to explore the new.
There’s also the more mysterious aspect of simply experiencing all these things when you’re touring. You’re traveling; you’re seeing parts of the world that you wouldn’t see otherwise, you’re interacting with people you wouldn’t meet otherwise. It gives something to the music. It’s intangible; you can’t put your finger on it and say, “I played that differently or I played that pattern because I was in this part of the world.” It’s not really like that. But somehow it affects the music and enriches it. Especially in the kinds places we play, where we’re interacting with people who are on the fringe of society in some way. Having this awareness of how people live different kinds of lives adds to that sense of urgency and sense of purpose when you’re playing.
WCW It’s almost as if touring itself is part of the performance.
LDEJ A lot of people said to me, after I had just given birth, “I guess now you have to put touring on hold, it’ll be totally different now and more expensive.” And then we did a tour with Freyja eight weeks after she was born, and we have just continued touring. Things are different, of course, because we are three instead of two, but that means you have to improvise and be more creative in order to figure out the logistics. And that’s just a great challenge. I think it’s dangerous that people live their lives in boxes, and it’s dangerous for the next generation. I want to give Freyja and all people the chance to see that we can improvise with our lives, we can be creative. We don’t need a lot. We can be really happy with little.
TB I don’t like presenting people with a prepared work. I like taking in other people’s prepared works, but for myself, instead of crafting a story and then telling it, I prefer to live a story and let people see. That’s how I see improvisation, it’s a story unfolding in real time, and you’re inviting people to observe.
A lot of people cast aside their goals, or never even discover that they have them in the first place. They’re so caught up in fitting in and following the rules from the beginning they never even get a chance to learn what their interests are. But if you sacrifice your ideas of normalcy, you can oftentimes find out what your goals are and realize them. That’s the whole point of what we do. We’re trying to say “This is good, it feels good, it’s awesome. We should do it.”
The Home of Easy Credit are in residence at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas through March 10. For more information, visit their websites here and here.